Born Karl-Heinz Urban in Wellington, New Zealand on June 7, 1972, his father was a German-born manufacturer of leather goods, while his mother worked at a production company in Wellington. Her job there afforded him his first screen appearance at age eight in an episode of the television series "Pioneer Women." Urban's interest in acting was further encouraged by performances in school, in addition to shooting some short films. At 18, he made his professional debut as a heroin addict in the police drama "Shark in the Park." More work soon followed, including a small role in the World War I drama "Chunuk Bair" (1992) and supporting turns on the long-running medical drama "Shortland Street" (TVNZ, 1992- ) and the syndicated adventure "White Fang" (1993-1994).
After years of television and local theater work, Urban's hard work paid off with international exposure on "Hercules: The Legendary Journeys" (syndicated/USA, 1995-99) and "Xena: Warrior Princess" (syndicated, 1995-2001). Urban played several different roles on both series, including Roman emperor Julius Caesar and Cupid. His popularity among fans of both shows facilitated a co-starring role in a spin-off series, "Amazon High" (syndicated, 1997), which never blossomed past the pilot stage. Undaunted, Urban returned to feature films in New Zealand, where he played a wide variety of character parts; first, as a villain in Heaven (1999) and later, as a cameraman who falls for an Olympic competitor in Via Satellite (1998).
By the turn of the new millennium, Urban was finally landing leads in features. In "The Irrefutable Proof About Demons" (2000), he was a skeptical anthropology professor whose investigation into Satanic cult activity puts him in jeopardy, while in the offbeat romantic fantasy The Price of Milk (2001), he was a lovelorn dairy farmer whose beloved (Danielle Cormack) attempts to undo his plans to make her his bride. Both films earned him Best Actor nominations at the New Zealand Film and Television Awards, as well as the attention of director Peter Jackson, who cast him in "The Two Towers" after viewing a rough cut of "Milk."
In the second film in the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy, Urban played Eomer, proud nephew of Theoden (Bernard Hill), king of the nation of Rohan, who suffers under the machinations of the evil wizard Saruman (Christopher Lee) and his duplicitous henchman Grima (Brad Dourif). Eomer eventually joins the remainder of the Fellowship in their fight against the forces of evil in both "Towers" and the sequel, "The Return of the King" (2003), which at its conclusion, finds Eomer assuming the throne of Gondor after the noble death of his uncle. The exposure afforded to Urban by the trilogy's international box-office windfall translated into a career in Hollywood features, which began in earnest in 2002 with the release of "Ghost Ship," an ocean-bound ghost story which failed to generate much heat in theaters. Faring only slightly better was The Chronicles of Riddick (2004), an overblown sequel to the Vin Diesel futuristic horror film "Pitch Black" (2000), with Urban as a villainous general in pursuit of Diesel's genetically altered hero.
The Bourne Supremacy (2004) gave Urban his first stateside hit since "The Lord of the Rings" and a chilling character in Kirill, a dogged and seemingly indestructible Russian hit man assigned to kill Matt Damon's amnesiac super soldier. He followed this with Doom (2005), a movie adaptation of the popular and bloody video game of the same name. Despite the game's massive fan base and the presence of wrestler-turned-actor Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson in the cast, the film failed to exceed expectations in ticket sales. Urban then returned to New Zealand to give a subtle and emotionally driven performance in Out of the Blue (2007), a harrowing account of the 1990 Aramoana Massacre, in which a lone gunman claimed the lives of 13 people in a small New Zealand town. Urban was praised for his turn as a local constable, Nick Harvey, who struggled to contain his own horror at the rampage while contending with the unstable killer.
Urban's name was one of many actors bandied about by the press as a replacement for Pierce Bronson as James Bond in the long-running franchise; however, Daniel Craig was eventually named as the new 007, and Urban went on to star in Pathfinder (2007), an underwhelming adventure-fantasy about a young Viking boy, raised by early Native Americans after the death of his traveling party, who then grows up to fight a wave of Vikings in the New World. Urban made his debut on American television in "Comanche Moon" (CBS, 2008), which again told an early adventure of Larry McMurtry's Lonesome Dove heroes, Woodrow F. Call and Augustus McCrae. Critics met the two-night miniseries with largely negative reviews.
Urban completed his role as a crooked smuggler opposite Laurence Fishburne in Tony Kaye's New Orleans-based thriller "Black Water Transit" prior to setting the Internet to buzzing by being cast as Dr. Leonard "Bones" McCoy in J.J. Abrams' Star Trek (2009). Urban, who had been a fan of the original series, actively pursued the role and was pleased by the amount of humor the role afforded him, having not had a chance to flex that muscle since "The Price of Milk." Though security surrounding the film was tight, sources revealed that Urban's turn was particularly memorable due to his flawless approximation of actor DeForest Kelley, who played Bones in the original "Trek" franchise.
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