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Interview: Austin Butler on love and his new film 'The Bikeriders'.

Interview: Austin Butler on love and his new film 'The Bikeriders'.

Jeff Nichols' new film 'The Bikeriders' is a fictional narrative that incorporates characters based on some of the original bikers featured in Danny Lyon’s photographic and oral history of a 60s Midwestern motorcycle club - the Vandals.

Jodie Comer plays female lead Kathy, and much of her narration was adapted from the real Kathy’s taped interviews with Lyon (who is portrayed by Mike Faist in the film).

Austin Butler stars opposite Comer (and Tom Hardy as Johnny), saying of his role as Benny: "He’s fallen out with his family and become a lone wolf. But there’s something in every human being that needs community. When he found the Vandals, he found a father figure in Johnny and camaraderie with all the guys. He and Kathy get married very quickly, but he’s always got one foot out the door. He doesn’t want anybody to need anything from him, but Kathy needs him to stop riding and get out of that life, and Johnny needs Benny to take over the gang."

For Butler, who grew up around motorcycles (his father and grandfather both rode), this was a dream project. "When I was 16, my dad decided it was time for me to learn so he just threw me on a bike in a parking lot. After I spoke to Jeff about this role, I started riding all the time. Then when I was in Australia shooting 'Elvis', I met a man who fixed up old Harleys and we would go riding together. That was my first time getting on an older bike. It helped get me ready for the film... We all bonded from training together. Jeff Milburn, our wonderful motorcycle stunt coordinator, brought these incredible period motorcycles, which are so different from riding on a modern bike. We had to practice a great deal on them to get comfortable. Most of the bikes you see in the film are his personal bikes, including the one I ride. I really learned so much about motorcycles from Jeff. We would ride for hours and hours together, even months before we started filming. Once production started and we were all together and you heard the engines roar – moments like that, you know, looking over and seeing Tom and Karl [Glusman] and Toby [Wallace] and all the guys – it was really amazing."

Coup De Main caught up with Butler when he was in Sydney recently to discuss love at first sight, taking ownership of your own responsibilities, and his love of pottery...

COUP DE MAIN: Last time we spoke was on-set in New Zealand when you were filming 'The Shannara Chronicles'... you've swapped elf ears for motorbikes now!
AUSTIN BUTLER:
Yeah! What a throwback. It's good to see you again.

CDM: Benny loves riding motorbikes more than anything, and the freedom he has when he's on the road. Is there anything that you feel strongly about in your own life, similar to how Benny feels about bike-riding?
AUSTIN:
Yeah, there's a lot of things. The first thing that comes to my mind is my dog. I love my dog so much.

CDM: You and Jodie Comer have this amazing on-screen chemistry, so it's really believable that Benny and Kathy have such an instant connection. Do you believe in love at first sight?
AUSTIN:
I believe in an intense connection at first sight, for sure, and perhaps love at first sight. But I think love is a living thing that you have to nurture. It deserves nurturing.

CDM: You have to actively commit - it's not just passive.
AUSTIN:
Do you believe in love at first sight?

CDM: I haven't experienced it yet, but I'll let you know if I do. What do you think Benny sees in Kathy? And is drawn to in her?
AUSTIN:
I think it's a primal magnetism that they feel toward each other - because I think for him, it's a gravitational pull that he feels just seeing her from across the room, and there's something different about her. Then once you get up close and you see that twinkle in her eye and all those unsaid things, I think that's incredibly captivating.

CDM: It's love at first sight.
AUSTIN:
Yeah, I suppose so.

CDM: There's a point in the movie where Benny mentions to Johnny that one of the differences between them is that Johnny is a grown-up with a house and a job. What does adulthood mean to you?
AUSTIN:
It's taking ownership, for one - taking ownership of your own decisions. When you're a child, you can always look to your parents to do things for you and they can take responsibility for a lot, so taking ownership and not victimising yourself in your own head and not lying to yourself, but ownership of your own responsibilities.

CDM: One of the big themes of this movie is finding community in subculture and expressing yourself through the subculture. Jeff Nichols has talked about how he explored being part of a punk-rock community in the mid-90s. Have you ever personally felt drawn to a subculture?
AUSTIN:
I definitely felt that with the motorcycle culture on this; I felt that a lot on this. I'm trying to think if these are actually subcultures, but music and my music friends, and playing music together and being in that world. I like to sort of feel like a chameleon as well, so when I'm with my motorcycle guys, that's all my mind is thinking about. As that shifts... when I was in London, it was pottery, I was really into throwing clay and making pottery, so that's very different but... would you call that a subculture? I had a lot of friends that potter at that time.

CDM: It's funny that you bring up pottery because I recently interviewed the 'Challengers' cast, and Josh O'Connor told me all about his ceramics and pottery obsession.
AUSTIN:
Oh! Does he do it? Does he actually do it?
CDM: He's very into it! It's his main thing that he cares about so maybe you guys need to get together and do some pottery.
AUSTIN:
I don't think I've ever met Josh. I'm trying to think if we've ever actually... I know so many people who know him, obviously Z and that connection to Mike Faist, but I gotta connect with him about that. That's really cool.

CDM: That perfectly brings me to my next question. When asked to describe you, your co-star Mike Faist hilariously said: "Oh, he sucks." Would you like to issue an official response to Mr Faist?
AUSTIN:
<laughs> That's hilarious. "Oh, he sucks." Mike in interviews is my favourite thing. "I love Mike Faist" - I think that's my response.

CDM: Kathy says that dating a Vandal changes you... has playing a Vandal in this movie changed you in any way?
AUSTIN:
I think it definitely sparked rebellion inside of me from being a kid. I was a rebellious child, and I tried to unlearn that for a long time, and then feeling some things on a motorcycle sparked that up inside me again for sure.

'The Bikeriders' is playing now in New Zealand cinemas.

Watch a trailer below...

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