Look familiar? He should. Robert Patrick’s roles include Col. Tom Ryan in The Unit, John Doggett in The Ex-Files and the T-1000 in Terminator 2: Judgment Day. When he’s not in front of the camera, he’s often on his motorcycle, zooming around the country as a part of the Boozefighters, a nonprofit organization that raises money to help vets, children and the poor. Recently Patrick traveled to Iraq to offer encouragement to our troops. Here the actor talks to ABILITY Magazine about those adventures, as well as what happens when he gets pulled over by the cops, why he stopped drinking and how he chose acting:
I became an actor because it was the only thing I was interested in. When I went deep into my soul and asked myself what is it that I wanted to do with my life, acting was the answer I got. I like playing other people. That’s my calling. So I sat in on a few drama classes in college, did a few plays in school, and drove to Hollywood and basically said, “I’m an actor. Now what do I have to do? How do I get started?”
I’ve done a lot of movies, but the biggest one was Terminator 2: Judgment Day, playing the T1000, opposite Schwarzenegger’s character. He’s about my size. I’m 6 feet, 208 pounds. I think he’s about 6 foot 1. When we were making the movie he was about 195 pounds. I just saw Arnold recently at the funeral of his dear friend, Stan Weston, who created the look of The Terminator and all the make-up special effects for Jurassic Park. It was great to see Arnold, but sad to see him under those circumstances.
I was 30 years old when we made The Terminator in 1990. I’ve had huge life experiences since I made that movie, which is locked in time. I look at it and go, “Oh, my God, look how young and skinny I was!” I was skinny because I was broke. I was also on drugs at the time, and I drank. I actually had a serious drug and alcohol problem.
I no longer drink or take drugs and I’ve been sober for 11 years. A big part of my life now is riding motorcycles. I belong to a motorcycle club called the Boozefighters. Steve O is the vice president of Chapter 101, and I am the president. There’s a great story about how this club came about: It was established in 1946 by veterans who came back from World War II. Many of them had Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, as we call it today, and didn’t feel like they fit in with normal society.
Boozefighter is a name for somebody who’s trying to conquer his habit of drinking. They got the name because they drank and they fought, and somebody in a bar said, “You know, you guys should call your club the Boozefighters, because all you do is drink and fight.” And they decided to call it that.
They liked to ride their motorcycles and raise hell. It was all fairly innocent: Have a good time, continue the sense of brotherhood, duty and honor—values they brought back with them from the war. I’m sure they just had a lot of adrenalin and steam to blow off as they came to grips with returning home and getting back into society. So they formed these motorcycle clubs, and Boozefighters is one of many formed at the time. But Boozefighters is historic, one of the earliest ones, organized around the same time as the Gallopin’ Gooses, the Top Hatters and the 13 Rebels.
The Boozefighters started in Los Angeles in 1947, two years before the Hell’s Angels. One Fourth of July at the AMA Pro Races, one of our founders actually drove into one of the races that was in progress and rode over a fence, causing havoc. Then club members basically took over the main street of the town, Hollister, CA, and raised a little hell. When Life magazine covered the event, they staged a couple photographs of drunken vets, home from the war, terrorizing the common folks. They played up the drama, creating this image of the outlaw biker who was gonna come and terrorize your town, so lock up your women and all that kind of stuff.
The Gallopin’ Gooses were there, the Boozefighters were there, the Top Hatters, and a lot of these older clubs. They were all pretty much the same, all formed by guys coming home from the war. But the Boozefighters got connected to the myth more so than the others.
MOTORCYCLES TO MOVIES
That incident in Hollister (near Monterey), later became the inspiration for the movie The Wild One, made in 1953 with Marlon Brando. The producers recruited our leader, “Wino” Willie Forkner, to be a technical advisor. I think the big thing that he’s credited for is coming up with the name Black Rebel motorcycle club. He took the 13 and combined the 1 and the 3 to make a “B” and created the Black Rebel motorcycle club, a fictional club in the movie, which was the one that belonged to Brando’s character. The other club leader in the film was Lee Marvin, who actually followed Wino around and based his portrayal on him.
The interesting thing was that Lee Marvin was actually a returning vet himself. He was a Marine who served in Iwo Jima, and really understood what was going on in those guys’ heads. His motorcycle club was called the Beetles.
So the movie comes out and over in Liverpool there are four guys who have a little band. The movie makes a big impression on them, and they actually liked the name the Beetles and decided to change the name of their band. So the Beatles got their name, more or less, from an American motorcycle club.
I go off to make a movie in New Zealand called Bridge to Terabithia. While I’m down there, I get a call from Steve O and another guy saying, “Hey, we want to do this cross-country trip around America at such-and-such a time.” I say, “OK, cool.” When I get back, I do We Are Marshall, and then we put this trip together and rode across America.
I had read the book about the Boozefighters, The Original Wild Ones: The Boozefighters, written by Bill Hayes, and they seemed like great guys. The book got me wondering about what happened to them. Well, as we’re making our way back across America, we get pulled over for speeding in Yellowstone. The cop starts talking to us and I pull my helmet off and, fortunately for us, he recognizes me. So, he let’s us go.
When I get pulled over, police often say, “Hey, I didn’t know it was you.” That kind of thing. “Of course you didn’t, I was wearing a full-face helmet. Like you could see through it?” But I say, “Yeah, man, it’s me. How you doin’?” Some say, “Oh, well, I’m sorry.” I’m thinking, What? You’re sorry for doing your job? We were speeding. I don’t blame you. Then they say, “I’m going to let you go,” and I think: OK, I appreciate that. That’s one of the perks.
At the same time, if you wear the patch and you belong in a club, police treat those persons a bit differently when they pull them over. They think you’re up to no good. It’s not fair, that sort of discrimination against motorcyclists and motorcycle clubs. We’re not up to no good, we just happen to be brothers and want to ride together. We take care of each other. We don’t want to do anybody any harm. We don’t want to cause any trouble or anything like that.
In Yellowstone, after the police recognized me and let us go, I said to the dudes, “Hey, while we’re here, why don’t we go grab something to eat?” We go in and we’re eating in this diner, and in walks a Boozefighter. I’d never seen one in my life. The guy was 6 foot 4, about 270 pounds. Huge white beard, white hair, looked like frickin’ Santa Claus on steroids. I just went like, “Jesus Christ, that guy’s got to be one of the original Boozefighters.” He sat down across the counter from us. He looked at me and I looked at him, and I said, “I know who you are,” and he said, “I know who you are.” We started talking, and I said, “You’ve got to be one of the original Boozefighters.” He said, “Nah, I’m not that old.”
A JOURNEY BEGINS
So we kept talking. We’re telling road stories. He was out camping, riding around America. I asked him, “How come I’ve never seen a Boozefighter in Los Angeles? That’s where it started back in ‘46.”
He said, “Well, that’s a long story, but are you interested?” I said to him, “I actually think I could be a Boozefighter. I’d like to do that. How do I do it?”
That sent me on my journey. I spent the next year prospecting and riding around, getting to know people, introducing myself to the motorcycle community and the power clubs. I heard there’s something like 300 clubs in Los Angeles. It’s been a fascinating experience for me, because I was never in the military.The sense of brotherhood, honor and duty that I have gotten from it and the fact that I know I’ve got brothers backing me up is a neat feeling. And they’re all over the country. It’s an international motorcycle club, and I really had no idea. I’d never been a part of something like this.
We’ve turned our chapter into a nonprofit organization and we’re out there visibly trying to do good deeds in the community to let people know that although we may ride around on loud machines and wear a three-piece patch, we want to be a positive part of the community as well. We raise money and distribute it to disabled vets, participate in Blaze of Glory. We’ve done Children’s Hospital runs, Skid Row toy runs, Foundations for Families, Homes for Heroes, and other important charitable, community events.
As an actor, I have a certain profile. I’ve been fortunate to have done the Love Ride as honorary grand marshal with Jay Leno for 18 years. But the community of bikers and motorcycle clubs has given me more of an opportunity to really get out there, participate and help.
I just came back from Baghdad, where I took my club patches—the colors I wear on my back. When I wore those, a lot of guys came up to me and talked to me about the Boozefighters. Some guys knew who we were, some guys were in other clubs. It’s a big, cool brotherhood.
There are steps to becoming a full patch-holder. You’ve got to prove to yourself and the brothers that you’re worthy of being called a brother. It’s very much like the military in that sense. You’re given different challenges at different stages. It’s private between each and every club and you have to earn it. I’ll be going back to Iraq soon.
In May, I brought members of the Boozefighters on a Poker Run ride to raise money for the Orange County Habitat for Humanity’s Homes for Heroes project. From there, I left and rode on to the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington DC. The Memorial Day ride is called “Run for the Wall,” and we all go down and pay tribute to the Vietnam vets, the memorial itself and the country. The ride gives you a great opportunity to pay your respects to everybody in the military and let them know how much they mean to you.
The other cool thing I did in to DC was go to Walter Reed, which blew my mind. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, and yet one of the most rewarding, to meet young men and women who have been disabled either by losing a limb, losing part of their mental capabilities, their hearing, their sight. It was just unbelievable, the sacrifice that these youngsters made to our country to protect our freedoms. I just admire the hell out of them.
My grandfather, Robert Samuel Patrick, was a lieutenant colonel who fought in World Wars I and II and in Korea. He was still active in Vietnam. He was a Bronze Star winner. He died at Fort Bragg, NC, from stomach cancer and is buried in a military cemetery in Virginia.
I knew him up until I was five. One of the earliest memories I have is of being in Fort Bragg with him. That’s where the military connection is. Plus, I’m also playing a colonel in the U.S. Army on CBS’s The Unit. We’re filming right now.
I left from that ride with my good friend New York Mike, a Vietnam vet who owns a San Diego Harley dealership. He invited me to ride with him. We were joined by a third person, Ugly Rusty of the Ugly Motorcycle Club. Willie G. Davidson, grandson of the one of the original founders of Harley Davidson is a member of the Ugly Motorcycle Club. So Rusty, Mike and I left and rode all the way to Flagstaff, AZ, together.
On most bike rides I can go around 100 miles, after that I start looking for a gas station. I get off to stretch my legs, drink a Red Bull or have a coffee or something to eat, take a whiz. After filling up, I head back out for another 100-mile stretch.
Our guys are all about trying to figure out how to raise money for disabled vets and how to bring recognition to them. I’ve talked to the City of Los Angeles about putting on a memorial concert to get people to make donations for these wounded warriors. I’m going to do the Habitat ride next year as well. We’re going to try to make it bigger and better.