Daryl on Daryl: Reedus discusses his role on The Walking Dead
By Capt. Chris Post
From his introduction in Season 1 of AMC’s hit zombie drama The Walking Dead, Daryl Dixon has been a hit with fans of the show. No single character seems to have as strong a following, a testament to the writers who created him, but also to Norman Reedus; the actor who brings the character to life.
Daryl’s backstory has yet to be shown and the character has given scant few details about his life before the apocalypse. We know that he grew up poor, never left Georgia, lost his mother at a young age and was reared, at least in part, by an older brother that had frequent troubles with the law.
Reedus, who is as soft-spoken in interviews as the character he plays, said there has been a conscious effort on his part to show that Daryl is essentially a good guy under his rough exterior.
“I’m trying to make him lovable here and there, but not too lovable,” he said.
Although he makes fangirls swoon, Daryl does have a hardened part of his personality that comes through the screen in the form of his physical mannerisms including, most notably, his piercing glare. Reedus said the look goes back much further than Daryl, actually coming about in his early days as an actor.
“I was so insecure as an actor that I just gave everyone dirty looks. I thought they all hated me. And somehow I’ve played parts since then where I murder people. It’s kind of like that scowl turned into a career,” he said. “All of my favorite actors brood. Clint Eastwood definitely had a scowl happening. Charlie Bronson. Marlon Brando had one when he wanted one. Willem Dafoe can definitely turn your brain to ice by staring at you.”
Like the characters portrayed by Eastwood and Dafoe, Daryl isn’t a big guy physically, but he’s got a lot of tenacity and won’t back down without a fight.
“That’s a different kind of a fight than a guy with big pecs coming at you to prove a point,” he said. “I guess that goes hand-in-hand with the scowl.”
Even with several episodes focusing more or less on Daryl this season, we still don’t know a lot of specifics. One thing we do know is that he’s a survivor, being one of only a handful of characters remaining from the first season. Reedus said he is as amazed as anyone that Daryl has lasted this long, noting that the brutal nature of show means no one is likely to be around forever.
“I don’t know what the secret is. Everyone that has met their end has been such a rich character, and those actors have brought those characters to life in such great ways,” he said. “I don’t think anybody is going to die in a hospital bed smiling with all their loved ones around holding hands.”
One of the hallmarks of The Walking Dead has been that character deaths are often unforeseen and shocking to fans. As it turns out, they often shock the actors, too.
“We get the scripts right before we shoot them. I sometimes hear rumors of certain directions we’ll take, and sometimes they’re right and sometimes they’re wrong. But nobody knows their character’s arc,” Reedus said. “Scott and the writers are very good at keeping those secrets to themselves. The whole arc of the show in general is locked somewhere in a vault in Scott Gimple’s brain.”
Saying goodbye to old characters is tough, with Reedus saying that he misses everyone who has left the cast. Departing characters make way new ones, however, and Season 4 has seen its share of fresh faces.
“It’s interesting because when they come on, I kind of look at them the way Daryl would look at them,” Reedus explained. “I don’t really talk to them, I kind of give them dirty looks, and then after a couple of episodes when they’re all beat up and they have scrapes all over their bodies and they’re kind of walking as if they’re 95 years old, then I open up and I’m like, ‘Hey, nice to have you on board.’”