The Bikeriders: Jodie Comer and Jeff Nichols Travel Back in Time for Exclusive New Look (2024)


Exclusive: Director Jeff Nichols and star Jodie Comer show us how The Bikeriders lived during the final days of American counterculture cool in the 1960s.

This article appears in the new issue ofDEN OF GEEKmagazine. You can read all of our magazine storieshere.

For Jeff Nichols, The Bikeriders’ long road trip began with a handful of photographs. Among them in grainy black and white was a lone figure, captured in blurred motion and with his head turned away as he zoomed across the Ohio River. The only clear details were the leathered texture of his jacket and the gleam flashing off his Harley’s steel. When discovering this image and many like it in 2003, Nichols was in no way a motorcycle connoisseur. To this day, big bikes terrify him. But he instantly knew how the pictures—taken by New Journalism legend Danny Lyon between 1963 and 1967—made him feel. And he needed to express that sensation onscreen.

“Photographs can lie to us,” Nichols says 21 years later on a sunny Texan morning. “They’re very romantic, and Danny’s photographs are romantic mainly because the people are. I mean, they’re beautiful with the hair and the bikes and the clothes.” They’re a promise, however misleading, about freedom and belonging to a tribe. Nichols recognized that allure from his own life. When he finally gained the courage to pitch Lyon on making a movie, in fact, it was his own memories of growing up in the punk rock scene of Little Rock, Arkansas, that won the photographer over.

“In the mid-’90s, I was tangentially a part of that,” Nichols recalls. “My older brother was really into it, but there was a cool punk rock scene, and it started very much homemade, very much rough-hewn. It was just friends playing in bands, but then the punk scene [saw] Green Day coming into popularity. It became popular; it was no longer subculture.” In the filmmaker’s mind, subcultures start from a basic truth: people need to belong to a group with their own rules, aesthetic, and style. But eventually, “it grows into this bigger thing and becomes an affectation of itself. Like a snake eating its own tail.”


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The Bikeriders movie is about the moment the snake’s fangs sink in. Intended as a fictional extrapolation of ideas in Lyon’s book, the film speculates on that ephemeral moment between when biker gangs transitioned from wanting to be Marlon Brando in The Wild One to becoming Dennis Hopper in Easy Rider. It’s a character study about part-time tough guys like Johnny (Tom Hardy) and Benny (Austin Butler), whose biker club, the Vandals, dominate the road on the weekends and yet live long enough to see that club transform into something alien. It’s the death of a specific kind of American cool.

“The [Chicago Outlaws] split between the beer drinkers and drug culture of the ’60s,” Nichols says, referring to the real mid-20th century biker gang that The Bikeriders’ fictionalized Vandals are based on. “So what started as a social club, a reason for guys to get together and bullsh*t, and talk about bikes and drink, and do whatever the hell they wanted to do… metastasizes over the course of the ’60s.” The lifestyle went from a party to–in some instances—a criminal enterprise.

The Bikeriders: Jodie Comer and Jeff Nichols Travel Back in Time for Exclusive New Look (1)

To capture the inflection point he’s been chasing for more than two decades, Nichols has assembled a showy cast to populate the Vandals crew. There’s Hardy and Butler, but also Mike Faist, Norman Reedus, Boyd Holbrook, and perennial Nichols collaborator/good luck charm Michael Shannon. Yet perhaps the most important player and true voice of the film—and with a thick Chicagoan voice at that—is Jodie Comer’s Kathy.

While photographs might lie, Comer’s Kathy never would. The film’s prologue even resembles a kitchen table gossip wherein Kathy, a working-class Midwesterner with a million stories and no regrets, recounts to a photographer (Faist) about meeting this guy named Benny at a bar. Afterward, he drove her home on his Harley and then camped outside her house for more than 24 hours—until she invited him in. “Five weeks later, I married him,” she boasts with pride. This anecdote is something the real Kathy said almost verbatim in an interview in Lyon’s book. And it was always clearly the voice of the movie.

“She’s the most interesting one,” Nichols says. “We’re not doing anybody any favors. She’s fascinating because she’s both an insider and an outsider; she has access to this entire subculture, but she’s a woman.”

She also is the one character who is truly free in Comer’s mind, and that realization came to her the moment the Tony-award winning performer saw a photo of the real Kathy.


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“I kind of immediately fell in love with her,” Comer tells us. “I can’t lie; she just felt like such a force of nature.” So much in the faded stills grabbed the star: the way Kathy stood, the way she sat, the bright shade of red in her nail polish.

“When Danny was photographing her, and she was aware of it, there was almost a kind of coyness or a shyness of being in front of the camera,” says Comer. “A lot of the women in the photographs were so beautifully made up—meticulous hair and clothing—and with Kathy, her jeans were a little bit ill-fitted, and her hair was always messy, as if she got off the back of a bike. She had three kids, so I always felt it was as if the kids have had their fingers in her hair.”

Comer even saw something of her grandmother from Liverpool in this Midwestern hurricane. “My nan had this skill: she could tell you a story, and it would be the sixth time that she’s told it, but it would get more interesting,” the actress laughs. “It pulls people in, and I recognize Kathy had that quality.” Although, in the case of The Bikeriders, it meant trading in Comer’s distinctly northern English accent for something a lot more regionally specific—which Killing Eve fans might consider her stock and trade.

“They’re all so tricky,” Comer says of the accents she’s become famous for sliding between. “The trick is to get so comfortable with it that you barely think about it, which is hard, especially when Kathy spoke so much. She had a lot of dialogue, so I wanted to get to a point where I wasn’t in a scene thinking about the placement of my tongue.”

According to her director, not only did she nail it, but even in pre-production, it reached the point where he couldn’t tell the difference between Comer’s character and the audio recordings of the real Kathy that Lyon provided the production.

She also makes a terrific counterpoint to the film’s other stars, who in their own way are trying to play a part. Literally. Tom Hardy’s seemingly ruthless leader of the Vandals, Johnny, is based on a guy who watched Brando in The Wild One religiously.


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“He had these scrapbooks that he would keep, and Danny would photograph pages of the scrapbook, [which had] the TV Guide from when The Wild One aired on TV,” Nichols says. “So we recreated that in the film.” Hardy seized on the detail, modeling Johnny’s voice around the sound of a Chicagoan suburbanite doing a Brando impression. Tellingly, too, Hardy also had a mantra he frequently muttered: “You can’t be half a gangster.”

Closer to the real thing, at least in terms of style if not crime, is Butler’s Benny, the guy so cool Kathy married him within two months. And that charisma is no put-on, according to the director.

“I think you’re about to see him play everything under the sun,” Nichols says of Butler, “because the truth is he is just a stone-cold movie star. They exist; they are real; there are not a lot of them, but they do walk on this earth, and he is one of them. And when he walks up and shakes your hand, you realize that you’re meeting one.” And it’s not just about handsome good looks, the filmmaker insists. “That’s a misunderstanding of what it takes to be a movie star. There’s something vibrating under their skin that makes them undeniable. Austin has it, Tom has it, Jodie has it.”

Consider the titular bike riding in the film. While Comer laments she was not allowed to ride any actual motorcycles in the film—“I didn’t even get to wear leather!” she chuckles—she vividly recalls the evening she spent on a camera rig above the Ohio River. “I was on the back of [Butler and the rig] for insurance reasons… and we were having to play this really euphoric moment, and Austin was like, ‘I feel like a fraud!’” But that’s because, by the time cameras rolled, he had mastered riding antique Harleys without a helmet. That’s pretty impressive since, as Nichols tells it, he might’ve fibbed his way into the role.

“He wasn’t forthright about it,” Nichols smiles about the first meeting where Butler claimed he has a history with bikes. “He was like, ‘Yeah, we rode Spykes on Elvis.’ But at that point I hadn’t seen it, so I was like, ‘well, that makes sense. I think Elvis rode motorcycles.’ And then [stunt coordinator Jeff Milburn] had a meeting with him and was like, ‘Yeah, that guy’s never ridden a motorcycle.’”

Nonetheless, during the months Butler spent filming his Dune: Part Two scenes in Budapest, he would sneak off every day to practice on a Harley. This continued until it was time to show up in Cincinnati on top of a vintage bike with engineering so antiquated that experts now refer to those models as “suicide shifters.” (Some cast mates were advised not to ride at all.)


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Yet there he was, without a camera rig or headgear, zipping across a bridge and mimicking the pose Lyon famously captured half a century ago above the same river. As the actor put his hand on his left thigh and turned his head like he didn’t have two sh*ts left in the world to give, Nichols was ready to jump out of the nearby vehicle holding the camera. “I nearly fell out of the car. I was so excited about it,” the director beams. “He nailed it.” Twenty-one years after staring at a photo, he rediscovered a lost glory.


The Bikeriders opens in theaters June 21.

The Bikeriders: Jodie Comer and Jeff Nichols Travel Back in Time for Exclusive New Look (2024)


What is the BikeRiders movie about? ›

Are the bikeriders out yet? ›

'The Bikeriders' is set to be released on Friday, June 21, 2024, after being delayed from its original release date of December 1, 2023.

What is BikeRiders rated? ›

Rated R for language throughout, violence, some drug use and brief sexuality.

Is the biker movie coming out in 2024? ›

Kathy, a strong-willed member of the Vandals who's married to a reckless bike rider named Benny, recounts the Vandals' evolution over the course of a decade, beginning as a local club of outsiders united by good times, rumbling bikes, and respect for their strong, steady leader Johnny.

Is The Bikeriders based on a true story? ›

It tells a fictional story inspired by the 1967 photo-book of the same name by Danny Lyon depicting the lives of the Outlaws MC, a Chicago-based motorcycle gang. The film stars Jodie Comer, Austin Butler, Tom Hardy, Michael Shannon, Mike Faist, and Norman Reedus.

What club are The Bikeriders based on? ›

The Bikeriders takes place in the 1960s, following a fictional Chicago motorcycle club called the Vandals.

Why are The Bikeriders delayed? ›

New Regency is delaying the release of Jeff Nichols' awards hopeful The Bikeriders due to the ongoing actors strike and the prohibition on talent doing any promotion or publicity. The drama — starring Jodie Comer, Austin Butler and Tom Hardy — had been set to open in theaters Dec.

What is the new biker movie coming out in June? ›

"The Bikeriders" is a new 'biker' drama feature, written and directed by Jeff Nichols, starring Jodie Comer, Austin Butler, Tom Hardy, Michael Shannon, Mike Faist and Norman Reedus, recently acquired by film distributor Focus Features for a June 21, 2024 wide theatrical release: "...

What motorcycles are used in The Bikeriders? ›

The club founder and leader, Johnny (Tom Hardy), rides a bobbed 1956 Harley-Davidson FLH that inspired the limited-edition 2024 Harley-Davidson Hydra-Glide Revival.

Is The Bikeriders a remake of The Wild One? ›

But though Jeff Nichols's film shares the book's title, it's no documentary recreation, rather a revved-up pulp fictional replay of the outlaw biker movie – a 1950s and 60s sub-genre tooled to thrill US drive-in audiences – including its most obvious example, László Benedek's The Wild One (1953), which gets quoted and ...

Who is Benny in The Bikeriders? ›

The Bikeriders (2023) - Austin Butler as Benny - IMDb.

Why did Disney drop The Bikeriders? ›

Sources informed Variety that it was New Regency's decision — not Disney's — to seek a new distributor. The production company also opted to remove “The Bikeriders” from the Disney calendar due to its actors' inability to promote the feature, which carries a $40 million production budget, during the SAG-AFTRA strike.

Who is Kathy in The Bikeriders? ›

Jeff Nichols 'THE BIKERIDERS' in theaters June 21.

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