Dredd Star, Writer Open Up About the Iconic Comic Character


Karl Urban as DreddKarl Urban as Dredd

Karl Urban as Dredd

Karl Urban

In the film your character asks Olivia Thirlby’s rookie, “Why do you want to be a judge?” So, same question to you.

I guess one of the things that attracted me to this character was the definition of his heroism, his brand of heroism is very human. He’s not a super-hero, he doesn’t have super powers. He’s just a man with an extraordinary skill set, a cool bike and a versatile gun. More importantly he is the type of guy walking into a building when everybody else is running for their lives in the opposite direction. So the opportunity to play that kind of man was something that I was hugely attracted to.

How did you go about formulating Dredd’s movements?

When you take on a character you have to go through many different doors in order to define him. I read every Dredd comic that I could and obviously a huge basis for the character was what was on the page. Alex Garland wrote a fantastic, action packed, character driven piece and at the heart of the story is the relationship between Anderson and Judge Dredd, and the evolution of that relationship to me is one of the most interesting things about this movie.

Judge DreddJudge Dredd

Judge Dredd

How did it feel to have to keep the helmet on all the time? Was it a bit disappointing that you couldn’t have more ‘face-time’?

No, not all, you know I’m playing Judge Dredd! That’s the character! I had a meeting with Andrew [MacDonald, producer], Allon [Reich, producer], Alex and Pete [Travis, director] in Los Angeles before they offered me the role and they said to me, ‘look we just wanna make sure that you’re totally comfortable with the fact that we’re never gonna see your face in this film’ and I said, ‘I wouldn’t be taking this meeting if I’d read the script and Judge Dredd reveals his identity.’ He’s supposed to be this enigmatic, faceless representative of the law and it’s just essential that it remain that way.

Did you get to keep the helmet?

I do! They gave it to me! I tried to steal it three times before they gave it to me!

Dredd in the slo-mo factoryDredd in the slo-mo factory

Dredd in the slo-mo factory

You mention about reading a lot of the comics, can you tell us a bit about some of your favorite characters and story lines from Dredd?

When I was a teenager and I started reading the quality comics series that came out in the ’90s, it was stories like Kenny Who? and Raider. Raider was a really interesting little vignette about an ex-judge who took to the streets and became a vigilante. He was kinda like a mentor to Dredd, but Dredd found himself in the position of having to hunt him down; I thought that was really interesting. For me the great bonus of getting to play Dredd was going back and not only rediscovering those stories, but discovering a whole plethora of new stories that had been written subsequently. It was really interesting to see the evolution of the way the character was written, the depth and the maturity in Wagner’s writing which really translated to the character of Dredd himself. That’s evident in stories like Origins, The Dead Man and Necropolis. America is a fantastic story as well and it’s one of the things that I really like about the character too – he’s an anti-hero, to the point like in America, where Dredd is the villain.

If you get to do any sequels, who would most like to square off against from the back catalog of villains?

Well obviously Judge Death – him and his mates! I’d also love to meet Mean Machine Angel – you know there are so many.

Kicking down the doorKicking down the door

Kicking down the door

It’s a very physical role, would you say that the hardest part has been keeping the scowl?

No, I think the most difficult aspect of the film was most probably the grueling nature of it. The fact that we were shooting in Cape Town, in the summer, and I’m wearing motorbike leathers, body armor and a helmet! So, physically it was very challenging, but I had such an wonderful working relationship with Olivia [Thirlby, playing Judge Anderson]. Every day we would meet up before shooting and discuss what it was that we were gonna do that day and we were on the same page. Not only with Olivia, but Alex was also on set 24/7, and he was a huge asset to this production. Whenever I would have a question about what was on the page I would ask Alex and for an actor to have the luxury of the guy who actually wrote there on set was massive. It just seems right.



The tone of the movie is very gritty, very dark, but there’s still some deadpan humor. How much did you work on the initial script?

The humor was very important for me because it really helped define the the character. It defined the character’s humanity and that was the challenge. He’s not a robot, he’s a man, a highly trained man, a man who’s been trained to keep his emotions in check, but one of the things that does humanize him is his humor and it was one of the elements that I always responded to in the comic and we looked for every opportunity we could to inject that into the movie.

How did you prepare for a role like Dredd?

For Dredd, first the process was one of getting hold of every single comic that I could, next was the physical transformation and that really quite grueling and challenging – working out twice a day for about 13 weeks, and then there was the military training that we conducted in Cape Town. That was really interesting, we included some exercises where we had BB guns that were mocked up like Lawgivers and we went through the set and we had stunt guys secretly deposited on set, so we actually got into real firefights – well, as close to real as one would want to get. Then was committing the time and energy into learning how to ride that bike, and there where hours of discussions with Alex and really just trying to hone down and define the character as best we could. For me it was really important to focus on identifying the humanity of the man. As I said before, he’s not a super-hero, and it was important for me to make him accessible. The humor was part of that and also getting specific as to how he felt about things and how to communicate that to an audience, that was the challenge. There are certain points in this film where you can see significant gear shifts within the character. After all the innocent people have been murdered and the massacre, you see real shift within Dredd and that’s his response. So you can tell by that that he does give a damn, that he has got compassion.

Back up arrivesBack up arrives

Backup arrives

With the Lawmaster, was it a totally custom bike that you had to learn to ride or was it more like a regular bike that you’re used to?

I was comfortable on a regular bike but the Lawmaster took some getting used to!

Was it harder than learning to ride a horse for The Lord of the Rings?

Ha! It took about as much time and energy! It was great going in straight lines, but the corners could be challenging.

You’ve played Eomer in Lord of the Rings and Bones in Star Trek. Are there any other geeky, genre heroes that you’d like to play?

I feel that it would be greedy to want anything more than what I’ve got! I could retire quite happily with my comic book inspired characters at this point in time! If I never played another character based on science fiction or fantasy or comic books then I’d be good – I’ve done some goodies! But, I’d love to do a character in Doctor Who maybe!

At the beginning of the film you have this voiceover which sets the scene of the place of Mega-City One and says that the “citizens are living in fear of the streets, and the gun and the gang.” Do you see this as a kind of social commentary on modern society?

I definitely think that the parallels can be drawn, it’s best not to forget that the character was created in the ’70s during Thatcherism and the era of Punk and anarchy, and I think those threads are relevant, but you only have to look back in history one year and you see London in riot and that’s the world that Dredd is set in. It’s set in a society that’s on the verge of chaos and collapse, and it’s not that big a leap. We take our freedom pretty much for granted and I think it’s really interesting to look at a totalitarian society where all those freedoms have been taken away, because that’s the only way that the society can function. It’s horrific, and it was interesting to explore those things and it certainly makes me appreciate the fact that I live in a democratic country that has good gun control and good a quality of life. At the end of the day, this is escapist entertainment, but if you want to dig a bit deeper then there are messages there. I also the like the subtle little morality tales within this movie. Dredd’s doing his job, he’s representative of the law and he’s bound by a code of ethics and an oath that he’s taken, but what’s really interesting to me is the choices that the citizens of Peach Trees have to make – whether to align themselves with the judges, whether to help them or whether to not help them, and then based on those morality choices what happens to those people through the film. In reading the original Dredd comics, quite often Dredd was a supporting character and those citizens of Mega-City One and their little stories were actually the focus.

Ma-Ma takes a pot-shotMa-Ma takes a pot-shot

Ma-Ma takes a pot-shot

You’ve mentioned about working closely with Alex, what was it like working on the set in Cape Town with the team?

It was fantastic, it really was. It was one of the most collaborative experiences that I’ve ever had. The good thing about Pete is that he knew that he had a good team working with him and he just let everybody do their jobs. Alex had an extraordinary input on this, to the extent that you could rightly say that he directed a fair amount of this film. And that’s not uncommon – on Lord of the Rings we had five units with five different directors. Pete Jackson was undoubtedly the driving creative force behind Lord of the Rings, but by virtue of the fact of what we were trying to accomplish on that meant that there were other directors actually helping in the execution and Dredd was always pretty ambitious as well, so Alex’s input is huge.

Dredd opens in the US on Friday 21st September, look out for our “10 Things…” post next week

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