WELLANDTRIBUNE.CA – “This machine … I can’t explain … this is it.”
Those are the words of Walter Davidson, played by Michiel Huisman, after his first long ride through the countryside on a motorcycle. Walter is exhilarated by this crazy machine that he and Bill Harley, played by Robert Aramayo, put together.
Then Walter, the machinist, turns to Bill, the engineer, and asks the inevitable question:
“Can it go faster?”
Young men will be young men, whether it’s 2016 or 1903, am I right?
The new six-hour mini-series Harley and the Davidsons airs on Discovery on three consecutive nights, Monday, Sept. 5, Tuesday, Sept. 6 and Wednesday, Sept. 7. It tracks the history of the Harley-Davidson Motor Company, and uncovers the little-told story of the Milwaukee men who founded the now-iconic brand.
“There has been so much written about Harley-Davidson history, but not that much written about the lives of the founders,” Huisman said. “So we had to rely on family anecdotes, and quotes that I could find.
“But I love it as an actor, because it feeds my imagination, I think. And hopefully it helped me create a rounded character.”
Huisman is a Dutch actor best known to North American TV audiences for his roles as Daario Naharis on Game of Thrones, Cal Morrison on Orphan Black, Liam McGuinnis on Nashville and Sonny on Treme.
“My team found out about the story and knew that I love motorcycles,” said Huisman, when asked how he got attached to Harley and the Davidsons. “I was intrigued by the story of the founding of Harley-Davidson, and I also was intrigued that it was a scripted series for Discovery. It sounded new and exciting for me, and the perfect home, because, as you know, Discovery has a gigantic audience.
“And this feels like something their audience will love. Yes, it’s about bikes, but it bridges the gap to drama. And on top of that, the character I was allowed to play was really challenging and a lot of fun.”
Was shooting Harley and the Davidsons a scheduling challenge, too, what with Huisman’s other ongoing TV projects?
“That’s the beauty of a six-hour mini-series, it was a four-month period in which we prepped and shot the show,” Huisman said. “I’m off to do other things now. And potentially go back to Game (of Thrones), we’ll have to wait and see. I’m not going to spoil it.”
Dang. I tried.
Harley and the Davidsons actually was something of a mini-Game of Thrones reunion, since Aramayo played the young Eddard Stark in Season 6.
Harley and the Davidsons isn’t just about Bill Harley and Walter Davidson, however. The initial partnership actually was between Bill Harley and Walter’s brother Arthur Davidson, played by Bug Hall.
Arthur was the talker, the salesman, the enthusiast who dreamed of making a name for himself. Bill was the genius engineer. But when they hit a roadblock, they needed Walter’s expertise as a machinist, not to mention the money he had at the time, to try to take things to the next level.
It’s interesting to see how there often was an internal struggle in the fledgling motorcycle industry between creating machines that could travel anywhere as pleasure vehicles, and the cut-throat world of racing.
Racing these machines got publicity, which promoted the competing brands, which led to sales. Harley-Davidson’s biggest rival initially was the more established Indian Motorcycle Company.
But early motorcycle racing was a true blood sport. Smashed-up vehicles and injured riders weren’t even moved off the tracks. Riders were in constant peril of being burned, maimed, run over, killed. But if a company turned its back on the racing side of things, it could be catastrophic for the business.
Of course, for many young men, it’s rarely about the risk, it’s usually about the thrill. That hasn’t changed between 1903 and 2016, either.
“Can it go faster?”
The answer provided by Harley and the Davidsons, definitively, is “Yes.”