Jodie Comer 'devoured' tapes to perfect her character's strong Midwestern accent in 'The Bikeriders'

In the film, Austin Butler stars as the newest member of Midwestern motorcycle club the Vandals, while Comer plays the woman who falls for him.

The actors Jodie Comer and Austin Butler stand next to a motorcycle in a scene from the movie.
Jodie Comer as Kathy falls for biker Benny (Austin Butler) in The Bikeriders. (Kyle Kaplan/© Focus Features/ Courtesy Everett Collection)

For Jodie Comer and Austin Butler, stars of motorcycle drama The Bikeriders, delving into their 1960s characters meant confronting completely different challenges.

While Butler’s quiet character Benny had fewer lines (and no signature accent à la the actor’s performance in Elvis), it was Comer — an English actress from Liverpool — who embraced the Midwestern vernacular, “devouring” tapes from the time period to nail her portrayal of her character Kathy.

“I had an amazing dialect coach called Victoria, who I work with a lot and spend a lot of time with, and was very lucky to have 30 minutes of audio of Kathy actually being interviewed by [photojournalist] Danny [Lyon] in the 1960s,” Comer said.

Directed by Jeff Nichols, The Bikeriders is based on the 1968 photo book of the same name by Lyon. Butler stars as the newest member of Midwestern motorcycle club the Vandals, while Comer plays the woman who falls for him.

Largely told from Kathy’s perspective, in a strong Midwestern accent, the film follows a rowdy band of bikers led by tough brawler Johnny (Tom Hardy) that includes Michael Shannon as the cranky Zipco, Boyd Holbrook as easygoing Cal and Norman Reedus as Funny Sonny from California. Standing in as Lyon is Mike Faist, who captures Kathy’s chatty musings on his recorder while snapping shots of the guys on the road.

The actors Mike Faist and Jodie Comer.
Mike Faist plays Danny Lyon, the photographer on whose book The Bikeriders is based, shown alongside Jodie Comer. (Kyle Kaplan/© Focus Features/Courtesy Everett Collection)

“It was really just about spending time with that audio and breaking everything down and questioning everything that she was saying and finding the truth maybe in what was underlying and what she was really saying.”

While Comer focused on perfecting the way she delivered her lines, Butler had the opposite challenge of saying a lot without much dialogue.

Butler told Yahoo Entertainment that looking beneath the surface was key to understanding his character, who has few lines but is a strong presence in the film.

“When playing somebody who doesn’t speak much, it’s not because they’re not thinking. It’s not because he doesn’t have opinions,” Butler said. “It’s just figuring out what all of those are.”

“There are fewer clues through dialogue of what this person is thinking,” he added, “so it’s filling all of that in.”

The love story between Comer's and Butler’s characters also is central to the plot of the film. Comer said she was fortunate to be able to connect with her co-star in a short amount of time.

“The interesting thing about our job is sometimes you’re not afforded the time to build a relationship or build a bond,” Comer told Yahoo Entertainment. “So I feel like we were very lucky in the sense that I think we went for a dinner with [director] Jeff [Nichols] before we started shooting.

“I think Austin and I, we're quite similar in the way that we work and what being on set and doing the job means to the both of us,” she continued. “We work in a very similar way and are being present for one another and having fun and being open. We met each other at that point, so we were kind of able to jump in and just find the characters.”

Creating those characters through dialect, vernacular and costume design was key for Nichols, who was meticulous in getting the look and feel of the era just right.

“When you added it all together, it felt like you were walking around in the 1960s,” he said. “It was kind of a magic trick.”

He added that Comer embodying the character went far beyond adopting the Midwestern accent alone.

“Everybody talks about accent, but accent is only half the story,” he told Yahoo Entertainment. “It’s also the vernacular — you know, this 1960s verbiage that comes out of their mouth.

“It says a lot about their socioeconomic level, the way their brains work, their humor,” he added. “And Kathy was undeniable when you listen to these tapes, and Jodie just devoured them.”

Comer said honing the accent and Kathy’s speech took time but was ultimately worth it when it came time to start filming.

“It was just amazing to have that extra tool,” she said.

The Bikeriders is in theaters June 21.