Karl Urban faced an acting challenge in "Dredd 3D" not unlike trying to juggle with an arm tied behind his back.
As the futuristic lawman of comic-book renown, he spends the entire film in a helmet with an opaque visor covering most of his face.
"It's a huge challenge," says the 40-year-old New Zealand actor who is emerging as one of cinema's top action stars. "The challenge was how to communicate to the audience without the use of my eyes.
"The challenge was compounded by the fact that the character of Dredd operates with a particularly narrow bandwidth," Urban continues in a hotel suite during a promotional stop in Philadelphia. "He's a character who is highly trained -- trained to keep his emotions in check."
He's also a man of few words. And because Dredd is authorized to dispense spleen-for-a-spleen justice on the criminals who constantly cross his path, most of his pronouncements are of the order of, "Do you have anything to say before sentencing?" as he aims a gun at their chests.
How'd he come up with that lights-out voice?
"In my research, I came across a panel in one of the comics that described Dredd's voice as being 'like a saw cutting through bone,' " Urban says. "That was a starting point. I was also cognizant of the fact that in our story, Dredd uses his voice as a weapon. The voice really had to have that versatility about it. That was the genesis."
But his hoarse, ominous diction as Dredd is
"Funnily enough, Dredd was created in 1975 by John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra as a satirical response to Thatcherism, and one of their inspirations for the character was Clint Eastwood's Dirty Harry," Urban says. "I've seen all those movies. I saw them as a kid. I certainly didn't go back and try to emulate that. But I do like the fact that people feel it resonates with that."
By the way, the helmet wasn't the only wardrobe stricture faced by Urban and by Olivia Thirlby as his rookie partner.
As judges in Mega City One, they wear head-to-toe leather outfits molded to their body armor. "It was physically grueling," he admits, "and we were shooting in the middle of a South African summer."
This isn't by any means the first time Urban has suited up for a film. He had on space armor as Marine John Grimm in "Doom," alien armor as Lord Vaako in "The Chronicles of Riddick" with Vin Diesel, and Middle-earth armor as Eomer of Rohan in two "Lord of the Rings" films.
He'll don the Starfleet tunic again to reprise his role as Dr. McCoy in "Star Trek: Into Darkness."
Incredibly, he says he'd be a lot busier if he gave in to industry pressure and relocated to Los Angeles.
But Urban, who was born in Wellington and now lives in Auckland, has never considered leaving New Zealand.
"I believe in balance," he says, "and don't think it would be fair on my kids to make that sort of sacrifice to take them away from their grandparents and cousins and friends.
"Consequently, I commute," he says, laughing.
The flight from New Zealand to South Africa, to shoot "Dredd 3D" at the newly built Cape Town Film Studios, was arduous, but nothing compared with the European locations he faced on films such as "The Bourne Supremacy."
"It's a complete 26-hour ordeal flying to Europe," he says.
That's the price you pay to be a Hollywood star who chooses to live halfway around the world.
But this was always the dream for Urban, even as a boy.
"My mother worked at a company that would rent out film equipment to productions," he says. "And every so often when a major New Zealand film was completed, the crew and cast would come to the warehouse and we would screen the film they'd just made on the garage door.
"So even at 8 years old, I was watching this renaissance period of New Zealand cinema, seeing Geoff Murphy's 'Utu' and Roger Donaldson's 'Smash Palace.'
"It made a strong impression on me. I knew that's what I want to do. I not only fell in love with the medium of cinema but also the people who made film."