Nathan Wetherington – A Thousand Miles Behind

Nov 19, 2021 View Comments by

Text by: Eric Althoff

Nathan Wetherington believes grieving is as singular as riding. Only you can know what it’s like when you’re in it.

An actor by trade and a rider by destiny, Wetherington’s film debut as a writer-director, A Thousand Miles Behind, incorporates his passion for motorcycles. His film follows a man named Preston (Jeffrey Doornbos), who is mourning the deaths of his wife and daughter in a horrible accident. One day, a Ducati Scrambler Desert Sled shows up in his driveway from an unknown donor, and Preston hits the roads of California to assuage his grief.

Wetherington, who had a small but crucial acting role in the third season of HBO’s True Detective, said a motorcycle is the “perfect visual metaphor for the grieving process. It’s uniquely ‘yours.’” He expanded on this notion in an interview for RoadRUNNER.

ROADRUNNER: What were your early experiences as a rider? 

NATHAN WETHERINGTON: I started riding dirt bikes around 2011 when I took a job out in the desert. My friend had picked up an old ’83 Honda XR200 for kicks. One ride on that thing and I was hooked. After that, I’ve had about seven bikes in my garage at any given time.

When did you decide to try acting professionally?  

I took an acting class during my last semester of college, because I had always been obsessed with movies. A few months later I went to an open call for Blue Man Group, and incredibly I got the gig. The next thing I knew, I was living in New York and had agents.

Why was the time right to transition to writing and directing your own movie? 

Well, there really wasn’t any work for me at the time. The business of “acting” really shifted to social media stars with built-in audiences. That’s when I decided I’d make my own film with my own money.

Where did the inspiration for this movie come from, and how did motorcycling play into it?

The inspiration really came out of what I had to work with, which wasn’t much. I knew I had a lead actor (Jeffrey Doornbos), and we wanted to do a motorcycle trip. As I ruminated on a script, I saw a very moving documentary on the families of the Sandy Hook school shooting victims. One father in that story really stuck out for me, and I realized the motorcycle was a perfect visual metaphor for the grieving process. Once I connected those dots, the script pretty much wrote itself.

Your film hinges on the mysteriously donated Desert Sled. Was that bike specifically written into the script?

The Desert Sled was just being brought to the market. It had a really timeless look to it and seemed the perfect fit for the movie, because I was going for a ’70s look and feel.

How did you get in touch with Ducati CEO Jason Chinnock about using the Scrambler Sled?

A mutual friend sent him the script, and I was amazed that Jason took the time to read it. Probably three months went by when I got an email: “I love this script. We can’t give you money, but anything else, just say the word.”

I cannot say enough good things about Jason and Ducati. They have really championed this film and have become great friends.

What stipulations did Ducati place on borrowing the Scrambler Sled?

They gave us NO stipulations. They dropped the bike off at my front door and were like: “Call us when you want us to pick it up.” I asked if I needed to sign something. “Nope! Let us know if you need anything else,” they replied.

Can you expand on what you mean by a motorcycle being the “perfect visual metaphor for grieving”? 

Grief tends to be very personal and unique to the individual. It’s a difficult burden to share, which is what makes it so hard. Riding I see as very similar. When you’re riding, even with friends, you’re still very much isolated in your own thing. You can ride with your buddies, but you’ll never really know the experience they’re having.

Riding can indeed help people deal with hard times. Do you have any personal experiences like this that you could tell us about briefly?

Thankfully, I do not have a personal experience that is in any way relatable to Preston’s. I do, however, ride all the time to clear my head and sort out my thoughts. I think so many riders do that. When I ride, I put my phone in my jacket pocket and go. If people can’t get a hold of me, I just say: “Sorry, I was on the moto.” And that’s that.

Having gone through the festivals with this film, I’ve talked to countless riders who actually do have extreme stories of grief and loss, and they’ve related in so many powerful ways to Preston’s story. I’ve been told so many times now: “That guy was me. I’ve lived that. Thank you.” To me, that’s really everything. For me, the power in art, film, and so on, is facilitating that empathetic human connection. That’s how we learn about ourselves and the world around us. It’s how we see that, yeah, we’re never as alone as we might think. We are within our own human experience.

Why did you choose Jeffrey Dornboos as your lead actor? 

I already knew he was a great actor, and I knew he had been riding for a long time.

You took the film to various motorcycle film festivals. What was that like?   

I was more nervous to screen there because it really mattered to me that the motorcycle crowd connected with the film. It could be considered an odd choice for the setting because it’s a narrative drama and it’s so heavy, whereas almost every other film we saw was a motorcycle documentary. It was amazing hearing from so many riders that this is basically their own story.

What’s one of your own favorite rides?  

With a few buddies we rented the biggest touring bikes we could. I was on an Indian Roadmaster. We rode a giant loop from Las Vegas out across Death Valley and back. In that single ride, we went through extreme heat, a full blackout dust storm, and then ended up actually getting snowed on. It was absolutely hilarious.

In this same vein, what would be your own favorite bike that you’ve ridden?

There are so many!  I feel like every bike I get on is my favorite bike. That said, I do have a soft spot for triples.

Where can people find A Thousand Miles Behind now?   

The film is available on all VOD and on-demand platforms.

Will your next film also feature a motorcycle?

I’ve just written a horror/thriller that actually takes place in a van. It would definitely seem that I have a thing for films that are largely centered around vehicles.

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