TV

Norman Reedus on the End of an Era

After 12 years of killing zombies and capturing viewers’ hearts on AMC’s The Walking Dead, Norman Reedus has a new book coming out this month, The Ravaged, a story of three personal quests with abnormally parallel outcomes. The novel is brave, determined, and fast-paced. Amidst the show’s finale and its new spinoff, his long running motorcycle travel series Ride, starring in a hit video game and its sequel, launching his own whiskey, owning various restaurants, his production company, and the frequent art shows, Reedus reminisced about the old days, coming to the end of an era, where he’d like to see the spinoff go and how much Daryl he’s got left in him, fatherhood, riding with Keanu, his dreams of making a western (even though he’s terrified of horses), hoping his DNA won’t get hacked to rob banks someday, and how he’s really just a “artsy-fartsy kinda wimpy guy.”

LEO: It’s been so long. How old is your child now, 100? 

NORMAN REEDUS: One is 100 and the other one is three [laughs].

Are you living in New York now? 

I’ve been here for almost 22 years now. My family is in New York, and I shoot in Georgia, but I’ve always kept a house in Georgia so I bounce back and forth.

You have a lot going on. Let’s start with The Walking Dead, which I know is coming to an end, but now you’re doing the spinoff.

Yeah, Walking Dead we wrapped about a month ago.

Which is wild.

Crazy, right? After 12 years. Just bananas. The last part of the show will start airing towards the end of the year, and then I’ll do the spinoff around September maybe.

What’s the plan for the spinoff?

Melissa [McBride] was supposed to do the show, but she wants to take a break after 12 years. She deserves a break, and she’s got some personal things she needs to take care of. And during the break, they said, “Hey, you wanna go on a mission?” And I was like, “Yeah, let’s go on a mission” [laughs]. So, I’ll be going on a mission. There’s some of the characters on the show that are missing; maybe I’ll run into one or two of them. So the world of Walking Dead is kind of expanding into different territories and different storylines; they’re kind of splitting it up, and eventually, I think some of these characters will come back together—she and I will definitely come back together.

Photo Courtesy of AMC

At this point, how involved are you with the show in terms of the writing or producing–

Zero.

Zero. You’re just showing up to work.

Zero. I’m an actor for hire. I caught a lot of slack on the internet; I don’t know where this idea that I come up with storyline and locations came from…

I supposed I kind of assumed that too, because you’ve just been a fabric of the show for so long.

I mean I asked for a dog in Season 2 and I got one in Season 10 [laughs]. So that should tell you…

How do you feel about the show ending? Does it kind of soften the blow because you’re doing a spinoff or does it still feel like the end of an era because the cast is changing and just all of it is changing? 

You know, it’s not even just the cast. It’s Georgia, which I love. Georgia became a huge part of my life. And it’s the crew, which I’ve become really good friends with over the years. It’s the locations. It’s the rhythm of getting on my motorcycle early in the morning and riding through the woods to go to work, you know. All the things that I’ve grown to love over 12 years coming to an end is kind of shocking. There’s a feeling of accomplishment, of course, with what we’ve done, but it hit me—it was the last morning of filming ever, I’m driving home with the sun coming up… I take a certain route through the woods to get to my house. I pulled up to my gate, and it just hit me. I said “I’m not gonna do this drive anymore.”

Sure, there’s gonna be a spinoff, and it’ll be me alone, and I’ll be on this mission, and those characters will come back together later on down the road, of course; and other characters that have gone missing, I’ll probably run into. But the spinoff will look totally different from the show. It’ll be completely different. And to be honest, you wouldn’t wanna do this show as a spinoff exactly the same by yourself, it’s terrifying, so…

So it is the end of an era. It does feel like that.

It does feel like the end of an era to me. It’s sad and remarkable and weird.

Where do you hope to see the character go in the spinoff? What would you want to see different or the same? Is that something you think about; are you emotionally invested in where the character goes with the storylines? 

If you look back to my history on this show, I’ve just been fighting nonstop, like all I do is fight, fight, fight; I never get nice things, I’m constantly… If I find something I like, it’s taken away from me [laughs].

You know, people are funny, they’re like, “I’ve never seen this show. Do you cry on this show?” I’m like, can you fucking… All I do is cry. All I do is cry and scream and fight. It’s all I do. It’s exhausting. So I just wanna see something different. Automatically, the geography will be different. The people will be different, and I imagine I won’t understand what the hell people are talking about for the most part [laughs], because I don’t think my character speaks any other languages. I just wanna see something different. I want the tone to be different. I want the look to be different.

“All the things that I’ve grown to love over 12 years coming to an end is kind of shocking.”

The show will be shooting overseas. Will the character also be overseas or that’s just where it’s shooting?

Oh no, we’ll shoot it overseas with overseas people in an overseas environment with an overseas attitude.

So that feels like it will add a fish out of water element.

It definitely will. I don’t know a lot of things. They throw some things at me, but I’m not in the writer’s room. And if they ask me anything, I’m like, I wanna do something different. Just tell me when I get there.

I read this interview with Jack Nicholson a million years ago, about how he likes to put his faith in a new director or a new set or new writer or whatever, because otherwise he’s just doing the same thing over and over again. He falls back on what he knows works—a certain look he gives, or a certain kind of way he smiles. You end up doing the same mannerisms that got you there in the first place, over and over and over again, because if he’s a cook in the kitchen, he’s gonna—without even thinking about it—ask for those ingredients. And I don’t want to be a cook in the kitchen. I wanna try something new. You know what I mean? 

At this point you know the character better than anybody. How much preparation do you have to do as an actor? Are rehearsals even a thing anymore at this point?

12 years on The Walking Dead, we’ve gone through phases where we rehearse everything, and we’ve gone through showrunners that don’t wanna rehearse. And then we’ve gone through directors that we know really well, who we worked with, who understand us and know what we need to get to a certain place to do a scene. And then sometimes we’ve had directors for hire, who come in and they’re like, “I gotta be in Australia on Thursday.” They think that it’s just a job. And you’re kind of… You’ve got no soul here.

Photo Courtesy of AMC

A cog in that wheel.

You know what I mean? There’s no soul coming from you. So it’s up to us, I guess. So I’ve seen it all. Our show has had so many different directors, writers and showrunners. Frank Darabont worked in a certain way. Scott Gimple worked in a certain way. And sometimes it’s up to them, and then sometimes it’s more of a collaboration, and it’s more fun. I’ve seen it all.

How much Daryl do you think you have left in you, could you play him forever? Different versions and different spinoffs? Or this is it after this? 

I don’t know. There’s something about being on television for a long period of time that I really like. I started this show with really short hair, now it’s really long. And to watch a character’s hair grow in real time as you watch, it kind of makes it more personal to a viewer. They think they really know the guy, up to a fault…

It would be crazy if all of a sudden Daryl was like jacked with a six pack. It’d be weird to watch it, you’d go, “That doesn’t fit anywhere on this thing.” I like having the realness of real time happening in front of my eyes. Also, it bleeds into my performance in a way; some of the actors that have come and gone, I’ve learned from as Norman, and their characters influence decisions Daryl’s making, and it seems very real.

Like Scott Wilson. I loved him as a person, and some of his dialogue and the things that he did on the show, as I age on camera in front of everybody, I’m slowly starting to adopt some of his ways. Or Rick. It kind of seems very real.

As you yourself are evolving, Daryl’s kind of evolving with you, and that’s gotta be pretty interesting.

Yeah, they bleed into each other from time to time. Sometimes I take note of them, and sometimes I realize it later. It’s pretty wild.

“It’s kind of funny doing a show where I play—especially in the beginning—a really angry redneck who eats squirrels and wants to stab and fight everybody… and then trying to explain to people, ‘Oh, I have an art show this weekend up in Soho.’ I’m really not that guy, I’m more of that artsy-fartsy kinda wimpy guy.”

Ok, so talk to me about the novel. What made you decide to do fiction? How did it come about? 

I have a production company, and I’m always looking for stories to tell and own the IP, and make it into a TV show or a movie or something. So we’ve got a really interesting slate of things that we’re doing now, from Edward Gorey to Jim Henson projects. We have a really cool roster.

I always have these stories, and I’m meeting these writers, and I’m meeting these directors and photographers and stuff, and I’m like, “I have an idea about this. That guy would be great for this, and this girl would be great for that.” I’ve always had opportunities to do books about my life. That comes every year. Somebody, some company, will ask me if I wanna do a book about my life, and I always don’t. I really don’t. Like on my death bed maybe, but… no.

There’s time. There might come a day when you decide you’re ready for that.

Yeah. But you know, I also have a lot of friends that might beat me up if they’re mentioned in a book [laughs]. So I don’t really want to.

But so anyway, I was in New Zealand shooting an episode, I arrived with Josh Brolin; I was on my way to Italy. Diane was doing a movie in LA, and I stopped in LA for what was supposed to be five days. Then when I landed, they said, “Italy’s under lockdown because of the pandemic, just stay put.” And that turned into like a year and a half of staying put.

One of these companies was like, “Hey, you wanna write a book?” And I kind of ran with some of these stories. I have a friend who used to hop trains, and he’s told me all these stories about what it was like being a runaway hopping trains, and those kind of coincided with some stories of my life. And then I met this guy on a plane going from Costa Rica to Uruguay who told me about his life. I ended up sort of running with that idea of a story.

My father was a traveling salesman and… Oh, how weird, a red Cardinal just landed maybe five feet from me.

Right now?

In New York of all places… My father, that was his favorite bird. We used to talk about them. Right as I was about to mention my dad, that bird just landed and looked right at me. It’s so weird.

I love that.

But so… I was saying that there’s this story about a guy who finds out that his father passed away on the west coast, and he and his buddies are riding through the country, and he’s remembering stories that his father used to tell him—these sort of morals and stuff that he had told through these little stories of people he’d met along the road, trying to teach him lessons that he didn’t really get as a kid. But as he’s thinking about it, while he’s on the road, he’s putting these stories together with people he’s meeting; he’s kind of learning the lessons. So all these stories sort of have a through line that’s kind of similar in that they’re finding a sense of family in the weirdest places, while either running to something or running from something.

How much of you bleeds into this even though it’s fiction?

A ton, a lot. There’s a lot of stories, and I didn’t realize The Walking Dead parallels until I was done with it. There’s stories in the book that happen to all the characters that are very similar to stories that happen to me. So there’s a lot of me in the book, but you won’t know it. Some people will know it, because there’s been a piece of this or that which was mentioned somewhere. So they might put two and two together. There’s a lot of me in the book, but I’m trying not to make it about me.

So there’s a lot of nonfiction in your fiction. And, so, you’re now doing a book tour? Your book appearances must basically be like going to Comic-Con or something. People must go nuts.

I haven’t done one yet. I’ve only done the talk show so far, so those start tomorrow. I have no idea what to expect.

I feel like that’s gonna be hard to control.

[Laughs] Sometimes it’s hard to control.

The fans.

Doing that Ride show, where I travel around the world on bikes, it originally started off as like a gear head show, talking about the engine and the seat, whatever. But so many people would show up and kinda chase us from location to location, that we kind of changed the format of the show and started including it, where people are part of the show. We’re not hiding from it, we’re kind of embracing it, and it made the show better to be honest. I’m about to do [an episode in] Utah with Keanu.

Photo Courtesy of AMC

I was gonna ask you about that. How does that work? Do you call Keanu up? Does he call you? Were you guys friends beforehand?

We had a lot of mutual friends, and we didn’t really know each other. I’d only kind of met him at like stop lights in LA when they’re like, “Oh there’s Keanu.” And so we’d pull up and be like, “Hey, Keanu.” I didn’t really know him, but I’ve been talking to him about doing the show for a couple of years. The last time I was trying to get him to do the show, he was on location and I was on location. I think I was calling him from Japan, and every time I called him he could barely hear me, or I could barely hear him, and I’d be like, “I’ll try you tomorrow, I’ll try you tomorrow!” And then we’d hang up, and then the next day, “I can’t hear you! I’ll try you tomorrow!” That happened three times and then finally I was like, “It’s not meant to be. I’ll try it next year.” I thought, if the universe doesn’t want this to happen, it’s not happening, so let’s try again next year. And this year it worked. The phone line went through.

The universe had a plan for season two.

He thought we did it on purpose [laughs]. And he’s such a nice guy. I’m excited to ride with him.

The feeling I’ve always had is that there’s a little motorcycle mafia in LA, just of actors and people who all ride together? 

Well, you guys got the weather in California, so yeah. But it is true. I know all these people that actually build custom motorcycles, and they know everybody I know, especially everybody in the motorcycle industry.

They kind of flock together.

They all know each other. I’ll do an episode ride in Japan and somebody in LA will be the person that will give me the contact of somebody to go meet in Chiba.

I know Milo Ventimiglia rides a lot–

We actually went to Mount Fuji together, me and Milo.

See? 

It’s the motorcycle mafia.

“So much time I missed with my son when he was younger, trying to keep it all together, and keep food on the table and whatnot. And now… I have a three-year-old little girl… Everything’s kind of wrapped around to her. I don’t wanna miss anything.”

Okay, so you got the book going on, you’ve got the final season coming out, then the spinoff, and you’re filming Death Stranding, the video game.

We just started the second one.

How did that come about?

Guillermo Del Toro, who gave me my first movie, called me up and said, “Hey, there’s a guy named Hideo Kojima, he’s gonna call you, just say yes.” And I go, “What do you mean just say yes?” He goes, “Stop being an asshole, just say yes.” Then I was in San Diego and Hideo came with a big group of people, he’s from Tokyo, and he showed me what he was working on on a game called Silent Hill. I was blown away by what he was showing me, and I was like, “Yes, let’s do this.” It’s not Ms. Pacman; it’s so realistic, it’s so futuristic, it’s so complicated and beautiful, and I was completely blown away.

It took me maybe two or three years to finish all the MoCap sessions and everything. It takes a lot of work. And then the game came out, and it just won all these awards, and it was a huge thing, so we just started part two of that.

How does that all work?

You go into these giant domes with thousands of cameras, first off, and they take a photo, a singular photo from all these different angles with all the expressions you can possibly make with the muscles in your face—so it takes a whole day. And then they sort of capture your DNA. I don’t know how to explain this, but they… Marlon Brando did it and I think Johnny Depp did it. I did it. They capture your sort of, your digital DNA as they call it. And what they can do is after you die, they can make movies with you for eternity.

After you die, would you want to have people use this to make movies without you in them, or like, Walking Dead season 300? 

I don’t know. Part of it is kind of scary because you think, well if hackers can do stuff right now with what’s out there, what can they do with that? Am I gonna be like robbing a bank when I’m asleep and I don’t know it [laughs]? What can you do with that? I mean, I’m talking to my attorneys and I’m going, “You ever done anything like this?” And they’re like, whoa, wow, whoa [laughs]. Before I started this last session, I saw Keanu’s stuff that he did, and I couldn’t tell if it was him or not. It was that realistic.

That’s crazy.

Crazy, right? 

Does it make you feel a little bit eternal? 

I don’t know. They have that new 5g camera too, where you can just be in a green room, and as it turns left, it builds cities. And as it looks up, it builds a sky. And you put that into a computer with dialogue. I asked Hideo, “Do you ever need a camera crew or an actor ever again?” And he was like, “No, you’ll never capture the soul of a person. You will always need an actor.” And I was like, “Thank God you’re telling me this. I thought I was gonna be out of a job.”

Going down the list here [laughs], you’ve also got restaurants. How involved are you with those? 

Pretty involved. We just opened the 3rd Nic & Norman’s in Lexington, Kentucky. It’s just now opened. And then, I’m a partner in Cafe Gitane in New York.

I had no idea. That’s always been my go-to in New York. It’s all about that Couscous.

Yeah. They’re opening one in Venice. So that’s under construction now.

Amazing.

And then there’s a whiskey coming out.

So I heard.

And the production company’s killing it with my partner, Amanda Burden.

Does your brain feel like it’s going to implode with all these things?

I’m lucky in that I surround myself with good people, like Amanda. I think a lot of actors do a production company as kind of a vanity project and they’re not really involved. I’m super involved in everything, like overly involved, where I think Amanda’s like, “Can you stop calling me?” [Laughs.]

Is the motorcycle show under the umbrella of your company as well? 

No, one of the producers of Walking Dead at AMC, he was an executive producer over there, came to me one day because I used to ride a motorcycle to work every day, and we’re both big [Anthony] Bourdain fans, so it was kind of based off of being a Bourdain fan. Now I think every actor on the planet is trying to do a motorcycle travel show. Even some of the actors that I approached to be on my show right now are doing their own travel motorcycle shows, and I’m like, really, bro? [Laughs]. But no, I like that kind of show, so good luck to them, I’m excited to watch theirs too.

My years for the last 12 years have been: I do Walking Dead up until the winter, and then I shoot Ride. And then when Ride is over, I go right back to Walking Dead. So I haven’t even read a movie script in 12 years.

I did one movie called Triple 9, and the only reason I got to do that movie was because it shot in Atlanta. We would be filming an episode of Walking Dead, and I would slick my hair back and walk to that set across the street [laughs]. I’d put my hair in my face and get all bloody and go to this set over here, and then I’d clean up and go back to that set. But other than that, I haven’t even read a movie script.

Do you think that because the show opened up so many doors, that you just feel this need to explore so much of what you love to do as much as possible?

Well… I do a ton of art shows. I just had one in Copenhagen, I have another one coming up in Paris. I do them all the time, but I did that before I was an actor. But do I know that because I’m on a hit television show, that more doors open to me to do more art shows? Absolutely. I totally know that. Am I doing anything different than I did before the TV show? No.

I could put out a new photo book every four months if I wanted to, but I wait until I have a stack of photos that I want them to see in a book before I put out a book. So I don’t throw my wad because I can. I used to have an art gallery here in New York, on Bowery and Kenmare. I used to have Collective Hardware with some friends, and we put on art shows every week. We made little art films, I’d be like, “Grab your camera, make me a Richard Nixon mask. Grab your lights.” And we’d all go make crazy, guerilla, weird art films all the time. And we always did it before Walking Dead, and I’m still doing it, but I’m not over doing it.

I think it’s what’s interesting about you though. There’s a lot of contradictions because you come off as this laid back guy, but you’re incredibly productive and industrious, and then, speaking strictly in perceptions, you come off as this tattooed-up motorcycle guy, but you’ve always been an artist. And you write.

It’s kind of funny doing a show where I play—especially in the beginning—a really angry redneck who eats squirrels and wants to stab and fight everybody, talking with an accent like that, and then trying to explain to people, “Oh, no. I have an art show this weekend up in Soho.” You know what I mean? [Laughs]

Yes.

And they’re like, “What are you talking about?” I’m really not that guy, I’m more of that artsy-fartsy kinda wimpy guy, than I am this guy.

I remember you back in the New York days when you had the short hair and you were in Prada campaigns.

I was just talking about that Prada campaign. I remember when that happened because I was doing Six Ways to Sunday and Annie Leibovitz showed up on set one day and started taking pictures behind the scenes, and I didn’t know who Annie Leibovitz was. She had dinner with Miuccia Prada, and they were doing a series of actors in campaigns. Willem Dafoe did it, Tim Roth did it, Joaquin did it.

I remember those campaigns.

They were looking for the next actor, and Miuccia was like, “I’m looking for the next one.” Annie said, “Oh, I shot this kid today… ” [Six Ways to Sunday] was a really weird, obscure, little movie, and I was on set when I get a call saying, “Hey you wanna do a Prada campaign? It’s between you and Nicolas Cage.” And I’m like, “What’s Prada?” [Laughs].

It was back in the day when I just shared the one suit with five of my friends. I’m sitting there with [photographer] Glen Luchford and he gave a Prada sweater to wear because I was cold, and I’m sitting there talking to him, we’re kind of off in our own corner, and I spilled a drink in my lap; I took the sweater off, and I started wiping up the drink with the sweater. He’s cracking up, I’m like, “What is it?” He said, “Look around.” And all the Prada people were looking at me like, “Are you fucking kidding me right now?” I was so clueless with how it all works.

You were a kid. It is weird looking back, so much has happened. Ok, so before we go, I just want to touch on being a father. Having a three-year-old now, how is it different than the first time around, given that you’re in such a different place in your life?

It’s completely different this time around. I’m more together. I’m not as broke as I was back then [laughs]. And also, a little girl is different than a little boy. A little boy, you’re like, “Go get’ em, rip their heads off, have fun.” And with a little girl you’re like, “Don’t touch her, don’t look at her.” [Laughs]. She’s at the jungle gym and I’m literally underneath her just in case she falls. It’s just completely different.

And back when we first started Walking Dead, I didn’t know I’d last this long. So I ended up spending a lot of time in Georgia and flying back on the weekends. So much time I missed with my son when he was younger, trying to keep it all together, and keep food on the table and whatnot. And now I’m kind of ending one thing, and I have a three-year-old little girl and I just… Everything’s kind of wrapped around to her. I don’t wanna miss anything.

With all these things happening, is there anything you haven’t gotten to do yet that you would dream of doing at some point? 

You know, I’m really into that show Yellowstone right now, it’s so good. I wanna do a western. I’d love to do a western.

Do you ride a horse or only motorcycles? 

Fuck no, I ride motorcycles, I don’t ride a horse [laughs].

Oh it’s probably not that different [laughs].

I’m terrified of horses, by the way. I did a movie with Robert Redford where I rode a horse, and I was just freaking out the whole time, and there was a scene where the horse went up on two legs and I’m holding on for dear life, and I’m yelling at somebody. It looks like I’m a great horse rider, but in reality, I think I was wetting my pants. I was freaking the fuck out. And then the horse was, I guess trained to back up and get in a single file line with the other horses, so before my scene was even over, the horse would start going backwards and get in line, and I didn’t know how to keep the horse from doing what it was trained to do. It was crazy. It was just a nightmare.

So you’re a shoe-in for a western is what you’re saying.

Yeah, oh my God, I’d probably be horrible, but I would really love to do it.

You could do it with your production company.

Well I have something I’m doing with a really talented writer. It’s a really cool story, we just got our first outline yesterday. So it’s happening.

Just get a stunt double.

I’m gonna fucking learn how to do the thing.

So basically you’re like Beyonce, you have more hours in the day than most.

Yeah, I just can’t dance.

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