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How Bikeriders Star Jodie Comer Perfected That Accent

How Bikeriders Star Jodie Comer Perfected That Accent

Jeff Nichols’ The Bikeriders is throwback filmmaking at its finest, so much so that Jodie Comer’s signature accent work essentially serves as one of the film’s primary special effects. The crime drama, which is a mostly fictionalized take on Danny Lyon’s seminal 1968 photojournalistic book of the same name, chronicles the rise and fall of a Chicago outlaw motorcycle club. Framed through a series of interviews with a fictionalized Danny Lyon (Mike Faist), Comer’s character, Kathy, recounts the story of how she became the protective wife of Benny (Austin Butler) and why she went to great lengths to shield him from the club leader’s (Tom Hardy’s Johnny) attempts to have Benny succeed him.

The now 82-year-old Lyon offered up the audio interviews from his mid-60s tenure with the real-life Chicago Outlaw Motorcycle Club, and Nichols, in turn, provided Comer with the audio of the real Kathy that inspired her role. But, upon pressing play, the British actor, who’s already known for her accent chops, quickly realized that she had her work cut out for herself with Kathy’s manner of speaking.

“I would say that Kathy’s accent is probably the hardest one that I’ve done. I was given 30 minutes of audio with the real Kathy being interviewed by Danny Lyon, and I was so struck by how singular and unique her dialect and cadence was,” Comer tells The Hollywood Reporter. “So I started working with a dialect coach, Victoria [Hanlin], and she … told me, ‘All the vowel sounds are a contradiction. This is something that is entirely her own.’ And I said, ‘I want to get as close to the audio as I possibly can.’”

As of April 24, Comer booked three high-profile jobs in less than a month’s time including Danny Boyle’s 28 Years Later, Kenneth Branagh’s The Last Disturbance Of Madeline Hynde and Michael Sarnoski’s The Death of Robin Hood, co-starring Hugh Jackman. At the end of May, Comer started shooting Boyle’s much anticipated sequel to 28 Days Later (2002) and 28 Weeks Later (2007), kick-starting a new Alex Garland-penned trilogy, and she already understands why Boyle has long established himself as one of the industry’s premier filmmakers. 

“It’s a brilliant script. It’s just so brilliant to be working with Danny and Alex and being on set with Danny and the crew. They’re all so innovative and excitable and playful,” Comer says. “I feel so fortunate to be working with Danny. I would work with him for the rest of my life if I had any say in that.”

During George Miller’s recent press rounds for Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga, the lauded filmmaker confirmed that he once had an “exploratory” conversation with Comer about playing a younger Furiosa in his critically acclaimed prequel to Mad Max: Fury Road. And while the role ultimately went elsewhere, Comer still considers his interest to be the highest of compliments.

“Of course [it was flattering]. Everyone admires his work. It is so bold and distinct, and I can’t wait to see the movie,” Comer shares. “But it is such a privilege when you get to speak with these directors in whatever capacity, even just to pick their brains or tell them that you admire their work or ask them certain questions. So, yeah, George Miller is definitely one of those people.”

Below, during a recent conversation with THR, Comer also discusses The Bikeriders’ themes involving masculinity and why Kathy wasn’t frightened by the overzealous manner in which Benny wooed her.

Having played a biker of sorts for Shawn Levy and Ryan Reynolds in Free Guy, did you offer these bikeriders any pointers for how it’s done?

(Laughs.) That’s so funny; I didn’t even make that connection. But, no, I very much didn’t, especially not with these bikes. These [‘60s] bikes are high maintenance, and you need a lot of skill to go on them. So these guys do such a good job at making it look incredibly easy, and I was quite happy to just passively be on the back of one, if I’m totally honest with you.

Jodie Comer as Kathy and Austin Butler as Benny in Jeff Nichols’ The Bikeriders

Courtesy of Focus Features

A family friend from the Midwest came out to visit recently, and she has a very distinct Midwestern accent. So shortly after she left, I went to see The Bikeriders, and as soon as I heard Kathy’s Midwestern accent, I flipped because it was eerily reminiscent of my friend’s. 

Oh, thank you!

Now, some British actors say that Southern accents are relatively easy, but how do Midwestern accents stack up?

I would say that Kathy’s accent is probably the hardest one that I’ve done. When I started the process, I was given 30 minutes of audio with the real Kathy being interviewed by Danny Lyon, and I was so struck by how singular and unique her dialect and cadence was. So I started working with a dialect coach, Victoria [Hanlin], who I work with a lot, and she very quickly realized and told me, “All the vowel sounds are a contradiction. This isn’t a general Chicago. This is something that is entirely her own.” Of course, there’s that Chicago influence, but it wasn’t a generic Chicago. So she was like, “What do you want to do?” And I said, “I want to get as close to the audio as I possibly can.” So that was a decision that we made very early on and we tried to stay as true to it as we possibly could.

Mike Faist as Danny and Jodie Comer as Kathy in Jeff Nichols’ The Bikeriders

Kyle Kaplan/Focus Features

The movie is framed around Kathy’s three different interviews with Mike Faist’s character, Danny Lyon, and they take place at the beginning, middle and end of her 9-year association with the club. So how did you, Mike and Jeff approach the subtle arc that plays out in each of them? 

It’s a good question, but I can’t really remember how we approached them in that sense. For the purpose of the script, I do think some things got shuffled around a little bit, but obviously not for the past and present [scenes]. They were very distinct. There was also quite a lot of dialogue that didn’t make the movie because of pacing. She spoke so much that when Jeff got to the edit, he was like, “Oh God, we can’t wait for her to tell us and then show it.” But I just spent so much time with the audio in my earphones, dissecting everything and really trying to analyze how she really felt about things due to the way in which she delivered her words.

I’ve never seen a grand romantic gesture quite like Benny’s (Butler) act of chain smoking all night outside Kathy’s house until her boyfriend conceded defeat. 

(Laughs.) It’s a choice!

Are you surprised that she didn’t run for the hills?

I know! That’s a red flag right there. (Laughs.) I guess she admired his commitment. We rewatched the scene where they meet for the first time in the bar, and she has that line, “Well, I gotta go home.” And Benny is basically like, “Well, go then,” but she doesn’t. She can feel that pull and draw towards him. She’s like, “This guy is crazy,” but he’s also that kind of crazy. It’s “like meets like” for a second.

Jodie Comer as Kathy and Austin Butler as Benny in Jeff Nichols’ The Bikeriders

Kyle Kaplan/Focus Features

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Between her story about her father and its eventual connection to Benny, your character directly interacts with the theme of masculinity. To me, the movie ultimately says that a man expressing his emotions isn’t emasculating; it’s just the culture that’s conditioned men to think that. 

Absolutely. It really explores how men can be stifled within that. She can see what they want to convey — or how they’re not conveying it — and almost this facade that they’re putting on in trying to be something and trying to strive for something, but actually the damage that it causes along the way. In regard to her relationship with Benny, I don’t think she’s shown a lot of love in that relationship, and she clings onto the morsels that she is shown for dear life. So I wanted more for her in that sense, however, when she meets Benny, he very clearly shows her who he is and she takes that on. Over time, I think she was hoping that he would outgrow those aspects of himself and the club and that he would want to be home with her and give her much more, but it’s not who he is. So that’s something that she has to painfully accept. 

Tom Hardy is often described to me as unpredictable from take to take, and the two of you have a great scene as Kathy and Johnny (Hardy) play tug of war over Benny. Was that unpredictability consistent with your experience?

Yeah, I would say that he’s quite unpredictable and very spontaneous. He has a real technical awareness that I’ve not seen before. He has this innate understanding of the camera and the lens, and what it needs and what will work for it. So that’s something really cool that I hadn’t seen before.

Do movie costumes ever inform your own fashion choices to some degree? In other words, did the dirt on her white jeans remind you not to wear white jeans?

(Laughs.) Definitely. [The dirty jeans] were great for that [bar] scene, but I don’t think I’ll be rushing out to buy any kind of white boyfriend jeans anytime soon. All of her jeans were a little bit ill-fitted, and it made me really value the importance of a good-fitting jean and the power in that.

Your reign atop this town continues, as you’ve started shooting 28 Years Later with Danny Boyle’s direction and Alex Garland’s script. Is that one going to put you through the wringer? 

In some ways, yes. It’s a brilliant script, and I’ve only had a week of filming at the moment [May 30], but we had a little rehearsal period. So it’s just so brilliant to be working with Danny and Alex and being on set with Dan0of my life if I had any say in that.

I mentioned earlier how you worked with Shawn and Ryan, so is that why you ultimately committed to work with Hugh Jackman in The Death of Robin Hood? Did you want to complete that bromantic trio? 

(Laughs.) I have to, right!? I feel like it’s my duty. It’s so funny, and it feels like a small world in that sense. But Hugh is wonderful. I met him very recently, and I’m really, really excited to be able to work with him and Michael [Sarnoski] at the early part of next year.

George Miller recently said some interesting words about you and Furiosa. Even if it was preliminary interest, was it still quite flattering to be on his radar for that title role?

Of course. Everyone admires his work. It is so bold and distinct, and I can’t wait to see the movie. I haven’t actually seen it yet, but it is such a privilege when you get to speak with these directors in whatever capacity, even just to pick their brains or tell them that you admire their work or ask them certain questions. So, yeah, George Miller is definitely one of those people.

You also have Ken Branagh’s [The Last Disturbance of Madeline Hynde] on the horizon at some point.

Yeah, unfortunately, it’s nothing I can actually speak about, but I feel very lucky. I had a bit of downtime after I did the Broadway run [with Prima Facie], and then very recently, these opportunities have come up. All the scripts are very different, but I am equally excited about the great material that I get to sink my teeth into. So, yeah, it’s really good. 

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The Bikeriders opens in theaters on June 21.

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