Karl Urban is finding his own space

By Russell Baillie

Karl Urban beamed back into his home town to talk to Russell Baillie about Star Trek: Into Darkness, his second mission as the USS Enterprise's grumpy ship's doctor Bones McCoy, as well as his next moves

Karl Urban. Photo / AP
Karl Urban. Photo / AP

ON getting the first line in the first scene of the new film which has Bones and Captain Kirk running through a brightly coloured forest on a distant planet pursued by very restless natives ...

The opening of our film is kind of a wonderful homage to films that I grew up watching. Films like Raiders of the Lost Ark, where we enter the story and our heroes are finishing off their previous adventure. So the point where we find the crew, they are attempting to save this primitive culture from a volcano that is threatening to annihilate them. So we find Bones and Kirk running through this red forest trying to escape them because the natives aren't quite aware of their altruistic motives and are trying to kill them. And obviously Bones is not happy about this.

ON having done so many genres but very little comedy. Unless you count Star Trek ...

That was the wonderful thing about Star Trek for me. As an actor I think I've become synonymous with quite physical roles and Star Trek was a wonderful opportunity to play a character who was partially grounded in comedy.

People ask me "Don't you get jealous of those guys who are getting around firing the phasers?" and I'm not - I really like the fact that I am in this movie I get all these great lines and I get to do comedic relief. It's engineered a paradigm shift within Hollywood. Because it was on the back of the first Star Trek I was offered Red, an opportunity to work with Bruce Willis and Helen Mirren and John Malkovich.

ON working with J. J. Abrams, who, is shifting from reviving the Star Trek franchise to reviving Star Wars ...

I love working with him. He is so smart and as an actor on a J.J. Abrams' set you have to be fast on your feet to stay up with him. You can be in the middle of a scene and he will turn to you and say "hey, I think your character should say this" or "I think your character should do this". It may not be in the script. It may be contradictory to what you believe your character is. But if J.J. throws the ball wide you had better be prepared to run and get it. For me as an actor that is exhilarating.

ON why Into Darkness is worth going to see, even if you don't know your Bones from your Spock ...

I think what J.J. has done is very smart. He has made a film for fans of film. It doesn't matter if you have never seen a Star Trek movie or you haven't seen the first one or if you are an ardent Star Trek fan - there is so much in this film for everybody. It is fundamentally Star Trek, but at the same time it is a completely new beast as well.

ON having his character name changed and his voice dubbed in non-English speaking parts of the world ...

In Germany the character of Bones is known as Mr Pill - Herr Pill. I was told when I was promoting Judge Dredd in Spain that my voice double is also the voice double for Bruce Willis, Harrison Ford and Sylvester Stallone.

ON why Judge Dredd - his last film and his first big leading role - failed at the international box office ...

Here's the thing about that. The film was well received by those who saw it and it's been amazing in this junket how many reporters have talked to me about Dredd.

People liked the film when they got to see it. But the problem was that in America it just wasn't marketed and it's a real tragedy. Nobody knew about the film. It was essentially a failure by the company that was distributing it to generate an awareness and that is heartbreaking, because to get everything else right, then to get tripped up at the finish line, it certainly can be disheartening. I am incredibly proud of that film. We were a US$35 million film that punched well above its weight. It was designed to be a one-off movie, a day in the life of Judge Dredd as he puts his rookie through her paces, and if it's a one-off cult classic I am happy with that.

ON Human, the sci-fi cop show backed by Abrams and created by Fringe show runner J.H. Wyman which is at the pilot stage and which may lead to a long commitment to the series if picked up by 20th Century Fox television.

I wasn't looking to do television but I got a call from J.J. and he told me about this project. I read the script and was immediately intrigued and thought that I would probably regret it if I turned it down and watched somebody else do it.

If you are taking on a project with J.J. it is always a leap of faith so I decided to go for it. What Human is, is the story that evolves between a human detective and his synthetic partner who is a robot, to use an anachronistic term.

The show deals with that point in the evolution of humanity when we realise that the genie is out of the bottle and there is no way to get it back - the whole genetic question and all that sort of stuff. And I find that fascinating, particularly as a parent, thinking about the planet we are leaving for our children. You look at how far how humanity has evolved in the last 40 years. It's quite frightening to think where we could be in the next 40.

Early on in my career I was hugely inspired by the likes of Lucy Lawless who had her own show and going in there every day and watching her work so hard and now I will have the opportunity to do something similar.

ON being a high-profile in-demand New Zealand-based Kiwi actor in Hollywood ...

Often people say "Wow you are really lucky, look at your career" to which I respond "It's funny. The harder I work, the luckier I seem to get."

My theory is basically that I feel that actors in Hollywood get quite entrenched with the business of being an actor. All the peripheral elements, being your own brand, your stylist, your publicist, your dietitian, your trainer, what parties should I be at? What should I be seen at? Who should I date? There is no quadrant of their life that isn't geared towards getting them to the next level.

Kiwis and Australians, we tend to be focused on the craft. We tend to focus on what it is that we want to achieve from that perspective and I think that is a great strength of ours. Coming out of New Zealand, it's such a small industry and it is very easy to be able to get experience in all of the mediums ... consequentially we become well rounded actors.

ON getting given that Star Trek surfboard at the Sydney world premiere - and pinching Spock's ...

Not only did I get to keep the surfboard, I turned to [Zachary] Quinto and said "come on mate you aren't going to need that in in New York, hand it over". And he did and so I brought two of them back. What an amazing gift. I love surfing. It's something that I am going to use. I'm just not quite sure about how I feel about the big Star Trek:Into Darkness walking advertisement as I'm heading into the water. I can see a couple of guys going "aw yeah, he's Hollywood". That's actually my nickname. Some of the surfers refer to me as Hollywood. Like "there goes Hollywood ...".

Who: Karl Urban as Bones McCoy
What: Star Trek: Into Darkness, the second Trek film by J.J. Abrams
When: Opens Thursday May 9

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