HARLEY AND THE DAVIDSONS is an original Discovery Channel dramatic miniseries, running Monday, September 5 through Wednesday, September 7, about the origins of the famous motorcycle company in the early years of the twentieth century.
Gabriel Luna plays motorcycle racer Eddie Hasha, aka the Texas Cyclone. Luna is a real-life Texan himself, originally from Austin. He previously starred in El Rey’s series MATADOR and was one of the leads in ABC’s short-lived WICKED CITY.
When Discovery Channel throws a party for the Television Critics Association at the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles – where there is an exhibit of famous motorcycles – Luna is there with his cast mates to talk about his new gig, and what’s coming up.
AX: Who was Eddie Hasha?
GABRIEL LUNA: He was a bicycle champion for the Merkel Bicycle Company in the early 1900s, who eventually transitioned into motorcycle racing, and continued to have great success, and was one of the fastest riders in the world. In fact, he set the world speed record, at ninety-six miles an hour, in 1906, I think.
AX: If Eddie Hasha was the Texas Cyclone, who’s the Texas Tornado?
LUNA: The Texas Tornado is a band, but also, my favorite wrestler, Kerry Von Erich, from a long time ago.
AX: Do you ride motorcycles in real life? You were on a motorcycle in MATADOR, but is that something that you actually enjoy?
LUNA: I do enjoy doing it. I don’t think I would purchase one and ride it in Los Angeles – there are just too many variables out there on the road [laughs]. I did enjoy preparing for this role, riding around freely in the L.A. River back in downtown L.A., with my buddies Cam, Ty and Jack, who own the Lucky Wheels Garage in downtown L.A. It is incredibly liberating and a really thrilling sensation. I’m a complete enthusiast, but I don’t know if I would purchase one for myself. That’s not my decision, that’s my wife’s.
AX: That seems like a good way to keep marital harmony. Did you know much about the history of Harley-Davidson history before this?
LUNA: I knew some, but through this experience, I learned quite a bit, and that’s obviously one of the greatest advantages of this work, is expanding your working knowledge of the things in your world, and acquiring new skills, and I got to do both in this.
AX: Was Eddie Hasha one of the main riders for Harley-Davidson?
LUNA: Well, in our show, we do a bit of condensing a lot of geography and a lot of storylines and a lot of timelines, for the sake of trying to tell a full story that incorporates a lot of these pivotal moments in the history. There are records of Eddie associating himself with the Harley company. Whether or not he actually ever worked for them is left up to interpretation of the anyone who knows the history. But he was a very important figure at that time, and it was important for us to include him in this story, and I love the way they did it, it in a way that offers this kind of sibling rivalry with Walter Davidson [played by Michiel Huisman]. We test the bike, yes, but we are truly testing each other, and what we’re capable of individually by just taking it as far as you can go to try to overtake the other man, and then he tries to overtake you, and at some point, you’re both at the edge and you both decide to go off the edge, because that’s what it took to discover in the moment what it was.
AX: How fast do you get to go when you’re on the bike?
LUNA: Those 1903 models went about forty miles an hour. When we were on the velodrome [motorcycle track], probably about fifty or sixty. At the time, they were doing a hundred miles an hour with no brakes. We didn’t do that [laughs], because we wanted to remain upright.
AX: Do you get to play the moment when Eddie first got on a motorized bicycle?
LUNA: Somewhat. I’m tinkering, because at the time, all over the world, people were having the same genius idea, trying to put a motor on a bike. It was the Harley-Davidson company that eventually perfected the bigger, bolder, faster model. But yes, there are moments when he’s enjoying for the first time these creations, and you get to see him in the spirit of joy quite a bit.
AX: You’d done episodic television before, but MATADOR raised your profile considerably. Robert Rodriguez, who co-founded the El Rey Network and executive-produced the series, directed you in the MATADOR pilot and another episode. As a director, how is he to work with?
LUNA: He lets it happen. He honors the actor’s process. He lets it go and he says in his book, “I can get everything right, I can fit everything, I can make the whole scene perfect, but if there’s an interesting actor on screen, just watch the actor go.” And I think the most he’ll say is, “A little faster.” Robert works quickly. He’s brilliant, he’s a genius, he has great vision. He sees ten steps ahead, so he knows what he can do without, what he needs. He gave me his guitar after we wrapped the pilot, and he walked around the set and he was playing the score to the shot as it’s happening. He’s Robert Rodriguez. I’ve said it in every single interview – he’s the Miles Davis of movies. He’s just cool, man. It’s cool.
AX: Is it true that before MATADOR, you had made a movie with Robert Rodriguez’s brother?
LUNA: Yes. His little brother Marcel was the d.p., on a movie called DANCE WITH THE ONE that I did. It was directed by Mike Dolan, who is a great New York actor – he’s in HAMBURGER HILL and NECESSARY ROUGHNESS, a few pictures in the Eighties, BILOXI BLUES, and he went to [University of Texas] to study in the Missionary Program, which is a great writers’ program at the University of Texas. They came up with U.T.F.I., which is a professional production [company] with many of the roles being filled by students – of course, professionals in all the higher-end jobs, the actors are all paid and are professionals, but a lot of the crew positions are filled by University of Texas students and we all know it’s one of the best film schools in the country, and they’re all very talented individuals, and it was great. Marcel was one of those students.
AX: And so Marcel Rodriguez remembered you and recommended you to Robert Rodriguez, or how did you come to be involved in MATADOR?
LUNA: That’s a funny story, because recommendations came from all sides. When I initially started, when I initially auditioned, no one knew I was from Austin. I’d met Robert a few times, but I never made it a point to tell him I’m an actor. I just wanted to be near him, I just wanted to talk to him. He’s a great man and a great hero of mine and I just didn’t make it an issue. But sure enough, once I got further into the process and they started to come around and say that perhaps I’m the guy, it was fortified, it was buttressed by the opinions and recommendations of Marcel and Becca, his sister, and Tina, his sister who’s a friend of mine, Elizabeth Avellan, who’s [Robert Rodriguez’s] producing partner. Game Changing Films was the soccer-coordinating company that’s going to do this; I worked with them on [an American] football movie [INTRAMURAL]. So all of a sudden, he was bombarded from all sides by people going, “Gabe’s the guy.” So he told me it ended up being an easy decision – “It ended up being everybody felt it was you.” Well, first of all, you’re Robert Rodriguez. You could’ve just told them they were all full of it. But he believed, too.
AX: Were there aspects of playing your first TV lead in MATADOR, Tony Bravo, that were harder or easier?
LUNA: There [were] a lot of parallels and a lot of synchronicity, from the family structure to just the way this kind of nature – I found even in the auditions, I kept saying, when people would ask me, “How’d it go?” I was like, “Oh, man, it was like breathing.” It was as natural as breathing.
AX: You also have a new movie, TRANSPECOS, coming out on September 9 about the U.S. border guards …
LUNA: That film premiered at South by Southwest. It’s called TRANSPECOS, directed by Greg Kwedar, and written by he and Clint Bentley, and we won the Audience Award at the South by Southwest Film Festival. And we’ve continued to have success at the other film festivals. We’ve been to eight, and I think we’ve won six, either the jury or the audience awards. And we’re very happy that the film will be released by Samuel Goldwyn on September 9. I encourage everyone to go see it if it’s playing in your city, because I think we didn’t over-politicize it, we’re just telling a story about these three guys in isolation and what happens when things go bad. I think people will really enjoy it.
AX: You’ve been doing a lot of genre stuff. Was that sort of a nice change, to do something that was a little more naturalistic? Not that HARLEY AND THE DAVIDSONS isn’t naturalistic, but it is a period piece, and it does have the heightened motorcycle action, whereas TRANSPECOS is in the present …
LUNA: Features are always great, because you take your time and you focus on the moments and you spend the time it takes to build those moments in very cool ways. We were out in the middle of the desert, almost entirely exteriors, shooting southern New Mexico for west Texas, and we only had each other to cling onto, and it was a hundred and twenty degrees, really difficult conditions, we were always up against it, because that big yellow ball in the sky was going down and we can’t shoot after night. But TRANSPECOS is a fantastic film, I’m so proud of that. I never knew it would touch me, because it has, and it continues to make people excited, so I hope people see it.
AX: You’re also joining MARVEL’S AGENTS OF SHIELD this season. I know you can’t say much about it yet, but are you excited to be part of the Marvel-verse?
LUNA: I am beyond excited. So are my little brother and sister – they’re not little, they’re grown adults, but we all are living in an age where we continue to love and appreciate and be fanboys and girls of that incredible universe that they’ve built for us, and I am over the moon to be one of the first Mexican-American superheroes in that cinematic universe. I won’t take that lightly, and I will wear that mantle and do my best to make everyone proud.
AX: What would you most like people to know about HARLEY AND THE DAVIDSONS?
LUNA: Oh, just watch it. September 5 – you’re going to have so much fun. The music’s awesome, the stunts are amazing, our stunt riders – I want them to know the names of our stunt riders, is what I want them to know. I want them to know Cedric [Proust, stunt coordinator] and Faycal [Attougui, Luna’s stunt double] and Mathieu [Lardot] and Andrei [Vintileanu], Leppy [Andrei Lepadotu], Petre [Marin], Malcolm Cochrane, Mihai Iliescu, Mihai Ionita – I want them to know those guys’ names, because those guys are badasses, amazing dudes, and they put their bodies on the line every day for us, and the end product, I couldn’t be more pleased. It looks amazing.
AX: Looking ahead, do you have an idea of what comes next?
LUNA: [laughs] Oh, man. I’m not worried about that. I’ve never looked too far ahead. I describe my life to a lot of people as the “Billie Jean” video, because I was born to a fifteen-year-old widow and my grandmother worked in a Laundromat and my grandfather was a tile setter. None of them are involved in the arts. So everything I’ve ever done has been the “Billie Jean” video, where Michael [Jackson is] dancing down the sidewalk and the next panel of the sidewalk lights up and you step there and you’re dancing and then the next panel lights up and you step there. You just go where the light is and that’s all I’ve ever done. So I’m not really worried about what’s at the end of the alley, I’m only worried about, where is the light, where am I going?
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Article: HARLEY AND THE DAVIDSONS: Gabriel Luna – exclusive interview