Karl Urban Struck A Careful Balance When It Came To Playing Star Trek's Bones

JJ Abrams' "Star Trek" reboots were a bold and largely successful attempt to bring the franchise back into mainstream relevancy, reimagining the classic sci-fi series as action/adventure blockbusters. Naturally, for a franchise with one of the oldest fandoms, many people were nervous at the prospect of not only putting a new spin on this universe, but reintroducing these legacy characters with different faces. Though the adventurous nature was there, "Star Trek" has always been a slow and philosophical series more than an action-oriented one. Trekkies felt a legitimate fear that the curious spirit of the original show would be watered down in favor of Hollywood spectacle. 

That's why one of the bolder casting choices was Karl Urban as Doctor Leonard "Bones" McCoy, the gruff and hot-headed right-hand man to Captain Kirk, portrayed by Chris Pine in the Abrams reboot. Up to that point in his career, Urban had established himself as an action veteran with roles in "The Lord of the Rings" franchise, "The Bourne Supremacy," "The Chronicles of Riddick," and "Doom." Though he certainly had the rugged look to him that was similarly characteristic of Bones McCoy originator DeForest Kelley, it was still up in the air whether or not Urban could capture the nuances of the character based on what audiences had seen in his previous credits.

Urban felt the weight of playing Bones

Abrams encouraged the 2009 cast to approach these characters in a way that felt natural to them first, rather than working towards imitation. In fact, Chris Pine once explained that the worst thing he could do for his performance was try to replicate William Shatner's Captain Kirk, and he deliberately avoided fan discussion or expectations when crafting his version of that character. 

Urban, however, felt great responsibility when handling the challenge of embodying such a beloved character and making his performance feel as authentic as possible:

"Stepping into such an iconic character that was played so wonderfully well by the late great DeForest Kelley, and really a beloved character ... I felt like as a long-term fan of 'Star Trek' that it was important to see some sort of recognizability, particularly in the character of Bones. For me, it was really about sort of cherry-picking some of the essence of what DeForest Kelley did, and sort of imbuing it into the character, without sort of slipping into some kind of imitation, which wouldn't have been a good move."

Leonard Nimoy cried watching Karl Urban's Bones

Urban's performance as Bones exceeded expectations, and it is a role he still credits as essential in shaping the rest of his career. The highest praise Urban would receive was from the late Leonard Nimoy, originator of the role of Spock, who opened up at a press conference that he was brought to tears watching Urban onscreen. "That performance of his is so moving, so touching and so powerful as Doctor McCoy, that I think D. Kelley [DeForest] would be smiling, and maybe in tears as well."

Three films later, the whole cast of Abrams' reboots have been so wholeheartedly welcomed by the fandom that it's hard to remember there ever being any hesitation. While there's no dearth of "Star Trek" projects to engage with right now, Trekkies are anticipating the return of the Kelvin timeline with Abrams' fourth film, which was recently announced to the surprise of the cast themselves. Whether the project gets out of pre-production or not, it is clear the excitement to see this new cast is still high, and Urban's commitment to Bones is a key piece of a stronger ensemble.