Karl Urban has had many successful roles in film and on television. Most recently, “Star Trek” fans loved his portrayal of Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy in the J.J. Abrams version of the film. Urban has also been in the second and third installments of Peter Jackson’s “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy playing the role of Éomer. He was in “Xena: Warrior Princess,” “The Chronicles of Riddick,” and the lead in “Judge Dredd.”
Now Karl plays one of the lead roles in the new sci-fi series “Almost Human.” Urban takes up the role of Detective John Kennex, who is a cop that survived one of the most catastrophic attacks ever made against the police department. Waking up from a coma he now has issues with his memory. Still one memory is intact, which is that his partner was killed. Kennex also lost one of his legs and he is now outfitted with a highly sophisticated synthetic appendage. Kennex also has to deal with his new android partner Dorian, played by Michael Ealy.
Karl is very excited for viewers to check out his new series, “Almost Human” on Fox starting November 17th. Urban and I discussed the show, “Star Trek,” fatherhood, and working with J.J. Abrams.
Art Eddy: You play the role of John Kennex, who is a cop that wakes up from a 17-month coma. John lost his partner and one of his legs and now has a synthetic appendage. He is dealing with a lot of mental and physical baggage. What was your approach on how you wanted to play the role of Kennex?
Karl Urban: I had extensive conversations with J.J. Abrams and all the creators involved to get a real understanding of who John Kennex was and the direction we were going in for the show. Beyond that I started me research. I for ridealongs with a bunch of cops for over a week, a couple of weeks actually.
It was really interesting to see what they have to deal with on a day to day basis. That really forms the baseline reality of a lot of elements for my character. I just have such a huge admiration and respect for all of those guys. The first responders, like the brave firefighters in 9/11, those guys who are walking into the face of danger when everyone else is walking in the opposite direction. Kennex is cut from that similar type of cloth.
I also did some research on post dramatic stress and the effects that is has on people. That was heavily featured in the pilot. By and large Kennex deals with it in the pilot and then we move on beyond that. That’s where the show gets really fun and exciting. I cannot wait for an audience to see where we take the show. It is crazy good.
AE: As we have seen in the “Almost Human” trailers your character hates robots. Why is that?
KU: Kennex feels a certain distain for robots because he feels that they are partially responsible for the loss of human life and for the loss of his colleagues. There is quite a bit of resentment. There are opinions out there in the police force that think that Kennex is responsible.
Kennex was on the ground and was let down by one of these androids. His partner died. Kennex got his leg blown off as a result and put in a coma for 17 months. So these issues that he has are kind of well founded. The fun thing is that he comes back to work and the first day he is partnered with an android. That leads to a lot of fun conflict and comedy. By the end of that first day, this android Dorian proves his own worth. (Dorian) engineers a paradigm shift within Kennex. It enables him to move beyond the point that he was in.
AE: Yet it looks like he starts to bond with Dorian, played by Michael Ealy. Dorian is the closest android line to that of humans. Is that why John tolerates Dorian?
KU: I think John acknowledges the true value of Dorian. Dorian proves himself by saving John’s life and by contributing to solving the issues and the problems they faced in the pilot. John is not stupid. He can see that this DRN model is not like those NX models that John hates. He actually has value and worth.
The fun thing is that when you put these guys together it is exploring their relationship. It is the heart of the show. At times Dorian is the smartest computer on the planet. At other times he is like a six year old child. He is discovering things for the very first time. It is so funny. Dorian has got no concept of boundaries or personal space. I can’t tell you how crazy excited I am for audiences to see what happens to these guys.
AE: I love when I get the pleasure to speak with an actor before the series starts on TV. The reason is that I have the opportunity to ask that actor who the audience should be on the lookout for when the series debuts. For you do you have one character that you think the audience should focus in on due to their performance on set?
KU: I would be remiss if I was to single out anyone in particular. When you watch “Almost Human” it is a wonderful ensemble of eclectic characters, who are genuinely funny and crazy. You will just enjoy spending time with them. I can’t wait for the audience to see where the show goes. Here is a little teaser. In episode two we are in sex bots territory. (Both laugh) This show is going to be very fun. That is all I can say or else I am going to get rapped on the knuckles by the higher ups.
AE: You mentioned that you went around with cops for some perspective for your role. Did you hang out with Michael (Ealy) at all before shooting to build that relationship?
KU: We really hit the ground running. We were thrown into the deep end. It was pretty clear on the first day working with each other that we would really get along. We both like to laugh and we laugh a lot in each other’s company. To me it is not only a great testament to what a great guy Michael is, but also to J.J. Abrams. He is so good of putting groups of people together that work well together.
He has done it on “Alias,” “Lost,” and he has done it with “Star Trek.” He has done it here again on “Almost Human.” This is a fun group of eclectic people with a really fun group of eclectic characters. You enjoy spending time together and that is gold.
AE: How great is it to be back working with Abrams?
KU: I just love that man. I have so much admiration and respect for him. He is hands down one of the most gifted directors, writers, and producers that I ever had the privilege to work with. I cannot wait to see what he does with “Star Wars.” I would be lying to say if I was not envious of that cast who are going into “Star Wars” and having the opportunity to work with a man like J.J. Abrams.
AE: You did a great job of making Dr. “Bones” McCoy your own especially after DeForest Kelly made that role iconic. Are you pleased with how Trekkies responded to your version of Bones?
KU: Yes. I have to say that I was really touched. I certainly really appreciate that fan feedback and that fan response. Doing a film is not like doing theatre where you instantly get feedback on what you did and how it is appreciated.
With both of these films with the people that I meet in the street, or at a convention, or wherever I really feel the appreciation for these movies and for these characters. I can’t want to get back in there and continue the journey. It is always a lot of fun.
AE: I have to say for me that the moment you got on the screen in the first film you nailed it. You had me hooked.
KU: Well I have to say I had really a lot of help there. Not only in J.J., but the tremendous writing from Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman. When they write dialogue like ‘Space is full of disease and danger wrapped in darkness and violence.’ I mean it just clicked. These guys are good and it certainly makes my job a lot easier.
AE: Switching to fatherhood, for you what is the coolest thing about being a dad?
KU: The coolest thing about being a dad is putting your kids first. Having the ability to sit down with some food and have the opportunity to say, ‘No, you go first.’ To look after them and try and instill as much goodness in the Jell-O before it sets. That is the challenge.
AE: What are some values you want to instill in your children?
KU: Well for me it is the simple stuff. Treat others as you wish to be treated. I am big on respect and respecting people. I guess it is important for me to instill in them the importance of having fun. It doesn’t matter what you do in life. If you find something that brings you joy, then do that and you will be successful. I think that the more time and energy that you put into whatever that chosen field is the more you are going to get out of it.
AE: What do your kids think of your job? Have they ever came to the set to see what dad does?
KU: Oh yeah. I bring them to the set as much as I can. They love it. My oldest is 12 now and whenever I am doing action stuff I bring him along. He has a blast. It is wonderful to have kids who are of the age who can appreciate this particular moment in time. It is very special. We all feel pretty blessed.