A Chat with Norman Reedus (“The Walking Dead”)

ALSO: Check out our Season Two preview, as well interviews with actor Jon Bernthal and executive producer Robert Kirkman.

Bullz-Eye: I know you won’t remember me, but we met fleetingly at the New York Comic Con, during the press roundtables.

Norman Reedus: Oh, right on. (Laughs) The craziness that is Comic-Con…

BE: Yeah, there’s no way you’d remember me in the middle of all that. But it was a good time nonetheless, so it’s good to talk to you again. And I’ve had a chance to check out the first episode of the new season…

NR: Oh, yeah? What’d you think?

BE: I think I should’ve gone straight on to the second episode.

NR: (Laughs) Awesome!

BE: So when you leapt into Season 2, how enthused were you to get back to work? It seems like it’d be a lot of fun to do.

NR: It’s a blast. I wanted to go a month early and just wait for everybody to show up. It’s such a fun job. It’s by far my favorite job I’ve ever done. The crew and the cast, everyone is so tight there. We’re all just one big family, for real. I just wanted to get back to it. I’ve never really had an acting experience that’s just so…fun. It’s so engaging. I’m really into it.

BE: Do you get used to the humidity down in Atlanta pretty quickly?

NR: You know, you kind of just suffer for the show. The heat and the surroundings are definitely a character on the show, so we’re out there surviving for our lives already. But, you know, I…I’m in Los Angeles right now, getting ready to go back to George to finish the season. But it started getting cold the last night we were there, and I shot ‘til about 4:30 in the morning and took an 8 AM flight to California, so I was exhausted. But it was freezing. It didn’t feel right. I prefer the heat.

BE: I think it was Steven (Yeun) who was telling the story about how he actually passed out his first day of filming.

NR: Yeah, he did. He had a long running scene, and he just sort of fainted. It was pretty crazy. Of course, we all teased him uncontrollably forever after that. (Laughs)

BE: So do you have to get into a Daryl mindset when you go back to work?

NR: Yeah, you know, it’s interesting, ‘cause last season, it was all ‘fuck you, I hate you,’ and this season you sort of see Daryl form alliances with certain members you wouldn’t necessarily expect. Damaged people recognize other damaged people, so they have a kindred spirit going on. It’s not just so one-noted this season. He really kind of bounces all over the place, and it’s really interesting. It’s like he needs a hug, but if you tried to hug him, he’d stab you. He’s really fragile, like a little kid in a lot of ways. You see certain members of the group trying to tell him his worth, that he’s worth more than he thinks about himself, and you find a little bit about his back story, his family history, and you see how truly damaged this guy is. It’s interesting to play all those levels. It really makes for an interesting day of work.

BE: Yeah, I mean, I wouldn’t call him a delicate flower or anything, but even in the first episode of Season 2, he feels like a slightly different Daryl than we saw last season.

NR: Yeah, but, you know, even last season, I tried to tear up between squirrel throws and whatnot, just to make him still be, like, he lost his big brother. Even assholes have big brothers. I tried to make him more than just an angry guy. It was, like, show some reasons why he’s so angry and damaged.

BE: On a related note, I actually got to have dinner with Michael Rooker late last year.

NR: (Laughs) Oh, yeah! That’s funny, ‘cause he keeps texting me. He’s, like, ‘Come on, we’re going to the gun range right now,’ and I’m, like, ‘I can’t, ‘cause I’m at a motorcycle shop getting my motorcycle fixed.’ He’s, like, ‘Stop being a poopybutt.’ He actually called me a poopybutt.

BE: You know, I believe that.

NR: He did. I was, like, “Wow, that’s not very Rooker of you.” (Laughs) He’s an awesome character, an awesome guy, and a great actor. I’m looking forward to seeing everything he does.

BE: When it comes to the zombies, I know you see them all the time, but do you ever hit a point when you suddenly think, “I know they’re just people in makeup, but, damn, these guys are pretty scary”?

NR: You know, it’s wild, ‘cause you see a zombie having a cupcake or a cigarette, and then five minutes later you see them in character. Those guys who are playing zombies, they’re actors. I think people sometimes think they’re just people in zombie makeup, but when they turn it on, they really turn it on. They’re doing such a great job at being scary. It’s interesting, ‘cause the way Greg does the makeup, he’s so good with the effects that when you see a zombie, you actually feel sorry for it. But it’s actually scarier to be in a fight with one when you feel sorry for one.

BE: With the second season, can you speak at all to whether it feels different without Frank Darabont having as much of a presence? I mean, I know he’s still involved, but…

NR: You know, we all love Frank, and we all just totally admire him, but the second season just picks right up and goes so smoothly. Glen (Mazzara) is doing such a good job, and he has respect of all the actors. All the directors that come in are doing such a good job. We’re so close out there, such a tight group, that when we go to work, we all know exactly what we’re doing, we know each other characters so well that I’ll be in a scene with a bunch of actors, and one of the actors goes, ‘What do you guys think? Should I try it this way?’ And not everyone has an opinion, but everyone has each others’ back and wants them to be the best that they can be on the show. That tight family groove…we’re on point and kicking ass.

BE: How trying is the part of Daryl from a physical standpoint?

NR: It’s definitely physical, but it lends itself to the character. The onl episode that really felt out of place was the CDC, and that’s because we were in doors and in the air conditioning. It just didn’t feel right. Part of it is the bugs, the dirt, the heat, the sweat…it’s all part of the show. We’ve all grown very fond of working under those conditions. It’s weird, but it’s true.

BE: So was Daryl always destined to ride a motorcycle, or did that come about because you ride?

NR: You know, I think there was talk of me on a horse, but if you’ve ever seen me on a horse, it’s pretty pathetic. (Laughs) So that probably had something to do with it. But, you know, there’s a motorcycle there, and I didn’t ask if it was Daryl’s or Merle’s motorcycle, but they both ride it. I do like motorcycles. I have a Triumph Scrambler down in Georgia, and I have a Harley here in Los Angeles, so I do ride. But, hey, you know, it’s an efficient way to get around on no gas during a zombie apocalypse. (Laughs)

BE: I wanted to ask you briefly about the autopsy scene in the season premiere. How was that to film? It seems like it would’ve been pretty gross, real or not.

NR: I have to say, I could’ve shot that gross scene all day. (Laughs) I was like a little kid in a candy store. When you put your hands into it, it made a slurping, burping sound. They put little tubes of hot air to blow in our face to show that there’s gas going through the innards of the zombies. It was disgusting, but it was a blast. I went elbow-deep in that stuff, but I could’ve played around all day long.

BE: As far as the other cast members, I’m sure you enjoy them all, but do you have particular folks who are your most favorite to work with?

NR: Melissa McBride is one of my favorite cast members to work with. That girl…I keep telling her she’s one nervous breakdown away from becoming Meryl Streep. (Laughs) She’s such a good actress, you can just read everything in her face. I love watching her work. I really love watching Jeffrey DeMunn work, too. He’s really good. I’m really impressed with what Chandler (Riggs) has been doing. I like working with all of them. They’re all really, really good actors. I find stuff in them every day that they pull out where it’s, like, high-fives all around.

BE: So from your standpoint, do you feel like Season 2 is at least as strong as Season 1?

NR: The second season’s stronger. It’s stronger than the first. Hey, I don’t know if it’s just because we’re so invested in it and now we’ve gotten used to these characters, but AMC was ballsy enough to do a zombie show, right from the beginning, they put up six episodes to see how it would fare, to gauge  interest and see how it would do. And it did so well that I think the second season lends us to getting into the characters more. We sort of set up the tone of the world in the first season, and in the second season, you really find out who these people are, and that’s the backbone of the show, really. It’s not so much the zombies. They can kill you, but so can the people sitting right next to you. The second season is where the alliances form, where you find out who you can trust and who you can’t trust. It’s kind of like “Survivor.” (Laughs)

(NOTE: Portions of this interview appear in the print edition of TV Week Magazine.)