Karl Urban Interview: Talking ‘Star Trek Into Darkness,’ Secret of the Tribble and More
Our long, slow trek into darkness is almost over. We’ve seen and reviewed the ‘Star Trek‘ sequel and soon you will, too. (Well, you’ll see it – whether your review will be anything more than saying, “hey, that was fun!” as you go out for Whoppers afterwards is up to you.)
The Federated States of Bad Robot have made a global sweep of the world’s press, starting in Sydney and ending in Los Angeles. We put a call into sick bay and had the good fortune to speak with Karl Urban, back on board the Enterprise as the lovable curmudgeon Dr. Leonard H. “Bones” McCoy. Urban’s take on Starfleet’s finest chief medical officer is a welcome bit of comic relief in ‘Star Trek Into Darkness,’ so much so that it took great self-restraint to keep from begging him to shout “dammit!’ over the phone. We did, however, touch upon other topics.
How are you, man? International press tour marathon!
Yes, we started out in Sydney, now in London. I did not go to Germany or to Moscow, though.
Aw. What’s that all about?
I was unavailable because I had…*surfing* to do.
Ha! Wait, did you say you had “surfing” to do or “something” to do?
No, “something,” I had “something!” I was working.
Oh, this phone is…I thought you said “surfing.” Fair enough. Hey, listen, you’ve still had enough people hitting you with the same questions over and over. So I was reading about you and I learned you are a supporter of the New Zealand All Blacks rugby team. I’m American and don’t know squat about rugby so I’ve just spent 45 minutes watching game-opening Hakas on YouTube.
Yeah, the Haka is an incredible cultural expression unique to the Maoris and the All Blacks in rugby. Have you seen any actual rugby games?
Uh, no. But I love that when the All Blacks open with this elaborate dance the other team just has to stand there and take it.
It’s always interesting to see the response of the different teams. Some challenge it, some respect it. Some argue it is a huge psychological advantage. I would imagine if you are receiving that on an opposing team it would be an amazing experience.
Now I’m gonna’ tie this into ‘Star Trek,’ watch me go. I would argue that the celebration of all cultures is very much in line with Dr. McCoy. He may seem a gruff, misanthropic dude, but he is actually an altruistic man who loves all of life in its incarnations.
Absolutely, that’s what I love about him. Even in the original series his compassion toward all forms of life is heartwarming. It’s something to aspire to. He embodies the optimistic vision of the future that helped make it so well loved and so successful.
Was there something that you were hoping to do with McCoy in this sequel and when you got the script you thought, “yes, this I can sink me teeth into!”
Yes, I think in this one I get to do some real doctoring. McCoy is a scientist and we see him creating serums and the like. Also, the opportunity to play those scenes with Kirk and Spock, and to show a hint of the triumvirate that made the original series so successful.
This movie plays heavy the romance, if you will, of Kirk [Chris Pine] and Spock [Zachary Quinto] with McCoy somewhat commenting on it. How is it being the observer of the “romance”?
An interesting question – I mean, McCoy’s friendship with Kirk is more or less taken as a given rather than explored on screen. I would welcome and look forward to the opportunity of getting a chance to explore the relationships that are at the root of ‘Star Trek”s success in future installments.
In this film Bones has moments where he and Kirk are kinda rolling their eyes at Spock, and then later Bones and Spock are rolling their eyes at Kirk. He’s the bridge. They both identify with you thinking about the other guy – but it’s not all three of you yet.
Think about it in terms of the original canon, we’re just at the starting point of where those characters evolve into the triumvirate. You can see the seeds of it. But, be reminded, this is an alternate universe, so even though they are the same characters there are a lot of intrinsic differences. And I absolutely welcome that – that’s a wonderful way to keep ‘Star Trek’ fresh.
Let’s talk about the white suit, white medical uniform you are wearing in one of the final scenes. You are in a hospital or infirmary on Earth, I believe, and, man, I have never seen a cleaner, whiter costume.
Yes, I made sure to take it off when I went to lunch, I’ll tell you that much. Michael Kaplan, our costume designer, he’s just amazing. From ‘Blade Runner’ and upwards from there – he designs costumes that look fantastic. I was awestruck by just how perfect the crease and lines are in those pants.
I don’t think this is too much of a giveaway (because it is in the comics leading up to the movie) but you got to interact with a Tribble in this film. As a longtime fan, how the heck was that?
It was fun getting to work with the Tribble. Here’s some inside information. It was J.J. Abrams himself who was animating the Tribble. He was operating the mechanism that brought the Tribble to life. You believe that? He was like a kid in a candy store.
I do. I know he likes to get his hands dirty…I didn’t know he liked to get them that dirty. Did he have his hand underneath the puppet or was he working some sort of remote control device?
He was underneath the table, operating the puppet.
Was he looking at a monitor also, or was this all by feel?
I don’t believe he had a monitor, no. Though I’m not sure, I can’t remember.
He wasn’t making cooing noises down there, too?
Neat. Everyone loves Tribbles. Or at least everyone knows Tribbles. I mean that’s the thing, even people who have never seen an episode – even avoided episodes – they know a little bit about ‘Star Trek.’ Everyone knows Dr. McCoy.
This is the genius of what J.J. has done, offering up nuggets of gold for me and you, but for a total newcomer it is still a great cinema-going experience. A great time. Lots of laughs, action and heart.
How much of a leap of joy did you do when you got the script and saw you got a line “I’m a doctor not a blah blah blah”? Were you afraid that since you got that in the first one you wouldn’t get it again?
That’s one of the fun things about this film. It takes a few elements that people enjoy from the first one and resurrect them – and do it in a clever way, not just cashing in chips. That moment for me was certainly one of the more pleasurable days. As a long-time fan it is surreal to be in a scene like that saying iconic lines.
There’s a running gag in the film where you are constantly using metaphors – to the point that Kirk says, “oh, Bones, cut it out.” Are there a whole mess of alternates that we’ll end up seeing on the DVD?
I don’t know, and I can’t quite remember if there were alternates. But when I read the script, I did say to J.J. that every line seemed to be a metaphor, and maybe we should cut some of these down, so he turned around to Chris [Pine] said, “hey, why don’t you tell him to give it a rest with the metaphors?” So that’s pretty symptomatic of the working process.
*Check back for an interview with Simon Pegg and more coverage of ‘Star Trek Into Darkness.’