Norman Reedus at Walker Stalker Con Atlanta: His role in creating Daryl and why he loves licking faces

The Walking Dead star talked about why Daryl will never be a superhero, his long history of pranks, and raising a teenager
Walker Stalker Con Atlanta Norman Reedus
Photograph by Matt Walljasper

The lights dimmed at Walker Stalker Con Atlanta, dubstep music blared, and Norman Reedus made his way on stage, blasting the first few rows of fans with silly string. Exactly the kind of entrance you’d expect from the man rumored to have The Walking Dead co-star Andrew Lincoln’s shaved beard stashed in his freezer. During his Saturday afternoon panel, Reedus spoke about developing his fan-favorite character, Daryl Dixon, what the writers won’t let him do, and his childhood dream job.

On playing Daryl as a real person, not a superhero: “I’ve got wings on my vest, I’m riding a chopper, I’ve got a crossbow. I have all the elements of superhero stuff,” Reedus said. But “you have to try and keep it as real as possible. . . It’s a post-apocalyptic monster show with human drama, so it could go corny at any time.” Reedus spoke of a scene he shot recently in which Daryl is cornered and forced to fight. “[Daryl’s] the type of guy who’s always had his back up against the wall. So you have to fight like that. He’ll never take them all on and [then] they’ll die and [then] he’ll have no problems. You have to be afraid. It has to mean something or you’re just a superhero.”

Walker Stalker Con Atlanta Norman Reedus
Photograph courtesy of Walker Stalker Con Atlanta

On creating the character: Daryl doesn’t appear in The Walking Dead comics, so there’s no source material for the character. While Reedus will say that it was a collaborative effort, he has largely been credited with the development of Daryl. “There were certain things that I did that became storyline.” For example, in one episode where Carol kissed Daryl on the forehead, he flinched. The simple act became part of the basis for Daryl’s troubled past.

One aspect of Daryl that Reedus fought for is his diametric opposition to his brother Merle’s racism, sexism, and drug addiction. “There were scripts where I said racist things and I took drugs and I was little Merle. I fought not to do that. I fought as if I was embarrassed by it. I find it more interesting to have that sort of thing in your household, and you’re trapped with it.” Still, he admitted, “there are many times on this show where I think, ‘I should have a dog!’ And [the writers] are like—‘Nope.’”

On his childhood ambitions: “I wanted to be Jacques Cousteau. I just thought he was super cool, and I wanted to go underwater and see all the stuff.” (No surprise: Reedus is a certified diver.)

On his habit of licking people’s faces: If you watch behind-the-scenes footage from The Walking Dead, you might know that Reedus has an affinity for licking the cast and crew’s faces as a practical joke. “I just kind of started doing it to one of our producers on set all the time, and she kept asking me not to. So I kept doing it more.” Reedus even took his trademarked licking abroad. While in London (documented via selfies) he licked “monuments, people on the street, Charlie Chaplins, and mimes.” From there, the act became synonymous with Reedus, even earning an entry in the Urban Dictionary.

On the show’s fans: “I’m very fortunate to be able to do these things and get them done. I’m just having a good time. I don’t know what I’ll do next or what will happen, but I feel very blessed, and a lot of it is you guys.”

On kids today: While talking about his 16-year-old son, Mingus, Reedus shared a story that sums up today’s teenagers. “I was driving [Mingus] and one of his friends to school and One Direction was on the radio. We almost get to the school and his friend goes ‘One Direction is the Led Zeppelin of our generation.’ I stopped the car and said, ‘Get out!’”

On his love of pranks: When Reedus was in New York, “[Mingus and I] used to get on my roof in Chinatown and throw water balloons down on Law and Order SVU and other crime shows that filmed in my neighborhood.”

On his artistic endeavors: Reedus is an accomplished photographer and visual artist. Closing out his panel, he told the story of making an eight-foot blue polyurethane statue of himself. He placed it a glass box and filled it with rats. “Originally I was going to fill it full of flies,” Reedus confided, “but to get the fly larva to hatch in time for the show, I had this stupid idea to put them in front of the heater. So I accidentally made fly soup.”

More from WSC Atlanta: Andrew Lincoln on how Norman Reedus pranked his car (and he didn’t notice for weeks)