How Karl Urban Landed His Role In The Lord Of The Rings

Karl Urban has been a geek film and television staple for two decades now. He played the lead role in "Dredd," Leonard McCoy in "Star Trek," Skurge the Executioner in "Thor: Ragnarok," and is now starring as William "Billy" Butcher on the comic book series adaptation "The Boys." Before his breakout role in 2002's "The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers," he wasn't particularly well-known in America. How he got that role was partly serendipity, partly location, and partly good timing.

Urban was born in Wellington, New Zealand, but moved to Australia early in his career to try to get bigger roles, as he told The Guardian in a recent interview. "I was very adamant that I wanted to work internationally, to work with the best caliber of filmmaker that I could," he recalled, "but it was probably one of the toughest years of my life. I was actually questioning if I really wanted to do this." 

One day, however, he got an offer to do a film back in New Zealand, leading him to work in that country on several projects. That put him in his home country right about the time that director Peter Jackson was looking to cast a certain role in the second film in "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy, which was also set to film in New Zealand. 

King of Rohan

Urban claims a firm allegiance to the philosophy, "An opportunity neglected does not often return." To that end, he seized on the chance to shoot a film in New Zealand, and that opportunity multiplied into more opportunities. One of the films he ended up appearing in was a small indie called "The Price of Milk," directed by Harry Sinclair (who himself appeared as Isildur in the opening scenes of "The Fellowship of the Ring"). As Urban explained, "Harry was a good friend of Peter Jackson, so he took a rough cut down to show Peter. And I just happened to be in Peter's face when he was looking for someone to cast as Éomer in 'The Lord of the Rings.'"

Éomer doesn't appear until the second film, but the role is pivotal. He leads the Riders of Rohan to the Battle of Helm's Deep, defeating the forces of Saruman and eventually becoming Rohan's King. "The Lord of the Rings" films instantly became cultural phenomena when they were released, racking up a total of 30 Academy Award nominations, winning 17, and paving the way for the success of fantasy epics like "Game of Thrones."

"The Lord of the Rings" trilogy, both the original and the extended editions, are streaming on HBO Max. "The Boys" is currently streaming on Prime Video. The "LOTR" prequel series "The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power," which is set thousands of years before the Jackson films, is set to premiere on Prime Video on September 2, 2022.