Karl Urban Does The Boys for Himself and No One Else

Jason Speakman

The following story contains spoilers for The Boys Season 3, through the end of the season.

AS A viewer of The Boys, Amazon Prime Video’s bloody superhero send-up, being around Karl Urban can be a little jarring. Urban has sported a lot of looks for a lot of roles over the years: golden locks and matching facial hair as Éomer in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings movies; clean-cut and clean shaven as Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy in J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek series; and bald save for two black tiger stripes on his head as Skurge in Thor: Ragnarok. But for the last few years, his on-screen and real-life appearance have hewed pretty close, and that’s what’s so unnerving: he looks just like Billy Butcher, the vengeful, C-bomb dropping, supe-hunting leader of the titular Boys. Same jet-black features, same searing gaze. But when Urban, who hails from New Zealand, opens his mouth, out comes a distinctly Kiwi accent and a jocular tone, a far cry from Butcher’s growling, expletive-laden Cockwi. (That’s the fans’ affectionate name for Urban’s signature mix of his natural accent with Butcher’s Cockney.)

Over a couple of hours taking photos on a hot afternoon in Midtown Manhattan and then finding a quiet local haunt for our interview, the actor smiles often, laughs hard, and seems to enjoy chatting over some refreshments and air conditioning. Butcher, on the other hand, only seems to smile when he has a mouth full of blood. Urban says he relates with his The Boys alter ego, but it’s not exactly something he channels in his real life. “I’m pretty adept at leaving the character at the stage door,” he says. “And I certainly don’t ever delve into it in my off-season, unless I’m specifically doing it for somebody’s laugh.” While he poses for photos out on the street, a few passersby give him knowing stares, including a couple pushing a stroller. Urban clocks them and gives an unexpectedly chipper, “Congratulations!” with a Butcher-esque twist of mischief.

After three seasons of building an audience, the show has gone from genre darling to crossover hit. It routinely trends on Twitter, and it’s expanding into its own cinematic universe. (There’s a live-action spin-off, The Boys Presents: Varsity, in the works; Prime Video released the animated anthology The Boys Presents: Diabolical earlier this year.) So it’s no surprise when someone walking by straight-up shouts out, “The Boys!”—the surprise is that it took a full 10 minutes.

As the show wraps its third season (and with a fourth already confirmed), we asked the man at the center of The Boys for his favorite stories from an out-of-control season, how they could top it, and his reaction to the people online fan casting him as a certain mutant bub in the MCU.

Jason Speakman

What was the highlight of this season for you as Billy Butcher?

This season was a lot of fun to play because Butcher decides to take Temp-V and get superpowers himself—and very much turn himself into the thing he’s trying to destroy. That’s how obsessed he is. It was fun to be able to play in that sandbox and take the character into a new direction that way.

Do you relate to Butcher more or less after his decisions this season?

Well, I’ve related to him since Day 1. To me, it all comes back to the circumstances. At the end of the second season, Butcher loses Becca, his wife. At the beginning of the third season, he hasn’t had time to process that loss. But now he finds himself in a position where he’s having to be a paternal figure to her son [who’s inherited powers from his dad—Homelander]. He just doesn’t have the skillset for it. And it’s a job that’s completely at odds with his objective, which is to get revenge on Homelander.

And in true [showrunner] Eric Kripke fashion, the characters get punished when they make the wrong decisions. What happens to Butcher at the end of the season is definitely heartbreaking and tragic, but those are events of his own making. This is the consequence of bad decision-making—and Butcher is very adept at bad decision-making.

“What happens to Butcher at the end of the season is definitely heartbreaking and tragic, but those are events of his own making.”

Other than Butcher, is there any character on the show, big or small, that you relate to?

There’s a few. That’s one of the wonderful qualities about what Eric Kripke does—even the most villainous characters on the show you can empathize with at some point or another. You realize that there’s a certain tragedy behind their flaws. I’ve found myself at times even empathizing with Homelander. When you find out that he was a little kid who was grown out of a test tube, who grew up in a sterile environment, and you actually think about that, you go, “Oh my god, that’s absolutely horrific.” And in that moment, you’ve humanized the character.

So now as we approach Season 4, we have a lead character who’s terminally ill. How do you think that could change Butcher’s motivations?

I honestly could not tell you. I do not have a crystal ball into the mind of Eric Kripke, but I’m certainly interested to see how this new life expectancy manifests itself in terms of Butcher’s behavior. I would be very interested to take the character into a new direction for sure. You never want to find yourself in a situation where you’re repeating yourself, spinning your wheels. So it’s important to me that the character has a strong utility, and that whatever story we do tell going forward adds something new not only to the world of The Boys, but to Butcher’s character.

Jason Speakman

Herogasm” was the most hyped episode of the season and your co-stars have some wild stories from set. Were you on set for much of that? The fight scene between Butcher, Soldier Boy, and Homelander did cap it all off, after all.

I wasn’t really on set for the majority of the Herogasm stuff—I only saw a little bit of it. But the fight sequence at the end was intense. We trained hard for it and shot it over four or five days. Big shout out to John C. Meier, our new stunt coordinator, who did a terrific job. From the response that I’ve seen, the audience really dug that fight. I think that’s something that fans have been wanting to see for the last few seasons, and it was great to be able to deliver.

Part of what made that fight scene so exciting was that the three of you stayed in one location. In a lot of superhero movies, the fight scenes become so expansive, with characters flying out in the sky and across large spaces. It’s refreshing to see three characters duke it out in small, close quarters.

Yeah, it was like a super-powered MMA fight. The room was even shaped like an MMA ring.

How did you approach teaming up with Jensen Ackles as Soldier Boy in that scene? Yes, you’re both going after Homelander, but you just know Butcher deeply hates Soldier Boy too.

Yeah, definitely. But from Butcher’s perspective, Soldier Boy is a means to an end. There was a scene that didn’t make the cut where Butcher explains to Hughie what his plan is: “We’re gonna take out Homelander, and then we’re gonna take out Soldier Boy.” He’s just using him.

Courtesy of Prime Video

After shooting scenes like that with Jensen and Antony Starr, who plays Homelander, is it easy to turn off the adrenaline and just go off set and hang out?

Oh, absolutely. You leave the work at set, and then off-set, you absolutely hang out and have a great time. They’re really great guys to hang with. Jensen coming on was just a fantastic addition to the cast—he really brought his A-game and carved out a space for a new superhero and a new attitude that we hadn’t seen in the show before, and he did such a phenomenal job.

Butcher has great chemistry with all of “The Boys,” but I especially like the way his relationship with Jack Quaid’s character, Hughie, has developed over this season. How has your off-screen relationship with Jack grown over these years?

We became tight friends very quickly. He was relatively new to the industry, comparative to me, and so it’s been really great to see him grow and learn, and to see him evolve his craft and his technical abilities. We really enjoyed having the opportunity to play more scenes with Butcher and Hughie, because in the second season they weren’t together. So it was really fun to get back to that dynamic that was so prevalent in Season 1.

“You’re going to see and experience things watching The Boys that you won’t see on any other show because it dares to do and say the things that no other show can.”

There was a surprising sex scene between you and Dominique McElligott, who plays Queen Maeve, midway through the season. What was your reaction when you first saw it on the page, and how did you guys execute it in a way that felt authentic?

I really liked the way that was dealt with, and I thought it was a logical thing for those characters, who were both lost and desperate, to end up at that point. Dom was great to work with. We worked with an intimacy coordinator and along with Eric Kripke, we choreographed the entire scene very much like you would a fight or a dance.

It was something we approached very technically and respectfully. I’ve got to say, having done tonally similar scenes in the past, I really think that this stands out as one of the better examples because it was so choreographed. We knew what we were doing. It wasn’t, “Okay, you guys, just go for it!”

You said it was fun to play the scenes where Butcher gets powers from Temp-V. Of course, when Hughie takes it, it makes him teleport out of his clothing. So it must have been a very different shooting experience for Jack! Was it as awkward as those scenes made it look?

Yeah, initially Jack felt a little self-conscious about it. But to his full credit, he hit the gym and was in fantastic shape, and I think once he got over the initial shock of being, you know, 90% naked on set, he went with it and he enjoyed it. And, of course, Jensen, Day 1, was completely naked as well. So, yeah. [laughs]

Jason Speakman

Is that something you expected when you signed onto this show? To be around so many naked co-stars?

I mean, tonally, signing up to The Boys, you know what it is. You’re going to see and experience things watching The Boys that you won’t see on any other show because it dares to do and say the things that no other show can—and that’s part of the appeal.

You said you weren’t on set for much of Herogasm, but you were part of the Termite scenes in the season premiere. Butcher enters to find the aftermath, but were you on set with the… giant scale model penis?

I have had reporters ask me if I went to the giant penis set. I did not go. I know what a penis looks like—I happen to own one, and I didn’t feel the need to go onto that set. [laughs] But, again, it’s fun to play in the warped world of Eric Kripke, and we all have a ton of fun shooting those kinds of scenes.

There’s a conversation happening on Reddit, Twitter, and TikTok this season around certain fans who didn’t seem to clue in on the show’s satire, who genuinely root for characters like Homelander. Have you seen this?

No, I haven’t. I try to stay well away from audience reactions and responses. My job is what happens between action and cut. Everything else after that is beyond my area of concern. I’m just interested in telling the story and playing Billy Butcher—how people interpret it is none of my business.

“I have had reporters ask me if I went to the giant penis set. I did not go. I know what a penis looks like—I happen to own one, and I didn’t feel the need to go onto that set.”

The show does contain a lot of social commentary, though. The final scene of the season might be the most biting satire: when Homelander explodes a guy’s head and his fans…cheer. What do you think The Boys reflects about our society?

I think that, like a lot of great television, it holds up a mirror to society, and it does it in a way that is somewhat removed from reality. We incorporate these fantastical characters with these amazing powers, but at the end of the day, we are having a look at some pretty poignant issues—like racism, like sexual harassment, like the corruption of political power. And also the overwhelming appetite that we have for social media, and this desire to be liked. The show takes a good look at all of that, and I think that’s one of the ingredients to its success, and it’s a vital one. Because it’s not just some vacuous form of entertainment. It has a lot of entertainment value, and at the same time, it’s thought-provoking. To me, that’s the mark of a good show.

Jason Speakman

You’ve been in the Marvel Cinematic Universe already, as Skurge in Thor: Ragnarok. But a lot of fans online want to see you play Wolverine when the X-Men come to the MCU. After hunting supes as Butcher, would you be interested in playing one?

Absolutely, 100% yes, sign me up. I would love to have an opportunity to have a crack at some of those properties. For sure.

It’s not unheard of for an actor to be cast as two different roles in Marvel properties. Both Gemma Chan and Mahershala Ali have done it. Just throwing it out there.

I’m open to it. I’m enjoying what I’m doing, and I would just love the opportunity to work with collaborators of the highest caliber. And to me, it doesn’t matter what the genre is, whether it’s in the Marvel Universe, DC, whatever. You just want to surround yourself with the best people you can.

This interview has been condensed for content and clarity.

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