Exclusive RED Interview with Karl Urban (and a Surprise Guest!)

As a preview of next week’s coverage of Robert Schwentke’s all-star action-comedy RED, based on the DC/Wildstorm comic book by Warren Ellis and Cully Hamner, we have an interview done over the summer at this year’s Comic-Con International in San Diego where we were slated to talk to Karl Urban, and well, let’s just say things didn’t go exactly as planned.

As you’ll learn next week, "RED" stands for "Retired Extremely Dangerous" and it partially represents the main character Frank Moses, played by Bruce Willis, a former CIA hitman who finds himself on the run from his old agency when they realize he’s a loose end in a conspiracy cover-up that needs to be cleaned up. Urban plays William Cooper, the CIA agent put in charge of those clean-up duties.

As often happens at Comic-Con, we were running around and didn’t have nearly as much time to prepare for the interview as we hoped, so we’d have to interview the New Zealand actor without having seen anything from the movie. (A representative from Summit was nice enough to show us the footage they showed in Hall H earlier on his laptop.)

We weren’t even one question into the interview when in walked… Bruce Willis.

Now you have to understand that we barely had enough of a chance to prepare to interview Karl, so having Bruce Willis–easily one of the hardest interviews to get–just walk in and sit down certainly threw us for a little loop. Either way, it worked out fine and we also got to ask Karl a few questions about playing "Bones" McCoy in J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek movie, a character to which he’ll be returning sometime next year.

As weird as that was, at the junket this past weekend, Karl and Bruce were paired for all of their interviews, so obviously, these two guys really get along even if they spend most of the movie kicking each other’s ass.

SuperHeroHype: Before someone just showed me the footage I was freaking out a little because I had no idea who you played in the movie. I don’t think you were even in the first trailer.
Karl Urban: Oh, well, briefly, but blink and you (miss me)… Yeah.

SHH: So William Cooper is basically the bad guy in the movie.
Urban: Well, no, it’s not so cut and dry. I mean, I’m the antagonist yes, but essentially, I play CIA agent William Cooper, and I get given the job to hunt down and kill this guy here…

And "this guy here" is in fact Bruce Willis who just so happens to walk into the cubicle where we’re doing the interview at that very moment…

Bruce Willis: What are you guys talking about? (To Karl) Are you almost done?

SHH: We’re talking about you.
Willis: Oh, cool.
Urban: We’re not going to be much longer.
Willis: Mind if I sit down?

SHH: Sure, why not?
Willis: Yeah, ask me one question.
Urban: So it’s my job to hunt this… (to Bruce) We’re talking about whether I’m playing a bad guy and I’m saying that it’s not that straight-forward. Yes, it’s my job to hunt down and kill Frank Moses, but the great thing about William Cooper is that through the course of the film, the interactions that I have with Frank, I come to realize that there is something else going on here and the character’s also not the stereotypical hitman. You actually get to see this other dynamic to him where he has a family and that to me was very interesting.

SHH: I just saw the trailer and I was amazed by all of the actors that came together for this, so what drove you to this material and how did you get everyone on board?
Willis: (ignores the one question) I can tell you one thing about what Karl was just saying is that there’s a lot of grey area in the story that’s not, "Ah, God, I don’t understand why that happens," but it’s not bad guy-good guy… I used to kill people, too. I used to do just what he did and to see your character have kids and not be some raving maniac lunatic and go, "Yeah." That’s just the job, that’s just what you do, and it’s really good to not have to say "bad guys" "good guys"-there’s a lot of grey area, and look, it’s the job that you pick up a gun and you do what in any other world would be a crime.

SHH: From what I’ve seen, it seems very different from the comic, did either of you read the comic?
Urban: Oh, yeah, absolutely, but if you read through the comic, it really is the opening act of the film and 60 pages does not a full screenplay or a movie make. I think the wonderful thing about what the Hoeber Brothers (the screenwriters) and Lorenzo (di Bonaventura, the producer) and Robert (Schwentke, director) and Bruce and everyone has done is used that as a starting point or a platform, and they’ve really build this wonderfully rich and dynamic group of characters and sent them on this fun romp. I mean this is extraordinarily hilarious and funny and it’s character-driven.
Willis: And you can never forget that there are two different artforms. Pages in a book which there are only 66 of and it’s graphically illustrated and a story that you have to get the audience to come in with you and stay for 90 minutes. In a book you can say, "Ah, I’m going to take a break, go and get something to eat and come back to it… or not" but it had to be an adaptation of one artform and get it up on the big screen and get people interested.

SHH: From what I’ve seen in the trailer, it looks very funny. Bruce has done a lot of comedy and Morgan’s hilarious, but do you get to do any of that or are you really the serious guy in the whole thing?
Urban: Me, not so much. My function in the film is pretty singular in that I have a job to do and Frank Moses is my target, my focus and everything in the film revolves around–for me anyway, for my character—achieving that objective.
Willis: (to Karl) You really don’t get to loosen up about it, do you? I just realized that. Don’t you have any…?
Urban: There’s a little bit of being loose at the…
Willis: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah.

SHH: Don’t want to give away the whole movie… spoilers!
Willis: No, no… but a joke is at your expense.
Urban: Exactly.
Willis: So there’s that… it’s funny though. And I was always resisting the temptation to do it but then people kept coming in and being funnier and funnier and I went, "This is an action movie, you can’t be funny!" So it’s more than all of those things.

SHH: I’m sure you’ve read the comic but Warren is hilarious and everything he does have some sort of edgy humor… now is this going to be PG-13 or is it fairly raunchy or are they still trying to figure that out?
Willis: I think it’s PG-13, I would think so, just to get this audience, just to get 7,000 people to come and see it would be great, just show the film.

SHH: Karl, where do you see this fitting in with some of the other stuff you’ve done?
Willis: I’m gonna take that as my cue to… (gets up, says his "goodbyes" to Karl, they exchange pleasantries and then he wanders off)

SHH: So where do you see this compared to some of your other movies? It’s a comic book movie, it’s got action and comedy, so do you see it as being very different from other things you’ve done before?
Urban: Yeah, well that’s primarily what attracted me to the character was that it was different from anything I’ve ever done before. Yes, he’s a hitman and I’ve played hitmen before but on the other side, you get to see that he has this family life that he’s trying to balance and to me, that was really interesting and also the fact that he’s trying to figure out what’s going on in the film and so he is a highly intelligent proactive young CIA officer and he’s not just a killer. He has a function, he has a job to do, and he’s got a wife and kids, and it’s unique.

SHH: Are you generally a fan of genre stuff? After this, you have "Priest" and you’ve done quite a bit of genre before.
Urban: You know, I grew up watching the "Star Wars" films and I grew up with "Star Trek" and "Dr. Who" and stuff like that, Dungeons and Dragons, all that sort of stuff, so for me, I do have a natural attraction to that kind of material, but as I said before, I never really plan what I’m going to do next on a genre basis. I just pick films and characters that appeal to me and if I read a script, and I start making decisions on how I want to play that character well, then it’s just that simple. If it fuels me creatively then I’ll go for it.

SHH: So this is done, "Priest" is done, I know there’s talk about doing another "Star Trek" movie in which you’ll return as "Bones" McCoy. Have you heard anything about when you might start or where you might go with this one?
Urban: Yeah, I think we’re going to start that film mid next year, May or June, going to start the next one, and I’m super-excited about that. Obviously, the first film was phenomenally received and I just can’t wait to see what J.J. and Roberto and Alex are going to cook up for the sequel.

SHH: How hard was it getting into that character, because he’s so well known?
Urban: Yeah, well I have to say that it was daunting from the perspective that I was already a long-term fan of the show. I was one of the older cast members who actually was into it and knew the original series, so for me to approach such an iconic character that was so wonderfully-crafted by DeForrest Kelley for over forty years was daunting to say the least, and the challenge for me was… having this appreciation of it, I felt that it was essential that there be some continuity between what he’d done so wonderfully well with the older version of the character and what the younger version that I play, there had to be a link between the two. So it was really about identifying and establishing the essence of what that character was and imbuing a younger version of that and making sure that he Bones and identifiably Bones.

RED opens nationwide on October 15. Check back next week for an interview with director Robert Schwentke and bits and bobs from our brief interviews with most of the rest of the cast.