February 2010

A C2 Exclusive Interview with Johann Urb (Star of 2012)

Author: Craig Hysell | Photographer: Krisztian Lonyai

There are an infinite number of paths in life, yet all are the same in one respect: they are what you make of them, no more, no less. The choice between optimism and negativity, between doing and watching, between giving and indulging, between challenging yourself and living in your comfort zone are all just that: a choice. What you do with your life—all of it—is up to you, which is pretty freakin’ cool, if you ask Johann Urb.

The 33 year-old actor, probably best known thus far as the pilot in the mega-action flick, 2012, has been acting since he was 20 years-old, but his pursuit has become larger than landing movie roles. Acting has allowed Urb to pursue a path of self-discovery through a medium he truly enjoys. “I’m in a perpetual state of learning,” he says of his life. “I’m always in awe of my surroundings. That’s why I love art. It doesn’t always necessarily make sense, but it’s in a constant state of child-like being and openness.”

However, if you think Urb spends all his time swaddled in robes, burning incense and chanting mystic “Om’s” you have largely mistaken the man. Each way is made up of many paths. Urb loves the outdoors and spends a lot of his time jogging along the trails and among the trees near his home in Topanga Canyon—inside the Santa Monica Mountains along the western side of Los Angeles County, California. He hits the ocean, practices Krav Maga and CrossFit.

What’s CrossFit? It’s the most intense, most functional and most fun exercise program ever invented for specializing in general, inclusive fitness. CrossFit trains people to be as prepared as possible for the unknown and the unknowable. What’s more open-minded than that? “It’s amazing how simple and effective that stuff is,” said Urb. “And how challenging.” And that just about sums up Urb’s personal philosophy: a mindset geared toward simplicity, effectiveness and challenge. How complicated.

Born in what was the then Soviet-occupied country of Estonia, Urb remembers being “interviewed” by the KGB as a child. His father was even imprisoned by the Russian government for playing music. A letter from Urb’s influential uncle to Mikhail Gorbachev is the only thing that got his father released. After that, the Urbs left the country or his father risked being removed “permanently.”

Urb moved to Finland at age 10 and then to the United States at 17. He is now a U.S. citizen. That kind of intense childhood can harden a person, but Urb is about as far from stoic as Richard Pryor. He is relaxed, confident and at ease with himself. Not too bad for a guy who makes a career of putting himself on film for the world to judge. In fact, he’s so honest, the following interview just may surprise you:

C2: Having been born in a Soviet occupied country, do you feel like you appreciate America more than maybe, say, some of us who were born here?
Johann Urb: For me, it’s the land of opportunity. It’s the land where everything’s possible, where you can really achieve things. I think, for those people who haven’t traveled, you don’t realize how good you have it and how available everything is. You’re not stuck in a social class. You can achieve anything here. You really wish people might go abroad more so they can appreciate what they have here.

C2: Do you still take acting classes?
JU: Yes. Acting has become my spiritual path. I’m studying with a master right now. I’ve found somebody who constantly inspires me and allows me to discover more parts of myself and life, who is also, himself, on a path of perpetual discovery. He’s the first to say he doesn’t have all the answers. That’s so rare to be in the presence of somebody who is such a good example. He’s a master, yes, but he’s continually learning himself. Continually in awe.

C2: What do you feel it takes for a person to be successful at achieving their dream?
JU: I heard a story from a guy who worked with Marlon Brando once. He’d asked Marlon Brando, “What’s the secret to success?” Brando said, “Stick around, kid. Just stick around.” I think what’s really important is perseverance. I’ve heard another guy say, “An overnight success in Hollywood is 10 years in the making.” That applies to a lot of things. If you’re passionate about something, just keep doing it. Don’t get bitter. Be strong. Don’t give up. Don’t talk yourself out of it. Believe in yourself. That’s my understanding.

C2: If you could be any superhero in the world, who would you want to be?
JU: Wow, that’s a good question. It’s tough. Superheroes are always so lonely. They’ve got it tough, you know? They’re always out saving people and stuff. Um… I might be like Yoda or something. Yoda would be good, right? Because then you’re just chilling; you’re by yourself a lot in nature, teaching people how to be awesome all the time.

C2: What is the most important virtue or asset that an actor can have?
JU: Honesty.

C2: In your life so far, what have you found that’s been overrated?
JU: I don’t know. Nothing comes to mind. I think it’s possible to find something amazing in everything. It all comes down to your own expectations of something.

How Zen. Johann Urb can currently be seen in 2012 and Strictly Sexual as well as guest starring stints for CSI: Miami and Entourage. For those of you who want to cruise your DVD files, look for him in Zoolander as Mugatu’s bodyguard. He’ll be the really, really, ridiculously good-looking one (other than Ben Stiller). What you won’t see is that Urb, no matter what his most likely stellar acting career will bring, was a success long before most of us ever heard his funky sounding name.

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