Karl Urban isn’t a household name… yet. But the rising star has had his share of memorable roles in some pretty iconic movie franchises. Chances are you’ll recognize the native New Zealander as Eomer, the exiled leader of the Riders of Rohan in the Lord of the Rings trilogy; or as Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy in the 2009 Star Trek prequel; or as Kirill, the Russian assassin on Jason Bourne’s tail in The Bourne Supremacy. This October, Urban stars alongside such premiere talent as Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, Helen Mirren, and John Malkovich (among others) in the action film Red, based on the comic series of the same name. We were able to sit down with Urban at Comic-Con to talk about his Five Favorite Films, as well as what it was like to work with Ernest Borgnine and Bruce Willis. Read on for the full interview!
One of the inspirational films for me, Cool Hand Luke. Paul Newman. He’s just phenomenal. I mean, really. It’s the template for many films. You know, Jack Nicholson in [One Flew Over the] Cuckoo’s Nest, it’s the same kind of thing, the individual against the system. “What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate. Some men, you just can’t reach.” I love that film. Love it.
I’m gonna have to say, because of my childhood, and it’s such a strong influence for me, Raiders of the Lost Ark. I would define my interest in acting as a long-standing compulsion, and I was interested in pursuing this career since I was five years old. But it was films like Star Wars, or, you know, films that really got me interested. Star Wars, Raiders, Jaws… Alien. Alien I have to put on the list… I feel like… Every time, if I name a film like Alien, I say, “Well, I should really say Blade Runner as well.” You can’t… I mean, the attention to detail, and the characters. I just can’t wait to see where [Ridley Scott] goes next. The fact that he’s doing prequels has just got me giddy.
RT: So let’s talk about Red for a minute. Amazing cast!
Karl Urban: It’s insane. When I first signed onto the film, Bruce [Willis] was attached, Morgan [Freeman] was attached. I met the director, I read the script, and I loved the material, loved the character. “Yeah, I’m in!” And then it was just bizarre! Every week, it was like, “Oh, Helen Mirren’s just joined the cast. Oh, John Malkovich has just joined. Richard Dreyfuss. Ernest Borgnine.” It just became stupid, that this film was just turning into this beast with the most phenomenal cast. You know, they tested the film the other day, and apparently it went through the roof. The audience really loves this film, so I’m really looking forward to it getting out there.
Did you have any scenes with Borgnine?
I did, I did. He’s phenomenal. I mean, that was one of my most favorite days on this shoot. Getting to work with him and hearing him tell stories about Lee Marvin and [Sam] Peckinpah and From Here to Eternity. He’s one of the last real old-school guys around, back from the ’40s, the ’50s. He was kicking it with Monty Clift and [Frank] Sinatra and [Robert] Mitchum and all those guys. Yeah, so that was a real treat. And to have the opportunity to work with him? He’s 90-something, sharp as a tack and on his game. He put in a full day.
It’s got to be a thrill to work with a guy like Bruce Willis, having presumably grown up on movies like his.
Oh yeah, absoultely.
Is it tough to keep from being starstruck?
No, I mean… You know, I’ve been doing this long enough that what you come to realize is that people are all the same. We have the same basic needs and functions. So I don’t get starstruck so much, but for me, certainly, to have the opportunity to go head to head with one of the most iconic action heroes of all time was an offer I couldn’t refuse. It was really wonderful because, quite often, these stars like Bruce are highly revered and you hear so much about them, there’s a high degree of expectation about who they are and what they can deliver and what they’re like on set. And I have to say that it was such a pleasant surprise to me that all my expectations were thoroughly exceeded by how cool this guy is and how wonderful he was to everybody and how he was just a rock solid captain of the ship. Fun to be around, relaxed, you know, just one of the guys. There was no sort of air or pretenses like “I’m Mr. Superstar.” He was really humble and welcoming to be around.
Not a lot of people seem to be able to bounce between heroic and villainous roles. Is there one you prefer to do? Is there one that’s more fun?
I have no preference, no. To me, I’m just attracted to what fuels me creatively. I don’t really plan out to any great degree what I do, and perhaps I should. But if I read a script and I respond to the characters, and I start making decisions on how I would play them, then that is, to me, an indication of “Well, that’s something I should do.” In the case of Star Trek, I was a longtime fan of the show, so I actively pursued that. But no, you know what? The bad guys are fun to play because they get to do and say the things that we never can in real life, and as far as playing a hero or good guy, it’s one of the things that attracts you as a kid when you’re watching movies. You know, you put yourself in the position of the hero and you want to be that hero, so that’s a lot of fun as well.
So I have to ask, since it’s in the news all the time now. Presumably, Eomer’s not in the Hobbit movies, but any chance you might talk your way into a different role?
No, no I don’t think so. I have enough respect for Peter Jackson and Fran [Walsh] and Phillipa [Boyens] and all the team there. I just feel very grateful to have already worked with them on such a well-renowned and -loved bunch of films. Would I like to do The Hobbit? Absolutely. But I couldn’t conceivably do it as Eomer; he wasn’t even born when that period of Tolkien was set.
Red, starring Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, Helen Mirren, John Malkovich, and of course, Karl Urban, opens in the US on October 15.
Be sure to check out the rest of our 2010 Comic-Con coverage in our San Diego Comic-Con 2010 Headquarters.