Interview: Toby Wallace talks The Bikeriders and Tom Hardy’s advice about playing an antagonist

Tempus sits down with The Bikeriders star Toby Wallace to talk about his latest film, working with Tom Hardy, playing the bad guy and more

Toby Wallace BikeridersIf you’ve ever wondered what the inner workings of a proper motorcycle club look like, look no further than Jeff Nichols’ new film, The Bikeriders, which features an all-star cast of Tom Hardy, Austin Butler, Jodie Comer, Mike Faist, Toby Wallace, Michael Shannon and many more. 

The crime drama — a mostly fictionalised take on Danny Lyon’s 1968 photojournalistic book of the same name — chronicles the rise and fall of a Chicago outlaws motorcycle club, the Vandals MC, through the eyes of the club’s members and their families. It takes us through how Kathy (Jodie Comer) met her husband Benny (Austin Butler) and the Vandals, founded by Johnny (Tom Hardy) and their evolution from a family of local outcasts into an organised crime syndicate.When the Vandals start expanding and opening chapters beyond just their local town, it catches the attention of people like The Kid (Toby Wallace), who have a much more violent vision for the Vandals than what Johnny had set out, posing a threat to the ethos the club once stood for. 

Through the film, we see the gritty and sweaty world of a motorcycle club, with Jeff Nichols providing a refreshing female perspective into the toxic masculinity that often comes with it through Kathy. The Bikeriders beautifully explores the brotherhood of a motorcycle club, the effects of coming from a broken home and finding a sense of belonging in the most unexpected places.

We caught up with Toby Wallace, aka The Kid, to chat about his role in The Bikeriders, working with Tom Hardy, and the advice he got from the actor about playing an antagonist.

Related: The Taylor Swift Effect: How the Eras Tour is impacting the European luxury economyTom Hardy Austin Butler The BikeridersToby, did you know much about the Chicago Outlaws Motorcycle Club — or motorcycle clubs in general — before you took on the role?
I really didn’t. I mean, I didn’t have much interest in motorcycles when we did the film. I knew a little bit of the culture. I’d watched a few documentaries about it, but it was more about the gang stuff and a bit more modern. But for the most part I didn’t really know anything about the outlaws and bikes.

The Kid is a very complex character. It seems like his behaviour is deeply rooted in his upbringing and the influences he’s been surrounded by. How did you prepare for this role?
I watch a lot of documentaries and movies. I read Danny Lyons’ book [The Bikeriders, which the film is based on], obviously (laughs). We did a lot of motorcycle riding in pre-production. We learnt to ride all of these 1960s vintage Harleys all over Cincinnati. We’d ride all hours of the day and became super close with each other during that period. So it felt like we had a bit of a family going on. 

For my character, I think I’ve just got a very clear arc over the course of the movie in a few scenes. So I had my own little story line. So I just worked on what was going on there and I just stole little bits and pieces from stuff I watched or characters I liked.

What was it like playing an antagonist of sorts in this film?
I really liked it. I must say the writing is so good. And Jeff [Nichols] just wrote that character unbelievably well. The character was very fleshed out and felt very real just coming off the page, which makes my job really easy. Jodie Comer Austin Butler The BikeridersObviously, there’s all the informational stuff there, like he’s from a broken home, a broken economic background and his own motorcycle is put together from pieces he’s stolen from other motorcycles on the street. So this kid has nothing, and therefore, he’s got nothing to lose. And that ambition of what he wants to do and become, combined with a propensity for violence from his family creates a very dangerous concoction that makes a guy like that quite frightening. 

However, as an actor on an emotional work basis, I just realised most of that was coming out of fear. It’s not gonna look like that on screen because it looks like a guy that’s fearless. But I think all of that was driven by fear. So if I got nervous on set, which I always do,I just used that to fuel the scenes a bit.

Why do you think The Kid was so drawn to Johnny’s motorcycle club? Why was he so desperate to join?
I think The Kid is probably looking for identity and a sense of belonging in something. His mind is skewed in the direction of power. He sees that motorcycle club, he sees who Johnny is and the people that surround Johnny and look up to him, and instead of seeing a family with a guy that’s there to care for all these guys, he sees people looking up to someone in a position of power that he wants to take.

He’s built a little tiny motorcycle club of his own with the kids from the street. So you can see him slowly working towards that position, but for a completely different reason than someone like Johnny is there, which I think is the crux of the film: the waning and the transferring of the morals and values of motorcycle clubs and what they become.

Related: Celebrity photographer Andy Gotts on the stories behind his portraitsAustin Butler The BikeridersIn the film, The Kid is tested by Johnny to see if he’d give up his friends to join the club — a test that he fails. What do you think his mindset was at that moment? And do you think that influenced the climax of the film?
I absolutely think it informs the climax. I won’t give too much away, but I feel like The Kid has got this extreme bitterness and disdain about his life and about where he comes from. He’s led by pure ambition and lust for power — he doesn’t care about anything else.

So those kids that he’s got in his gang from the street, they’re just little pawn pieces in a dream of being able to become Johnny in a way. So when Johnny tests him like that, I don’t think it’s a hard decision [to leave the others behind] for The Kid. 

Do you have any fun anecdotes from working with giants like Tom Hardy, Jodie Comer, Austin Butler and Michael Shannon on set?
Everybody was a character in themselves and I had such a great time with everyone. It was honestly one of the most fun jobs I’ve ever done. I felt really close to my fellow castmates Karl Glusman, Beau Knapp, Emory Cohen and the rest. We would hang out a lot. When it came time to film all of the stuff with Tom, I was really nervous, but he was an absolute gem to work with. I loved him a lot — he’s a really funny guy. And I got this scene where he sort of beats the sh*t out of me, and I loved that whole stunt process as well. 

I remember we were chatting about that scene beforehand and I threw out a few ideas. It’s Tom Hardy at the end of the day — I grew up watching him and idolising him a bit as a lot of young guys did. So it was wild to have a guy like that take on the little ideas that I had, warm to them and be accessible and collaborative in that way. I had a great time with him.Tom Hardy has, of course, played a lot of antagonists in his career — Bane from The Dark Knight Rises being one iconic example. Did he give you any advice about playing one for The Bikeriders?
He gave me loads of advice. I remember having a specific conversation about playing antagonists and gangsters — which he knows very well how to do — just how interesting it is when you meet real people like that and the weird nature of…if you have someone real like that come on set and try to act it, a lot of the time it doesn’t really work. It is a weird process of trying to emulate something like that on screen in a realistic way because it is very different to the real thing. So we spoke about tricks of the trade and I also learnt by watching him as well.

Finally, have you kept any memorabilia from the set? And has the film influenced your outlook on bike riding and bikes in any way?
It completely changed my idea of bikes. I didn’t want to ride a bike before we did this film. I didn’t really have any interest in it at all and now I completely understand the culture. There’s a freedom and independence you get from riding a motorcycle that is very addictive. And I’ve now bought a Harley quite recently, which I think I said in an interview the other day because my mum called me this morning — she’s a little bit worried about that (laughs).

As for memorabilia, I kept some Vandals patches. I really wanted to keep the jacket and the trousers, but I think they were rentals so I wasn’t allowed to keep them afterwards. And I kept a helmet that Jeff Milburn — he did all the motorcycles on The Bikeriders — made me.

The Bikeriders is out UK and Irish cinemas from 21 June.

Read more culture stories with Tempus.

    Your Cart
    Your cart is emptyReturn to Shop