Despite a steady career in mega-franchises like Lord of the Rings and Star Trek, Karl Urban remains wholly unfazed by Hollywood. In fact, the actor still lives in his native New Zealand. “I know that’s kind of strange and hard to believe,” says Urban, “but I live there and just sort of commute… a lot. My drive to work is a twelve-hour flight from Auckland to Los Angeles.”
That’s quite a lot of commuting, because it’s an understatement to say that Urban is in high demand. In addition to Star Trek: Beyond, the third installment of the revamped franchise and the first directed by Justin Lin, Urban also stars in Pete’s Dragon alongside Robert Redford and Bryce Dallas Howard. The Disney film, hitting theaters August 12, is projected to be one of the summer’s hottest family-friendly tickets.
Here, Urban shares what goes on behind the scenes. Luckily for literally everyone, it involves a lot of Dubsmash.
How did you first get involved with the Star Trek franchise?
J.J. [Abrams] was rebooting Star Trek—that intrigued me. I had a bunch of meetings with the execs at Paramount and just registered my interest. And then I met J.J. and thought the meeting went terribly. But a couple weeks later he invited me to test for the role of McCoy, and so I walked in there and I literally did one take and he was like, ‘Oh my god that’s it! That’s Bones!’ I walked out of that room, an hour later I found out I had the part.
What was your favorite part of filming this film in the franchise in particular?
My favorite part was actually not quite on camera, but hanging with everyone on their off time. I felt that we all became much closer through the making of this film. We were up in Vancouver and we’re a pretty tight group. We go to dinners, the beach—everything that Vancouver has to offer.
Were there any on-set pranks?
We all got shoved down a Dubsmash hole. I was away one weekend and the guys were sending me Dubsmashes. And when I got back they were like, why didn’t you respond? I was like, well you didn’t send me anything. And they looked at me as if I was putting them on and they were like, yes we did we sent them to your L.A. cell. And I said, what LA cell? So they said, you know, the one you had during the filming of Star Trek: In the Darkness. And I said that was a production cell. I gave it back at the end of the shoot! And their faces just dropped. They’d been sending Dubsmash videos, in costume, to some random guy. So a lot of phone calls were made, the producers got involved, it was hilarious.
Your character is often the voice of reason a lot in the films. Is that your personality in real life?
I’ve got a couple of kids and one of the things that kids teach you is patience. That being said, I think the character of McCoy is probably a lot more vocally expressive and passionate about his opinions than I am. I’m kind of a typical New Zealander in the way that I keep things pretty close to my chest.
I heard that you almost didn’t come back for Beyond. Are you glad that you did?
Yeah, absolutely. It would have been tragic to have missed out on this experience. But I just had another film that I really wanted to do and I wasn’t under contract to do Star Trek and it was talking to [Beyond director] Justin Lin that really convinced me that it was something I really wanted to be a part of. Also I felt that I would regret not hanging out with my friends. And I would have been 100 percent right.
What made you want to do Pete’s Dragon?
First of all, they were shooting in New Zealand. I know that sounds like not the strongest reason to make a movie, but I wanted to be near my kids and I also wanted to do a movie that my kids could see and relate to. And, of course, I thought it was a pretty interesting character with a fun little arc.
What was it like working with Robert Redford?
It was incredible. You’d be in a scene with him and then he’d flash you that smile and you’d have like 60 films coming at you in your face. It was surreal.
As a kid, did you believe in any sort of fantastical beings, like dragons?
I’ll tell you, when I came back from the movie theater after watching E.T. I left little M&M on my stairs leading up to my room.
What made you want to stay in New Zealand versus moving to L.A.?
It’s not for lack of wanting to. I just made a choice early on when my kids were young—I felt it would be more beneficial for them to be near grandparents and for us to be near a support network of friends and family.
What’s up next for you?
My next project is Thor: Ragnarok. I’m really excited for that. I read the script and it was a really awesome character that they invited me to play. I spend a lot of time working with phenomenal actors like Cate Blanchett, so it was a no brainer.
Main image by Dennys Ilic.