Sylvester Stallone's name never comes up when I sit down with Karl Urban and Alex Garland to discuss Dredd, which opened TIFF's Midnight Madness program. Not only do they not want to discuss Stallone's 1995 attempt to bring the beloved cult character to the screen, but I have no interest in it either. It kind of blows.
This Dredd - directed by Pete Travis, written by Garland and starring Urban - is a different animal, designed as a spectacular, violent thrill ride that plunges Dredd and his rookie sidekick (Olivia Thirlby) into a massive skyscraper filled with baddies. And unlike Stallone's, Urban's Dredd stays true to the comics and never, ever takes off his helmet.
Was it a challenge to put so much of your movie on the shoulders of a hero who's even more armoured than Batman? All we see of Dredd is his mouth and chin.
ALEX GARLAND I think the audience always understands where Dredd's at. I found it interesting how much information Karl was able to telegraph by small things. A tiny inclination of the head, a little look, a move - or not moving. Sometimes just staying absolutely frozen as somebody says something is kind of intimidating.
Karl, what was it like to act that part?
KARL URBAN It was a process of discovery. You always have ideas and preconceptions about what it's going to be, and then you come face to face with the reality of actually executing that. One of the biggest lessons I learned was that even though the eyes were not available to me, it's still possible to communicate with an audience using everything else - your voice, your body language, having confidence in the story. The audience will get it. It took a huge leap of faith, but I felt pretty reassured by the company in which I was making it.
If this film is a hit, do you have a master plan for a series of Dredd movies?
GARLAND The master plan was to try and make the film right. I really mean that; that was our goal. "Franchise" is a nasty word, because it turns something into McDonald's - it undermines it. However, there are ways we could explore this character. But there's a mountain to climb before we'd ever get the chance to do that.