Exclusive Interview with Harley and The Davidsons’ Nick Rhys

Photo Credit: Colin Ross
Photo Credit: Colin Ross

Scottish actor, Nick Rhys was recently cast to play Joe Petrale in the mini-series “Harley and The Davidsons”.  Nick is perhaps best known for his role in “Hollyoaks,” a British soap opera that follows a group of teenage friends as they navigate through their GCSE’s, A-Levels and College before finally entering into the world of work.  The show has aired since 1995 and has a massive ensemble cast that has come and gone from the production.  Nick plays Lockie Campbell and has appeared in 96 episodes from 2014 – 2016.

Nick took time from his schedule to speak with us here at TNWU about his current project as well as giving us a little glimpse of his life off-screen.

‘Harley and The Davidsons’ is based on a true story.  How much of this story did you know prior to your audition and did you do anything out of the ordinary to prepare?

I have to be honest and say I knew very little of the story, and the people behind Harley Davidson prior to auditioning. I, like other people, knew the badge, and the gorgeous bikes, but knew very little about how they came to be, the key players, and just how revolutionary they were at the time. Once I got the audition sent through, I went into as much research as I could given the time, but I seem to remember it was only a couple of days before I had to read, so time was at a premium (laughs).  

I think I just focused on bringing a character to life with the script and focused on making an interesting portrayal. Thankfully the producers and casting liked what I did. As soon as I got the role I knew I was lucky to have this rich history to read up on and for the first time in a long time, a real life person to research. I’ve been playing mainly fictional people for a while, so this was cool!

Joe Petrale has quite the reputation amongst motorcycle racing enthusiasts, how difficult (or easy) was it to step into his shoes for this role?

It was daunting at first, you have this guy, who was the early star of the sport, he literally dominated it, so yeah, it was a challenge. He set a record for most wins in a season which stood until 1992 which is insane, especially considering the bikes he was riding on. After a while though you put that to the side and sort of know he’s still a flesh and blood human being, albeit the greatest motorcycle rider of all time. Not a lot was written about him as a person, so that was a case of bridging what we did know about the guy, with what I came up with.

It’s a big sprawling cast for a mini-series, so I wanted him to stand out, not for standing out’s sake, but to have this presence about him that others didn’t. I looked at other athletes and decided I’d play Joe with an effortlessness, a friendliness that comes with being on top of the sport he was involved in. Of course, I hope any fans out there that know more about him as a person like what I’ve done, I hope I’ve done the legend justice!

It sounds like you put a lot of thought and heart into your portrayal, I have to believe that Joe would be proud.  Are you a motorcycle/motorcycle racing fan?  Have ridden or do you own a Harley?

I’ve loved cars and motorcycles for a long time, I always admired and coveted the machines without ever having ridden before. So when I got this job, to know I was going to get on these gorgeous old Harley’s was amazing. Of course, then next challenge, was not only learning to ride, but riding like you are ‘Smoking’ Joe Petrale, no mean feat! After working on this job I have to say, I’m in love with the bikes, to an insane level. I’d love to get a Harley, one day!

I live in Northern Illinois, and the Harley plant is just over the border in Wisconsin.  I don’t think I actually know anyone who wouldn’t want to own one!  The series’ you’ve been in ‘Hollyoaks’ and ‘River City’ are both contemporary, fictional stories.  Will you share with us any differences you noticed as you prepared for and filmed your role in ‘Harley and The Davidsons’?

As you say, both Hollyoaks and River City are contemporary dramas, so switching into a historical drama spanning a few decades at the start of the century, was an exciting change. The way people spoke and interacted was different, between male and female, different races and background was all so much different to what it is now. It helped that the production value was so high, getting to be surrounded by these insane sets with perfect attention to detail, and getting to wear the costume of the era helped too. I actually wore a sweater from Harley’s archives that was an exact replica of Joe Petrale’s.  What wasn’t so great was wearing the thick wool sweater in the searing heat (laughs). It got so hot during filming!

Now that you’ve done work on both contemporary and historical projects, do you find that you have a preference?  Why?

That’s a good question, and it’s not something I’ve ever thought about. I’d say no, I have no preference as to what time setting I work in, be it contemporary, historical, or even something like science fiction. What matters is the story and the role I play. I think what excites me is to eventually have this list of credits on my resume where I’ve been all sorts of people going through these incredible stories spread throughout history. That would be amazing. 

That’s a great outlook. What would be your dream role?

(laughs) The million-dollar question. I have no idea what it would be. Maybe a Jedi Knight, or something?!  Kidding aside, my dream role is one that when I start, I’m daunted. When I’m filming, I find it a challenge, and when I finish, I’m a mix of exhausted, exhilarated, and somehow transformed by playing the role.

My dream role would be to do something that affects someone and stays in the audience’s mind like the characters that I find so amazing. That could be a normal guy going through a personal experience, that could be a medieval king, I guess I won’t know until I do it! Actually, come to think of it, my dream role is one where I get my own action figure made for it (laughs). There. That’s my answer!

I have no doubt at all that you will find roles that fulfill those aspirations! We call ourselves Talk Nerdy With Us, and every one of us has something that we ‘nerd out’ over.  What is you secret (or not so secret) nerdy passion?

Oh, god, I have the nerdy gene big time (laughs), but I’m proud of it! I nerd out over multiple things. I guess I am into football (soccer) and can obsessively follow the goings on in the different leagues and results around the world, and tell you obscure players and who they play for. I’m also an Adidas sneaker nerd. I love buying and wearing various sneakers that Adidas brings out, and probably could be described as having a sneaker addiction.

Then, there’s my tech obsession, whether it be with Apple products, DJ and sound equipment, or the latest four thirds cameras, I’d buy them all if I could. But I leave the biggest thing I nerd out over for last, and that’s Star Wars. I could tell you all sorts of nerdy facts on how deep my love of Star Wars goes but the one that always shocks/impresses everyone the most, is that I saw Episode 1 at the cinema nine times (laughs)! I know. If that isn’t nerdy, I don’t know what is. I can’t believe I just shared that with you all. 

I love Star Wars myself and saw the very first film (released in 1977) over 12 times at the theater.  I could actually recite the dialog…. My parents despaired for me (laughs).


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