Canadian actor Damon Runyan has not heard any feedback from gang members since he started playing a real-life police informant who infiltrated notorious biker gangs on the television series Gangland Undercover.
And he certainly hopes he never will.
“Gangland Undercover is a fact-based show, but it is also a dramatic fictionalisation of events. Any likelihood that we would have any interaction with biker gang members would be limited, I would hope,” he said in an interview in Singapore recently.
In the drama series airing on History, Runyan plays Charles Falco, a real-life ex-drug dealer who infiltrated three violent American biker gangs for the police in the early 2000s in California, as part of a deal to get out of a two-decade prison sentence.
Over seven years as an informant, Falco – who is now living under a protected new identity – helped facilitate 62 arrests for crime and murder.
Runyan, 40, takes comfort in the fact that gang members will likely stay away as they would not want their identities out in the open.
“Falco talks about this often – that they don’t want to draw attention to themselves,’’ says the actor, who has met Falco and still communicates regularly with him. So I would think that with regard to a show like this, they would want to distance themselves.”
Issues such as any potential danger to his life barely registered when he signed on to the role, as he was just “deeply moved” by Falco’s story, says the actor, who played a troubled basketball coach in the TV series Degrassi: The Next Generation (2009).
“It’s that story of redemption – the fact that you can hit rock bottom, lose faith in humanity and yourself, and fight your way back to find meaning in life.
“This is a man who was a meth addict and dealer facing 22 years in prison. He then infiltrates the Vagos gang, but doesn’t stop there and goes on to infiltrate the Mongols and the outlaws.
“It taught me that we have this ability to overcome bad situations and find our path, no matter how bad it gets.”
Something else about the show that was a huge pull for him? The simple fact that he gets to ride motorbikes often.
Runyan, who took a course to learn how to ride a motorbike for the show, says with a huge grin: “My whole life, riding motorbikes was basically considered taboo. My mum was adamant about it not happening, but with that, it’s kind of like rock ‘n’ roll – the attraction just grows deeper.
“After my audition, I told my wife that if I got this role, not only would I ride on the show, but also that I would be buying a bike. It became World War III in the house, but she eventually succumbed because she knew that it would help me be a better rider and be safer on the show.”
After all, filming while riding a motorbike can be “very, very dangerous”, he says.
“Because it’s a show about biker gangs, we often shoot with big groups of people riding together and that can be crazy intimidating. Just imagine a big group of bikers going down the highways really fast on these huge bikes,’’ he says.
“There was one time a background guy fell onto the gravel. It was bad and he was holding on for dear life for at least four or five minutes. Of course, we stay as safe as possible, but there will always be that risk.”
Gangland Undercover airs every Friday at 10pm on History (Astro Ch 555). – The Straits Times/Asia News Network/Yip Wai Yee