You might say Norman Reedus is a somewhat important player in The Walking Dead universe. The fan favorite has inspired a legion of devotees that have promised to riot if his character of Daryl Dixon is ever killed off. But when The Boondock Saints star first showed up on set back in season 1, he felt like an outsider. One key figure came up to introduce himself, but Reedus had no idea who he was.
“The first person I spoke to was Greg,” he says of executive producer Greg Nicotero. “But he was in zombie makeup and I kind of didn’t know everybody. The cast had already been doing press junkets together and I was super nervous and everybody was all buddy-buddy and stuff. And Greg comes up and goes, ‘Hey, man. How’s it going? How’s your first day?’ I’m like, who the f—is that? ‘Cause he was a zombie and I’m like [confused expression]. ‘Hey, hi. How are you?’ And then he’s like, ‘Hey, it’s Greg!’ And I’m like ‘Oh!’ I didn’t recognize him at all. And then I had to come out and throw the squirrels the first day, so there’s this string of squirrels and I was like, ‘Do you guys want like an underhanded throw? Or should I kind of throw the squirrels like this?’”
That sense of confusion Reedus experienced over Nicotero’s identity just added to the actor’s feeling of being an outsider. “What I remember most about the first day was trying to figure out who Daryl was and meeting all these people and trying to figure out where he fits in. I was super insecure and super nervous. And everyone was like, ‘Oh, who’s this new kid?” I remember the scene where I come up and I yell at Merle. I’m like, ‘Merle, we got squirrels, let’s do ‘em up!’ And they say, ‘We locked your brother on the roof.’ And I remember turning around and seeing all these faces looking at me as the new kid in school.”
But Reedus says he ended up using that insecurity he felt and put it into the performance. “It made me so insecure that I kind of threw everything that way and didn’t look up much and didn’t really look everybody in the eyes. I was kind of like, ‘Don’t look at me.’ And I was like, Oh, that’s who Daryl is. He’s got such a chip on his shoulder. He doesn’t think anybody likes him so he plays everything like he doesn’t look at you — unless he’s screaming at you! So that’s kind of how I found that character day one. And then I just ran with it.”
Of course, Daryl has evolved a lot since then. “He’s a much different character now than he was back then,” says Reedus. “He means what he says. But back then, I remember that insecurity and having all these people being close and being the new guy, it kind of made me feel like the new guy. And it helped me a lot that first day. I remember that more than anything about the first day.”
To see Reedus reminisce about his first day on set, check out the video at the top of the post. And for more Walking Dead intel, follow me on Twitter @DaltonRoss. The Walking Dead season 8 premiere — which is also the show’s 100th episode — lands on AMC on Oct. 22.
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