The following questions and answers are excerpted from a conversation that followed the NBR screening of Star Trek Beyond.
I love the intro, where it seems like everyone is settling in, but not necessarily in a good way. What’s it like living in your character for so many years?
Karl Urban: I think it was a bold, brilliant move for Simon [Pegg, co-writer] and Doug [Jung, co-writer] to start the film with scenes of weariness, to focus on the reality of being in space for that amount of time. I always liked the idea of seeing what happens in between all the big action spectacles. So we get a bit of the monotony and the inter-character relationships and I feel that there’s a real development from the first two films. Kirk obviously, is not too young anymore.
“It was a bold move to start the film with scenes of weariness.”
Simon Pegg: Don’t tell Chris [Pine] that!
Urban: I think all the characters have become more efficient at their jobs and you can see the little subtle things. When Spock and I are walking down as the attack is going on and he has his phaser on and is ready for action, it reminds me of what it was like when I watched the original series. A wonderful device that Simon and Doug utilized was splitting everyone up in the crew. I think that was really important in the 50th year of Star Trek to deliver something new to the audience. With these pairings, we get to see things that we haven’t seen before. And I really love the pairing of Spock and Bones, these two characters that are so diametrically opposed to each other. Obviously there’s some comedy there but also a heartfelt interaction and honest communication. I think that’s something that’s fresh and rewarding.
For a summer blockbuster, this film has some really nice, quiet character moments.
Pegg: Absolutely. This film is a particular kind of film; it’s a big summer movie. It has to check some boxes. But for Doug and I, and the cast involved, it’s more meaningful. I don’t think you can watch a film that is full of bangs and flashes and explosions and care about it if you don’t have some care about the people that it is happening to. We see wholesale destruction on a massive scale these days in big cinema movies. Things are destroyed willy-nilly all over the place, and it’s a bit numbing. There doesn’t seem to be any peril involved. Whereas if you instill the characters with a sense of something the audience can latch onto, it makes you feel a bit more. Justin [Lin, director] was at pains to make sure as well that we had a vein of humanity running through it, which gives us something to cling onto amidst all the inevitable action.
When you’re on the planet, Bones is really man-to-man with Spock. There’s no turbo lift or computers to talk to. You’re basically marooned.
Urban: I like the challenge to take these two characters who are so opposite and throw them into a survival situation. What was particularly appealing to me was that Spock was mortally wounded and McCoy has no medical equipment with him and yet figures out a way to stop the hemorrhaging by cauterizing the wound with various implements that he has around him. For me, that showed great ingenuity. I think this is probably the most well-defined version of McCoy that I’ve had the pleasure to play. Traditionally in Star Trek, he was a consigliere, a friend, a device that would bring forth Kirk’s existential dilemma. So pairing Spock and McCoy together was a wonderful opportunity to develop those characters. I get the feeling they learned something about each other from this experience. And then both of them withdraw from their respective positions, put the shields back up, but there remains a deeper respect, an unspoken bond between them, an understanding.
Can you tell us a bit more about Uhura’s special necklace?
Pegg: Doug and I had this idea of this love token of Uhura’s coming back later in the film to help them find out where she was located. So we had this idea of a radioactive mineral. We saw the humor that Spock is basically keeping track of her! But we didn’t have a name for it, so we reached out to the guys who created Memory Alpha, which is this Star Trek Wikipedia. It was an exhaustive, invaluable resource for Doug and I since we would fact-check everything, like what’s inside of a frozen torpedo or what year the first annex vessel made its maiden voyage. And we wrote to the guys and we said “Look, we have this thing and it needs a name, and we’d like you to be part of this movie and have your name in the credits, can you name it for us?” and they came back in about two hours with a really detailed, etymological breakdown of the word Vulcya in its syllabic structure, where it was from, what part of Vulcan, how it had evolved, etc. It just goes to show how awesome Star Trek fans can be. We just wanted a name, but fine, we’ll take this encyclopedia of the word and use it in the film. It was a nice way to include the fans in this 50th Anniversary. If it weren’t for the fans, the show would’ve been cancelled in its third season. It’s been kept alive by those people.