'Bikeriders' star Austin Butler: Everyone feels need to belong

Austin Butler's new movie "Bikeriders" opens in theaters Friday. Photo courtesy of Focus Features
1 of 5 | Austin Butler's new movie "Bikeriders" opens in theaters Friday. Photo courtesy of Focus Features

NEW YORK, June 20 (UPI) -- Elvis, Dune and Masters of the Air actor Austin Butler says he thinks audiences will relate to his outlaw motorcycle gang movie, Bikeriders, because it is, at heart, the story of people looking for a sense of community.

"It's ingrained in us, as human beings, the desire to commune with others and to share our passions with each other and to feel like we belong," Butler, 32, told UPI in a recent Zoom interview.


"We can't always choose our family, but we can find these chosen families, and that's this group, for sure."

Opening in theaters Friday, the film is set in the 1960s and stars Butler as Benny, a new member of the Midwestern motorcycle club, the Vandals.


Written and directed by Jeff Nichols, it co-stars Tom Hardy as Johnny, the club's leader, and Jodie Comer as Benny's long-suffering wife, Kathy. The ensemble also features Damon Herriman and Norman Reedus as members of the group.

"It really started with Jeff Nichols. I'm a big fan of his," Butler said of the Take Shelter, Midnight Special and Loving filmmaker.

"Before even reading the script, [the idea] piqued my interest, and then I read the script and I just loved it," Butler added. "I thought it was such a rich story filled with humanity and the character was unlike any character that I've been able to play, and I just really felt compelled to go on this journey."

The film constantly switches gears, bringing in elements of the action, crime, romance and comedy genres.

"Jeff was able to weave so many different emotions into this film," Butler said. "It was awesome."

Benny is a complicated man and Butler said he enjoyed exploring all of his contradictions.

"Jeff, early on, told me this idea of him being sort of an empty glass that everybody's trying to fill with their own expectations and responsibilities," Butler said.

"He is loyal beyond probably anybody else in the club, but doesn't want rules to be involved and that's the sort of fascinating thing is that these guys get together. They're all outlaws and and they want a life without rules, and then they start, over time, making more rules for themselves. Benny doesn't want to be part of that."


It's not just the club by which Benny doesn't want to be fenced in. He also pushes back when Kathy tries to tell him what to do.

"They're magnetized toward each other and have a great time together filled with romance," Butler said.

"But as soon as she starts asking him to leave the club, or move down to Florida, or put these rules or expectations on, that's when the wild stallion wants to run out into the prairie by himself."

The actor described as "exhilarating" the experience of working with a talented cast that included Michael Shannon, Nichols' frequent collaborator.

"They have such a shorthand. They don't need to say much to each other. It really is amazing to see a force in nature like Mike acting," Butler said, recalling how he was particularly impressed by a scene in which Shannon is speaking to bikers who are sitting around a campfire.

"There was a moment when Tom and I both walked away and Tom turned to me and said, 'That's some of the best acting I've ever seen in front of my face,' and it was so true. It was just amazing to watch Mike."

This project also marked a reunion between Butler and Herriman, who co-starred in Quentin Tarantino's 2019 blockbuster, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.


"We've known each other for a while, so that was great to see him in that environment and very different than [playing cult leader Charles] Manson," Butler said.

It's been a busy few years for Butler, who has been careful not to repeat himself as he moves from one performance to another.

"I like to mix it up and want to surprise myself and do things that are a challenge and unexpected and where I'm having to learn new parts of myself and also choosing things to scare me," said the actor, who also has been seen in The Shannara Chronicles, Switched at Birth and Life Unexpected.

"I have a really wonderful team around me that are on the same page," he added. "We're able to have these great conversations, and you never know how films are going to turn out, so you just kind of have to go with your gut sometimes."

Cate Blanchett, Austin Butler attend BAFTAs in London

Cate Blanchett attends the Winners Room at the EE British Academy Film Awards at the Royal Festival Hall in London on February 19, 2023. Blanchett won Best Leading Actress for "Tár." Photo by Rune Hellestad/UPI | License Photo

Latest Headlines