Matthew Modine accepting the Pioneering Spirit Award at the 2023 Heartland International Film Festival

Matthew Modine plays social-worker turned cyclist in R.J. Daniel Hanna’s Hard Miles. It’s only fitting for the man who says he owes his acting career to finding an abandoned bicycle on the side of the road in New York City.

Modine told the story of how finding that abandoned bike allowed him to get to his auditions when he didn’t even have enough money for the subway at a Q&A at the Heartland International Film Festival in Indianapolis, Indiana on Friday night.

The Q&A was moderated by Heartland Film Artistic Director Greg Sorvig, and Modine spoke alongside Hard Miles co-writer Christian Sander following a screening of the film. Modine was granted a waiver from SAG-AFTRA to promote the film during the ongoing strike.

Heartland International Film Festival was listed this year among MovieMaker‘s 25 Coolest Filmmakers Film Festivals in the World. The 32nd annual festival took place this year between Oct. 5-15 in Indianapolis, Indiana.

Hard Miles Star Matthew Modine on the Bicycle That Made His Acting Career Possible

“When I moved to New York City to study acting, my wife — she was my girlfriend then — was really successful, and I had no money,” Modine told the crowd at Heartland.

“There was a sale on lemons down in the delicatessen beneath our apartment, so I bought a bunch of lemons and I had one of those five gallon Sparklett bottles. I made a bunch of lemonade, and I was standing on the corner of 42nd Street and Lexington saying, ‘Ice cold lemonade!’ I was selling my lemonade and a guy rode up on a Raleigh beach cruiser with white wall tires. You know, a single-speed beach cruiser. He dumped the bicycle on the ground and ran,” he continued.

“He didn’t come back and the bicycle was there, so I leaned it against the wall, and I said, ‘If I finish selling my lemonade — which had a couple of gallons to go — and he doesn’t come back, that bicycle’s mine.’ He never came back. So you could say I stole the bicycle, technically, but he abandoned the bicycle. So I adopted the bicycle. And that bicycle I used to get to every audition. And I think in some ways the bicycle was responsible for me having a career.

“I couldn’t even afford a subway token. So another actor might be able to get to two auditions a day. I was able to get to four, because I could speed around on my bicycle and get from place to place. It was my gymnasium. I could get exercise. And it liberated me. So, I’ve been riding a bicycle. I don’t have a car. I still live in New York City. And it’s been my single most mode of transportation since I’m 18 years old.”

Also Read: Jamie Campbell Bower Was So Scary In His Vecna Suit, He Made Millie Bobby Brown Cry on the Set of Stranger Things

Fittingly, in Hard Miles, Modine plays the real-life veteran Greg Townsend, a strong-willed social worker at a youth prison who put together a cycling team of teenage convicts called the Ridgeview Academy Cycling Team and took them on a transformative, 1000-mile ride.

This is Modine’s second time working with writer-director Hanna following the 2019 Uzo Aduba-led film Miss Virginia.

Matthew Modine and Heartland Film Artistic Director Greg Sorvig at the 2023 Heartland International Film Festival

Modine was honored with the Pioneering Spirit Award at Heartland, and Hard Miles won the Jimmy Stewart Legacy Award.

Modine and Sander said one of the most challenging parts of making the movie was filming in Arizona, where the sun threatened to scorch the actors’ unprotected eyes.

“I think our hottest day topped 120 [degrees] in Arizona,” Sander said. “Obviously, the eyes are the window to the soul. So our director, [R.J.] Dan Hanna, was like, ‘No, they can’t emote with sunglasses on.'”

“It was pretty bad. I was really grateful for the times that he did let me wear sunglasses, but they were times when you didn’t need to see my eyes,” Modine said.

Still, Modine maintains that he’s always grateful to be able to make movies no matter the conditions. It’s a far cry from selling lemonade on the street in New York City.

“I never liked to complain about the conditions of filmmaking, because I’ve had other jobs. I was trained to be a chef. I’ve dug ditches. I’ve worked as an electrician. I worked in Lawton, Oklahoma, building the world’s largest Goodyear radial tire factory, when it was much hotter,” Modine added.

“They say if you love what you do, you’ll never work a day of your life, and I’m so blessed to be able to do this job, my chosen profession.”

Hard Miles also stars Modine’s fellow Stranger Things alum Sean Astin, Jackson Kelly, Zachary T. Robbins, Cynthia Kaye McWilliams, Leslie David Baker, Jahking Guillory, Damien Diaz, Charles Ambrose, and Emily Kincaid.

Main Image: Matthew Modine accepting the Pioneering Spirit Award at the 2023 Heartland International Film Festival