Urban law cleans up the streetsComment on this story
The issue of Judge Dredd and the helmet was a big deal for fanboys who hated the previous film.
So, keeping the helmet on meant Karl Urban had to think a little differently about tackling the role of the ultimate judge, jury and executioner rolled into one.
“The character is really defined by his actions,” said Urban about working on Dredd, which was shot in South Africa in 2010.
“Ultimately the physicality of the character becomes very important. That is what humanises him.
“You can see when he chooses to be compassionate in the film, you can see when he is weary.
“The humour is very important. That was always very present in the comic books, those dry one-liners.
“His relationship with his rookie Anderson also makes him more accessible, because he does have flaws like anyone else.”
Coupled with a harsh, raspy voice and supported by some eye-popping visual effects, the character and film are finding favour with cinema audiences.
Coming straight from the US after a month of promoting the film through the UK, Spain and Canada, Urban hit the ground running in Cape Town at the beginning of the week, visiting morning tv shows, radio booths and granting print interviews.
He is tired, but unfailingly polite, even when being asked the same question, probably for the 100th time.
The 40-year-old always wanted to be an actor, describing it as a long-standing compulsion inspired by watching New Zealand film-makers and actors ply their craft.
Home-life in Auckland is centred on a down-to-earth existence with his wife and two sons, in stark contrast to the hoopla surrounding the marketing of Hollywood films, and he comes across as uncomfortable with all the fuss.
Urban finally looks me in the eye when we get to talking about the original British comic books which he read as a teenager in the early 1990s.
“A friend of mine was reading it and I stole one of his mags one day and I enjoyed it,” he grins.
Urban approached the Dredd producers about the role, though he initially did have some reservations: “Just because it was a character that meant something to me and I didn’t know if it was going to be done right.”
He was persuaded by the script though that writer Alex Garland was working on – a character-driven, action-packed narrative and “most importantly I felt that the character of Judge Dredd was as I knew him in the comics”.
Subsequently Urban discovered that Garland had been collaborating with comic book creator John Wagner about what he wanted to see in the script.
“For example, in the opening sequence when Dredd rescues a hostage, it was very important for John to have somebody in the film thank Judge Dredd.”
“Even though he is a representative of a tough justice system… it was important that it also be acknowledged that he was there to protect people.”
Dredd was shot on the streets of Joburg and Cape Town, with Artscape recognisably standing in as the entrance of Peach Trees housing complex.
Urban insisted on doing as many of the stunts as was safely possible, including riding the Lawmaster, a modified 500cc motorbike.
“I learnt to ride it and to me, there are certain points in your career where you can’t actually believe they are letting you do what you do.
“One of them was executing a reverse 180 on the streets of Moscow for The Bourne Supremacy.
“The other was riding the Dredd bike in full Dredd uniform through the streets of Cape Town as we were filming the opening sequence. That was a lot of fun.”