Interview: ‘Harley and the Davidsons’ Star Bug Hall on Bringing an American Icon to Life

Hidden Remote interviewed Bug Hall, star of Discovery’s ‘Harley and the Davidsons’, to discuss how he found the project, bringing the iconic brand’s story to life, and his favorite aspects of creating the show.

On September 5, Discovery premiered its six-hour depiction of the birth of an American icon: motorcycle titan Harley-Davidson. Founded by two Davidson brothers and childhood friend William Harley in a shed, the company found its start at the turn of the century. It battled fierce rivalries with competitors holding the market in a vice grip, pioneered new ways to ride, and survived waves of adversity that toppled its opponents.

“I was taking a break to write, and my agents were sending me projects all the time. When I got this one, it was just too good to pass up” -Bug Hall, Arthur Davidson

Bug Hall portrays Arthur Davidson, the younger of the two founding Davidsons who became known for his market acumen, fairness, and sales prowess in growing the Harley-Davidson brand. Hall plays the role comfortably, and the gregarious businessman seems a tailor made personage. He notes the irony because it’s “diametrically opposed” to his own personality, but when the project found its way to him, he didn’t hesitate.

Credit: Harley and the Davidsons

Becoming Arthur Davidson

“I was taking a break to write, and my agents were sending me projects all the time. When I got this one, it was just too good to pass up,” he says.

“Arthur was a guy who would treat you fairly, but he also had this golden tongue. He could sell you anything,” Hall says. Arthur spends a lot of the series acting as a foil to his older brother Walter (Michiel Huisman). He pushes for sales and smart moves. He keeps the company grounded and functional. Examples of Arthur’s sense of decency that appeals to Hall are his campaign against dangerous, high-speed motordrome racing and his supplying of the U.S. Army with motorcycles and mechanic training in World War 1. In fact, Davidson wrote extensively against the motordromes in the company’s magazine.

“He almost singlehandedly brought the motordromes down, and they were the biggest sport in America for around seven years. It was bigger than baseball then.” Hall says. On the military contract, he continues, “He was just focused on getting our soldiers home safe.”

It wasn’t just the character that drew Hall to the role, though. He’s got a past of his own as a rider. Hall owns and rides bikes, criss-crossed the nation in the saddle in the recent past, and grew up on them. His father rode as well.

“My dad had an old Honda Shadow, and some of my earliest memories are sitting in front of him to ride around on it,” he says.

Childhood rides alone didn’t help inform Hall’s acting, either. He drew on experiences from his own role as a businessman. He runs a development company along with close friend David Henrie (of Wizards of Waverly Place) and the latter’s brother Lorenzo.

“I drew from my business experiences to play Arthur. My partner, David, and I are close friends. It was the same with us [the cast] in no time,” he says.

Credit: Harley and the Davidsons

Telling the Story with Authenticity

However, the project came with challenges. Hall broke his collarbone in a motorcycle accident early in the four-month shoot. In addition, the episodes got increasingly difficult from a production perspective. The final one shows the Harley-Davidson founders later in their lives, which required aging of the actors. Hall calls it one of the biggest production challenges of the show.

“The aging process was challenging. It added around three hours onto our day, one to one and a half at each end. We also shot chronologically, so the days got longer as we went on,” he says.

This, however, represents just one part of what Hall calls the show’s commitment to realism. According to him, shooting in Romania was a huge part of it.

“Authenticity was at the forefront of everyone’s mind making this. We didn’t want to cheat…we wanted turn of the century buildings,” he says. He also cites that motordrome structures still exist in the country, and its aged feel because of its relative lack of urban sprawl. All of that helped to create a recreation of early-1900’s Wisconsin, where the iconic brand was born. Not only that, but the show aimed to authentically portray the company’s rocky rise to prominence.

An easy sin for a show like this to commit would be acting as if it’s too “aware” of what Harley-Davidson went on to become. It makes the characters too confident, and the story too smooth. Harley and the Davidsons avoids the mistake completely. In fact, Hall spends quite some time looking concerned over the three episodes as Arthur, worrying over sales, marketing, expansion, and the brand’s reputation. The show also doesn’t shy away from the rougher days of the Great Depression, which Harley-Davidson weathered.

“[Arthur] was this country boy who came from nothing…” Hall says, “We wanted to make sure to show the humble beginnings and not focus on the legacy too early. They didn’t know what they were building, or what it would become then.”

Credit: Harley and the Davidsons

Personal Highlights

“There was this moment where they rolled one [motorcycle] in and I was just in awe of it.” -Bug Hall, Arthur Davidson

Hall calls Episode 2 his favorite. Stuffed with character scenes, it differs significantly from the first and third parts. The former races to show the birth of the company, while the latter focuses on legacy. Episode 2 is the most ‘human’ of the three.

“A lot of time in Episode 2 was spent on character development. I spent a lot of time working with Stephen Kay, who directed, and did an excellent job,” Hall says.

Motorcycles remain the heart of the show. Hall actually refers to the bikes as the “fourth main character.” As much as the story of Harley-Davidson is a human one, it’s also a mechanical one: built from steel, dripping with oil and gasoline. One of the most remarkable aspects of the series is the evolution of the machines themselves, and Hall calls it his favorite one.

“That was my favorite part. They started out rough, looking like these Frankenstein monsters, until they looked like the bikes we know,” he says. “There was this moment where they rolled one in and I was just in awe of it.”

Since its inception, Harley-Davidson always aspired to be more than a brand. It represents a community. An identity. The perfect intersection of power, speed, comfort, and a trustworthy name. For the most part, it has succeeded. It’s the most identifiable motorcycle brand in America, maybe the world, featuring millions of loyal followers and clubs nationwide. For all its ups and downs, promotions, jackets, t-shirts, and clubs, the machines themselves have always been at the heart. In fact, Hall’s Arthur Davidson says it best at the end of Episode 2 of Harley and the Davidsons.

“We don’t need to be number one, it’s about the machine. We’re Harley-Davidson, and we’ll keep building motorcycles even if we have to do it in a shed.”

Catch the finale of Harley and the Davidsons tonight, September 7, at 9/8c on Discovery Channel!