Norman Reedus talks about Walking Dead fan favorite Daryl
The weary band of survivors of the zombie apocalypse (as well as fans) still will be reeling from events that occurred during last fall's closing episode in which the horde of walkers hidden in Hershel's barn — including Carol's daughter, Sophia — are annihilated.
And fans will be thrilled to again hang out with Daryl Dixon, the show's consummate hard-nosed survivalist, as portrayed by Norman Reedus— who is stalked by hordes of fans himself these days.
"It all comes down to Norman," says executive producer Robert Kirkman, creator of The Walking Dead comics (in which Dixon does not exist). "I feel absolutely blessed he has honored our show with his presence, and the way he has come in and taken over that role and defined Daryl Dixon."
Just who is Dixon? One cranky redneck, who's all business when it comes to staying alive. He can hunt squirrel and silently kill zombies with his crossbow. Last fall, Dixon had the knife skills and fortitude to disembowel a zombie and search its "gut bag" for body parts.
He also started showing a softer side as he grew closer to his fellow refugees and relentlessly hunted for the missing Sophia, one of two children living with the group.
Dixon's many-layered personality, Reedus says, is part of his appeal. "Originally, he was supposed to be this angry guy with a racist viewpoint who hated everybody, and you've seen him grow and become a better person. Maybe that has something to do with it," says Reedus, 43. "Daryl is this guy who needs a hug, but if you try to hug him, he'll try to stab you. He doesn't want to talk about his feelings, but you can tell there's a lot of feelings bottled up."
Says Kirkman: "A lot of Norman's portrayal of the character in the first season inspired all the writers to do what we did with him in the second season. We love writing him and end up doing cool stuff with him."
The actor has always courted cult appeal. The Boondock Saints, a 1999 dark action flick in which he starred with Sean Patrick Flanery and Willem Dafoe (and 2009 sequel The Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day), has spawned its own fan sites, including theboondockbetties.com. Fans "will run across the street and tackle you to the ground," Reedus says, "but The Walking Dead has definitely opened a lot of doors for me."
And 2011 was a busy year. Reedus portrayed Judas in Lady Gaga's controversial Judas video opposite Gaga's Mary Magdalene. In Robert Redford's film The Conspirator, Reedus was Lewis Payne, one of four people hanged for conspiring to kill Abraham Lincoln. Reedus has three films in post-production, including an art-house film, Sunlight Jr., with Naomi Watts and Matt Dillon.
But without a doubt, The Walking Dead is raising his profile. The seven-episode first part of Season 2 averaged 8.9 million total viewers last fall, including 6.1 million ages 18 to 49, more than any other scripted cable drama among young adults. Last fall's premiere night garnered 11 million viewers; six more episodes air beginning Sunday.
Dixon and Reedus have captivated such fans as Elizabeth Hill of Holliston, Mass., one of the founders of fan site Dixon's Vixens (dixonsvixens.com). "If I were stuck in a zombie apocalypse, Daryl's definitely someone I'd like to have on my side."
And fans come in all sizes. "I picked up my son (Mingus, 12, whose mother is Danish supermodel Helena Christensen) from school the other day," Reedus says. "He had this big grin on his face, and I asked him, 'What are you smiling about?' He said some of the bigger kids at school had asked him, 'Is your dad Daryl Dixon?' "