Jodie Comer Breaks Down How She Found Her ‘Bikeriders’ Voice — Literally and Figuratively | Video

Candy asses. If you’re looking for a phrase to help you get into a Chicago-Midwestern accent, candy asses is the one that’ll do it — at least, according to Jodie Comer.

The Tony Award-winning actress is, in every sense of the word beyond the literal one, a chameleon. Between her work on “Killing Eve,” where she played an assassin with a literal closet full of disguises, “Free Guy,” where she played both Millie Rusk and Millie’s online persona Molotov Girl, and as the heart of Ridley Scott’s triptych “The Last Duel,” Comer has proven capable of impressive transformations. But “The Bikeriders” might be her most extreme one yet.

Written and directed by Jeff Nichols and based on Danny Lyon’s photo-book of the same name, the film tells the story of the Vandals, a motorcycle club out of Chicago, over the course of roughly a decade, beginning in the 1960s. The club itself is led by Johnny (Tom Hardy) and Benny (Austin Butler), but the story is told through the eyes of Benny’s wife Kathy, played by Comer.

Kathy’s just an average woman living in Chicago who’d never set foot in a biker bar. In fact, she tries to leave the second she has to do so in “The Bikeriders” until she meets Benny. The connection is instant, and as she cheekily explains in her opening interview scene, “five weeks later, I married him.”

Finding Kathy’s Voice

Focus Features
Focus Features

Though “The Bikeriders” is primarily based on a book of photographs, Comer had the added bonus of real-life audio of the woman she was playing. It was 30 minutes long, and it immediately became clear that Kathy didn’t have a typical North Chicago accent (though it is very Midwestern) for reasons unknown.

So Comer was faced with a choice: go for the accent people might expect, considering the Vandals were based out of Chicago, or stay true to Kathy herself. The actress was adamant about doing the latter and she kept that audio close by to do it.

“That was like, basically my Spotify playlist, you know?” Comer told TheWrap. “I lived with that whenever I could. We kind of broke the scenes apart, so when I was kind of working on the script and dissecting it, I had separate audios for the particular scenes. But there was just so much to kind of unearth.”

For those unfamiliar with a Chicago or broadly Midwestern accent, the tricky part is the As and the Os. Those vowels are particularly rounded. On top of that, the real-life Kathy had a very nasal voice, which Comer focused on nailing. At this point, it’s not an accent she could just fall back into.

But Kathy’s voice came down to more than just what was coming out of her mouth. Comer immediately fell in love with the fact that Kathy was “an amazing storyteller,” and knew it’d be a challenge for her to harness that aspect of the character since Comer herself has never played a narrator role before.

“I have a terrible knack of telling stories,” Comer said. “Like, if I was to tell you something that happened yesterday, I’d tell you the end before the middle, and I’d forget an important thing. And, you know, I see people kind of glazing over when I’m telling things, but she just had this skill.”

Honing that piece of the character came less in front of the camera and more during the scenes where Kathy had a voiceover.

“I remember having conversations with Jeff [Nichols] of just being like, how do we measure this performance? Like, with her not being on screen do you actually need more from me, vocally, in order to portray something?” she explained. “Because sometimes, it’s just different. And so it was trying to kind of, like, manage that and decide what was needed.”

She added, “You know, when I listened to the audio, she spoke so fast, she was always onto the next thought. She was lighting a cigarette, and she was shouting at the kids. Her mind just moved at a million miles an hour. And I wanted to try and capture that, whilst also doing the dialect, not thinking about the dialect, acting!”

Working With Austin Butler

Indeed, Kathy speaks quickly and a lot, and it’s primarily to one person. Because for as much as she’s the keeper of the story in “The Bikeriders,” she’s also a key player as Austin Butler’s on-screen wife. She has her own stakes in the story, and all she wants is for her husband to be safe with her.

She tells him as much after one particular incident in the story puts Kathy in real danger. But Benny is a man of few words, meaning Butler mostly just has to stare back at her as Comer unleashes her concerns.

In one particularly pivotal moment in the film — one Comer thought about quite a bit — things come to a head. But the actress didn’t mind having a scene partner who couldn’t give much back to her in the moment.

“I think it just added to the dynamic, you know, because I always felt — I wanted so much more for Kathy. I think she wanted to be loved, she wanted to be shown love, and I imagined she clung to any kind of morsel that he gave her, you know? And she wanted more.”

Focus Features
Focus Features

Picking those layers apart proved to be a joy for Comer in the film. Up to this point, she’s largely picked her roles based on the emotion that they evoke in her when she reads them. And in the case of Kathy, the character was “delicious” from the jump.

“I was like, ‘Who is this?'” Comer recalled. “She could read the phonebook and I would be enamored, and I wouldn’t be able to kind of switch off. So I think it was that. She just felt very singular and authentic and funny. Like, she really made me laugh but she wasn’t trying to be funny!”

“She wasn’t self aware at all,” Comer continued. “And I just loved that. She felt very true to who she was, and I thought, oh, that’s going to be so cool to try and embrace.”

One of Comer’s biggest goals with “The Bikeriders” was just to make Kathy feel like “someone people know,” and that “quest” is something the actress is enjoying across multiple projects right now.

After playing roles with more explicit dualities in “Killing Eve” and “Free Guy” — which both involved different physical manifestations of her character — finding the nuances of a character in more subtle ways is proving to be a good time.

“It’s great to play around with a character like Villanelle, which is a little bit out there. It’s kind of like a bit of a tightrope act with Villanelle, I felt. And you have the kind of duality of Molotov Girl, which is always fun,” Comer said. “[But] this film, it’s very grounded and natural, and just that kind of quest of wanting a character to feel like someone people know, you know, who’s familiar and kind of tangible, I do love that kind of work as well.”

“And I did a film called ‘The End We Start From’ after the plague, which was very stripped back and raw,” she added. “And I think they can be kind of exposing, but in a good way. So I guess at the moment, I’m kind of enjoying that. But, you know, to play another character like Villanelle, it would be amazing.”

“The Bikeriders” hit theaters on Friday, June 21.

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