He's the breakout star of The Walking Dead whom some of you may remember as "that bloke from Boondock Saints". Recently in Australia for a promo tour, Norman Reedus (aka crossbow king Daryl Dixon) sat down with us to talk about the character the show's makers created just for him, his $150 action figure and Jennifer Love Hewitt. Naturally.
So Norman, what’s the one question every fan asks you about Daryl?
“Are you going to hook up with Carol?”, probably.
And: Are you going to hook up?
I mean, never say never, but I’m trying to keep it like two damaged people gravitating towards each other. And if we do hook up, I don’t want to have any game whatsoever. I want Daryl to be really awkward about it. I did this interview where I said that if we did hook up I wanted to prematurely ejaculate and then go cry in a corner.
Have you spoken to the writers about that one?
Yeah. I don’t think they’ll let me do that.
Your character has a tendency to react differently than expected – and I suppose premature ejaculation would fit in with that. At the end of last season, for example, when Daryl came out and faced his brother Merle and the Governor, the whole tough-guy schtick was gone.
Originally there was an idea that I’d come out screaming and fighting and kill everyone. But I do that so much; this was a good opportunity to show the brothers’ relationship, to play that more than play the scariness of the Governor or the situation. The more scared I am, the more it elevates the brother thing. Like: you’re the big brother I’m the little brother – protect me. I know full-grown adults who still, when they’re around their older brother become the little brother. It also brought out another side to Rooker [Michael Rooker, who plays Daryl’s brother Merle] that hadn’t been seen yet.
You famously auditioned for the role of Merle before the writers created Daryl, who wasn’t in the comics, just for you. Do you remember the audition?
I was told Merle was taken when I was reading Merle’s lines, which led me to believe: “Did he say no…was he busy?” Then I read different lines of Merle’s that weren’t in the pilot. I went from New York to LA and read the first lines, then went back to New York, then I got a call and they asked me to read these other lines of Merle’s, so then I thought, “Oh great, maybe he’s not doing it anymore, maybe I can get in and do that.” When I left they said executive producer Frank [Darabont] wrote a new part.
And the character really took off.
It was a shock – the amount of merchandise that’s personally made and put out there about Daryl is incredible to me. My little action figure sells for like $150 and everyone else’s sell for like $15.95. Maybe my mum just bought them all! [Laughs] I’m super grateful.
He's arguably the most complex of the characters.
He doesn’t really need to be there, he doesn’t need them for protection, he can hunt his own food and take care of himself probably better than anybody there. But the glue that’s keeping him around is he’s starting to become a man that he would’ve never been if this didn’t go down. I’ve always tried to play him like he grew up in this racist, drug-taking world and he was kind of embarrassed. Like, "I don’t wanna take the drugs, I don’t wanna talk like that, I want to have a new world open up." I think he’s finding this new sense of self-worth knowing that people rely on him. I’m not done with him. There are so many ways this guy could go. He doesn’t have any kind of predestined ending. I feel like I’m just getting started with him.
One of the notable things about The Walking Dead is that there have always been news reports about what goes on behind the scenes – the writers being fired before season two, showrunner Glen Mazzara leaving recently… Is it just a lot of passionate people believing in a project that leads to this tension?
There’s not actually a lot of turmoil, there’s not a lot of arguing behind the scenes that I’m aware of. We shoot down in Georgia, and we’re in a bubble down there. We’re not in some studio, there’s no agents and managers talking to us all day, or other actors, there’s no LA hotspots to showboat in after we wrap. We’re down in the woods and I think it’s brought us closer together, with Frank in the beginning and certainly with Glen. It’s like, “This is ours and we’re fighting to keep it as true to the story and as honest to the characters as we can.”
And there really aren’t any weak links in our chain at all. Everything fits together and I welcome the other actors and crew giving me notes during the scenes. You know that flying stab in the head? That was our camera guy’s idea. We just did it, and everyone loved it. We all have each other’s back… I’m supposed to not cut my hair til April, so I’ve been growing my hair, and Andy Lincoln just wrote me an email that pissed me off because he just cut his hair, and we had a $5 bet on who would break first so he owes me $5 now. I’m going to cut my hair so short like immediately, just to piss him off.
I wouldn’t piss you off. Are you really that good with a crossbow?
I’m really good! The problem with the crossbow though is you can’t fire an arrow on camera – it’s a digital arrow. On set, there’s sort of a dummy crossbow with loose tension and it only shoots about five feet. It looks like the arrow’s flying out but it literally just goes like this far [casts his hand a short distance]. But our weapons expert takes us to gun ranges and I practise with a crossbow and guns just to know what I’m doing. I steal the crossbow every scene, which pisses them off, but I’m just like, “I’m on a plane, you can’t have it!” (Actually I drove from Georgia to NY.) I have three crossbows on my wall.
You tend to play a lot of badasses: Daryl, your roles in Blade II and Boondock Saints. Ever just wanted to do a Reese Witherspoon romcom?
My mum is always like, “Why can’t you just do a nice romcom with Jennifer Love Hewitt?” And you know, I got offered a role in this movie with Sigourney Weaver and Jennifer Love Hewitt...
I won’t hold the fact that you know that against you. But my agent called and said, “You’ve been offered this thing with Jennifer Love Hewitt.” I literally said, “What? Do I rape her? Do I kill her? What do I do?” And they said, “No, you’re the sweet boyfriend” and I was like, “Oh, I don’t know." Now I think I totally should have done it. Jennifer’s hot – I could’ve made out with her.
The Walking Dead Season 3 airs Tuesdays 8.30pm on FX.