A few months ago, we told you were were starting a new series profiling well-known Canadians who ride; we started off that series with an interview with George Stroumboulopoulos.
Many weeks later, here’s a second entry. We managed to get an interview with actor Kim Coates. He’s best known for his high-profile role on television’s Sons of Anarchy, where he plays an outlaw motorcyclist.
You may recognize him from other movie or TV roles, though, or possibly Halifax’s Neptune Theatre or even from his run at Stratford, where he played Macbeth.
Here’s what he had to say to us about his life with motorcycles.
No matter how much a person loves motorcycling, sometimes they drift away from two-wheeled life, for a variety of reasons. But eventually, many of those people return to motorcycling – they just can’t help themselves.
Canadian-born actor Kim Coates is one of those people.
These days, most people associate Coates with one role; Alex “Tig” Trager, the sergeant-at-arms for the fictional outlaw motorcycle club Sons of Anarchy.
The role is a natural fit for Coates; the show has often been described as “Hamlet with motorcycles,” and Coates has a long history of playing Shakespearian roles on stage; one of his first big gigs was the Stratford festival in Ontario, where he was the youngest MacBeth ever.
But the role is also a natural fit for Coates because he is a long-time motorcyclist; in fact, he started off on two wheels back in grade school on the Canadian Prairies. He frequently visited his uncle’s farm in Biggar, Saskatchewan in those days, and spent a lot of time with his cousin messing around on a little dirt bike they kept on the farm.
“I was in Grade 2 or Grade 3, and that’s how I really learned to ride, that’s how it all started for me,” says Coates.
His first role on U.S. television role was as a surly biker in Miami Vice (Coates says he needed stitches after Don Johnson “smacked the crap” out of him in a fight scene. More recently, he played a motorcycle-borne werewolf in Skinwalkers just before he signed on to Sons of Anarchy.
“I got to ride Harleys every day on that show, guns, shotguns coming out of those side pockets, and it was fun to film that movie, for sure.”
While he’s best known for riding big-bore Harley-Davidsons on-screen, Coates’s first street bike was a second-hand Kawasaki two-stroke he bought in the 1970s when he was still in high school, paying for the bike by working at Safeway, making $2.07 an hour.
The machine was his first love, but with the girls being too scared to ride pillion, the Kawasaki became a way for him and his riding buddies to get out and explore after being cooped up inside through the brutal prairie winters.
“I couldn’t wait to get outside. None of us could wait to get outside, and stay as long as we could, and there’s something about riding, that for me, really brought me close to nature, and I loved it,” he says.
Coates’s next bike was a Kawasaki CSR650 that he bought brand-new while he was in university; he still remembers its blue tear-drop gas tank fondly. But things went somewhat CMG when at the age of 27, he decided to move to Toronto with his wife and bike, and took it out for an early April city ride.
“I was coming down this big hill in Toronto, and out of nowhere, this car turned in front of me. I went right into the wheel well, I went over the handlebars,” says Coates. He slid off the car’s hood and managed to escape injury, but his bike was stuck in the car’s wheel well – it wasn’t about to go anywhere anytime soon.
“I got up, took my helmet off,” Coates says – he was fighting mad. “This little old lady got out of the car, and she couldn’t even hardly see me. She got out and she said ‘Last week I lost my husband, and now this.”
Coates ended up giving the old lady a hug, and assuring his anxious wife that he wouldn’t buy another bike.
Obviously, that hasn’t kept Coates off two wheels, but he kept his word about not buying another bike. Instead Harley-Davidson gave him a highly customized Wide Glide with extended forks and risers, Thunder headers and lots of chrome – and his wife (they’re still married BTW) is OK with it.
“She knows how important bikes are to me, and she knows how important riding is to me, and she knows that I don’t abuse it,” he says.
SON OF ANARCHY
And Coates has earned that trust. Apart from the occasional burned legs on hot exhaust pipes, he doesn’t have any other scars from his riding. Coates says he’s so careful now that his nickname on the SoA set is “Safety First,”.
“I am the safest guy,” he says. “I look at all my brothers, and before every shot that has to do with motorcycles, I look them in the eye, I point at their face, and I go, ‘Safety first. Take it easy. ”
Of all the show’s regular actors, Mark Boone Jr. (playing Bobby Munson) was the only other one who’d ridden before donning the fictional club’s patch. Ironically, he was involved in one of the nastiest on-set crashes too. Apparently, riding a motorcycle for TV isn’t as easy as you’d think.
“People forget when you ride, the easy part is going 60. The hard part is when you’re going 3-5 miles an hour, making these short little turns, backing it up, keeping your balance
“The boys on the show, when they first started to learn, were dumping them all the time, because they didn’t have any balance – you have to give it a little gas to keep it going, and they [Harleys] are heavy bikes.
Of course, when the script calls for a spill, the actors have the advantage of having stuntmen take their falls.
“These guys are absolutely crazy,” says Coates. “They wear armour from their ankles all the way up to their neck, and yet they look like us, with just jeans and a cut.”
Arranging the shots where the club members ride down the street is a lot of work – roads have to be closed, and the crew has to load cameras on trucks and bikes. Still, the actors love coming to work on days when they’re filming motorcycle scenes – Coates says they’re all early for work when they know they’re going to be riding.
Off the set, Coates says he’d like to ride more, but he doesn’t have much opportunity. He’s frequently tied up with bike shows and charity work, and he’s also tied up with filmmaking for the big screen during television’s off-season. At least riding conditions are better in Los Angeles, where he lives now, than his Saskatchewan hometown.
“I love riding to work,especially in the summertime when it’s nice and warm,” he says. “If I have to work out or I’ve got a lot going on, I probably won’t ride, but if I just have work to think about and it’s a beautiful day, I’m on my bike for sure.
Although California has a reputation as a motorcycle paradise, Coates says that depends on where you’re riding.
“LA is really not a great place to ride. There’s a billion cars here and everyone’s texting and talking, and it’s just absolute bullshit with what happens on the freeways here,”.
THE ASH STREET BOYS
When Sons of Anarchy is over, Coates isn’t going to start his own motorcycle club (although if he did, he’d call them the Ash Street Boys, after his boyhood Saskatoon neighbourhood). Instead, he’d like to ride across Canada, west to east.
“Starting in Vancouver, going through the Rockies, through the prairies, right through Ontario, all the way out to the Maritimes, that is a dream for me, and that is something I really want to do, before I get too old,” he says.
If he was the kind of guy who’d sell his mother for cash, he says he’d buy something custom-made by Arlen Ness, but otherwise, he likes the bikes he has (besides his Wide Glide, Harley-Davidson also gave him a new Road King Classic).
Of course, Coates really isn’t too much like Alex “Tig” Trager. He says his character on Sons of Anarchy may be a tough, trouble-causing sergeant-at-arms in a motorcycle club, but he’s loyal to his friends and family, and Coates has always worked to make him more than a one-dimensional character.
Despite that, some people are still scared of him when they meet him on the street, but he says he’ll always take a photo with them. Meeting people is one of the best parts of the job for Coates. He attends a lot of motorcycle shows, and says he loves meeting fellow motorcyclists all the time.
“I love hanging with people who love to ride, who love to ride for enjoyment, who love to ride whether they have to be on their bike, or they want to camp, or they want to travel across the country,” he says.
And Coates isn’t looking for his dream motorcycle job – he’s already found it.
“I love motorcycles, I’m on a hit television show, I get to do my movies when I’m not doing it, I’m just really blessed, I’ve worked hard my whole life and I’m enjoying this ride. Playing Tig is as good as it gets.”
BIO (Random details pulled from IMDB and Wikipedia)
Creation: January 2, 1956, in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan
Current home: Los Angeles, California
Current occupation: Best known for his role on Sons of Anarchy, but he’s also busy with movies for the big screen in TV’s off-season
Notables: Action on Film International Film Festival award for Best Actor and Half-Life Award; two Gemini nominations in 1998.
Check out all the pics that go with this story! Click on the main sized pic to transition to the next or just press play to show in a slideshow.
You can also catch the Strombo interview with Coates here: