Karl Urban didn’t have to return as Bones in the just-released Star Trek Beyond. He’d satisfied the requirements of his contract with his appearance in Star Trek Into Darkness and had to choose between Beyond and another project. He ultimately chose Beyond, of course, and he feels he made the right decision. StarTrek.com recently spoke with Urban about his decision, what ultimately swayed him to sign on, his experience making Beyond, and the fact that, in the near future, with a fourth J.J.-verse film in the works, he’ll once again need to make a choice. Here’s what he had to say...
Our understanding is that you were not obligated to make Beyond and that it was down to this or another project. Is that accurate?
Yeah, that's correct. I certainly was hesitant about reprising the role of McCoy. I felt that I was in agreement with a vast number of fans and audience members and critics who, after watching Into Darkness, felt that the character had become marginalized. And I was not keen to repeat that experience. I was out of contract. Because of the Olivia de Havilland law in America, I was no longer under obligation to do a third picture, and was, actually, in fact, negotiating to do another film when we were contacted and asked about reprising the role of McCoy. So I was somewhat ambivalent about it. And I really liked this other piece of material.
But I got on the phone with (director) Justin Lin, and I raised my concerns and issues with him. And he outlined the story and the vision that he had for the character. And I was immediately intrigued and also somewhat reassured that he was a long-term fan of Star Trek, that he understood the weight and value of the character, and how the character interacts with Spock and Kirk. So that gave me a great deal of security, which enabled me to make the decision. And I'm so glad I did. I feel that the version of McCoy in Star Trek Beyond is the most well-defined version of the character that I've had the benefit to play. So it's all turned out for the best.
How quickly and easily does McCoy come to you at this point?
Very quickly, and very easily. That being said, it's work. I collaborated with Simon (Pegg) and Doug (Jung) and Justin to bring a well-defined version of the character to screen. And thankfully, they were very receptive to it. There's a lot of material in the film that's a direct result of e-mails and conversations and opinions that I held about what I wanted the character to do in this movie.
Can you give us a such as?
Well, lots of things. (POSSIBLE SPOILERS AHEAD) For example, when Spock stitches McCoy up, and volunteers him for a dangerous mission, the whole sequence boarding the transporter pad was filled with dialogue that I had submitted and was approved. There was the scene before we go into the cave where Spock says, "Fascinating," and McCoy says, "Dark. Ominous. Dangerous." I can't remember the exact words. But, you know. And it's the direct opposite to what Spock's saying. There's a lot of other little instances of the little beats, like when McCoy's in the hive ship and asks Spock if that was classical music, in reference to the Beastie Boys.
You have some nice moments with both Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto. How pleased were you able to build, separately, as different spokes, the McCoy-Kirk relationship and McCoy-Spock relationship? And how did you enjoy shooting those two-hander scenes with each of the guys?
Well, it was imperative. And it was really kind of what drew me back to reprise the role again. I felt that in Into Darkness, Kirk's relationship with McCoy was, by and large, completely inferred. And especially when you put it in context of the historical relationship that they share in not only the original TV series, but also in Star Trek: The Motion Picture and Wrath of Kahn. And then it was nice in this one to actually be able to see McCoy function not only as a friend, but also as a psychologist. And to help put Kirk in touch with his existential dilemma.
And further to that, it was wonderful to be able to mine new territory, in this situation where we have Spock and Bones crash-landed on a planet, and have to depend on each other to survive. And as Spock is contemplating his own mortality, with (SPOILER AHEAD) the death of Spock Prime, we get a wonderful, honest, unguarded exchange between the two. For long-term fans, I think that's a rich and rewarding experience. I feel like these two characters are able to let their guard down and come to a deeper understanding of their respective positions and who they are. What's nice about it is they are able to then go back and put their shields up again, as it were. But at least this time there's a little insider knowledge between the two, and a great, lovely respect.
You also got in on the action with the chase sequences. How big a kick were those to shoot?
Oh, they were a lot of fun. I mean, look, you may not even know exactly what it is you're doing. They'll show you pre-vis, and you have to imagine what it is. But I was pretty blown away when I saw it. And it was nice to see Bones in the thick of it, out of his depth.
On a more serious note, we're not doing our job if we don't talk a bit about Anton Yelchin. How big a loss was his passing to you as a friend and as a colleague?
When you lose a family member, it is devastating. It's just incalculable, indescribable, a huge loss that we've all suffered. And it feels so strange to talk about him in the past tense, you know? We should be at a point where we're celebrating with this beautiful man, and his incredible talent. And it's just hard. It's very raw.
It even takes you out of the movie watching it, to be honest.
Yeah, I know. It's tragic. And he was such a beautiful young man, and so extraordinarily talented. He was often the smartest guy in the room, but you wouldn't know it. He was humble with his intelligence. He was an artist. A student of film. And he was just about to direct his first film. I think he would have become an incredible director. It's a serious loss.
On a happier note, what impressed you about the job that Justin Lin did?
What impressed me about Justin was probably his sensitivity towards the group dynamic, his respect for what we had already helped to create. Also, his passion for Star Trek. His understanding for it. He's a long-term fan. He was able to come into this film and bring all this wonderful wealth of personal knowledge, and work together with Simon and Doug to write a very fantastic representation of an Original Series episode. But obviously with an enhanced budget and a bigger, more epic scope and scale. He was able to deliver, I think, a wonderful balance of an old, original sensibility and character dynamic feel, mixed with wonderful special effects and an action-packed pace. I've got so much respect for him. He's one of the hardest-working men I've ever worked with. You know, at the end of every day shooting, he would then go retire to the editing suite and work another four or five hours, putting the picture together. I don't know where he found the stamina to do that. But he's extraordinary. I love him dearly.
It’s nearly nine years now that you've been a part of the Trek franchise. How fast has it gone by so far, and what does it mean to you to be a part of this universe?
It just seems like yesterday that we all came together. And over the course of nine years now, we have really become quite a tight-knit family. That's the enduring legacy of these films for me personally, is this wonderful group of friends that I now have as a result. That's the thing that I cherish about Star Trek the most.
Based on your experience on film three, can we count you in for the just-announced fourth film?
Not automatically. I would have to again be assured that the character of McCoy will continue to be developed and that he serves a real purpose and a function. I'm not interested in playing a marginalized version of this character. You know, I have a huge amount of respect for the dynamics of the characters, the way that Roddenberry originally created them. I fully understand their purpose and function. I would be blessed to be able to come back and make more. I love working with these guys, and I have such a wonderful time. That being said, I have to have something to do. I have to have a function.
You've done convention appearances since your days of Xena. And now you do the occasional Trek convention as well. What's it like for you to interact and meet the fans of something you do, that they love?
I enjoy it. It's like when you do theater, you get an instant idea of audience appreciation. Conventions have become, really, another tool of modern filmmaking. The Marvel actors are doing them, and obviously the great precedent and tradition was set by the original cast, and William Shatner and Nimoy and those guys connecting with their fans. I just think it's a lovely, respectful way to pay homage to their loyalty. If it wasn’t for the fans, there would be no Star Trek, because the show was cancelled after the second season. And that was the fans campaigning to bring it back for the third. And then obviously it was the fans who made it so popular in the intervening years, between the end of The Original Series and the beginning of the movies. So I kind of feel like it's an important part of it. I always enjoy the experience.
You've got Pete's Dragon coming up, and also the Thor sequel. What excited you about Pete's Dragon, and when do you start work on Thor?
I was excited about Pete's Dragon because after reading the script it felt like a wonderful '70s kids film. It was shooting in New Zealand, which was good for me. And I talked with the director, and he spoke about a vision for the character that interested me. I was also interested in working with Robert Redford, and that was incredible. You know, when you're in a scene with him and he smiles at you, and you suddenly have 70 films flying at your face that you cherish and love. It was an amazing experience. It's just good family fun. I can't wait to see it. And Thor, I haven't started working on that yet. But it's a great script. A good ensemble piece. And I'm thrilled to be working with (director) Taika Waititi.