Norman Reedus’ Daryl Dixon got his first real chance to process his emotions related to the prison siege, during Sunday night’s episode of AMC’s “The Walking Dead.”
“The deal was — we said in previous episodes — like we thought The Governor was gone. I say to Michonne, ‘The trail went cold and you should stop looking, and if it didn’t, I’d have been right out there with you.’ That’s why he blames himself so much for stopping to look for The Governor,” Norman told AccessHollywood.com about the guilt that was plaguing Daryl in the second half of Season 4 — guilt which came out in a flood of emotions in the episode “Still.”
Reedus got to show off a host of layers to Daryl on Sunday, including that guilt and the pain his character felt over not protecting the prison community better, for losing friends, and for ending up nearly alone.
And, with Beth (Emily Kinney) there to talk with, a vulnerable Daryl addressed his past – the one before the apocalypse. And, in turn, he found support for the changes he’s made, changes that have turned him into the show’s reluctant hero.
From that backwards hug, to Beth’s comment that Daryl will be the last one left, AccessHollywood.com discussed all the big moments in “Still” with Norman.
AccessHollywood.com: Do you think people are starting to – for some of the people who had reservations about Beth – are starting to warm to her more now that she’s with Daryl and she’s learning some survival skills?
Norman Reedus: Well, I just think she hasn’t had a whole lot of screen time and she’s such a good actress and such a good character and she’s so good. Like you can’t imagine another Beth besides Emily. She’s just so good. In that episode, all I had to do was watch her. I got very lucky with the actresses on the show who I got paired up with — with her and with Melissa [McBride, who plays Carol], I don’t have to do much, I just have to watch ‘em, ‘cause they’re both such honest people. And the other thing I always liked about Emily, watching her on the show and acting with her and doing scenes was that she’s just a doer. If there’s a scene where she walks over and picks up a cup, she doesn’t look at the camera, she doesn’t do anything. She just walks over and picks up a cup. It’s great to watch her because she’s such a natural, honest talent and you know that stuff on the porch when she’s talking about her past, and talking about her future and her family and stuff? There wasn’t a dry eye on set. She’s really, really good, and I think getting the opportunity to watch her shine is such a gift for all of us and I know it was for me there.
Access: This half of the season has really focused on character development. Has that been important for you as an actor to get to do that and not be cross-bowing all the time?
Norman: Yeah, you know when we first started the show, I never had any conversations with anybody the first season, about my character. We didn’t talk about that. I was just kind of winging it and there were early scripts that had me taking drugs and saying racist things and you know, I fought to not do that and presented my case and got them to agree, but you know, he was sort of destined to become mini-Merle, and I just didn’t want him to be that way. … I wanted him to have that chip on his shoulder and I think that chip on his shoulder has manifested in all these different ways — with relationships with people, with girls, with boys, with how he views himself, with what he’s willing to do for other people, and how he went from being extremely selfish to unselfish and it’s just — I’ve just gotten really lucky playing this guy. And the deal is, the writers on this show are so good and our directors are so good and our showrunners are so good and our producers are so good and they know these characters so well and having an opportunity to do it over four years, you really get, you know, little things you do become storylines and little things matter. [Sunday night’s episode] I mean, I grunted through the whole first half of that episode. I didn’t even talk and it’s ‘cause I’ve shut down. I don’t want to [enunciate] my words. I just want to grunt through it. I’m miserable and it’s over and life sucks and this sucks and we’re never gonna f***ing survive, and I’m stuck with this chick and she turns that whole thing around for him. It’s the only episode that we’ve ever had that ends on a triumphant, positive note, and they’re still f***ed, but it’s triumphant. It’s a very special episode for me for all those reasons. I mean, all the episodes coming up are great.
Access: That’s a really good point. I was curious about one of the big moments. How important was that hug that Beth gave Daryl – that backwards hug? She just kept hugging and holding him. What do you think that did for Daryl?
Norman: We worked that out. That originally was a face-to-face hug and it was her going, ‘Stop it! Stop it!’ and hug me and crying, and ‘Stop it, stop it,’ and hugging me. … I kind of came up with that backwards hug thing and dude, that director really pushed that to make that really awesome. … Daryl, feeling her hug him from behind was larger to me than a face-to-face hug. It was the support. Like she’s standing him up and it wasn’t so much the visual of it that I was thinking about, it was more of, he’s lost in this – him screaming and all of that stuff — it’s coming from a place of fear. He’s afraid and to watch a tough character be afraid and lash out like that and go full circle and end in tears, is such a heavy thing, but to have someone come up behind him an lean against him and hold him up, even symbolically is like, I was going off what that would feel like to Daryl more than the visual of it and I just felt like if he could feel that behind him, it would be more of a moment, you know what I mean?
Access: The comment that Beth says toward the end of the episode about, ‘You’re gonna be the last man standing,’ – what goes through Daryl’s head when she says that? That’s a huge thing to say to somebody like that, who has just had to deal with his past coming back to him when he makes the prison comment in their little game.
Norman: The thing about Daryl is he’s such a loner. Even surrounded [by] people, he’s alone. He’s been a loner his whole life. … I don’t think Merle let him have friends, you know what I mean? He would have made fun of him if he had friends. But I think his biggest fear is that he’s gonna be left alone, so I just think that’s the saddest thing that you can say to that guy.
Access: Peach Schnapps. What does Norman Reedus think of Peach Schnapps?
Norman: I don’t drink Peach Schnapps, but I love that moment in that episode when it’s come down to this: a quarter bottle of Peach Schnapps backwash and she can’t do it and he’s like. ‘F** it! You need a drink? We’re gonna go get you a drink.’ I love that moment.
Access: What were you really eating, Norman?
Access: Was it snake? Obviously you can eat snake.
Norman: It was eel. It was a giant, salty, disgusting, burnt eel. I like eel and I like eel with soy sauce… you know what I’m saying? But it was super salty. Like I didn’t eat lunch that day. I felt sick all day long.
“The Walking Dead” airs Sunday nights at 9/8c on AMC.
-- Jolie Lash