Jeff Nichols’ crime drama The Bikeriders is a story about some of the manliest activities of all time: motorcycles and gangs. It stars Tom Hardy and Austin Butler as two prominent members of said motorcycle gang — but it’s emotional center is rooted in a strong female character named Kathy, played by Killing Eve star Jodie Comer.
The Bikeriders was inspired by Danny Lyon’s book of the same name. Originally published in 1968, it’s a collection of photographs and transcribed interviews with members of the Chicago Outlaws Motorcycle Club, of which Lyon was also a member.
At a recent Q&A hosted by the Santa Barbara International Film Festival’s Cinema Society, Nichols explained why Comer’s character was so essential to telling the story of the Chicago Outlaws.
Jeff Nichols on Anchoring a Masculine Story Like The Bikeriders Through The Eyes of a Woman
“I love Kathy, and I wish I could say the choice was some great social political calculation, but it wasn’t. In the book of photographs, there are interviews that Danny Lyon recorded with real people. And there was a real Kathy. When you speak to Danny Lyon, he says she was the one that that he was most drawn to,” Jeff Nichols says.
“You can just tell in in the interviews on the page, she just she’s just an extremely complex person. She’s funny and self deprecating, and sometimes maddening and frustrating. But she’s also introspective, and she has no problem taking the piss out of these bike riders. So it seemed like the perfect person to be the one interpreting this group for us.”
In The Bikeriders movie script, Nichols took some creative liberties with the characters, putting Kathy in a love triangle with Tom Hardy’s older character Johnny and Austin Butler’s young character, Benny.
“This is part of kind of the fictionalization that happened when I wrote the script. When you tie that character into this love triangle, it’s not a love triangle of two men chasing after a woman, but it’s a woman and an older man, both infatuated with a young man for different reasons, but also some of the same,” Jeff Nichols says.
“Then, in terms of narrative structure you have your narrator now being drawn into the central drama of the script. So she’s not just an observer, she’s actually a participant in all of this. It felt very organic to the way the story should be told. And what better way?” he adds.
“Danny [Lyon] dealt, I think, with this in his photographs — you’re certainly romanticizing maybe some people that shouldn’t be romanticized, and I think Kathy fights with that. She sees, to be quite honest, the bullshit of a lot of it, but then she loves it. She’s she’s drawn into it. And that I think that’s true and I think it’s honest. So she felt like the right person to present that conundrum.”
Main Image: Jeff Nichols at Santa Barbara International Film Festival courtesy of SBIFF.