Jeweler Imogen Lehtonen, Norman’s riding companion for Episode 1, talks about the struggles of riding in Los Angeles, whether her store is haunted, and why she stays away from The Walking Dead.
Q: How did you first meet Norman Reedus? Did you guys immediately bond over your love of motorcycles?
A: It wasn’t a planned thing. It was sudden. Last year, in the summer, I rode cross-country for Harley Davidson. It was a sponsored ride with five women. We were called the Highway Runaways and we did a month-long trip from New York all the way to San Francisco. When we were in Georgia, we stopped in Atlanta. Norman had seen that we were doing this trip and reached out to us when this show was in its early stages. We rode to meet him and a couple of producers, and we got to hang out and chat. He’s a cool and laid back guy, and he invited us to ride with him and for barbecue at his place. He ended up riding my bike – I was on a Wide Glide – and I rode his bike from The Walking Dead. It all came about pretty quickly.
Q: You’re from New Zealand. How does riding motorcycles there compare to riding in the U.S.?
A: New Zealand has a very different motorcycle culture and the weather is unpredictable, so there wasn’t a community for it when I was living there – especially for younger people. It wasn’t until I moved to the states that I actually was able to get my license and buy a motorcycle. I bought myself a Harley because that was something I always dreamed of. Coming to L.A. was a whole different thing because of the crazy traffic and I had to really learn about battling crazy drivers. [Laughs]
Q: When did you first start riding? What attracted you to motorcycles?
A: I’ve been lucky that it’s a family thing. My dad was really into motorcycles, and my brother and cousin also ride. I have an aunt that rides, but most of the females aren’t into motorcycles and my dad has been my biggest influence. From a young age, I thought it would be such a cool thing to do and I was a daddy’s girl. I had seen all these pictures of my dad in the ‘60s, riding his Panhead. I was fascinated by that as well as my family’s owning of The Great Frog, which has always been a part of motorcycle culture.
Q: The Great Frog is credited with creating the skull ring. How did the business get started?
A: It was started by my uncle and my aunt back in the early ‘70s. The skull ring was always a fascination to my uncle. He’s 70 now and he still works in the London store. He was into comics as a kid and he remembers writing in to get The Punisher’s skull ring and waiting weeks for it to arrive in the mail. When it finally did, he was absolutely disappointed that it was a piece of crap. Back then, nobody wore skull jewelry that was high-quality and handcrafted. My other uncle, his brother, came on-board and so did my parents and cousins. It was a family affair. American bands would tour in London and go get a skull ring from The Great Frog. My cousin took over the company from my uncle about eight years ago and now owns it and is head designer. He put us online and help me set up the L.A. shop. We have hundreds of skull ring designs. Now, of course, that kind of thing is very popular, but when I was a kid, you couldn’t even get pajamas with skulls on them! We had human skulls on display and it’s never been a scary thing to me. It’s been a fascination with mortality and life.
Q: You’re obviously a craftsperson. Have you ever toyed around with customizing bikes?
A: That’s something I’m interested in. My cousin is also interested in doing a custom The Great Frog bike from the ground up. I tend to outsource any motorcycle work to friends of mine to put the money in a good place, but one day, I’d like to tinker around and put skull details onto my bike.
Q: You mentioned on the show that The Great Frog’s London store was built over a mass grave. Any cool ghost stories?
A: My uncle still lives in that building and he says there’s a resident female ghost. I haven’t seen her, but when I lived in the attic of the shop, I was there alone at night. It’s an old building, so there were noises and creaks and groans, but I was too scared to investigate. [Laughs]
Q: Speaking of creepy things, what was it like visiting the home of Captain Nitwit? Was it scary as it looked being surrounded by toilets and trash?
A: That was awesome! I’m actually really glad about the way it worked out. We were planning to get there earlier, but we got there at night and went through this creepy haunted house with flashlights, which I think made the whole vibe a lot more interesting and fun. That’s the kind of stuff I’m really into. I’ve always been a bit of a tomboy and I’m not prissy. I liked the sense of humor of that guy. That was his thing. He collected garbage and made a palace out of it.
Q: You joked that you were driving like a grandma in the dune buggy. Why do you think you kept getting stuck?
A: [Laughs] That was definitely a learning curve. For the first 20 minutes, I couldn’t get it going. I was trying to figure out what I was doing wrong and they actually strapped a block onto my accelerator because I couldn’t reach the pedal. So, when they told me to put my pedal to the metal, I got it and had the best time.
Q: Was it weird riding an electric bike when you’re used to having a roaring engine beneath you?
A: It was so weird. I think both Norman and I were really dubious, but we were both converted afterwards. It’s not something I’d exchange one of my motorcycles for, but there’s definitely a time and a place for it. I wouldn’t ride one in L.A traffic because I think having the noise is important for safety in a big city, but it was a lot of fun and very futuristic. It’s a whole different vibe to be silent and hear each other and see everything without the distraction of the engine’s noise.
Q: Have you still never seen The Walking Dead?
A: That is still true. [Laughs] I grew up without television and I’m a bit dubious of saga shows that I know will take over my life because I know I will get sucked into them and not get anything done. Norman is going to send me all of the boxed sets and one day, I’ll watch it.
Q: What was your favorite part of the trip?
A: I’m not a routine person and I like adventure. Being with a cool crew of people, riding the bike I was on, the beautiful scenery, riding up the coast, the dune buggy… I had such a good time on the whole trip.
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