Karl Urban interview: Dredd, Dredd 2

The Judge is in the house: Karl Urban chats to us about Judge Dredd, and where he stands on Dredd 2…

It’s been nearly four years now since Karl Urban kept his helmet on his head in the most recent screen take on 2000AD’s Judge Dredd. You more than likely know what happened next, too. The film won over fans, crashed at the box office, and chances of a sequel diminished.

Diminished, but never died. And thanks to a fervent fan campaign, there remains hope of sending Karl Urban back to Mega City One. Here, Urban answers our questions about the past and future of Judge Dredd

Can you take us back to the start of the story. How did you land the role of Judge Dredd in the first place? Did you lobby for it?

The process of committing to Dredd was relatively simple. I read a tight, action-packed, character-driven script written by Alex Garland. I flew to Los Angeles to meet with the DNA producers, it was evident that we were all on the same page, they felt assured that I was comfortable doing a movie in which most of my face remained hidden and I felt assured that they were interested in making a visceral and unapologetic vision of John Wagner’s Judge Dredd.

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Shortly after that meeting I was offered the role of Dredd.

What do you recall about making the film itself? Were the budget constraints you were working with evident?

The production budget of the film is often quoted as being $50 million, but that is completely inaccurate . The true budget of Dredd was just under $30 million. The film was both ambitious in nature yet contained.

We had numerous CGI and action sequences both are costly and time/labour intensive. We shot at the Cape Town film studios, an impressive new facility, and were blessed with a brilliant, hard working local crew mixed with key people from the UK and the US.

The decision was made to shoot in 3D as opposed to a digital conversion, while that garnered an incredible visual aesthetic, it did prove costly in terms of the number of shots we were able to accomplish in the shooting day, often we were forced to compromise and drop shots. In my opinion those limitations actually became a strength of the film, it became an exercise in economy, economy in the language of visual story telling.

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How does it contrast with, say, making a Star Trek film?

Fundamentally, the process of shooting a movie like Dredd is the same as Star Trek. Obviously, the bigger the budget the more time and coverage you can afford.

How involved were you during the 18 months of post-production? Did you keep in touch regularly? How, in your mind, did the film alter during that period?

The post-production process was completed in London. I saw a few versions of the film over the 18 month period. Alex Garland was working with the editors, CGI techs and sound engineers to deliver the final cut.

Towards the end of that period we shot some additional footage, namely the ‘hotshot’ sequence after the opening bike chase and some additional coverage of the final Mama confrontation. Alex correctly felt that we needed more jeopardy in that beat and a strong justification to throw her out the window, so we added the bracelet device that would trigger a massive explosion if Mama’s heartbeat stopped. Working with Alex Garland was one of the most creative and collaboratively rewarding experiences that I have ever had.

When did the realisation hit that Dredd was going to struggle at the box office? Was there a particular moment where that hit?

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Alex Garland has gone on record to say that Dredd was a Failure. I disagree. The movie itself was not a failure, in fact it was a critical success, it just failed to perform at the box office. How does a movie with a 78% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes fail? Through zero audience awareness. Nobody knew the movie was being released . Dredd represents a failure in marketing, not filmmaking .

Dredd sold 750,000 units, in North America, the first week it went on sale on DVD, which earned it a lot of money and the number one slot. Proof that the audience, once they became aware, wanted to see it.

What had been the plan at this stage with regards to Dredd 2? And what are your feelings on a Dredd sequel now?

The unfortunate theatrical release of Dredd and the manner in which it was mishandled made it problematic for Dredd 2 to be immediately funded and produced in the same fashion.

But the success it has achieved in all post-theatrical mediums has definitely strengthened the argument in favour of a sequel. But it’s not an easy sell. I’m constantly blown away by the fan support and love for Dredd. I get stopped and asked about Dredd most days, I find it strangely ironic that to get recognised and associated with a character whose face is largely obscured behind a helmet.

Dredd has definitely achieved a cult like status, I believe, like Blade Runner. It was ahead of its time, but not by much. The recent success of Deadpool has demonstrated a strong audience demand for R-rated graphic novel films.

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Where do you stand on the idea of a Dredd series on Netflix or Amazon? And how do you feel about the likes of the Make A Dredd Sequel campaign?

I’m amenable to being involved in any legitimate and worthy follow up to Dredd, whether it be another theatrical release or a Netflix/Amazon targeted production. I think the best thing that fans can do is to continue be vocal about their support. Organise more fan screenings of Dredd, that’s one of the key factors that helped Blade Runner find its true audience.

I would be blessed and it would be a privilege to make another Dredd. I feel so incredibly grateful to the fans of this movie.

Finally, what’s your favourite Jason Statham movie?

The Bank Job!

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