"If you haven't heard the audio that Danny recorded of Kathy, you'll probably hear me speak for the first time in the movie and think, 'Oh... that's an interesting choice,'" Jodie Comer admits with a laugh. "But that was how she really spoke!"

Comer is one of the stars of The Bikeriders, writer-director Jeff Nichols period drama about the rise and fall of a midwestern motorcycle club. The movie was inspired by photographer Danny Lyon's 1968 book of the same name and follows various members of the fictional biker ganger the Vandals. It is a story overflowing with larger-than-life characters, and Nichols' ensemble is full of actors making bold choices to bring those characters to life.

Hence, Comer's accent. The actress forgoes her native Scouse accent in favor of the nasal, oh-geez Midwestern inflection that the real Kathy Bauer spoke with. In the film, Comer's Kathy is an everywoman who becomes our window into the Vandals' world; after falling for the soft-spoken vagabond Benny (Oscar nominee Austin Butler), Kathy finds herself at the center of their very particular subculture.

"For me, it was all about making sure that Kathy felt authentic. She's quite a particular person, and I found that to be very endearing. I really wanted to capture this essence and this energy that she had, and getting her voice right was a huge part of that," Comer explains to A.frame. Nichols provided the actress with 30 minutes of audio that Lyon recorded with the real Kathy, and Comer worked with a dialect coach to perfect it. "It's all about becoming so familiar with what you're doing, whether it be an accent or something else, that it becomes a part of you — as much as it realistically can. That way, it can become a kind of second nature."

"I actually heard the original recordings of Kathy many times," Butler says for his part. "One day, I got together with Jeff and he said, 'I've got something to play for you.' Jeff plays me this audio and I said, 'I've heard that before. This is Kathy, right?' He said, 'No, it's Jodie,' and, man, it was dead on."

Jodie Comer and Austin Butler with director Jeff Nichols (center) on the set of 'The Bikeriders.'

Butler is no stranger to big-screen transformations himself, not is this his first time portraying a real person: He received an Oscar nomination for his turn as the King of Rock and Roll in 2022's Elvis. (Butler had to hire a dialect coach to help rid him of the deeply-realized accent work he'd done for that film.) The Bikeriders didn't require Butler to change his physical appearance or his voice nearly as much as past films have. The actor, nevertheless, found his own way to commit to playing the motorcycle-riding, devil-may-care Benny.

"Just from a purely technical perspective, I knew that I needed to understand those old bikes on a very deep level. That way, when I got on set, I wouldn't have to think about it," he says. "So, in a very practical sense, my preparation was just hours and hours spent in the saddle, because that was the thing I worried about and thought about the most."

When the actors did arrive to set, an unexpected joy of The Bikeriders was seeing the character work that each of their co-stars had undertaken. The movie's ensemble cast includes two-time Oscar nominee Michael Shannon, a Nichols regular, who plays beer-swilling Latvian immigrant Zipco. ("Getting to watch Michael Shannon work… I pinch myself every day that I'm getting to have these experiences," Butler previously told A.frame.) Norman Reedus, Boyd Holbrook and Karl Glusman are among the members of the Vandals; Oscar nominee Tom Hardy plays their leader, Johnny.

"It's an incredible ensemble piece. Working with all of the other actors and seeing what they were doing, seeing them make really bold, interesting choices and improvise all the time, was really inspiring," Comer says. "The act of bringing the film to life felt amazing."

Like Comer, Hardy chose to completely transform his voice to play Johnny. Rather than adopt a gravelly growl — the more expected choice — Hardy opted to pitch his voice up, speaking in an accent reminiscent of the one Marlon Brando used as outlaw biker Johnny Strabler in 1953's The Wild One, a film that Hardy's Johnny is seen watching early on in The Bikeriders.

"I think a lot of actors might read that scene and say, 'Okay, I'm gonna play Marlon Brando,' and who knows what that would even look like," Hardy reasons. "What was funny to me about Johnny is that he's trying desperately hard to be something he's not. Even though he is a biker guy, he's looking at someone who isn't and saying, 'That's what I've got to look like.' Marlon Brando wasn't a biker! His character in The Wild One is. So, Johnny's not even really trying to be Marlon Brando. He's trying to be a character Brando played, and that's actually really sad, if you think about it."


Listening to Hardy discuss his process, one begins to understand more deeply why the actor has undertaken such drastic transformations for various roles over the years. For hardy, it provides a direct way into the psyche of the character. "We all take on a bit of residue from different people," the actor observes. "I'm certainly guilty of that. I carry accents with me from characters I've played or other people I've met all the time, because I want to come across a certain way. It's a kind of insecurity, and we all have that coping mechanism. For me, though, it's the tool I need to unlock the door into my imaginary world and play someone else."

As an actor, taking such risks requires a considerable amount of bravery, and both Hardy and Comer attest that they might not have been able to muster the necessary courage were it not for Nichols. "Committing to Kathy's accent was definitely scary and daunting," Comer says. "But Jeff really creates this safe space for you to work. He's a director who you can trust and know that he's got his eyes on you. So, it was a good environment for me to take that kind of leap."

Jumping into the deep end is exactly what Butler, Comer and Hardy have done throughout their respective careers, with The Bikeriders being only the latest example. According to Butler, that's because the challenges he faced making this film aren't the kind that would deter him from a project, but draw him in even more.

"The great thing about learning how to ride a motorcycle or a horse or even figuring out the right way to smoke a cigarette is that you do eventually get to a certain point where all of that becomes incredibly helpful," he explains. "Once you've moved past the learning curve and the initial discomfort and you really feel like you know how your character brushes their teeth or rides a bike, suddenly everything just feels real. Suddenly, there's nothing separating you from the present moment."

That's especially true when said moment involves speeding down the highway on the back of your bike, away from a squad of pursuing cop cars. "It's like the old adage says," Butler says with a smile, "truthful action leads to belief."

By Alex Welch


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