TYF Contributor Shane A. Bassett was able to sit down with Star Trek star Karl Urban for a full interview; he later speaks briefly with director JJ Abrams and star Chris Pine at the Sydney premiere of Star Trek Into Darkness.
A few hours before the red carpet premiere on a beautiful Sydney afternoon, I was invited down to the Intercontinental Hotel to speak with actor Karl Urban about his second time playing Dr. Bones McCoy in the latest Star Trek film, Into Darkness.
In a lovely spacious room with a very big window overlooking the Sydney Harbour Bridge in the background, I sat opposite the New Zealand actor who most recently appeared as future law enforcer in Dredd and asked him what is was like to put on that Starfleet uniform again.
Karl Urban (K.U.): To tell you the truth, it was surreal. Our first day was on the bridge of the USS Enterprise, and to step back into the exact same space four years later (since the original reboot) seeing all my colleagues in exactly the same uniform was amazing. We even had all the exact same extras sitting in the same seats as they were four years ago and exactly the same crew; it was like being in a time warp.
How was the overall feeling on set? Were there fewer rehearsals this time? Did you treat your role any differently?
K.U.: Again it was surreal being back, but once we got our first shot underway, we kind of hit our stride instantly and picked up where we left off. It’s just a great group of people who click, we have fun, we laughed a lot. We worked hard too, it’s a big film.
What is the scope of a Star Trek set like?
K.U: This time it was huge, everything was much bigger. I think Paramount built more of the Enterprise than any other film or TV production ever before. It was great to have a fully functional environment that you could walk out of the bridge, through corridors to the med bay or the transport room or whatever. It added to the realism, scope and made it fun.
Now it’s the second movie, are there any of your own personality traits displayed in your Bones character?
K.U: (Laughing) I would love to answer that question, but I really won’t objectively know until I see the film tonight. But I think certainly everyone felt more confident about who our characters were and where we were going. There might be a bit of the lighter side of me in Bones, but having done the first film and having it receive such an overwhelming positive response, I think this time we really did hit the ground running.
K.U: Yes that was a lot of fun. That sort of stuff just happened on set that wasn’t something that was in the script. That was working with our excellent director JJ (Abrams), who quite often develops chances to bounce off him. On that particular day I remember saying to him about a certain line, “Really, should I say this? I feel like I’m speaking in metaphors all the time.” He smiled, looked at me, clicked his fingers and came up with this whole thing that turned what was actually my frustration that my character was speaking in metaphors into a comedic point to the story. (Laughing)
Your New Zealand accent is still there I hear, but playing Bones, is it any harder to do an American accent and speak so articulate as Bones does?
K.U: It’s a challenge, yes, like any element in making a film you have to devote time and energy in getting it right. I was fortunate to have a good team around me.
Your relationship with Captain Kirk is growing on screen, it comes across as natural. I assume Chris Pine is very good to work off of?
K.U: I feel blessed to be in the position working with him. We genuinely all love each other, have a great time working with each other; it’s actually a testament to JJ pulling ensembles together that work.
Did you keep any mementos from the set or can’t you say?
K.U: (Lowering his voice) I stole a couple of things this time; I always like to souvenir something, I took a Starfleet command emblem pin and a ring.
Did you get anything from the new Chronicles of Riddick set?
K.U: No, I wasn’t there long enough, only did a day’s filming. My character helps in one scene as a transition for Vin (Diesel) from the last movie to the new edition. That’s all I can say. I had a fantastic time getting back together again with Vin; he’s different and a pro.
If Bones was to have a love interest, who would you choose it to be with?
K.U: I don’t know (puts head up looks at roof looks back at me). You know mate, that’s a good question. Historically he did, from memory in the TV series, he did have love interests from time to time. It may be good territory to explore in future films.
What are the differences in the Star Trek aficionados and the Dredd fans that may have spoken to you?
K.U: You know a fan is a fan. To me, it’s one of the most enjoyable aspects of what I do, that I am part of creating a form of entertainment that brings joy to people. I always appreciate the opportunity to meet fans. It’s great to be appreciated for movies, even a few years down the track, and someone brings up a past film, I am honoured.
Speaking of which….And Soon the Darkness I thought was an extremely underappreciated film you made opposite Amber Heard, what are your memories of making that?
K.U: A fun little independent film we shot in Argentina, a place I hadn’t been to before. It was a tough shoot, but the people were wonderful, wonderful culture and another aspect of my job I thoroughly enjoy, travelling to exotic locations, learning more about different people and cultures. Amber is very talented; she did a fine job.
Any word yet on a Dredd sequel?
K.U: I don’t know as we made Dredd as really a one-off film exploring the day in the life of Judge Dredd as he put his rookie through her paces. I certainly would be open to making another one. I don’t think it fired up the box office enough to warrant making a sequel, although it has found a phenomenal audience on DVD. So you never know; I am proud of it. If it stays as a one off cult classic, I’m cool with that.
You’re proud of it, but you seem very disappointed in the box office results, and did you read the critics’ reviews?
K.U: No, not at all. I quite understand the theatrical disaster as I believe it wasn’t marketed, that was even picked up in the press.
Going around and looking at the other marketing campaigns for films released at the same time, it was pretty clear to me we were just not being promoted. That is the reason the film failed to fire, it had nothing to do with the film itself. I think it was a fantastic film and every single interview I’ve been in today people are wanting to talk Dredd.
Sorry to be another one.
K.U: All good, you’re giving it a positive response by asking and you actually saw it, the fundamental problem was nobody knew about it. You never know, in ten years it may find an audience, look at Blade Runner, that took some years to become a cult classic.
Dr. Bones McCoy is almost a stand-up comedian at times, have you ever considered or been offered a part in a comedy?
K.U: Sure, I would love the opportunity. If anything, Bones has engineered a paradox shift in my Hollywood career that he doesn’t just do action, he can do comedy as well. That’s incredibly important to me.
Now that I have seen the film, the secrets are out not that I will be revealing anything in my review, are you happy now that you can talk about things?
K.U: One of the wonderful things about JJ is he wants to preserve that cinema-going experience for the audience, I totally support that 100%, I will still be specific about what I reveal. It’s a shame when you go to a movie and vicariously know so much about a film before you see it. What JJ does, he’s so super tight on keeping that experience in the theatre.
How is his demeanor on set? Is JJ happy to listen to actors’ suggestions?
K.U: An incredibly smart man, very funny, very generous with his time, one of the most gifted directors I’ve ever worked with.
When you work with JJ, you have to be nimble, quick on your feet. He could come up to you in the middle of a scene and say I want you to do this or that. He may ask you to do stuff that are not on the page, stuff you might think is contradictory to your character, so you have to find a way to make that work. To me, as an actor that’s exciting and fresh; JJ’s films are dynamite infused with energy.
You seem to have managed your career for your transition from New Zealand to Hollywood with selective varied roles, is that personal choice?
K.U: I haven’t really planned this career, if I would have there would be a few movies I wouldn’t have taken. I make my choices when I read a script, if I respond to the material, the characters and the situation. Or, if there is a good caliber of people involved, those are indications of something I might like to do.
What would be some of those films you may not have been in if you could go back? Maybe Doom?
K.U: Out of respect for the people and filmmakers I worked with, I’m not going to say what they are. It’s not easy, it begins as a leap of faith and will either turn out better or worse than you imagine.
RED must have been an amusing set, can you let me in on any (Bruce) Willis or (John) Malkovich shenanigans?
K.U: I had a great time working on that, loved John, loved Helen (Mirren). John’s quite an incredible character, he designs his own clothes, even does Opera’s. He was telling us this one story how he was once coming through US Customs, bringing back a selection of garments he had designed and made up as samples. The customs officer quizzically asked “What are these worth?” John looked at him and went “Well, that’s an existential question.” The customs officer looks blankly as John said, “I like these clothes, I designed them, they have a value to me, but if nobody buys them, they’re not worth S**T.” So the customs thought John was taking the p**s and confiscated the lot; nobody saw those clothes again.
On the hectic red carpet at Event Cinemas George Street, amidst screaming fans including fully costumed Trekkies, I briefly spoke to director JJ Abrams & star Chris Pine (Captain James T. Kirk).
I really want to ask you about Lost, not Star Wars, but I am told we have time for one question, Was creating a superior sequel important?JJ Abrams: Hi I’m JJ. (JJ signs an autograph for me, as I mention we are wearing matching glasses.) Well, I set out to entertain and excite, keep people happy and make the best possible science fiction story with a human element as possible.
As Abrams walks away, shaking my hand, I say: Your early comedy writing, especially Taking Care of Business was hilarious, do you ever want to revisit that kind of non-special effects film again?
JJ Abrams: It’s possible one day. Thank you very much.
Meanwhile, Zachary Quinto (Spock) rushes past skipping up the red carpet on a mission saying to us “I’ll be back.” He didn’t.
Amidst a massive of screams, a bearded Chris Pine comes over for a chat.
I know a lot of people who may only see this film only because you’re in it, not so much Star Trek or sci-fi fans, simply admirers of your work.
Chris Pine: First of all, there is a big knock against science fiction that it’s a geeky realm where some people think they are too cool to go. But you think about Transformers, Batman, Green Lantern or whatever, it’s all science fiction and other worldly. This movie is really an action thriller where much of it takes place on Earth. The situations that these characters go through are very real in various aspects, the terrorism they encounter is similar to what we face today for real. It may have space ships and be a future world, but the things they deal with are very current, very real, very here and now.
In the movie you say “Respect the chair!” So how does Kirk mature in this film and how hard was it off the set not to give out that major secret in the film?
Chris Pine: Nice question. Kirk’s journey is huge in this one; he goes from that kind of kid we know from the first film, who was a brash, a young punk having a great old time Captain-ing the ship to realising how real, scary, vulnerable that position is.
At the time he didn’t know he was a good leader or what his strengths were, he was finding himself in this quicksand of self-doubt that was really scary for him. I think he works himself out of it in this one. Keeping the secret was easy, we had a great time in JJ’s camp, we are absolutely part of the cult, if JJ wants to hide things from fans to make the experience going to the film THAT MUCH MORE exciting, I’m all for it.
Your relationship with Bones is a winner again; it has also developed.
Chris Pine: (Laughing, shaking my hand, taking a small step towards me) I love me some Karl Urban man, a great guy.
Star Trek Into Darkness hits theaters in 2D, 3D and IMAX on May 10, 2013!
Shane A. Bassett is a contributor for TheYoungFolks.com. Read more about him on our Partners & Contributors page.