Karl Urban is dedicated to avoiding Sylvester Stallone’s work in the original 1995 Judge Dredd.
“When I read the script it became obvious to me that what we were endeavoring to do was completely different,” the actor, best known for his role in Star Trek, said. “Tonally, you couldn’t get more different. Going into this movie I watched the Stallone version to see what worked and what didn’t work, and the way that I wanted to approach the character was to not have the character be a posturing, bellowing character that was kind of grounded in ego. That wasn’t the Dredd that I knew. To me it was far more interesting to have a character with this inner rage and struggling to contain it rather than letting it all explode.”
When Urban decided to take on the iconic role, he didn’t consider how the film would be received. “I didn’t think about how this movie was going to be perceived for the relevance of it when I was making it,” he told NBC New York. “To me, my mission in this was just to a) honor the creation that [John] Wagner and Carlos Esquerra created back in ’75 as best I could, and b) service the script and be in the moment and make the best film that we could. Everything that kind of happens after it, it’s not something that’s really on my radar. That’s not for me to pull it apart and analyze it. I just wanted it to be a good, fun piece of entertainment.”
That’s not to say that Urban didn’t take the preparation for the role seriously. “I spent 13 weeks in the gym lifting heavy things, eating seven times a day just to get physically where I needed to be with the character, to feel like the character,” he said. “Then there was the part of the process which I liked the most, which was the investigative part. That was getting my hands on every graphic novel that I could.”
Urban revealed that the number one difference between the two films would be that his character would keep the helmet on in the entire movie—a factor that made fans deeply disappointed with the original. “My agent called me up and said, ‘Would you be interested in Judge Dredd?’ I was like, ‘Oh, yeah. Send me the script.’ I read it and I was immediately relieved to discover that the character kept the helmet on.”
However, keeping the helmet on provided Urban with some additional obstacles. “You have to look at all the other tools that are available to you,” he said. “Your voice becomes extremely important, and in my research I discovered a passage in one of the comics, which described Dredd’s voice as a saw cutting through bone, so that was kind of the starting point for my character. What you sort of feel and hear in the movie is my sort of approximation of what that is, and also, before, I wanted to do something that was distinctly different from the shouting, bellowing Dredd. That was of no interest to me.
“So that’s how that sort of evolved. Other tools: obviously the physicality. What can I express with my movement, the weariness, when he is tired, when he is struggling to really contain his rage? And then it’s really important to identify where the humor lies. That’s one of the things that I loved in the comic, just that really dry, dark humor, so that became an important element as well.”
Dredd opens in theaters this weekend.