From his early days as Julius Caesar and Cupid on Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and Xena: Warrior Princess, New Zealand-born actor Karl Urban has always been a favorite with fans. His first major exposure to moviegoers came in 2002, when he first played the Rohirrim warrior Eomer in The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (a role he would reprise in the next year’s The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King). Since then, he has appeared in movies such as Doom, The Bourne Supremacy, Red, Pathfinder, The Chronicles of Riddick and more.
He also created a defining new portrayal of Judge Dredd in the 2012 future cult classic Dredd, and his performance as Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy in the three rebooted Star Trek films so far has been hailed by both diehard fans and critics as one of the strongest aspects of that series. Now — and it seems like it should have happened before — he has joined the Marvel Cinematic Universe in Thor: Ragnarok as Skurge, an Asgardian worker who betrays Thor (Chris Hemsworth) to serve as right hand man to the villainous Hela (Cate Blanchett).
There’s always lots to talk about with the affable Urban, and when we sat down with him this time in Los Angeles, we touched on joining the MCU, playing opposite his LOTR co-star Blanchett for the first time, working with director Taika Waititi and more, including the future of Star Trek and Dredd.
Den of Geek: I think I speak for a lot of fans when I say it’s about damn time we see Karl Urban in a Marvel movie. Have you talked to them before about different things or is this kind of the first time you interacted with them?
Karl Urban: We’ve had conversations about a film in the past, but in this case I got a phone call from Taika. He said, “I got a part in this movie, I’d love for you to be a part in it. I’m gonna send you the script and I’m gonna send you some key artwork of what the character looks like.” Which he did and I read the script and immediately recognized that it was something emotionally compelling about this character and his journey. He was a character who was forced to align himself with a cause that he does not believe in and that he has to do it in order to survive. I thought that was a very relatable predicament to be in.
Had you read any Marvel comics before this at all?
No. I’d never really read comics when I was growing up. I was always, I guess, a student of film and cinema. I went to the movies a lot, so no, I guess my first exposure to the whole sort of Marvel universe came when they made the first movie, Iron Man with Jon Favreau. That was really the first time, I think, taking into account the Spider-Man movies, which Sony were making before that.
Once you got into this, did you read up on the character?
Yeah, a little bit. I did a little bit obviously to get some sort of understanding about the history of the character and sort of the dynamic that he shares with other characters in the Marvel universe, but primarily everything I needed was on the page. That really kind of formed the basis of what you see in the movie.
Skurge has some depth in that there is a definite arc to what he’s doing. Is that what struck you the most when you started reading the script?
Oh, definitely, yeah. I felt for this character’s predicament, I thought that it was imminently relatable. I would hope an audience sits in the cinema and sort of asks themselves, “What would I do, if I was in that situation?”
There are some shots of you in the movie that look like they’ve leaped right off the page of the comics.
Taika was very fastidious about key moments — from the angle that I would hold an axe to the angle that he shot a certain frame was literally meant to be like it lifted right off the page.
This is definitely one of the funniest of the Marvel movies, if not the funniest. Did Taika encourage you to try things a lot of different ways and did he experiment with the tone a lot on set?
Yeah, really full credit has to go to Taika and to Marvel. Marvel hired a director who is renowned for his certain brand of comedic sensibility, which he executed extremely well in Boy, What We Do in the Shadows and Hunt for the Wilderpeople. Then they had the courage to let him do his job and they supported him and surrounded him with an infrastructure that enabled him to have the luxury and the freedom to try anything and everything. Consequently, you would be on the set and it was a constant process of improvisation, experimentation and it was loose and fun, but also focused.
Most of your scenes are with Cate Blanchett. Both of you were also in The Lord of the Rings, but I don’t believe you ever worked together on those.
No, I actually met Cate for the first time at the premiere of Lord to the Rings in London. My character didn’t interact with hers. To be perfectly honest, she was the main reason after the script and Taika that I decided to be a part of this movie. I got to spend 99% of my scenes with her and working with her character and that was a huge draw for me. Working with her was a brilliant experience. I loved the way she approaches the work. It was pretty clear that she was delivering a game changer in terms of everything that had come before in the Marvel universe and we had a lot of fun.
You and Chris Hemsworth are, in theory, supposed to appear at some point in Star Trek 4, which was announced last year during the press lead-up to Star Trek Beyond. What have you heard on that?
I know nothing. I haven’t heard anything, I certainly know that the cast would love the opportunity to come back and make another Star Trek film. We had a lot of fun making the last one, but if Star Trek Beyond is the last Star Trek movie that we are blessed to make then I’m happy with that. It was a good note to end it on.
What would you like to see happen if they do a fourth one or what direction do you think you’d like to see them go in?
I’m just an actor, I’m not a writer.
But you’re a Trek fan too.
Yeah, but I wouldn’t speculate on it. We would just be blessed to have the opportunity to make another one.
What’s happening with the Dredd TV series that’s potentially in the works?
Rebellion (the production company and game developer that holds the rights to Dredd) are currently developing this TV series called Mega-City One. I’ve had many discussions with them about that and I’ve told them that if they write a character that has a solid function and purpose and write a story that is compelling on a emotional level, that I would be very interested in reprising the role.
It’s almost like the fans are willing it to happen.
I am really blown away how loved that film was and the fact that there’s a constant demand for a sequel to that movie. I would be blessed to be in the position where I can help make that happen and give that audience more of what they want.
You’ve been in some of these huge franchises like The Lord of the Rings, Star Trek, and now the Marvel universe. What do you think makes these so successful with the fans out there?
In the case of this movie, all of them really, I feel like it’s about family, this sort of group of dysfunctional, highly talented misfits who are ultimately making the right moral choices. Beyond that they’re just fun, it’s as simple as that. They’re fun movies and they’re funny. People have a great time and they’re one of the best forms of escapism out there.
Thor: Ragnarok is out in theaters tomorrow (Friday, November 3).