Norman Reedus, more than anyone else, knows what it would be like to actually be Daryl Dixon. Reedus plays Daryl on The Walking Dead. While the writers may write the scripts, it is Norman who brings that magnificent mixture of hero and antihero to life.
The Walking Dead series may seem like fantasy horror to some, but to viewers the show is as real as it gets. Watching the show gets grisly and barbaric as the cast encounters not only zombies but also some of the most depraved villains imaginable. Daryl is the one nearly every fan admires most, because Daryl is the strongest. Now, Daryl is in serious danger.
Daryl Dixon has been abducted by Negan, a sadistic bloodthirsty killer who wants to make Daryl his right-hand man if Daryl will join him. If not, Daryl will continue being tortured. After one of the most challenging episodes of The Walking Dead for Reedus ever, what are Norman Reedus’ thoughts on Daryl Dixon’s predicament? How did it feel?
Firstly, Norman Reedus had absolutely no wardrobe for the latest episode of The Walking Dead, “The Cell” which took three days to film. Thankfully Norman isn’t modest about his body, as he revealed to TV Guide.
“I walked in, and wardrobe was like, ‘do you want to wear a sock over your junk?’ and I was like, ‘nope.’ I just went in, naked. It’s funny, though, it’s kind of like watching a tennis match. I sat down naked in front of the whole camera crew, and everyone’s head just moved to the right. It was like they were watching Wimbledon.”
The Walking Dead cast and crew were somber, though, throughout Norman Reedus’ performance as Daryl Dixon. Reedus described the feeling of being Daryl in those scenes.
“[Doing the scene was] physically, and spiritually draining… I don’t know that it would be as easy to get there emotionally and run with that for so long. I don’t know that you could do that with a crew that you didn’t have as strong of a bond with, and you feel safe with.”
Norman Reedus as Daryl Dixon does not recant. Negan chose Dwight, played by Austin Amelio, to act as the torturer. Dwight tries to force Daryl to pledged his loyalty, saying “I am Negan.” There was a promise that all that pain, torture, and degradation would stop if only Daryl would deny his own name and accept the collective name.
The Walking Dead fans know though that Daryl Dixon is stronger, more defiant and far too much of an individualist to say his name as other than Daryl. Reedus, in character, replies that his name is Daryl, despite the torture.
Norman Reedus, himself cold, and crusted with real dirt from a filthy floor as well as makeup, has to admit that he was uncomfortable sitting bare naked on a cold and deliberately dirty floor. It is under these circumstances that Daryl and Dwight are brought to life by the actors to play against each other.
Dwight once bowed to Negan, but Daryl says he will “never bow down.” Dwight is trying to justify his own actions by forcing Daryl to accept the cruel leader Negan as master, but Daryl remains defiant, largely because he doesn’t want to ever be a slave to evil like Dwight has become. Daryl will never join Negan.
Norman Reedus explains to Entertainment Weekly that just isn’t who Daryl is, and no Daryl doesn’t want to just give up and die either.
“No, Daryl’s a fighter. He fights to the end, but in saying out loud his name instead of Negan’s name — it’s the last shred of himself that he has and for his friends. I assume he thinks he’s going to get killed right there when he says he’s not Negan. He’s signing up for more torture, but he’s doing it for the love of his friend.”
Norman Reedus is referring to the loss of Glenn from The Walking Dead. Norman explains to Entertainment Weekly that The Walking Dead’s Daryl is not going to give in.
“[Daryl Dixon] can’t say that he’s Negan. He’ll never do that. He’ll fight, but matters of the heart to Daryl are hard. They mean more. Hit him in the face with the bat. String him up. Feed him dog food. Whatever. He can handle that, but when it comes to matters of the heart, they’re hard for him, and he’s learning, and those are the things that give him faith and hope, and he can’t let go of that because that’s the last thing he has left.”
The Walking Dead character Daryl Dixon will never give up his own identity to follow anyone, much less a brutal murderer who just killed one of his best friends. Daryl will not be broken, but Daryl can quite effectively lose it. Entertainment Weekly asked how Norman Reedus managed to get himself to a place where he could effectively let it all go and become what the character was feeling.
“I think part of me’s always teetering on that edge every single day, to be honest, but you just go back. You just feel it. You get in the fetal position, and you just go there. I think early on in this show, I would play a song, and I would get it in my head. I think being on the show this long, there’s just a switch. You just hit a switch, and you go there. It’s always stored in the back of your head, and it’s not hard to go there. It’s harder to stop.”
Norman Reedus can actually feel life as it would be for Daryl. The Walking Dead becomes real for Reedus and he brings that feeling to viewers. Clearly, in that moment he is Daryl Dixon.
The Walking Dead is a very visceral show and it feels very real to all of the actors. Yet, Reedus is a master, not just because he is a better actor than most, but because he has so much experience in the horror genre and of playing darker characters. He’s always been typecast and he honestly prefers to play grim villains and antiheroes. He likes bringing out the darkness within him, but this was almost too much even for Reedus.
“It’s harder to come back than it is to go there sometimes. It’s not a trick or anything like that. You go there at 1 p.m., and you just kind of snap out of it at about 6. Just stay like that, pretty much.”
Norman Reedus says it is hard for him to get back after an intense scene like this one. He can’t just turn off his feelings right away.
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The Walking Dead, though it may be about zombies, is about as real as TV can get when it comes to physical blood, guts, and gore as well as emotional darkness and bitter conditions. It’s more real than real modern life. Sometimes the show just isn’t about fun in any way. Reedus can’t just make those feelings stop at will.
“It’s no fun, but I’m not that kind of an actor that can get up and have a Coke and talk to people and just go back. I mean, I’m not Meryl Streep. You know what I mean? I just have to go suffer until it’s over and then leave. I’m not that good turning it on and off.”
The Walking Dead role of Daryl Dixon is tugging at the sanity of Norman Reedus. How much of this can he withstand, either as Daryl or as himself? How much more can the fans take of seeing their beloved Daryl tortured?
Norman Reedus of The Walking Dead will show off a lot of his acting talents as Daryl Dixon this season.
[Featured Image by Daniel Boczarski/Getty Images]