“Star Trek” actor Karl Urban entertained fans at the Salt Lake Comic Con FanX over the weekend, regaling them with stories of past auditions, an accidental set mishap and what it’s like to take over a role from another actor.
Urban says he’d been a “Star Trek” fan since he received a box set of the original series at six years old. When he found out JJ Abrams was rebooting the film franchise, he wanted to be a part of it. But that first meeting didn’t go so well.
Urban explains, “He sat me down and we chatted for literally 50 seconds and he goes, ‘So, have you got any questions?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, what’s the movie about?’ because I hadn’t read any script. And he goes, ‘Can’t tell you.’”
The two then sat there until Urban said he had no more questions. And that was it. As he left, Urban chastised himself for not thinking of anything else to ask. But he was invited back to read for the character of Bones. He only performed one take for Abrams.
But the laughter was apparently a positive sign. Abrams responded to the scene with, “That’s great; that’s Bones.”
This time when Urban left the meeting, he knew he had nailed it. “There are certain points in your career where it doesn’t get any better than that,” he says. “To me, that was it. It was one of those points where you set yourself up for something, you go for it and you knock the ball out of the park.”
Urban’s auditions haven’t always run so smoothly. In his early acting days in New Zealand, he made an embarrassing mistake. “It was my first time auditioning for… I think it was an American TV show shooting in New Zealand,” he says. “And I thought that I would improvise a little bit. So every second word, I swore. I cursed and swore because I thought that’s what Americans do.” When Urban talked to his agency, they’d heard about what happened. “They called my agency: ‘Tell your client never to do that again.’ It was bad,” he recalls.
These days he may not botch his auditions with swearing, but Urban still runs into occasional problems on set - like when he accidentally stabbed a stunt man. In the scene (from an unspecified movie), the man fell off a horse into the mud and Urban was supposed to fake stab him with a rubber knife (which had a sharp edge). But Urban got mud in his eye and couldn’t see properly. So when he leapt on top of the man, he missed and stabbed him for real. “Hey, he’s got a great tale to tell,” he joked with the crowd.
For “Star Trek,” he mastered Bones’ southern accent by working with a dialect coach. He wanted to pattern the voice off DeForest Kelley, who played Bones in the original series. “There’s an element of his voice which comes from a bit of contemporary raspiness. We put that into the mix with the dialect,” he explains.
Urban’s “Star Trek” role isn’t his only reboot of a former character. He also played the younger version of a Tommy Lee Jones character in another prequel, “Comanche Moon.”
“It’s very tricky, I’ve got to confess,” he says of taking over a role someone else has made famous. “The whole time shooting the first ‘Star Trek’ movie that we did, I was an anxious, nervous wreck. It was kind of scary because I didn’t know that what I was doing was where it needed to be. I certainly didn’t want to do an imitation but I wanted to incorporate those elements [of the old character] and infuse them into what a younger version of the character was. So that was, to me, a pretty scary time. But I think that’s when you get the best results, when you kind of force yourself out of your comfort zone and you’re standing on the edge of that precipice. You take big risks and that’s for me when I think you get the biggest rewards.”
For Urban, the “Star Trek” experience in itself is a reward. “I’ve been so blessed to have been invited into the ‘Star Trek’ family to partake of these movies because they are so much fun. The people who work on these movies, I just really love them,” he says.
Urban will star in a third “Star Trek” film to shoot this year or next. He says he’d love to see the franchise back on the small screen, too. “I think after we do this next movie you’re going to see a ‘Star Trek’ on television,” he asserts. “It won’t be with us [the film actors]. But it will be, I would assume, a new version of it.”