The wait is almost over as J.J Abrams latest installment Star Trek Into Darkness hits Australian screens on the 9th of May. Karl Urban, reprising the iconic role of Leonard ‘Bones’ McCoy, is experiencing a dream run, starring in some of the world’s most successful franchises and having recently portrayed his favourite comic book character Dredd in the recent filmic adaption. In Sydney for the world premiere of Star Trek Into Darkness, TOM Magazine chatted to him about the pressures of reprising idolized characters, what it’s like to work with J.J Abrams and life on board a multi-million dollar science-fiction film.
TOM: Have you managed to make it to the beach yet?
Urban: I did actually, they took us out to Bondi yesterday and presented us with these wonderful surfboards. The crushing thing was it was a beautiful surf day and they hustled us into vans and took us to our next engagement! So I haven’t had the chance but I’m looking forward to it.
TOM: I wanted to start by asking were you a Star Trek fan before you became involved in the new franchise?
Urban: I used to watch it as a kid, I always enjoyed it. I guess I feel fortunate enough to be born in an era where we had filmmakers like Gene Roddenberry and George Lucas and Spielberg were making movies, and I love all of that sort of stuff.
TOM: So you’re a big Science Fiction fan?
Urban: Yeah, I love sci-fi.
TOM: You play Dr. Leonard McCoy, otherwise known as ‘Bones’ in Star Trek Into Darkness, a role that was previously played by the late DeForest Kelly – when you were first offered the role did you have any hesitation because it’s such an iconic character idolised by so many fans?
Urban: I didn’t have any hesitation, primarily because I had huge faith in J.J Abrams and his abilities, but certainly I felt the pressure to get it right. As a long term fan of Star Trek it was important to me to deliver something that fans were going to be a. happy with and b. deliver a character that was going to be recognizably Bones. Thankfully the first film went down terrifically well and this time I think we came back and we all felt extremely confident to grab that ball and run with it.
TOM: I personally haven’t seen much of the original Star Trek television shows and films, but after watching Star Trek Into Darkness something I noticed was that your character Bones seems to be perpetually annoyed. Would you agree that he has a lot of frustration?
Urban: The thing about McCoy is that he has a heart of gold. He will do anything for his friends. But he has this wonderful irascible quality about him and that’s a lot of fun to play.
TOM: The opening scene to Star Trek Into Darkness is fascinating – where Bones and Chris Pine’s character Captain Kirk are running through a red and yellow foreign planet – what was the process of filming the epic first scene because it looked very intricate.
Urban: The epic first scene on the mysterious red planet (laughs). We shot that in Los Angeles and the production actually built a couple of hundred metres of this red forest, and we got to run through that, take after take, all week long. It was fun for the first couple of hours.
TOM: Not so fun after the fourth or fifth.
Urban: Well you get to the end of the day and you realize you’ve probably run about 5km’s throughout the course of the day.
TOM: J.J Abrams has recently been announced as the man at the helm of the Star Wars reboot. When you’re on set, what have you noticed how J.J Abrams operates that seems to inspire such confidence in studios and people?
Urban: Well first of all he’s one of the smartest people that I’ve ever met and had the pleasure to work with. As a director, he’s got all the elements that a director needs at his fingertips. He knows about character, and he’s a very fluid director. As an actor working on a J.J Abrams set, you have to be nimble. Because he could come up to you in the middle of a scene and say – ‘alright in this shot I want you do this, or I want you to say this’ and essentially he walks off and leaves you to figure it out. And that’s fun! It can be exciting, it can be terrifying, and you’ve got 5 minutes to make it work. I think that sort of energy that he infuses in his films pays off in dividends.
TOM: You mentioned before about your interpretation of a character that’s already been portrayed, what personally did you want to bring to McCoy?
Urban: That’s a good question. For me the challenge was, first of all that the character be recognisably Bones. The challenge was not to do an impersonation or an imitation but to have an essence of what DeForest had done so remarkably well for forty years, but also deliver my interpretation of what a younger version of that would be and that’s certainly the challenge.
TOM: Bones certainly seems like a very headstrong character – in fact all the characters are incredibly passionate and that can cause them to butt heads.
Urban: Totally. And I think that’s one of the strengths of any story but particularly in Star Trek, you know, what makes these stories so good is the fact that these characters don’t necessary always get along, and the fact that they actually have to overcome each other’s differences in order to defeat a common adversary. That’s always entertaining. Conflict is entertaining to watch.
TOM: Diverting quickly, I just wanted to have a quick chat about Dredd – from what I understand actually had a fairly small budget (for what the film was) of around $45 million?
Urban: It was actually closer to $30-$35 million.
TOM: What was it like coming off Dredd where I assume there would have been some constraints considering the scale of the film going onto a multi-million dollar film like Star Trek Into Darkness (with a budget of $180 million)?
Urban: Well for me I was primarily focussed on transitioning my character – for me it was coming from a character who was quite rigid and monosyllabic at times, quite a throwback to a male archetype of a bygone era. Obviously incredibly physical and at times violent, and then going to a character who wears his heart on his sleeve. You know, Bones is a character that is altruistic, a little bit irascible, and he would do anything for his friends. And also the character of McCoy gives me the opportunity to do a lot more comedy – a different style of comedy.
TOM: Did you pick Dredd because it was so drastically different to any other characters out there? Because he is unique in that he’s so stoic?
Urban: I sort of pick projects because they are ones that I’m interested in and I certainly was a fan of the comic book Dredd – it was one of the only comics that I actually did read in my teenage years. So to get the opportunity to play one of the most iconic comic book characters was one that I couldn’t pass up. But I like to mix things up and it’s fun to have the opportunity to play something so different to what you’ve just done.
TOM: Was it painful upkeeping such a raspy voice for such a long period of time?
Urban: (laughs) (In Dredd voice) A lot of whisky and cigarettes.
TOM: Finally back to Star Trek, will we be seeing a third instalment?
Urban: I certainly hope so. I think it’s a little bit too early at this point. We’re handing the film over to an audience and certainly hope that they’ll embrace it and have as much with this one as the last one. If they do I have no doubt that we’ll all be back to make another one. But first things first, judging by the early response all the indications are good.
TOM: Thankyou very much, and I hope Australia treats you well for the premiere tonight.
Urban: Always does!