Karl Urban's Dredd Costume Called For Different Kind Of Acting

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Judge Dredd first appeared in the comic book "2000 A.D." #2 in March of 1977. The character was a stoic, tough-as-nails ultra-cop, enforcing the law in a future dystopia called Mega-City One. In the future, crime has become so bad that cops are also authorized to serve as judges, and pass sentences on the spot, including the death penalty. Dredd was a satirical antihero, used to send up the fascistic tendencies of American and British law enforcement practices. He snarled. He was violent. And readers never saw his eyes: His shaded helmet never came off.

After the success of Tim Burton's "Batman" in 1989, several other superhero comics began making their way to the big screen, and the 1990s is rife with multiple fascinating comic movies ("Tank Girl," "The Crow," "The Mask"). In 1995, Judge Dredd first made it to the big screen with Sylvester Stallone in the title role. Although the "Judge Dredd" comics were largely a cult phenomenon, many at the time — and this is recalled by someone who was there — pointed out immediately inconsistencies between the film and the source material. Most notably was the fact that Judge Dredd was frequently seen with his trademark helmet removed, conversing openly with other mask-less cops. The 1995 film notoriously bombed

Because Judge Dredd still possessed some cultural clout, however, another film — Pete Travis' "Dredd" — was made in 2012. Actor Karl Urban now played the character, and the filmmakers, learning from the 1995 film, elected to keep Dredd's helmet on throughout the film. This, as one might predict, cause some acting challenges for Urban, who suddenly had much of his facial instrument removed from the screen. In a 2012 interview with Mandatory, Urban talked about the challenges, but also the necessity of those challenges.

Authentically Judge Dredd

Urban felt that Dredd's covered face was an essential part of the character. Dredd is, he feels, a character strengthened by his emotional ambiguity; Judge Dredd is not meant to be relatable or warm or open. He's meant to be a cog in a dark machine. In his words, Dredd is an enigma. And "Dredd," the movie, isn't trying to be subtle.

"Well, Dredd is a movie in many ways about extremes, but look. If you know the character of Dredd you know that A, he never takes his helmet off. B, he's an enigma. He is the faceless representative of the law. To me I just felt that I couldn't authentically do a Judge Dredd movie any other way."

In addition to the helmet, Urban's Judge Dredd costume also involved a large jacket covered by a hefty vest of bulletproof armor, as well as a pair of giant boots. He revealed in an interview with Hollywood.com that the size and cumbersomeness of the costume needed a lot of getting used to, and Urban would spend days on the set — even on days when he wasn't shooting — wearing the full costume and helmet, just to get used to it. After a while, being in the costume helped him stay in character. Still, he said, it was difficult. 

A tightly-wound coil

In the Mandatory interview, Urban elucidated further on the difficulties of emoting through the costume, but also how Judge Dredd was meant to be something of an emotional cipher, to begin with. Urban had no face, limited physicality, and was playing a character who hid his true emotions from the outside world. Conveying that type of a character seems nearly impossible. Urban was equal to the challenge: 

"Really, a lot of it was dictated by the uniform that made you walk in a certain way. It had its limitations but certainly the physicality of the character became extremely important without the use of the eyes. I had to use everything else, all the other tools that were available to me to help convey and tell a story. It was made more difficult by the fact that Dredd is the kind of individual who has his emotions in check. He's not one to actually wantonly display his emotions."

The plot of "Dredd," luckily allowed the character an emotional change. Dredd cannot abide by the taking of civilian lives, and when he witnesses it, he reacts emotionally for the first time. After that point, the stakes had been raised, and Urban was allowed a rare moment of expression: 

"[H]e is like a tightly wound coil. There's a juncture in this film where there's a loss of innocent human life. Part of Dredd's job is to protect the people of Mega-City One, so when this massacre occurs, then you can see a gear shift within him. He becomes a little unhinged and that says a lot about how he feels about what's going on."

"Dredd" is a taut, well-constructed action thriller that was far better received than its 1995 predecessor, and Urban's performance — and that authentic helmet — certainly aided that positive reaction. The film is currently available to stream on Freevee