Billy Butcher is a dangerous man in Amazon’s superhero series The Boys, based on the graphic novels by Garth Ennis. The former British special forces soldier turned vigilante gets the job done, if not by cunning than by force, which means the producers needed an imposing figure. They found that in Karl Urban, the New Zealand actor who has made his physical presence known in past projects like Lord Of The Rings and The Bourne Supremacy.
“I wanted what I was putting up on the screen to match what people had in their heads as closely as possible,” Urban tells Men’s Journal. “Given the character’s background, that meant spending a good amount of time in the gym.”
The second season of The Boys ends with Butcher suffering a great loss, which will undoubtedly set him on an even more extreme course in future episodes. We talked to Urban on his preparation, hanging out with the cast, and the fishing trips he takes to decompress after filming.
Men’s Journal: What did you like about the Billy Butcher role initially?
Karl Urban: The fun thing about Billy Butcher is he’s one of those characters who walks along the edge of a cliff and doesn’t blink—doesn’t look down or worry. I find those roles very fun to play…the characters who dare to do and say things we would never personally do and say in real life. Getting to imagine ourselves in his shoes is a bit of wish fulfillment. Beyond that, I was impressed by the quality of the writing and how they portrayed Billy’s Machiavellian ways—not to mention this incredibly violent individual who lurks inside of him, wrapped up in this often charming exterior. He uses those tools to manipulate people, which was also a treat to enact.
How did you prepare for the role?
I went back to the original source material, the graphic novels, starting with Butch, Baker, Candlestickmaker, which is a Billy Butcher-centric issue that gives a lot of great insight into his backstory. But it also became very clear to me early on that [Eric] Kripke was doing something a little different. The graphic novels were a starting point, but there is clearly a divergence, so it’s about trying to tell the story that’s on the page.
On the fitness side of the preparation, Butcher no doubt has a certain physicality to him, so I made sure I was consistently putting work in the gym. I wanted to make sure I was meeting the requirements of what people had in their heads when they thought of him. There’s also an importance on staying healthy when you’re coming up on a big shoot like The Boys, because it can take a lot out of you. I put a program together based on a few other regimes I had built for other film projects and it worked. The goal was to add mass to all of the muscle groups, and hit them all. I wanted something that was just as much about fitness as it was about aesthetic.
What areas did you target specifically to build the Billy Butcher look?
If I was really to break it down there were two areas of real importance for me, starting with leg work. It can be very easy to be lazy and not devote the right amount of time that endeavor. It’s the biggest muscle group in your body, so you have to make sure to put that effort in if you want to fill out right. No question for us guys, it can be very easy to focus only on the upper body. For this character, in particular, it was important to have a good degree of thickness in my back and my pecs; that filled out the silhouette I was going for.
Did you do most of your training at home? What is your setup like?
I have built a setup at my home in New Zealand with a Smith machine, a leg press, a rack of free weights, and a treadmill. The program I was doing for Billy Butcher meant a lot of leg pressing, squats, sleds, seated rows, lat pulldowns. I like my free weights. I feel like I have more freedom to target individual muscle groups.
What’s your diet like when you’re getting ready for the show?
The diet needs to be dialed in, you can work out all you like but if you don’t eat right, it won’t come together. I usually watch my intake pretty carefully when I’m doing a show like The Boys. I try not to eat carbs after 4 in the afternoon, so when I eat dinner it’s usually a protein paired with a salad or cooked vegetables. I start my day out with smashing a workout, then I feel like I’m ready for the races. That’s also how I kick off my metabolism as well. I will eat right after that early workout, sometimes chicken with broccoli, or just a shake if I don’t have the time to make a proper meal.
The whole cast of The Boys is awesome, do you get to spend time with the other guys off-set as well?
The show is really kind of unique in the way that there are really like two different casts; there’s The Seven and The Boys. Everyone who works on the show is great, which is a credit to Eric and the casting department. But as you can imagine, I don’t spend time with The Seven cast nearly as much as I do with The Boys. They’re a great bunch; we hang out with each other off-set as well for dinners and socializing.
I know you’re a bit of an outdoorsman, what are your favorite ways to decompress after wrapping on the show?
I’m a big fan of anything outdoors. I love to get out on the boat and fish. In the summer months, I like to surf. But more than anything, I’ve been enjoying plenty of fishing trips.
Where do you like to get on the water, and what kind of fish do you go after?
I have a few great fishing holes here in New Zealand that I keep secret for obvious reasons. Over the past year, I’ve started to really enjoy targeting kingfish; they’re the toughest-fighting fish in the sea. They’re superfast, and a formidable predator as well. I only take what I need from the sea, and I do a fair amount of catching and releasing. That is what I do the majority of the time.
What do you love about fishing?
For me it’s just about being out there on the ocean. I went out the other day, and, when it hit dusk, the water started bubbling with this swarm of pilchards. Only a few moments later, I noticed this pod of a hundred dolphins jumping by, chasing them, and surrounded the boat. It was beautiful to see, them jumping through the water. It doesn’t get any better than that.
The Boys is now streaming on Amazon Prime Video.