My Bike

Ramin Karimloo: The Phantom rides a Harley

Special to The Globe and Mail

Ramin Karimloo and his bike. (Jaiden Karimloo)

Ramin Karimloo

  • Profession: Actor/singer/songwriter
  • Age: 33
  • Hometown: Born in Tehran, Iran; grew up in Peterborough and Richmond Hill, Ont.
  • The bike: 2009 Harley-Davidson Skull and Crossbones

Notable achievements

  • Won several Best Actor awards, including the 2010 Best Actor award from Broadwayworld.com for Love Never Dies and the 2011 Best Actor in a Musical award from whatsonstage.com for Love Never Dies
  • Starred as Phantom in The Phantom of the Opera 25th Anniversary Concert at The Royal Albert Hall which aired on PBS
  • Played Enjolras in Les Misérables 25th Anniversary Concert broadcast on PBS in 2011
  • Other theatre credits include The Pirates of Penzance, Jesus Christ Superstar, Miss Saigon

Upcoming

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  • Debut CD, Human Heart, will be released in Canada on Aug. 28
  • North American concert tour, performing songs from his debut CD and musical theatre favourites from Phantom of the Opera and Les Misérables, including a performance at the Rose Theatre in Brampton, Ont. on Sept. 7
  • Stars in his first feature film next year, which will be shot in Quebec

Canadian Ramin Karimloo is one of London’s top musical theatre stars. He has held leading roles in West End’s longest-running musicals – The Phantom of the Opera, Les Misérables and Love Never Dies, the sequel to the Phantom.

He became hooked on theatre at the age of 12 when he went on a school trip to see The Phantom of the Opera; at 29, he was the youngest actor to play the Phantom – a role which landed him a prestigious Olivier Award nomination for best actor in a musical. And now, at 33, Karimloo is hitting another high note in his career. His debut CD, called Human Heart, comes out Aug. 28 followed by a North American concert tour with one Canadian stop at the Rose Theatre in Brampton, Ont.

Amid his hectic schedule, the artist unwinds by riding a 2009 Harley-Davidson Skull and Crossbones bike – one of the newest members of the Harley Softail family.

Why did you buy a Harley?

When I grew up in Peterborough, Ont., one of my best buddy’s dad was a Harley rider. I thought he looked cool, like a real tough guy. Growing up in a small town, seeing him with a ZZ Top beard, tattoos – as a kid, I remember thinking he must be the toughest guy in the world.

Come wintertime he’d dismantle his Harley and put it back together in his living room where it would stay all winter. It wouldn’t be out in the shed. The guy loved his Harley.

Years later, I was playing Raoul in Phantom and I was passing by a Harley shop and I thought to myself, I wonder how much a Harley would cost? I had no idea. So I walked in and realized entry-level Sports are actually quite reasonable. By the end of that conversation I was signing up for bike lessons. I put the down payment on the day I made my bike lessons as well. They were holding onto it until I passed.

My sixth time ever touching a bike in my life was my very own Harley. All the time, my wife had no idea!

She would have killed you?

Oh yeah. She was pregnant at the time. I was like, it’s probably best not to tell her I’m going through a mid-life crisis at 25, kid on the way, living in the country where I don’t know any people and I’m getting a Harley!

What does a Harley say about you?

Sense of adventure. I like the idea of going on a bike and having no actual destination. For me, the journey outweighs the destination. You just get on it and see what happens. You don’t have to be bogged down by a destination or time frame. …

It is peaceful. Once you get on, especially after a show and it’s dead on the roads and it’s pitch black – you’re there with your thoughts. I love it. It’s a great way to wind down.

No limo? You actually ride to and from the theatre?

On a couple of jobs, like Love Never Dies, I was offered the chauffeur and I tried it for a little bit, but I didn’t like it.

I like my own company after a show. My bike to me is my chariot. You are free to do what you want.

Have you missed any shows because of a broken-down Harley?

Once, I just took over at the Phantom and it was the third night – my third show – and my Harley decides to break down at a gas station. I’m thinking I got to get to the theatre!

[A bike gang member had been shot] so there’s this huge funeral and a bunch of Harleys where I broke down. One guy stopped to gas up and I said, ‘Listen do you mind if I get on the back of your bike and can you get me to the stage?’ He said, ‘Yeah, sure, no problem.’

Oh my God he was the craziest Harley rider! I’ll never go on the back of a Harley again, but he got me to the Phantom.

It’s a great community feel. He dropped me off right in front of the theatre. I was a bit late and it was packed full of people waiting to come in and this loud Harley pulls up, I get off and take off my helmet and I’m thinking,’Tthis looks like we meant to do this.’

How do people react when they see you riding a Harley?

I think with the tattoos as well they keep saying you’re not the typical West End guy, but I think actors are actors. We’re all diverse. When it comes to film actors, people are inked up. When I was playing the Phantom I would literally park my bike under a photo of me as the Phantom by the stage door so it couldn’t get more stranger, but that’s where they told me to put the bike. I’d pull up and get off – it looks cool. Who is that? That’s the Phantom!

Any spills on your bike?

Knock on wood, no. So far, so good. I’m a better biker than I am in a car. I’m terrible in a car. I’m the worst driver in a car. But I was trained well on a bike.

How many Harleys have you owned?

This is my fourth one. My third one was a Fat Bob. That actually got stolen right out of my driveway. I don’t know how they did it. It happened within a three-hour window of opportunity. The alarm didn’t go off. They must have lifted it because it was flush against my 4x4. ...

I started with a Sportster 883 and then I bumped it up to a 1200 Sportster. From there, I went to Fat Bob and then my Skull and Crossbones. The next one I get will be a bespoke one. I want to customize my bike.

What customizations will you do?

I really love bluegrass and folk music, so maybe I’ll have a nod towards a banjo or guitar strings on there. I don’t know how that would work. I’d have to sit down with a designer now.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

pgentile@globeandmail.com

Twitter: @PetrinaGentile