July 11 2012 01:43 PM

Norman Reedus from the The Walking Dead' talks about his character-the killer cracker with a heart of gold

The character Daryl could become an alien or a sex fiend—the sky’s the limit.
Photo by Gene Page/AMC

Zombies have taken a big bite out of our cultural consciousness, and they have no greater platform to shamble on than The Walking Dead, the AMC show developed by Frank Darabont, based on Robert Kirkman's celebrated comic book. The Southern-fried big-budget show has stayed pretty close to the comic's narrative, with a significant deviation: Daryl Dixon, the crossbow-wielding, Harley-riding abrasive badass who stuck with the group of survivors even after they left his brother, Merle, for dead in Atlanta.

Dixon, played by Norman Reedus, doesn't appear in the comic, but he's captured the hearts of hardcore fans, as well as plenty of zombie ears to wear around his neck. Reedus, who's coming to Comic-Con, spoke to CityBeat about the show, the character and the upcoming third season:

CityBeat: Did you read The Walking Dead before you got the gig?

Norman Reedus: No, I read it as soon as I got the job, but I put it down after a while, because the show became its own animal. I don't want to know the storyline. We all talk on set, so we kind of know where the comic book goes for some of our characters, but we deviate from that so much. And I've heard that Kirkman is putting me in the comic book at some point.

Because Daryl isn't in the comic, the writers have a lot of freedom with him.

Yeah, they can do whatever they want with me. I could have sex with everyone, I could be the last man standing, I could be an alien. Anything could happen.

That also means that things can shift. The difference between Daryl in Season 1 and Season 2 is huge.

The writers of our show have been very gracious with allowing the actors to go into the writers' room and talk about where they think their characters should go and what they think about certain things. They've let us help develop the characters. I've never heard of that happening before. I've never gotten that opportunity. There were early versions of scripts where I take Merle's drugs, and where I was more of a hothead, stuff like that. I told them, straight up, I'd rather be an Al-Anon member than an AA member. I'd rather be that kid who grew up under the thumb of the racist big brother and grew up hating it. Now that he's out of Merle's shadow, he's discovering who he is for the first time, a lot like a little kid. They allowed me to do that. With movies, which I'm more accustomed to, you know you're going from here to there. With television, you can plant these subtle seeds and hope that people are paying attention. To their credit, the writers see what audience members pick up on and what I'm veering towards, and they work with that.

Daryl is used to going off on his own when things go wrong, so it's ironic that, in the face of the zombie apocalypse, he's forced to be with other people and to take a look at himself.

You're exactly on point. We've kind of brought Daryl down to this child mentality. He has weird relationships with people. He doesn't want to be hated, and he wants people to care about him. I've always said that he's the kind of guy who needs a hug, but if you try to hug him, he'll probably stab you. We've really run with that.

He's so used to pushing people away, and now he has to actually deal with them.

Yeah, and where we're going, too, he's going to be given more responsibilities, and he didn't ask for them. In some ways, he's proud to take it on, and in others, ‘What am I doing? I don't need people.' Merle comes back next season, and it's been brought up by me and [actor Michael] Rooker, why wouldn't we just go, ‘Yay! Why don't we just get the fuck out of here?' But now there's all these different layers and different meanings to things. Daryl's kind of trying to find his family in all this. We can go so many different ways with him, and I'm happy to make him not just a one-dimensional dude.

The other big difference between Seasons 1 and 2 was that Darabont left after the first six episodes. How did that change things?

Season 1, I wasn't in the writers' room. I came in later, and everyone knew each other; the whole cast knew each other. They'd been on this mission for a while when I showed up. Also, Frank wrote that character specifically for me, so I came to work for Frank. But once Frank was out of the picture, [show runner] Glen [Mazzarra], to his credit, stepped up and really rallied the troops together. He started the writers'-room thing. Glen was Frank's number two, so he kept that formula and added his own flavors to it. In this weird way, it made all the actors get together and realize that we work our asses off on this show, and we have the best crew any of us have ever worked with. So we decided to sink our feet into the sand and keep our heads steady and keep this rolling, because we really enjoy this job. In a weird way, it brought us tighter together to fight for what we wanted. It was weird because we all love Frank. Glen loves Frank. We all love that guy, and we wish him the best. But it really brought us tighter together, as a family, because we had to be.

Are you able to step back and have perspective on the character, so you don't see him as yourself?

I am. I do watch the show, but I don't watch advance copies. I wait and I watch it on TV, with other people. I really like Daryl. I'm invested in him, not just because I'm playing him, but also because I find him super-interesting to watch. I'm always curious how he's going to handle things, and what other people are going to think of him. He's a loose wire and a hothead, but he's also got this heart of gold at the same time. I like the differences and the similarities there. I'm very proud of that.

The new season is about to kick off, and it takes place in the prison. What can you say about it?

I can tell you that Season 3 is going to blow the pants off of everyone. What we did last season is not even comparable to what we're doing this season. We are going to set records that people have never even thought of before. I say that with all honesty. Andy [Andrew Lincoln, who plays lead character Rick Grimes] and I were in our trailer the other day, reading the scripts, jumping up and down, going, ‘No way, I can't believe we're going there.' It's crazy. It's insane. I can't tell you enough. You're going to freak out.

Norman Reedus will appear on the panel for The Walking Dead, in Hall H at 1:25 p.m. Friday, July 13.

Write to anders@sdcitybeat.com and editor@sdcitybeat.com. You can follow Anders on Twitter at @anderswright.


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