"The eyes are the window of the soul."
The old English proverb has been accredited to poets, playwrights, and painters, but nearly everyone agrees that when you're provoking emotion, a human's sight prohibitors speak volumes. So imagine the challenge actor Karl Urban (The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Star Trek) faced in his gritty sci-fi action flick Dredd, the futuristic lawmen's iconic costume requiring a shaded helmet that is never removed.
"It was a hell of challenge," Urban tells Hollywood.com, lamenting that the eyes are one of the most important tolls an actor has at his disposal. "To take those away, you have to figure quickly what your other tools are and how you'll use them. So the voice became very important. Body language. That all became extremely important. How you do what you do."
In the case of Judge Dredd, the "do" is "eliminate the lawbreaking scum of his hometown, Mega City One, by any means possible." Whether it's shooting a flare into an evildoe's' head and watching it pop, or throwing him from the top of a multi-story building, Dredd gets the job done — and he does it all in his signature armor. In order to pull off his stunts and fight scenes, Urban had to practice maneuvering with the uniform on, as the complicated costume dictated most of his movement.
"I wore it for about two weeks before shooting. Every day I would go into work, I would don the uniform and just wear it. Even then, when we started shooting, it still took me awhile to get used to it. But by a couple of weeks in, it was like a skin to me. I felt uncomfortable without it. Going home at the end of the day, it just didn't seem right taking it off." So did Urban party it up at home in the Judge Dredd outfit? "That's a different story!"
Impressively, Urban's performance shines through the layers of padding and facial mask that could have easily turned Dredd into a faceless action pawn. Through an impressive array of snarls, grunts, and gestures, Urban conveys an emotional understanding of Dredd that he constructed from reading comic mastermind John Wagner's extensive work in the 2000 A.D. series, as well as screenwriter Alex Garland's detailed script. "As part of the research process I went back and looked at the comics, and the wonderful thing was that I discovered a whole lot of stories I hadn't read," Urban says. Perhaps the most important one was Judge Dredd: Origins, which pretty much outlines the character and how the world it got the way it was. What happened with democracy, the onset of global nuclear annihilation, and the rise of the Judges."
Urban describes Dredd as a classic "Man With No Name," Eastwood-type Western character, but with a mix of emotions uncommon in typical genre fare. "[He has] a weariness about him; a laconic delivery; a sardonic humor. There is violence, rage — all of that. But there is also humanity and compassion. He makes choices throughout the film to not kill certain people. To save Anderson or kill some kids. He's gotta deal with that." Urban acknowledges Garland as the reason Dredd resonates on so many levels. He sums it up with one unique moment: "To me, first and foremost, he's a protector, not only of the law and order, but the people of Mega City One and that's why at the very end of the opening sequence of the film, you have a woman turning to him and saying, 'Thank you Judge.'"
Audiences went nuts for Dredd at its San Diego Comic-Con premiere, making it clear the character's return has been anxiously awaited by the sci-fi fanbase. Urban shares in the enthusiasm for The Judge — as well as plenty of other geek-appropriate hobbies. When he's not reading Dredd comic books, the New Zealand-born actor admits he has a love for Doctor Who and toy miniatures. "I have a couple [of figurines] at home. I'm looking forward to getting my Dredd figurine. That's when the party will get interesting."
Follow Matt Patches on Twitter @misterpatches
[Photo Credit: WENN; Lionsgate]