How Karl Urban Fell In Love With Filmmaking

For the past three decades, Karl Urban has been a regular face in genre productions. He first came to international attention for "Hercules: The Legendary Journeys" and "Xena: Warrior Princess" — across these shows, he played four different roles, including Julius Caesar and Cupid. He's since enjoyed a steady film career, either as supporting characters or heavies; he's just a bit too sinister to be a leading man.

However, that same presence is why his return to TV, as Billy Butcher on "The Boys," has been so successful. So, what was it that drew him to not just acting, but screen acting in particular? Let's find out.

Coming up in New Zealand

Urban hails from New Zealand, a country with a sizable film industry. During his childhood, Urban's mother worked a company that rented out equipment such as cameras and lights to local filmmakers (his father, on the other hand, ran a leather goods store). Thanks to his mother's career, Urban was exposed to filmmaking at a young age. Unsurprisingly, this influenced his career path. As he told The Guardian in 2022, what reeled him in wasn't the art, but the camaraderie of its makers. Urban said:

"Every so often, when a major New Zealand feature film was completed, they would screen it for the cast and the crew on the back of the garage door. I was hanging with the crew, sitting on boxes and drinking beer and watching these movies like family. I just felt like it would be good to be a part of a family like this."

After graduating from Wellington College in 1990, Urban briefly attended Victoria University of Wellington but soon dropped out to become an actor. Per the aforementioned Guardian interview, there were times in that first year where he regretted his choice:

"I was very adamant that I wanted to work internationally, to work with the best [caliber] of film-maker that I could, but it was probably one of the toughest years of my life. I was actually questioning if I really wanted to do this."

Urban began to enjoy steady work on local TV programs, commercials, and on-stage, but it took a couple of years for his big break to come.

Prestige and camaraderie

In the end, it was the local work that got Urban that big break. Harry Sinclair, director of an indie film that Urban starred in titled "The Price of Milk," showed a rough cut to a fellow filmmaker friend of his. That filmmaker then cast Urban in his next project: a little something called "The Lord of the Rings."

Peter Jackson's "LOTR" was definitely a step up in prestige from "Xena" and "Hercules." Though the shoot itself didn't take him outside New Zealand, Urban was also finally working with an internationally renowned filmmaker. While his character, Éomer, only debuts in the second film, "The Two Towers," the whole "LOTR" trilogy was famously shot all at once across 438 days. With the cast and crew working together for so long, the camaraderie Urban longed for was inevitable. He certainly has fond memories of the experience and his co-stars:

"The deepest takeaways would've been the experience of getting to work with that cast and crew, particularly Viggo... so for me I feel blessed to have been a part of that experience and to know those people and yeah, I think it's the people, it's legacy of those friendships and the memories of what we do."

Urban's words get at a bittersweet part of working in the film industry. Shoots of film and TV are transient, meaning even the closest camaraderie leaves you with only memories to carry onto your next project.

I'll end this with a fitting passage from the literary "Lord of the Rings": "Well, here at last, dear friends, on the shores of the sea, comes the end of our fellowship in Middle-earth. Go in peace! I will not say: do not weep; for not all tears are an evil."