THOR: RAGNAROK’s Karl Urban Is Becoming Geekdom’s Greatest Character Actor

A chat with the great Karl Urban.

Mild SPOILERS for Thor: Ragnarok to follow!

Thor: Ragnarok is out now! Get your tickets here!

It should be no surprise that Karl Urban, who first became known to American audiences 16 years ago in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, has become something of a cult figure to geeks around the world. He’s gotten to play around in the universes of a handful of the most beloved properties in genre entertainment: from LOTR to Star Trek to Dredd, and now Marvel, with last weekend’s release of Thor: Ragnarok.

At this point, asking Urban about the status of one of the franchises he’s a part of has become boilerplate for people like me. His roles in those films define him to many fans, but there’s so much more to the New Zealand-born actor than Dr. McCoy or Judge Dredd. Urban provides the role of the villainous Hela’s henchman Skurge with enough humanity and grace to make a small part highly memorable. In our recent chat, we discussed his approach to acting in genre films, Skurge’s character arc, and, of course, Star Trek and Dredd.

You have experience with all these passionate fanbases. Of all of them, which one do you think is the most passionate or that cares the most how these things come to life?

Oh, wow. I don’t know. Look, it’s the remarkable thing about it. I feel blessed that there’s such a great degree of passion from the fans for all of them. Not only fans of cinema, but also of pop culture and comic books and it’s certainly wonderful to see that these films really strike a chord and entertaining millions and millions of people around the world.

Do you feel a responsibility to nail these characters and make people happy with your performances?

No. That’s not my job. My job is literally to go on set and execute the writers and the directors’ vision to the best of my ability. To put pressure on myself by thinking about how it’s going to be perceived is not doing me any favors. I care enough about getting it right. I put enough pressure on myself to get it right without thinking about how people are going perceive it.

Skurge is a really interesting character and I imagine a bit of a challenge, because you go from this very comedic character to then have this turn, which is almost silent, where you’re just reacting to all this horrible stuff you’ve gotten yourself into. So, by the end, you have this redemption arc. How did you balance the comedic aspects at the beginning with where you know you need to go by the end?

It was a discussion I had with Taika [Waititi]. I wanted to make sure the two aligned. But I think what drew me to the project was reading the script and identifying a very compelling emotional journey for the character. Once Hela shows up and Skurge is really forced to align himself with her and her cause, he really crosses a moral line and makes a deal from which there’s no turning back. I found that interesting. It definitely was a big tonal shift. You’re right. He’s introduced one way and then things get pretty serious for him pretty quickly.

There’s a lot people can take from that in a real world sense.

It’s imminently relatable. I think whether you’re living in a country that has a sort of repressed society or even feeling pressure on social media or peer pressure. People can understand being in that position.

What was the thing that was most fun or creatively invigorating about working with Taika? You’ve worked with some of the best in this business and he’s clearly a visionary. What was there that was special about him?

I think what I found most admirable was his sense of calm and the fact that he created an environment where you were supported and that you were encouraged to collaborate and be creative, to contribute. You don’t always find that. When you do, it’s a real luxury and you appreciate it.

Was there a lot of improvisation or did you mostly stick to the script?

Oh, there was a lot of improvisation. We’d do what was on the page and then shoot five or six versions that were improvised. Taika was constantly coming up with ideas, throwing ideas out. It’s fun.

What’s the status of Star Trek and the Dredd TV series? Your name keeps getting thrown out for this TV show.

I know nothing about Star Trek, in terms of if there’s going to be another film. I’d certainly like to make one, as would the rest of the cast. However, if Star Trek Beyond is the last one we get to make, I’m certainly happy to end it there. I had a great time working on that film and had some fun material to work with. It was a wonderful last summer we got to spend with Anton [Yelchin].

As for Dredd, Rebellion is developing Mega-City One, which is the Judge Dredd TV series. I’ve had conversations with them about what they’re doing and I’ve let them know, if they write a character that has a function and a purpose and there’s a solid story to tell, then I’d love to be a part of it. I’d love to give the audience who loved Dredd more, because there’s literally not a day that goes by where people don’t bring up that film.

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