Sixteen million homes tuned into the Season 4 premiere of The Walking Dead two weeks ago. The AMC series about a post-zombie apocalypse world is officially a phenomenon — look no further than that pop culture barometer, Rolling Stone, which put the ultraviolent TV show on its cover the week of the season premiere.
A big part of the success of The Walking Dead — besides the copious amounts of blood and gore — is charismatic actor Norman Reedus, who plays survivalist Daryl Dixon.
He is a whip-smart, smart-ass, motorcycle-riding backwoods zombie killer, a master of the crossbow and the eviscerating blade, and the others could not survive without him.
The Walking Dead is filmed in the forests and small towns around Atlanta; Reedus, 44, has a home in Palmetto, several miles to the southwest of the city.
On Oct. 31, he'll publish a photography book, The Sun's Coming Up ... Like a Big Bald Head, and will soon be onscreen in the film Sunlight Jr., with Naomi Watts and Matt Dillon.
Reedus is in town Saturday and Sunday for the Savannah Film Festival; his official role is to teach a master class for SCAD acting students.
That's not open to the public, but he'll be on the red carpet both nights, and will doubtless turn up at several other screenings, too.
So yeah, you might just see him around. Walking Live.
You're, like, the biggest TV star on the planet right now ... what's that feel like, Norman?
Norman Reedus: Well, I don't know about that. But I'm part of a cool show, with a cool cast and a cool set of producers and writers, and it feels really good to be a part of this. It's something we've all fought for since Day One, to make it as good as possible. Everybody's been giving 110 percent for four years solid now. So it feels good that people are liking our show, for sure.
Is your privacy out the window? Or can you still go out and not get recognized?
Norman Reedus: I get stopped all the time. And 99.9 percent of the people are great. There's always one person that's a little off. But I spend seven months out of the year down in this town in Georgia, where I'm so far away from everybody. It's kind of a culture shock when I go back to New York and there's a lot of people in general around me. But as far as being recognized, I don't mind it one bit. I'm very, very excited to be in this position, and be part of such a cool show.
Sixteen million viewers. Sixteen million people watching. I'd be petrified like Ralph Kramden when I heard that, going homina, homina, homina ... what does it say to you?
Norman Reedus: You know what's crazy? That number is so impressive, and I'm so proud of us and our show, I look at that and I think "Man, they don't even know what's coming. Wait till they get a look at what's coming next." Honestly, just wait. It gets better and better and better and better. I can't wait for people to see the rest of it. I can't imagine that number not going up.
You never know which character is going to bite it next on the show. It could be you next week! Do you ever think that — you'll show up for work one day, and the script says "Daryl gets an arrow through the head"?
Norman Reedus: I would be lying if I said that our entire cast, every time we get a script, doesn't race through to the end and heave a huge sigh of relief if they make it! We all do that with every single script we get. They are very good at keeping us on our toes.
What's a typical shooting day like?
Norman Reedus: For me, I get up and the sun's not out yet. I slam a cup of coffee, I get on my motorcycle, I ride through the woods of Georgia, on the backroads, to set. The sun comes up usually as I'm riding there. I have my eyes peeled not to hit any deer that jump out in front of us.
We get to work, we go to our trailer, we change into our filthy, filthy clothes. We go into our makeup and hair, and everyone is usually in a great mood. There's usually some music blasting in that trailer. They douse us with filth and black slime, and blood if it calls for it.
And then we high-five each other and walk up to set. Everyone starts screaming, and we get into this mode, and we shoot a scene. That's pretty much how it goes.
Are you there till the sun goes down?
Norman Reedus: Oh yeah, we film eight hours a day. By the end of the day, all of us are walking back from set to our trailers, limping, holding our backs like we're 90 years old. Some people have fresh cuts on them that are real. Then I get back on my motorcycle, covered in blood, and I drive home.
I jump right into the shower, and the ring of dirt and blood on my shower floor is amazing to look at. My sheets are black and red from the stuff I couldn't wash off in the shower. In the morning, I throw the clothes in the washing machine, get back on the bike and do it again.
Georgia is hot, and there are bugs. I have this image of extras sitting around picnic tables, in full zombie regalia, complaining about the heat and the bugs. I imagine it's tough under all that stuff they have to wear.
Norman Reedus: Oh my God, my hat goes off to them, because they bring it every time. You do see them sitting around Craft Services, drinking a Dr. Pepper or whatever. But when they say "Action," those guys get into it.
We also have our A-team zombies that come back sometimes and play new zombies that you would never recognize. A guy will come up to you and go "You shot me in Season One, right between the eyes!" And you'll go "Hey ... you again!" You don't really recognize them because they're a different zombie today.
And yeah, we have bugs — I got attacked by a swarm of bees the other day, and got stung all over my elbow. Which was a drag, but Georgia's part of the show. We couldn't shoot the show if we were in Burbank. It wouldn't be the same show. It's definitely a character in our show.
Can you actually shoot a crossbow?
Norman Reedus: Yeah. I'm really good with it. After this long, I'd better be good.
OK, but did you have this skill before the show started?
Norman Reedus: Absolutely not. I live in Manhattan. But I will admit I've gotten pretty good with it. John Sanders, our weapon expert, he takes the time to take us to the gun range quite a bit, he teaches us all the weapons, so that we look like we know what we're doing. And we feel comfortable running in groups with AK-47s in our hands, and not hurting anybody. So it's a well-oiled ballet.
Don't you think the storyline has to end eventually? Could it go on for 10 more years?
Norman Reedus: The thing is, it could. It's a linear story, which is interesting for TV. If the writing's there, and the enthusiasm's there, and the interest is there, I can't see an end in sight. It's become not so much a show about zombies — which I never thought it was, from the beginning — but a show about these characters, and their clocks are ticking. Who do they want to be? What do they want to stand for? What do they want to fight for and what do they want to give up? It's their two feet on the ground. And to watch these characters go through that, I can't see an end in sight.
There will always be the fear of death, the fear of your time expiring. That's a running theme in our show. Stepping up to the plate and being who you want to be, in your last hours. It's a never-ending theme.