In his fifteen-ish years in mainly indie film, Norman Reedus has stabbed, poisoned, and shot countless people on screen. All of this has conveniently culminated in his role on AMC’s The Walking Dead as Daryl Dixon, the oddly soulful redneck who can eighty-six a zombie (or technically an infected human) with the badass dexterity of Ted Nugent hunting game. This season, in addition to showing off bigger guns of the bicep variety, the actor gets to flex his dramatic muscles while exploring his character’s heartbreaking past. Is Daryl going emo? Vulture entreated Reedus for details, then small-talked with him about his Halloween costume and hang time with Lady Gaga.
How difficult was it for you to film season two after creator-producer Frank Darabont was suddenly fired?
I’ll probably never know what happened, to be honest with you. They don’t really tell us exactly what went down. But we all came to Georgia to work with Frank. That was our plan. We all love Frank, and Frank loves his actors. And we still have a close bond with Frank. [New showrunner] Glen Mazzara was handpicked by Frank to be his number-two. So we were always working with Glen. When he took the job, he had a very open-door policy with us. If anything, this brought an already close cast even closer together.
Last week, Vulture spoke with Walking Dead producer Gale Anne Hurd about how considerably Daryl has changed.
The second season you get a lot of backstory about Daryl. He’s still sad—he’s still a little brother to somebody [who’s missing]. So I’m trying to play him like that. You see him on a kind of one-man mission to do something for reasons other than the obvious reasons. Secrets are revealed, and you’re gonna feel very sad for Daryl. He’s probably going to become an underdog that you root for.
Will Daryl and his missing, one-handed brother, Merle, reunite at some point?
Of course [interrupts himself] wow, I’m looking at the giant video screen outside of Madison Square Garden, and it just flashed zombies and The Walking Dead on it. That’s rad! Where was I? You will see Daryl and Merle stuff eventually, but I can’t tell you anything about that. That’s a story point. But sooner or later, it’s got to happen.
How does your more buff physique figure into the plot?
You know what’s crazy about actors is, like, if the show [becomes a] hit, everyone hits the gym, starts getting better haircuts, and gets tans. It’s like the CDC just exploded, and they rounded the corner — and all of a sudden everyone’s fit! You know what I’m saying? That’s one of those vain-actor things. If they would’ve given me a flabby action figure, I could be eating doughnuts right now.
Do you listen to anything to get into character or while you work out?
You know what? I want Motörhead’s “Ace of Spades” to be my theme song for the season. Wouldn’t that be awesome?
While we’re on the topic of music, how did you get cast in Lady Gaga’s “Judas” video?
She’s actually a fan of the show.
What do you and Lady Gaga have in common?
We’re both live in New York. We both frequent the same Lower East Side bars. We both like The Walking Dead. We both like motorcycles. We both like ’80s glam rock.
To prepare for this role, did you go full Nugent?
You know what’s crazy? I pitched that if they ever have a flashback episode of my father, I wanted Ted Nugent to play him. I can’t believe you just said that.
I bet he’d do it. People should start tweeting him to start a Walking-Nuge campaign.
I’ve gotten really good at pulling up the crossbow, loading the crossbow, firing the crossbow — while riding a horse, even. But he’d teach me how to really use a crossbow, like a real redneck. That’d be great.
How handy are you on a camping trip?
I went camping one time when I was twelve, to the Great Lakes. My friend stepped in really deep muddy water and started screaming and sinking. My mom ran up, and I was just standing there a foot away and wouldn’t stick out my hand to pull him up. So I’m probably not the best person to take on a camping trip.
Do you have a lot of redneck fans?
Well, I bought a Ford F-150 truck—a white one with big, monster tires on it. You know how people on motorcycles wave to other people on motorcycles? In Georgia [where The Walking Dead shoots], people in trucks wave to other trucks. They’re like, “Yeahhh, truck guy. I’m a truck guy.”
So are zombies and rednecks now off-limit costumes for you on Halloween?
I’m going to be Larry David. How rad is that? I’ll wear a bald cap with hair on the side. And then I’m going to wear [those] clothes and sneakers and be really sarcastic and hit on everyone. And I’m gonna walk around saying, “Pret-ty good.”