Karl Urban on 'The Boys' Anti-Hero Billy Butcher "Becoming The Monster"
Ahead of Amazon Prime’s The Boys Season 3 dropping on Friday, HYPEBEAST sat down with Karl Urban, the actor who brings the show’s revenge-driven, comic book anti-hero, Billy Butcher, to life.
Since breaking out in the Lord of the Rings trilogy twenty years ago, Urban has become a mainstay of big-budget genre cinema, starring in sci-fi institutions including Dredd, the J.J. Abrams Star Trek reboot and Thor: Ragnarok.
In the show - an adaption of Garth Ennis’ controversial comic book series - Billy assembles the titular crew to bring down any ‘Supes’ that abuse their powers, but his ultimate target is Homelander, a completely unhinged take on Superman.
At the beginning of Season 3, Billy is being uncharacteristically well-behaved, that can’t last for long, can it?
“Billy is on a leash at beginning of Season 3, much to his frustration and you’re right, it doesn’t last long. Billy’s frustrated that he’s not able to fight the fight the way he wants to, he feels like he has one hand tied behind his back. But he had an opportunity to change that and he goes for it.”
“To me, the interesting thing about Butcher getting powers, is that it poses a moral dilemma, insofar as ‘how far are you willing to go to achieve what you want to achieve, to fulfil your obsession, in Butcher’s case, it’s revenge. Are you willing to become the monster to defeat the monster? And if you are, what is the cost of that? This season really focuses on that choice and the cost and ramifications for everybody else. It really does drive a significant wedge amongst everybody and everybody has to pick a side.”
Billy’s use of Compound V - the substance that gives its users powers - is a neat analogy for addiction, does he have any control over his actions?
“One of the themes we explore this season is, I guess, the nature of power and the addictive aspect of it and it’s literally represented in the manner in which Butcher ingests V. I think Butcher is acutely self-aware, he has conversations with MM [Mother’s Milk] for example, where you come to understand he is under no illusions as to who, and what, he is, but he is doing what he is doing as a means to an end and he’s willing to pay the price, he just doesn’t realise the totality of that price.”
Is it more fun playing a hero or villain?
“The smart thing about the way that The Boys is written is that it’s not as simplistic as good guy vs. bad guy because even the most morally reprehensible characters in the show are infused with elements that are relatable and an audience can empathise with and perhaps, in certain circumstances, feel sympathy towards and that’s just the genius of Eric Kripke and his writers.”
“The reason why Butcher has certain members of that team there is to help keep him morally centred, because he’s a very self-aware character and he knows he will cross any line and any boundary and that he does need to be reined in, that’s where you have characters like MM and like Hughie, who are there to serve that purpose, to try and keep him in check.”
How did you arrive at Billy’s cockney accent?
“It’s kind of the perfect storm because you have a British character, played by a New Zealand actor, written by American writers and in the first season I had a Canadian dialect coach. At the end of the first season I identified that there was certain elements of authenticity that could be improved, so I brought in Andrew Jack, who was one of the foremost, world-class dialogue coaches. I had first worked with him 20 years ago on Lord of the Rings. He came in and we significantly improved the specificity of the dialect and he was able to contribute more colloquialisms to give that character more authenticity and I was super excited about where we were going to go, but really tragically he was one of the first victims of the pandemic, he was working on The Batman and he passed.”
The Boys is known for not shying aware from moments of explosive gore - Season 2 saw the heads of a courtroom full of people explode - what’s it like on-set shooting those moments?
“In an age where many productions are being made with a significant amount of enhanced special effects, in The Boys we’re very much old school. The things that you see are, by and large, done in-camera, apart from the obvious superpower-orientated stuff. So, for example, last season they built a gigantic whale which was a fully operational set outside, but also had an interior with a pulsating heart. So it makes our job really easier. They go to extraordinary lengths to infuse the show with a significant degree of reality.”
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