Whoosh! Issue 24 - September 1998

AN INTERVIEW WITH KARL URBAN
Exclusive to Whoosh!
By Bret Ryan Rudnick
Copyright © 1998 held by author
3341 words



Author's Note: Karl Urban is clearly a man who enjoys life, living, and all the divers things our world has to offer. He's extremely active, always learning about something, and applying what he knows to his craft. I was fortunate enough to meet with Karl in March of 1998. After a matinee performance of his play THE HERBAL BED he gave me a choice of going surfing or out to lunch. Figuring it would be easier to chat over lunch rather than over the waves, we dined at a charming Auckland cafe. During the meal, Karl was gracious enough to share some of his thoughts.




Being an Actor (01-10)
XENA: Cupid and Caesar (11-24)
Fandom and Privacy (25-34)
Acting "Method"(35-43)
The Future (44-47)


Would you buy a used horse from this man?


From the programme of the Auckland production of THE HERBAL BED. Karl's character, Jack Lane, accused Shakespeare's daughter of doing naughty things after being rebuffed.



Being an Actor



BRET RUDNICK:
[1] To begin at the beginning, was acting something you always wanted to do?

KARL URBAN:
[2a] It was always something I was interested in. It was always something I knew I was capable of and from an early age my mother was involved in the film industry. She used to work at a production company. So I was exposed to a renaissance period of films in New Zealand back in the early 80's. We had such films as SMASH PALACE, UTU, I watched such actors as Bruno Lawrence and Sam Neill. A friend of hers said "Look, we need an eight year-old kid for a part in this television show for a day, would Karl like to do it?" I said "H*ll yeah!" and that was my first taste and I liked it. I played a little boy peeking through a window at a hole ground kind of place and my first line was "They've got no proper clothes on!" And then this old lady came around the corner and bawled us out for looking through the window. I didn't realise she was an actor who was part of the scene. I thought it was the most hilarious thing, I started cracking up at her. I was trying to explain "No, we're just doing this scene."

[2b] I decided to have a regular childhood and not pursue [acting] until I left school, although I wrote plays, directed plays, and got involved in theatre at school. When I left school I decided that's that I was going to pursue and gave it a crack. That's always an interesting concept when you try to make your dream into a reality and you come up against the facts of exactly what it is you're attempting to do. It's no longer living in here [points to head]. It's day by day, step by step. It's an exponential thing, it's something that never stops. Now I'm this far up the ladder and I've got so much farther to go with what I want to achieve with it.

RUDNICK:
[3] Have you always been able to get steady work since you first decided to give acting a serious go?

URBAN:
[4] No, not at all. Acting is one of the most inconsistent professions you could possibly be interested in. When I was 18 I played a heroin addict in a cop show called SHARKS IN THE PARK. I did a little theatre work after that and the following year I got another part in a television series. Then it was almost to the end of the year before I got more work. That was coming to terms with the reality of the vocation I had chosen. In subsequent years what I've learned to do is invest in myself, and I think that's important for anybody to do no matter what you do or what your chosen vocation is. I do classes, acting classes or learn a musical instrument or diving or horse riding, whatever it is. Invest in yourself. It's like being a boxer, you've got to be in training so that when the bell rings, you get your direction you come out of the corner and you're *ready*. Do not let the audition be the first thing you've done in six months. You've got to be prepared.

RUDNICK:
[5] You certainly don't seem to be lacking for work these days.

URBAN:
[6] No, I've been fortunate with HERCULES and XENA and this play I'm in now. This last year has been my most successful of my career. I did two feature films, four or five XENAs, there was AMAZON HIGH, short bits and pieces in other films. It's been tremendous. I feel like taking a long holiday now, perhaps going overseas for a few months if I can find the time to do that. I'm not complaining at all. I'm really looking forward to the release of my first feature film HEAVEN (Scott Reynolds, 1998), a Miramax picture. It stars Martin Donovan, Richard Schiff, who was in THE LOST WORLD: JURASSIC PARK (Steven Spielberg, 1997), and Joanna Going. We shot that down here. I play a bouncer. I'd just finished doing a "Cupid" so my hair was blonde. [both laugh] It was a really good character, I enjoyed it.

And we can wear each other's shirts, too!


Karl and Danielle Cormack on the set of VIA SATELLITE.


RUDNICK:
[7] You recently did a film with Danielle Cormack, right?

URBAN:
[8] I did, yes, called VIA SATELLITE (TV movie, 1998). It should be out later this year. I played a cameraman in that. It was an interesting job. We shot that down in Wellington, my home town. It was great to go down there to do that because I hadn't been there in over five years. It was really good to be working out of there and see old friends and family. It's such a small industry here you inevitably end up working with the same people over and over again. There are only so many actors to go around, which is good for us. The ratio here is good. In Los Angeles, there are a lot more projects, but there are a lot more actors as well. Here there are fewer projects and fewer actors, but proportionately fewer capable actors.

RUDNICK:
[9] And speaking of capability, if you're really good you get to a certain point where the work comes looking for you rather than you necessarily having to go look for the work.

URBAN:
[10] Exactly. I've turned down a lot of stuff. I've read several scripts and said "That's not me, I'm not interested in doing that." It's got to be something that inspires me and captures my imagination. I want to be able to say "There's a challenge." Otherwise, there's not much point. I don't see a benefit in accepting every single little morsel of work that comes along because I think in essence what you're doing is you're raping yourself really. There's only so much artistic output that I can actually expel at any one given time. I get to a point where I say "That's enough, I need to recuperate." I'll need to chill and relax for a bit. I'll learn some things or experience life. I don't have the need or the hunger to be in front of the camera or be on stage every single day. Which is not to say I don't have the drive or the motivation or desire to achieve, because I do, but I believe as you said, things come to you. Now I'm at a stage in my career where I'm getting more picky about the work I do. I enjoy working on HERCULES and XENA for as long as they're happy to have me on because it's fun. That's the bottom line. You get on set there and we have fun. It's like a family..


XENA: Cupid and Caesar



RUDNICK:
[11] I've noticed everybody seems to have a really good time on the set. People have been working with each other long enough they know their jobs. People help each other out. A lot of that has to do with the fact that people like Lucy drive the energy on the set.

URBAN:
[12] Oh yeah! The work is taken seriously but not too seriously that it becomes a pain..

RUDNICK:
[13] I was so glad to be able to see you in the play today and compare and contrast that with what I've seen you do on television. The stage, of course, but its very nature is different from television. But also to be able to see in person the energy you put out on stage was really something.

URBAN:
[14] It was a very demanding role and a fantastic challenge in the respect that you have to pace yourself because you know by the end of the day you need a tremendous amount of energy. Consequently there are some things I won't do during the day. I'll need every ounce that I have to drive it through. Film and TV require that energy. Sometimes fight scenes can be pretty intense. When I was shooting HEAVEN it was truly guerrilla film-making. We had one night to shoot this entire fight sequence and I had sweat dripping from me the whole time. We were running back to the monitor to check it, running back to do more fight stuff, from one in the morning to six in the morning constantly on the go. When I work, I try to eat as much vegetarian as possible. When I do Cupid, I eat vegetarian because I need the energy. I've got those wings on my back.

Awright!  We're havin' pizza!


Karl in character as Cupid.


RUDNICK:
[15] That must be very uncomfortable.

URBAN:
[16] No, not uncomfortable. It becomes uncomfortable after the fifth day and you've got blisters on your back. [both laugh] But not really uncomfortable, no. I made a provision when I was going to play that character that nothing was going to be a problem. There's no point. Where's it going to get me if I complain "This is sore, that's sore". It really helped me because it created a whole energy for the character. I combine the attitude with the diet and all the gym work -- a lot of work goes into that character.

RUDNICK:
[17] It's also interesting to compare and contrast you as Caesar and Cupid. They are two very different characters. The way you play them comes across as two very different people. People look forward to seeing both those characters for very different reasons.

URBAN:
[18] [smiles] I enjoy doing them both. I read a lot about Julius Caesar. This show has taken a h*ll of a lot of artistic license with that character.

RUDNICK:
[19] As they do with everything.

URBAN:
[20] As they do with everything. [both laugh] I am in awe, in admiration of the man who Gaius Julius Caesar was. I don't actually do him as the man himself. He is maybe a distant relative. It's hard to approach the real man because he is such an awesome icon.

Hmmm.  Pizza.


Karl as the imperial Caesar, Julius Caesar.


RUDNICK:
[21] And Caesar's coming back!

URBAN:
[22] Yeah, we shot an episode about six weeks ago. [ed note: A GOOD DAY] I think there's a second one coming up.

RUDNICK:
[23] I know people are looking forward to it. Depending on the character and the story and even who's writing the episode there's always a certain amount of anticipation with these episodes. And when Caesar is involved, there are always surprises, plots, intrigue, and so forth.

URBAN:
[24] I hope this one delivers. It should do. I had a lot of fun doing it.


Fandom and Privacy



RUDNICK:
[25] What do you think of your convention appearances? You're one of the few people from New Zealand who's actually been able to make it up to the States for conventions. I was wondering what your impression of that and fandom up there was.

URBAN:
[26] [thinks for a bit] It's quite mad, actually. Absolutely mad. It's wonderful that people who watch and follow the shows take time to come see us, and I really do appreciate it. I'm quite blown away. This [New Zealand] is a low-key sort of country, really. That sort of thing wouldn't happen here. I'm not sure if I'm actually wholly comfortable with the idea. People have asked me about fan clubs and such but I'm not comfortable with having so many aspects of my life monitored. I understand those people that do have fan clubs, such as Kevin [Smith] and Danielle [Cormack], but I value my own privacy for as long as I can possibly have it. I've done shows and I've lost my anonymity before, and I really value it now. Quite frankly, I want people to know as little about me as possible. I believe that when they see me doing a role, whether it be Julius Caesar or something else, they'll more readily respect me from knowing little about me personally.

RUDNICK:
[27] The less preconception the better.

URBAN:
[28] Exactly. That's what I believe. While I feel honoured that these people appreciate my work and I'm very thankful for that, I'm just happy for them to feel that. As soon as someone puts me on any sort of pedestal I just want to knock it down. I'm just a normal guy. I eat and sleep and do other things just like everybody else. I've seen some conventions where people have said "Can I hug you, can I touch you," and I have to say "Hey, I'm just a regular person." I think it's the nature of the medium, where you come into their living room and you're on that television and they somehow get this fixation that you are something different.

RUDNICK:
[29] Some will assume things about who and what you are. The reality can be quite different.

URBAN:
[30] Yes, undoubtedly.

RUDNICK:
[31] Most fans are cool people, relatively normal. There are always some for whom fantasy and reality are a bit of a blur.

URBAN:
[32] I'm not too concerned about the loons.

RUDNICK:
[33] I also don't think people understand how different things are in New Zealand as opposed to the States. Actors here are far more like normal people. They walk about freely, unmolested, not hassled, even if they are recognised. People here in New Zealand seem to respect someone's privacy and such more. In the States, mass media is such a huge industry people see those in it as more apart from society than a part of society.

URBAN:
[34] That's a very fair observation. Here you'll get recognised, sure. Someone might say "Hey, you're so-and-so!" But generally speaking you can move about and do what you want, whatever you want, and not have to worry about getting mobbed or chased out of a building, although that has been known to happen but not very often. That's a very good observation.


Acting "Method"



RUDNICK:
[35] I'm curious to know, when you do a role, how much if any is drawn from your personal life experiences or do you approach a character from scratch with no preconceptions?

URBAN:
[36] Good question. I believe in starting from scratch with each character. It starts with my favourite part of the whole process, reading the script. You're playing Sherlock Holmes to a certain extent. You say, "What can I deduce about this character from what's written on this page?" Where did the character come from, what was the background. Then I take it to a physical level, how would this character walk and move and talk. Is he a big guy, bulky, or would he be thin? Physically, what would he look like? Then what I try to do in any given script is find the truth of the moment. That's not necessarily *my* truth, how I would react an a certain situation, but how the character would react to it. But I like to start from scratch. Take for example Cupid and Caesar. They have a totally different way of moving, of talking. Caesar is very much stiff in the shoulders, he's a presence. Cupid is more free. My favourite part of the whole process is discovering things about these people. What I never try to do is bring any preconceptions to it. Preconceptions choke you as an artist. If you decide *that* is how something is, then you get on set and discover a number of factors that you hadn't taken into account, it can really throw you. There's only so much you can do until you get on set and see the aesthetics of what you're dealing with. Then you see what the other players are giving to you. It's all about the transfer of energy between different actors.

RUDNICK:
[37] I'm also curious about the differences you've experienced with stage and television work. Stage work is a continuous performance over an extended period of time. Television is more you get there, do your thing, and you're gone.

URBAN:
[38] I like that. There's a mercenary aspect to working on films and television. I really like that. It's short, intense, bursts of energy. I'm in "GROUNDHOG DAY" at the moment. [both laugh]

But only one bathroom and it's outside!


From THE HERBAL BED programme, a picture of a Shakespearean era cottage with herbal gardens, very reminiscent of the set.


RUDNICK:
[39] I was going to say, the play that you're in now [THE HERBAL BED] you have many performances you have to do with one particular character. Have you found that Jack Lane has evolved since the play opened from how you originally played him?

URBAN:
[40] Oh, yeah! Totally! He evolves every single time I do a performance.

RUDNICK:
[41] He's a wonderfully complex character. To someone who just saw it initially they might say "Oh, he's a bad guy." But no, there's much more to him than that. He's a character that's a product of his society and his social strata in his age.

URBAN:
[42] He's eclectic. He's a leaf in the wind. He can be bawdy, he can be rude, he can be charming, he can be caring and compassionate, but he's also confused, resentful, angry and self-loathing. He's one of these special characters who knows their weakness and is unable to do anything about it. To me, this is a very attractive element in any character. He knows "Oh, I shouldn't drink -- well, one more." He evolves with every single performance. If he didn't, I'd get bored.

[43] That is a big danger, losing your inspiration. When I work in film and television I try to do each take a little differently. I never want to do the same thing twice, because then you're not being spontaneous, you're just recreating something. It stagnates very quickly. That's the challenge within, to avoid stagnation. You can so easily slip into rhythms and patterns and what you have to do is continue to live truthfully, moment to moment. That is the challenge. And that's what I try to do with each performance. I like the concept of having multiple takes to get it right. I think I am a perfectionist in some respects though I am guilty of apathy in others. But I know when it's right, when it's pitched at the right level and when it truly connects. You can feel it. And I like the technical side of working on films. I like learning about lights and camera angles and how it can make me look. I love the environment.


The Future



RUDNICK:
[44]Do you see yourself in future doing anything like directing or something like that?

URBAN:
[45] [thinks] I'm very careful to comment on that. Sure, I have desires. But I haven't really done anything that would warrant me saying "Yes." I know people my age who have written scripts and have been making them come to fruition on screen whereas I haven't. I've got enough on my plate trying to master my craft at the moment without taking on board a whole different ballgame. I don't take lightly their jobs, the pressures they're under and what they have to achieve. I'm quite content at the moment doing what I'm doing. That's not to say that in future, at some point, sure, I'd love that. At the moment, my focus remains purely on my craft.

RUDNICK:
[46] In terms of acting, if you were able to pick out the next part or next couple of parts yourself, what would you like to do?

URBAN:
[47] Genre-wise I'd like to do Science Fiction. BLADE RUNNER (Ridley Scott, 1982) is one of my all-time favourite films. It's a masterpiece. [thinks] I don't know, it's so difficult to speculate on what character I'd like to do next. There are so many things I'd like to do and I'm capable of doing. That's a tough question. I've been asked it before and I find it so hard to answer. It's not something I really think about.



Biography


Bret Rudnick Bret Rudnick
Whoosh! Staff
IAXS Executive Committee
"You can never have too much money or too many Amazons"
When he's not working for a big Science/Engineering company that (amongst other things) designs, builds, launches, and operates exploratory spacecraft, Bret writes fantasy novels and short stories. Bret is a man of many skills, having also previously been an Olympic-qualified archer, a drummer in the Butch Grinder Band, a news reader for Public Television Station KVCR, and a Deputy Sheriff for the County of San Bernardino, California. He also collects Japanese swords, armor, and art. He and his dog hunt down stray Bacchae in New England.
Favorite episode: HOOVES AND HARLOTS (10/11 0), WARRIOR...PRINCESS...TRAMP (30/206), and THE QUEST (37/213)
Favorite line: Xena: "What's this?" Gabrielle: "I'm... an amazon princess?" Xena (rolls eyes): "Great." HOOVES AND HARLOTS, 10/110; Xena after being goosed by Joxer: "Are you suicidal?" WARRIOR...PRINCESS...TRAMP, 30/206; Joxer: "Ha. Ha." COMEDY OF EROS (46/222); Autolycus: "I'm not just leering at scantily clad women, you know, I'm working!" THE QUEST (37/213)
First episode seen: CRADLE OF HOPE (04/104)
Least favorite episode: GIANT KILLER (27/203)








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