The scruffy, motorcycle-riding redneck on AMC’s The Walking Dead might not look like much from a distance, but the meteoric rise of Daryl Dixon’s popularity on the series has turned Norman Reedus into a formidable star. Previously known predominantly for his role as Murphy MacManus in the 1999 cult hit The Boondock Saints, Reedus has turned dispatching zombies with his crossbow into an art form, and it’s made him (and his character) a household name. With The Walking Dead’s third season set to premiere on AMC on October 14th, Reedus tells us that what fans have seen so far is nothing compared to what they’re about to see.
FEARnet recently sat down with the actor to discuss how Daryl became so likeable, the return of Merle, working with “fresh meat,” and how he didn’t tell fans to “fuck themselves.”
Your character, Daryl Dixon, went from being this foul-mouthed villain to becoming a fan-favorite very quickly. How do you think that happened? What do you equate that to?
You know, when I first got there, I never really had any conversations with Frank Darabont about the character of Daryl. He was written very like “F you! F you! I’ll kill you! I’ll kill you!” and I tried to make him sort of a sensitive guy. He just lost his big brother. I wanted him to have more than just “F you! F you!” but people (especially the ladies) didn’t really love Daryl (I mean, maybe they did and I just didn’t know it) until Cherokee Rose [Season 2, Episode 4]. We showed a softer, sensitive, caring side of Daryl and girls were like “Ooooh, yay!” (Laughs) I think that had something to do with it. I mean, I kill somebody in almost everything I’ve done so it’s nice to play that same sort of ravenous dude but with a heart. I’ve always sad that I like angels to stab you in the back and devils to tear up, so it’s somewhere in there.
I think Daryl being around Merle is what made the character so hardened and, now that he’s away from him, he’s more of a nice guy.
Oh, you’re exactly right! That’s exactly part of it. Growing up with Merle as a big brother, I would imagine he was constantly telling Daryl, “Shut up! Do this! You’re a loser!” Once he got away from that and started hanging out with these people that he would never otherwise hang out with and he said that they relied on him and he was an integral part of this group – that they actually valued him as a person. Yeah, I think that made him a lot softer and a lot more sensitive to other people’s feelings. Daryl never wants to run this group. He doesn’t want that sort of a responsibility, but I think he would do anything to keep these people alive. I think it’s very admirable.
Speaking of Merle, based on the previews and photos, it looks like he’s going to be back, albeit with one less hand.
Well, he comes back and he’s pissed. Merle’s kind of like bringing your drunk Uncle to a Christmas party. He’s completely embarrassing in the first thirty minutes and you just want him to shut up. He comes back and he just doesn’t make friends easily, so Daryl’s going to be caught in the middle of all that. He’s definitely coming back with one less hand. (Laughs)
(Laughs) A lot of the fans criticized the show for the slower opening of the second season. Do you miss Sophia now that she’s gone or were you ready for that story to end and move onto other things too?
You know, people see the show and they see a small fraction of the effort that we put into it so, to be honest, the Sophia storyline went on a little longer for us on our end than it did on your end. We were ready to move on.
The first season was about an introduction to the world. The second season is a lot of talking because you have to set up all these storylines to run with.
I just did an Entertainment Weekly thing and they sort of misquoted me a little bit. You know where they said “Well, what do you think about the fans being all upset about the second season taking so long?” And I was like, “You know what? Fuck em! It’s not a cartoon…” and I didn’t mean it in a harsh way. I just meant that … every person that has a laptop is a critic now. You can’t please all the people all the time, but if you just stick with it, it pays off. And they sort of… I saw it all over the fucking Internet it was like “Norman Tells Fans To Fuck Themselves!” and that’s not really exactly what I said. (Laughs)
Well, we’re setting the record straight now. (Laughs)
Sometimes they misquote things and go with the most dramatic way of putting something, but we had to do a bit of talking [in the second season] to set up storylines for other things. The downfall of Rick’s moral center is a huge part of our show. To get where we are at the end of season two and start season three, we had to set up all these possibilities.
The reason why I like Rick as a character – and he’s one of my favorite characters – is that he’s always trying and he’s always fucking up. But he’s trying all these different things and trying to make it happen. People need someone to follow. He didn’t volunteer for this job either. He just happened to fall into that position. I like the fact that we set up his storyline and all the other storylines around it.
For all the griping that people did about the beginning of the season, it did pay off. If they stuck with it, they saw that.
And I guarantee you that season three starts off in fifth gear and it does not slow down. It’s almost to the point where (laughs) it would be cool to have an episode of just talking. It’s insanity. Every day we’re on that set and we’re like “I can’t believe they’re letting us do this.” It’s nuts.
What’s it been like to work with all the new cast members? Danai Gurira and David Morrissey, in particular.
They’re awesome. David has this quiet, calm, sort of charming thing about him that the ladies just fall for him. But you can see that he’s just sick behind his eyes. And Danai… she’s just sexy. That girl's a panther of a woman. She’s been awesome. Everyone’s been great, and all the other characters too. It’s been nice to see fresh blood (no pun intended), fresh meat so to speak. It’s great for us. I love them. I think they’re awesome.
How about the prison? Does it feel nice to be able to settle into a place a little bit rather than sleeping in a tent on the farm or wandering the roads?
You know, it’s weird on our show because the more you’re in the woods and the more you’re trekking through ticks and bugs and getting scratched up, the more you feel like it’s our show. We have one of those shows where someone comes home every night with a cut or a bruise or scrapes. I’ve been to the hospital like three times this season. When you sit still in an area that has air conditioning, you’re kind of like “Man, can we open a window? Or get outside a bit?” I’d much prefer being in the woods at all times, but the prison is like Club Med to us.
It’s one of the storylines that people have been waiting forever to see. Were you a fan of the comics, or even zombie films in general, before you started this show?
Zombie films, of course, but I got into the comic book once I got the job. I started getting into it and reading it and it’s such a dynamic backdrop for our world that it couldn’t have been a bigger, richer landscape. So I got into them, but then I put them down because the show is kind of its own animal now. You can look at a comic strip and get some facial expressions and stuff like that, but to see Andy Lincoln going through an emotional breakdown is much stronger than seeing it in a comic book. And that goes for all of our characters.
I think that’s a good way to go. I don’t know if a lot of the fans would agree with me or not, but I feel like a lot of things that happen in the books, you almost feel like they could never be pulled off on TV. But then you guys go and do something that either pulls it off or eclipses it in some way. So I think it’s good to keep that separation.
You see the bad guy in the comic book and he’s like “Aaarrrrgh!” It’s not the same thing as watching some guy’s mind tick and go from “Hi, nice to meet you.” to “I’m going to cut everyone’s throat.” It’s a whole other layer of awesome when you can watch it in real time.
I think that’s what fans are most anxious to see in season three, especially in terms of David’s performance as The Governor.
Yeah, he’s really nailing it. Actually, everyone’s nailing it. You know who’s killing it? Chandler [Riggs as Carl Grimes]. That kid’s like “wow.” He’s killing it this year.
Anything else you can tell us about what’s in store for season three?
We saw the first episode as a group. We got all the cast and the crew together, and there was probably two or three hundred of us packed in this giant bar, and we watched episode one on all these big screens. You couldn’t even hear the dialogue because everyone was screaming. And if we see this shit every single day and we’re like that, people are gonna freak the fuck out. I guarantee it.
You can see Norman Reedus as Daryl Dixon in The Walking Dead when Season 3 premieres on AMC on October 14.