Karl Urban looks like hell. He just finished shooting–literally shooting guns–and his face is caked with bloody makeup. It’s the last day of principal photography on “Doom,” and that’s a good thing, because he looks to be in no condition to film another scene. But then he talks. And you see his energy return, his face brighten, and you realize that he’s just now emerging from whatever place he had to go for that final scene. Seconds later, he’s smiling and perky and swapping jokes. Still in full combat fatigues, Urban talks about his first leading role.
Question: Nice makeup job, there.
Urban: Thank you! [Laughs.]
Question: How different is your character, John Grimm, from the character in the game?
Urban: One of the thing that attracted me to the project is that they actually had written a very comprehensive three dimensional character. He’s an excellent soldier; he’s good at what he does. He’s kind of running away from his past a little bit. Through the course of the film, he kind of builds in confidence. He’s good at what he does but he’s not necessarily 100% confident. So you get to explore a sort of brother/sister relationship. And that starts out a very detached and fractured place, and we take that relationship and mend it through the film. So there was a lot to play with. That was one of the main things that attracted me to doing the film.
Question: This is your first lead role. A lot of pressure?
Urban: I don’t really feel it’s any different from any other job that I’ve ever done. Is the role or the screen time substantially larger than other projects I’ve had in the past? Yes, yes it is. But the fundamentals are still the same. Lord of the Rings was one of the biggest films on the planet, but the process was still the same. So to me it doesn’t feel any different, I’ve just gotten more meat on the bone.
Question: They seem to be getting more physically demanding. How are you taking to the action on the film?
Urban: I love it. I love it! I love firing weapons. I’m having a blast on this film, really. When you walk on sets and you see these moody corridors and these massive assault weapons to play with–I feel like the luckiest guy on the planet. I’ve got my own 3D version of Doom and I get to play it every day!
Question: Have you ever played the game before?
Urban: Yeah. I played it quite a while ago. And I found it scary as all hell, as most people do. I really enjoyed it. By the nature of what I do, I don’t get a whole lot of time to play videogames these days, but like I said, I have my own 3D game right here!
Question: Did you enjoy the boot camp?
Urban: Yeah, that was awesome. I learned a lot. That’s one of the things I decided early on, was to ground this character in reality of being this special forces guy. And we were very, very fortunate to have a military instructor. He was a major, major source of inspiration and advice. He really taught me how to move, how to look the part, how to act the part. Throughout the film, I was constantly picking his brain on how does it feel like to be shot, etc. These unspeakable stories. And I’m hoping that when I finally get to see those film, that those qualities will be onscreen.
Question: As an actor, how much do you have to push to preserve the integrity of the character, given this is a movie with very special effects and visuals?
Urban: Oh, I push it to the line. I take it to the limit. I stand up for what I believe in. And we’ve had some fights along the way, but to me, that’s a really good sign. That means that people care about what they’re doing. People are passionate about it. They have very strong points of view. If the volume gets turned up, so be it, that means people care.
Question: Can you give an example of one of those issues?
Urban: I’d rather not.
Question: Reaper. That’s your character’s name. Are you a murderous lot?
Urban: Reaper partly comes from my character’s surname, Grim. But he’s good at his job, and his job is slaughtering bad-guys.
Question: How would you compare Reaper to your character in Riddick?
Urban: The character in Riddick is really a Macbeth archetype. This character is entirely different. There’s much more three-dimensionality about him. I get a lot more to play with. His relationships are a lot more complex. I get to explore a sense of humor, which the other character was completely devoid of.
Question: Talk about working with Andrzej Bartkowiak.
Urban: [Pause.] Working with Andrez has been great in the way that he gives you the freedom to do what you want to. I’ve really appreciated that flexibility. He’s very open to collaboration, open to ideas. On the whole, I think it’s been a pretty enjoyable experience. It hasn’t been a completely unstrained relationship, but as I said before, I think that’s actually a pretty good sign. I think it shows people care. This film has one of the most kick-ass third acts of any film I’ve ever heard of. It’s just action, action, action. There’s monsters, people are dying, the tensions between the characters just twists and turns and sways. It’s quite a run.
Question: Can you talk about the first person shooter scene?
Urban: I’ve never seen that in a film before. And I think that’s going to give the film a big boost in originality in a genre that’s strained for originality. It’s a sequence where essentially the audience becomes John Grimm. And goes around slaughtering all these creatures, mutants. I’ve seen an animatic of it, and it’s just thrilling.
Question: Is there a story explanation for how we get in that format?
Urban: Yes there is. And I don’t want to give it away!
Question: How are you involved in the 1st person scene?
Urban: I’m involved. There are certain elements. You’ll see my hands, my weapons and so on.
Question: Are you interested in doing Doom sequels?
Urban: I’m signed up for another one. I think there’s a potentially goldmine in the character of John Grimm and the storyline.
Question: You mentioned how this character has some humor. What’s the tone you’re going for?
Urban: You have to find the balance. Dwayne gets all the posturing as far as the macho dialogue. My character is a lot more cerebral. He’s a lot more introverted. Through the course of the film, you just get glimpses of this character’s dry, dry humor. And one of the reasons that we opted to go with a brother/sister relationship, instead of a romantic relationship, is that it didn’t seem to gel that through the midst of all this carnage, violence, and dark corridors, there’s this, “Hey, How you doin’?” [Laughs.]
Question: Do the serious gamers freak you out?
Urban: The game is a starting point. It’s an inspiration. And we’ve incorporated a hell of a lot of elements from the game into this film. But at the end of the day, this is a screen adaptation of the film. And I think we’ve done our very best to honor what the gamers are into, and what has been created, and hopefully add to it.
Question: If you and The Rock got in a fight, who would win?
Urban: Come to the film and find out. [Laughs.]
Question: So is it actually going to be you and The Rock throwing down?
Urban: No comment!
Question: Any directors out there that you really want to work with?
Urban: Sure. I could list a whole bunch. I haven’t been in this industry for fifteen years to stop here, you know what I mean? There are some great directors out there. And my goal is really simple, to continue to collaborate with artists of a high-caliber, people who are at the top of their game. I kind of feel like I’m the luckiest guy in the world. I feel like I worked really hard to get here, and I don’t take that for granted. And I really do appreciate everything that is around me at the moment, but I’m also aware of how flippant the industry is, and I don’t even worry about tomorrow.
Question: Are you actively reading scripts right now?
Urban: Yeah. Always looking for new material. I think my representation would like me to do back to back. But I believe in balance. I’m not one of these people that finishes one project and just wants to jump into the next. I want to take a holiday. [Laughs.] You can pretty easily get sidetracked by big paydays and working on stuff that is of a lesser quality. And just get sucked into the celebrity agenda. That’s not the way that I want to go. There’s enough self-serving narcissistic wankers in this business. I don’t want to become one of them.
Question: Is it a challenge to get into CG?
Urban: It’s just part of modern filmmaking that you’re always working with elements that may not be present on the day. The interesting thing working on this one is the fantastic work that Stan Winston and those boys have done. We’ve all seen those monsters. And they’re scary as hell. But the green screen is just part of it. It’s part of modern filmmaking.