How “The Bikeriders” compares to the true story of the Chicago motorcycle club it was based on

The 1960s-set drama about the rise and fall of a Midwestern motorcycle gang is loosely based on Danny Lyon's 1968 photobook of the same name.

Start your engines; it's time to take a ride with The Bikeriders.

The period film starring Tom Hardy, Austin Butler, and Jodie Comer tells the story of the rise of a fictional Midwestern motorcycle club called the Vandals. Set in the 1960s, the movie follows a core group of original members across the years as they watch the club grow and evolve in both positive and negative ways.

The movie paints a detailed picture of what '60s motorcycle culture was really like, and that's because director Jeff Nichols (Midnight Special) took inspiration for the story from photojournalist Danny Lyon’s acclaimed 1968 photobook of the same name. Lyons spent years embedded with a Chicago motorcycle club, taking photos and interviewing real members and their families. Nichols became fascinated with the subject matter when he first read the book some 20 years ago.

But the movie version isn't a direct retelling of Lyon's book. The film's plot and many details are fictionalized as the director did not want to make a historical account of the real motorcycle club Lyon wrote about, the Chicago Outlaws, which was founded in 1935 and still operates today with chapters all over the world. Instead, he changed the name of the club to the Chicago Vandals and based the film on Lyon's photos and interviews to create the onscreen version.

how “the bikeriders” compares to the true story of the chicago motorcycle club it was based on

Kyle Kaplan/Focus Features Jodie Comer and Austin Butler in 'The Bikeriders'

"I fictionalized a movie that was inspired by real things that they said and did in this very brief period of time," Nichols told Entertainment Weekly. Besides admittedly not wanting to provoke a reaction from the real biker gang the film is based on, Nichols also cited his experience working on 2016's Loving, which told the true story behind the landmark decision Loving v. Virginia, as a reason for fictionalizing The Bikeriders. "Loving was the film where I would look at Peggy, [Richard and Mildred Loving's] only surviving child and say, 'I'm doing my best to represent these people as they were. They're always affectations because movies are fake, but I'm doing my best.' That is not what The Bikeriders is. The Bikeriders is fiction."

As Lyon himself explained in an interview, "What Jeff did was to structure a fictional film script around the recorded monologues that are the recorded stories of the book. These are great, heartfelt narratives that often tell more about the character of the speakers than they do of the world they are describing."

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Challengers star Mike Faist plays Lyon, who spent four years as a legitimate member of the club. But the movie never mentions him by name, and according to Lyon, his depiction in the film is a more sanitized version of reality.

"In the film, Jeff cleaned me up," Lyon said in that same interview. "He did not have me riding a motorcycle, and in my scene where I am making an audio recording of Zipco, who is brilliantly recreated by Michael Shannon, asks 'Danny' what he is doing, 'Danny' answers that he is a 'photo student.' For anyone that has followed my life as a bookmaker and photojournalist would know I was a history student, never a photo student, and long gone from school when I joined the club at age 24."

how “the bikeriders” compares to the true story of the chicago motorcycle club it was based on

Mike Faist/Focus Features Tom Hardy as Johnny in 'The Bikeriders'

The movie is narrated by Kathy Bauer (Comer), who Lyon interviewed extensively for his book. While not a member of the gang herself, she did marry one — both in the movie and in real life. Her hilarious, insightful, and heavily Midwest-accented tales of her time around the club form the backbone for much of the film. In fact, the opening moments are ripped almost verbatim from one of her interviews describing the night she met her future husband, Benny (Butler). Kathy had gone to a bar to meet a girlfriend but did not realize that the establishment was frequented almost exclusively by bikers.

Here's how she described first seeing Benny: "So I sees my girlfriend, and I goes over to her, and I sits down there, and I’m takin’ everything in. And all these guys kept comin’ up to me sayin’, you know, different stuff like you need a man, or you want to come live with me? And I was about ready to just run. So I says to my girlfriend, well, I gotta go. And she says, 'Oh, they’re not that bad. Just sit here.' So all of a sudden I seen Benny and he was standin’ at the end of the bar. And I says to my girlfriend, boy, who’s the good-lookin’ blond guy? I says, he don’t look like the rest of these guys. She says, oh Kathy, you don’t want to go out with him."

In the film, Benny is the true rebel without a cause in the group, only caring about his bike and the open road until he meets Kathy (and even then, she has to fight for his attention). According to Lyon's website, where you can hear some of the original audio recordings that became dialogue in the movie, Benny was "one of the more reckless riders of the club."

how “the bikeriders” compares to the true story of the chicago motorcycle club it was based on

Focus Features Michael Shannon as Zipco in 'The Bikeriders'

What the movie doesn't show is that at the time of their meeting, Kathy had three children and, at 25, was six years older than her teenage biker beau. Nichols calls not including the children "one of my biggest regrets of the film." He explains to EW, "We had scenes of her talking about her kids, but we only had one shot of them. And when I first started showing people the film, it was really distracting. I hadn't involved that family enough to make it integral to the film. It was really distracting and it made people really not like her. But more than that, it was just kind of confusing. They were like, wait a second, where are [the kids]?... It brought up all these questions, which in the book, when you're reading it, makes her really fascinating, and it is my biggest regret that as a storyteller, I didn't craft that in a way that it could stay."

Other real people that Nichols included in the movie are Cal (played by Boyd Holbrook), Zipco (Shannon), Cockroach (played by Emory Cohen), and Norman Reedus' "Funny" Sonny, the latter being a former Hell’s Angels member who joined the Outlaws. "Most of the bike riders I knew are dead," Lyon told A Rabbit's Foot. "Now and then, I hear from their children, often asking about parents that I knew, and they didn’t."

Before making the movie, Nichols tried to make contact with some of the people who would be depicted in the film but didn't have much luck. "We did Google searches," he says. "We tried to find people, but we just didn't have a lot of information. I mean, it's nearly 60 years ago, and a lot of these people had died. A lot of these people didn't have names that we knew. How do you find Zipco?"

how “the bikeriders” compares to the true story of the chicago motorcycle club it was based on

Kyle Kaplan/Focus Features Norman Reedus as Funny Sonny in 'The Bikeriders'

But that's starting to change now that the movie is coming out. "Now that we've made it, things have started to emerge and we're kind of in the process [of connecting with people]," Nichols says. "Kathy and Benny had a son, and he showed up to the box office when we were going to premiere at the Chicago International Film Festival and gave us a letter. We gave that to Danny Lyon and he's gone to interview him. So the story is unfolding and it's going to be pretty fascinating, I think, to see who does come out of the woodwork."

While Nichols tried to avoid some of the burden he felt with Loving by crafting a fictional story, as the real people behind The Bikeriders start to emerge, he now finds himself in a similar position. "It honestly puts pressure on me, kind of a responsibility for me to say this," he adds. "If [Kathy and Benny's son] came up to me and was like, 'Did you make a movie about my mom and dad?' I would have to say, no. I made a movie inspired by an interview that your mom gave in 1965, and that is all that I had. I made everything else up."

The Bikeriders is playing now in theaters.

Read the original article on Entertainment Weekly.

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