'Pete's Dragon' Star Karl Urban Loves a Great Villain
If you think you've heard the name Karl Urban a lot this summer, you are correct.
Not only is Urban co-starring in the August 12th Disney live-action release, "Pete's Dragon" as Gavin, the villain trying to capture the titular friendly beast, but, earlier this summer, he reprised his role as Bones in "Star Trek: Beyond," and was confirmed to star in "Thor: Ragnarok" as the villainous Skurge. To say he's been busy is an understatement.
In fact, when we caught up with Urban to chat about his role in "Pete's Dragon," he had just wrapped the first Los Angeles press day for "Beyond," after having flown in from New Zealand the night before. With his feet up on the coffee table, relaxing on a couch, Urban talked a bit about his role in "Thor: Ragnarok," what it like working with director David Lowery on "Pete's Dragon," and what Robert Redford is really like.
Moviefone: You are a very busy man! "Star Trek" and "Pete's Dragon," and and you're about to start working on Thor: Ragnarok. And, you're also a dad! Do you find it a little bit hard to juggle everything?
Karl Urban: Yes, it's tough. That's the important thing is to try and find that balance and make sure that my family is included in aspects of my career as much as they can be. I just took both of my boys to Sydney to the premiere of "Star Trek" and they had a great time. They both came to the set in Dubai and one of them came to Vancouver, so it's just about going to lengths to make sure that that balance is maintained.
Did you grow up with "Pete's Dragon." Does it have as big a fan base in New Zealand as it does here in the States?
I did not, actually. I never saw it as a kid and I still haven't seen the original today. It bears no relevance to the film that I made, if it did, I would have watched it but this is a complete re-imagining.
You've been involved with major franchises, even in your early work, that have such huge fan followings: "Hercules," "Xena," "Star Trek"... What is the difference between going from those big franchise-type stories with a huge fan base to something like "Pete's Dragon," which has a bit of a smaller, more intimate feeling to it? How do you approach the character?
The approach is just the same, there's no difference. Film-making is film-making, and character is character. The only difference I guess is how well that property is known before it's released. For me, it's about character, it's about story and it's about who I'm working with and where I'm working and those are the things that I concern myself with when I'm making a decision about what I'm going to do.
How different was it working with David Lowery, who comes from more of an independent movie background?
The medium is irrelevant. Every director is different. Every director has their strengths, and, for lack of a better word, their weaknesses. I found David to be a great director. He's very specific about what he wanted and at the same time he was very willing and open to collaborate, welcoming of ideas, and he was just such a lovely positive guy. You wanted to please him and help him realize his vision for this film. He had a wonderful creative team around him; the writer Toby [Halbrooks] was constantly on set, and it was a rewarding experience.
Can you tell me also a little bit about working with Robert Redford? He's such an icon in Hollywood.
It was incredible. To tell you the truth one of the appeals of joining this film was the prospect of getting to work with Robert Redford and indeed when I did get to work with him it was so surreal. You'd be in a scene with him and he would smile and you'd have a plethora of classic Hollywood films flashing [in front of you]. And he's such a warm, generous guy. He shared stories about many things, from Santa Fe to his love of automobiles and bikes and horses -- and it was just an incredible honor to be able to work with such an icon.
Speaking of horses, Bryce and David mentioned when they did the trailer launch that he saved a horse on the way to the set -- do you have any other stories like that? They said he did plenty of stuff that made them go 'Wow! He's really doing that!'
Yes, I think that's probably the one that I know the best. He was on the way to work and saw an emaciated horse in a paddock and stopped and basically saved the horse. He went and got a trailer and they rescued the horse and then he had it checked out and stabled it and put on a proper regime of feed to try and build some condition back up in this animal and that's just a real testament to the man that he is.
What does it mean to you to become part of this whole Disney universe? I know you've named your son after Indiana Jones, which is part of Disney now, and now you're in "Pete's Dragon" and you're going into "Thor." So what does it mean to you, personally, to be part of that now?
Well to me ... what I personally cherish the most out of any experience are the people who you get to meet and work with, and that to me is the most rewarding experience out of everything. And in both cases of "Pete's" and "Thor" there are some really wonderful people and it's my hope that they remain a part of my life from this point forward. I loved working with David Lowery -- I'd work with him again in a heartbeat -- the same obviously with Wes Bentley and a bunch of the other guys that worked on that, and Mr. Redford. On "Thor" it's the same thing with Taika [Waititi]. I'm pretty fortunate.
We know you're playing a villain in "Thor: Ragnarok." Can you tell us a little bit about what's going on? Anything we can expect from your character?
I can't say too much under the bounds of confidentiality, and I haven't actually started shooting yet; I'll start in a couple of weeks. So, that being said, it's a wonderful opportunity to work with Cate Blanchett and Chris [Hemsworth] and Tom [Hiddleston] and it's going to be a lot of fun.
Villains are so much fun to play and you play somewhat of a villain in "Pete's Dragon." Do you take any extra ... have a little more fun with the villainous characters as opposed to the straight ones?
The villains are always the fun characters to play because, of course, they can get away with saying and doing things that we never can in real life. My favorite villains are the villains that are fun and naughty and the character of Skurge isn't cut-and-dry in the same way that Gavin isn't cut-and-dry. The character has his motives and his reasons for doing what he does and I think as long as you imbue your character with that then you'll avoid being some carbon copy 2D bad guy.
"Pete's Dragon" opens in theaters everywhere August 12th.