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Wearing the ‘Dredd’ helmet, Karl Urban ‘walks into the face of danger’

Judge Dredd Still Image

Judge Dredd Still Image

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Updated: October 23, 2012 6:05AM

Karl Urban of “Star Trek” and “Dredd 3D,” calling during a recent Chicago visit, frets that he has made a huge mistake.

“I just had a phenomenal chicken panini,” he says, “but I’m told that I should have tried the pizza.”

Urban has his reasons to enjoy his calories. The New Zealand native usually lives in a gym for action roles including Bones in the new “Star Trek” movies and now Judge Dredd for a new generation.

Like the Judge Dredd comic series and the 1995 Sylvester Stallone movie, “Dredd 3D” is about a violent city of the future where cops are also judge, jury and executioners. Urban plays Dredd, who must team up with a trainee to take down a gang pushing a reality-altering drug.

“Dredd” was shot over a summer in Cape Town, South Africa. “Every single day, I wore this extensive uniform consisting of a leather suit and a lot of armor,” Urban says. “It was pretty toasty in there.

“Let’s just say it put me in a Judge Dredd mood. ... In all seriousness, it was vital that hydration levels were maintained.”

Serious is the norm for Urban, even when he talks about why he wanted to play Dredd.

“I liked the enigma of the character,” he says. “He’s mysterious. He never reveals his face. His identity is really wrapped up in what he does and how he does it. He’s the kind of man who walks into the face of danger when everyone else is running in the opposite direction.”

The helmet obscuring most of his head presented a big acting test. “It was a huge challenge to communicate with the audience without the use of my eyes,” Urban says. “The greater challenge was trying to find as many ways possible to humanize the character. He’s not a robot or a superhero.

“I had to make Dredd human.”

The film’s idea of hasty justice appalls some people but appeals to others.

“I think this movie is living out a fantasy to a certain extent,” Urban says. “We’ve all been in situations where we’ve felt as if instant justice would be a good solution. This movie takes place in a futuristic society where judges can only respond to 6 percent of crime. Instant judgment is a desperate measure for a desperate time.”

Urban grew up the son of a leather goods manufacturer who wanted the boy to follow in his footsteps. Urban surprised his pop by getting cast on a local TV series at age 8. He picked up his acting career after high school with a role in a New Zealand soap opera called “Shortland Street.”

“Acting has been a longstanding compulsion,” he says. “I enjoy the process of discovery. I find it creatively stimulating.”

American audiences discovered him from “Xena: Warrior Princess,” the “Lord of the Rings” franchise, “The Bourne Supremacy” and “Red.”

Urban lives in Auckland with his wife, Natalie Wihongi, and their two children.

He just wrapped “Star Trek Into the Darkness” for director J.J. Abrams. It’s due out in 2013.

“I’m sorry, but I can’t tell you the plotm” he says. “I can say that it was really wonderful coming back together with that cast and crew and just hanging out again.

“We’ve all gone off and done other things. We came back so naturally and reconnected and had so many laughs.”

How crazy is it to step onto the Enterprise… again?

“It’s totally surreal to step onto the Enterprise,” he says. “I literally felt like I walked back in time four years ago when we filmed the first one and Obama was about to be elected. Same bridge. Same crew. Same extras.

“It was crazy,” he says.

Big Picture News Inc.

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