For three and a half years he’s been the object of cult-like fan love. Crowds amass to catch a glimpse whenever he leaves The Walking Dead’s set in Georgia. “If Daryl Dies, We Riot” is a slogan turned merchandise gold. And while he isn’t married, there’s more than one “Mrs. Reedus” on his Twitter feed. Norman Reedus, alternately known as crossbow aficionado Daryl Dixon on AMC’s zombie show, is cool with most of the attention. There are a few things he’s pretty much sick of though—enough to make him consider quitting social media. Chief among these is hearing about Daryl’s supposed “romances.”
“It’s not a reality show,” he says of how some viewers pair Daryl up with Carol (Melissa McBride) or, most recently, Beth (Emily Kinney). (Daryl himself has never shown more than close friendship with any female on the show.) And don’t even get Reedus started on the people nagging him to cut his hair.
The Daily Beast caught up with Reedus to talk about the crazies, True Detective, and Daryl’s latest plot twists.
What do you think it is about Beth that’s allowed Daryl to open up?
She’s so honest, there’s not a bad bone in her body. She’s such a non-threatening person. I think them being in this situation and him protecting her and her becoming a light in the tunnel for this guy [has got him] following her lead and showing him hope. I think that that’s something that he finds very brave and he looks up to her in that way. They’ve sort of adopted each other.
When Daryl and Beth are in the house and he suggests that maybe they should just stay there together and Beth asks what changed his mind about whether people can be good, why do you think he’s reluctant to say that it was her?
It just seems like they’re always running again and running again. Then Daryl says to Beth, “This is kinda nice. We’re having dinner together and I can protect you. You take care of me, I’ll take care of you.” She sort of sparked hope in him and I think he took that spark a little further in his head and turned it into a little fire. I think it’s a big thing for Daryl to say. For him to say that…I don’t think he’s the type of guy who puts himself out there emotionally. I think those are hard words to come out of his mouth.
You know people are now asking about a romance.
It’s crazy the amount of Internet stuff. I don’t think that it’s so much a romantic thing like he’s trying to bone Beth, you know what I mean? It’s not about “shipping” these people and “shipping” those people. You know, “Who’s gonna hook up with so-and-so?” It’s not a reality show. It’s a television show based on emotion and the end of times and finding companionship. It’s not so much about who’s gonna bone who, or who needs a haircut. People are getting off the track here a little bit. [The characters] are just trying to find people who aren’t trying to kill them, who they can hang out with. They’re finding out who they are through other people. I get that all the time.
[High-pitched voice] “She’s only 18 and Daryl’s of indeterminate age and they’re gonna bone in a coffin!” It’s not really about that. We’re running for our lives, just waiting to take a breath and feel okay for five minutes. I mean, when Daryl says, “You know,” and Beth is like, “Oh,” it could be a hint of a romantic thing. Or maybe she’s taking it that way and he didn’t mean it that way. He never answers that question. But she’s sparking a hope and a feeling in him. It’s not about erections. (Laughs.) I get that all the time, it would blow your mind how much I deal with that. It’s completely crazy.
I think Daryl’s the only one on The Walking Dead who gets that reaction.
It’s only with Daryl! It’s like, “Will he hook up with Carol? Carol’s too old for him.” What the fuck, who cares? “Beth is too young for him.” Who cares? I mean, Shane was the guy who threw you up against the tree, not Daryl. Or Rick, or Steven [Yeun, who plays Glenn.] Daryl’s the guy who’s just trying to fit in his own skin. You know, I was watching True Detective last night and it was talking about, like, Woody Harrelson, who’s cheating on his wife and how he’s a bad father and a bad parent. People would say, “Oh my god, he’s awful.” But he’s a character in a story. It’s interesting because he has all these flaws.
You’re a True Detective fan? What did you think of the ending?
I just got into True Detective, I think it’s awesome. I’m loving it right now, like loving it, and I like all their flaws. It’s the same with Rick. What made Rick so interesting in the beginning was that he kept trying really hard but he kept fucking up. If everything he did worked, he’d be Superman. Flaws make interesting characters.
At the end of Sunday’s episode, we saw Daryl go off with some guys who don’t really look like the best influences on him. Do you think he’s sincere about joining up with them?
There’s safety in numbers and these guys seem like people he might have hung out with in the past. It’s probably not gonna be an easy ride for him, but you gotta travel in a pack. And if it’s a pack of badasses, it might be a little safer. But also I don’t think he has any choice. It’s either he runs with them and tries to make the best of it, or they’re like, “How we gonna kill him?” I think the “keep your enemies close” thing might be running through his head.
Does that mean he’s given up the search for Beth?
No, no. I mean, that whole running scene after the car takes off, man, I ran for like two straight days! I thought I was gonna have a heart attack. You don’t see how far I run, but they started me up on a mountaintop where I was like the size of an ant. They’re like, “Just go!” I was like, “You guys don’t have enough film in these cameras to get me running that far.” They were like, “It’s okay, if you gotta stop, sit down a while, get back up, run again, we’ll just re-work the cameras.” It was hot, I’m probably wearing like 80 pounds of gear. I’m in jeans with long johns underneath and hiking boots that have no tread on them—carrying a crossbow. I was like, “You guys are trying to kill me!” I hauled ass for a good mile and a half. I’m kind of bummed they made me run that far and then didn’t use the footage. Jerks.
So you were really, actually exhausted in that last shot where he collapses on the ground?
Oh, I thought I was gonna die. Like, “It is way too hot to be doing this.”
I spoke with Emily Kinney and she said one of the funniest memories of shooting with you was coming out and seeing hordes of your fans with their kids and signs and stuff—is that totally normal to you now?
Yeah, it has become sort of a normal thing. But with that always comes a few crazies who spend like all their waking time on social media just trying to diss stuff. There’s a picture of me saying hello to somebody at a 7-11. All of a sudden there’s people freaking the fuck out like, “Oh my gaaaad, they had sex in the aisle!”’ And you’re like, no, we didn’t, we were shaking hands. That’s super intrusive and super out of line. I get it, and 99.9 percent of the people are super cool, but—you know? (Laughs.) Oh my god. It’s kind of nuts.
For the most part, everyone’s super great and I love ‘em. But there’s always a crazy one or two who’s looking for a chance to bump up their followers or something, I don’t know what the hell they’re doing. I’m just an actor on a TV show. I try really hard to do a good job but I’m not running for public office. It sort of takes a huge amount of bravery to be an actor at times. You put yourself out there for ridicule ‘cause it’s your face they see. Do you know how many times I get, “You need to cut your hair!” I’m not on a doctor show! I’m doing a film in two weeks where my hair will probably be even longer. There’s a method to my madness.
Emily is such a sweet, soft-spoken lady. Was it weird blowing up at her in “Still”?
Yeah, I felt awful. I felt really, really bad. It was funny ‘cause when the car takes her away, she’s like, “God, I wonder what’s gonna happen.” I go, “You know, I was talking to everybody and they were telling me that you shave your head. I don’t even know, all I know is your head is completely shaved bald.” And she was looking at me like, “Are you serious?” I go, “Yeah, you’re a cue ball!” So all day I was teasing her, telling her she should change her band name to Little Bald Beth. I kind of just toyed with her all day, I thought it was funny. I don’t think she thought it was funny, but I thought it was really funny.
Are you working on anything else besides The Walking Dead right now?
Yeah, I’m about to go do this film called Air. Robert Kirkman and David Alpert [both executive producers on The Walking Dead] are doing it. That’s why I was letting my hair grow as long as possible. The storyline involves my hair being long with as much facial hair as possible. I should just look like a complete wreck. So for those out there saying I need a haircut, there’s a reason I haven’t cut my hair.
The social media thing is nuts. Nuts! It’s insane. Sometimes I just wanna stop it all. I just wanna delete everything. If 99.9 percent of everybody wasn’t super cool, I would have deleted that. ‘Cause, you know, I get it, but there’s just people who wanna hate on everything. It’s madness. Life is way too short. Go adopt a kitten or something.