They say there’s no rest for the wicked. And the same is true of the wickedly busy, like Norman Reedus. Playing Daryl Dixon, the crossbow-wielding, chopper-riding zombie slayer in TV’s no. 1 show, The Walking Dead, the veteran thespian has become a worldwide sensation with a legion of adoring fans.
When he rolled into Los Angeles in advance of the Dead’s back eight episodes of Season 6, he was fresh off shooting footage for his upcoming new travel docu-series, Ride With Norman Reedus, and promoting the gritty heist-thriller Triple 9, which opens this weekend.
In other words, dude has a lot going on. So in preparation for perhaps his gnarliest big screen role since The Boondock Saints, we asked Reedus for his top ass-kicking action movie tips—and more!
“With my character, I tried to have this calm demeanor because when you come from a military background, and you’re doing things when shit is at hand, you have to remain very calm. When everyone’s panicking and being shot at, and things are going down, the guy orchestrating all of this needs to have a very calm voice, and he needs to see it like it is.”
1. Know when to say no, and when to say yes.
I’m on a yearly schedule with The Walking Dead, a tight one. A lot of times when I get offered a film, I can’t do them because there’s no time. But Triple 9 was filming in Atlanta, so it was much easier for me to go shoot it. I was actually filming The Walking Dead and Triple 9 at the same time, so I was going from one set to the other. The Dead episode (“Consumed”) where Carol and I are in downtown Atlanta, we’re in a van and we fall off a bridge. I could see that bridge and where the van was from the Triple 9 set. And vice versa, from the van, we could see where the movie was filming. Amazing.
2. Be flexible and adaptable.
It was so much fun going from playing Daryl to this ex-military guy Russel, as I’d go from playing this survivor of a zombie apocalypse dude with tattoos, who often has to instantly react to threats… cover the tattoos up, pull Daryl’s hair back, then get involved in this bank heist stuff with these giant explosions, and keep real calm. Then I’d go back to the other one, throw my hair back into my face, cover myself with fake blood and walker guts and stab monsters. It was nice to change it up.
3. Find a director you love.
It all started when director John Hillcoat invited me for dinner—I’d known his work in The Proposition and Lawless. He’s one of those directors that everyone is trying to work with, because of his vision. He told me about the movie, told me who was involved—and that was a no-brainer to be around this quality of cast—Kate Winslet, Gal Gadot, Woody Harrelson, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Casey Affleck. Then there was Aaron Paul and Clifton Collins Jr. who I’ve known for a long time. After meeting him I was sold. But I would’ve done anything with John, he’s that good.
4. Do your homework.
I’ve never had a director give me so much homework before. My character is ex-military, ex-Blackwater, now a cop, and I really enjoyed finding out more about them, the type of people they are in reality. I love layers in a story—this one is very complex with plots and sub-plots, a lot of different stories going on at the same time, coming at you from different places. Yet John is so good at his craft, he can keep them all separate, then blend them when they needed to cross over.
5. Learn from the classics.
I’ve always liked action movies and also the classic heist films from the originals like Ocean’s Eleven and The Italian Job to the more contemporary ones like Guy Ritchie does. But I’m also a huge fan of Steve McQueen in Bullitt—I really like that action-packed genre, especially when you have a bunch of guys who are down to do it. It was a like a band of brothers, and we got together, did the work and had a lot of fun.
6. Be a team player.
The key to making an ensemble cast and complex script work has a lot to do with the filmmaker [being] able to separate and intertwine different stories. This wasn’t a shabby cast, and everyone shows up and brings their A-game, so you’re inspired to give it your best, and more. Plus you have each other’s backs. Some were my friends already, others became friends, and you’re making this thing together, so you have to watch and support each other, and bring it every day, all the time.
7. Keep calm and carry on.
With my character, I tried to have this calm demeanor because when you come from a military background, and you’re doing things when shit is at hand, you have to remain very calm, which is something that John pushed on us. When everyone’s panicking and being shot at, and things are going down, the guy who is orchestrating all of this needs to have a very calm voice, and he needs to see it like it is. There’s no room for ad-libbing or panicked reaction. You’ve got to be very focused and straight, and offer a flavor of calm assuredness so you can have your people get out of any shitstorm.
8. Deliver the goods.
You’ll be on the edge of your seat the entire time, it’s bonkers. There’s a lot of terror, lots of big explosions, but also a lot of heart, with a ton of action. Good guys are trying to do bad things, and bad guys are trying to do good things. It’s all blended up terrifically. It reminds me of that De Niro/Pacino movie Heat a lot—there was a bank job, killer action, good guys and bad guys crossing over—which is why I loved our film. It has all the elements of biting your fingernails the whole time. I’ve seen it and it’s fucking great.
9. Ride or die.
I’ve also been filming my upcoming new AMC TV series, Ride with Norman Reedus. So I just went from Vegas to Death Valley where I rode a bunch of dirt bikes, scared up some dust, so if I sound like I have desert sand up my nose, that’s exactly what it is! For the show, I’ve been riding a couple of different bikes, a lot of Triumphs, Ducatis, and then we also visit custom bike builders—one of them built that awesome bike I was last seen riding in the Dead—and I get to ride their custom builds, which is always fun. Overall, we go to different places on cool choppers and explore motorcycle culture from smokehouses to biker churches. It’s not a gearhead show but more about the “ride” itself.
10. Count your blessings.
As Andrew Lincoln says, the second half of The Walking Dead “is epic, we lose people, and the human threat is far more dangerous.” This back eight is the best back eight we’ve ever had. I’m pretty blessed right now, I won’t lie. Being on this TV show has definitely opened a lot of doors for me. And The Walking Dead is still, after six seasons, the most fun I’ve ever had on a set. I’m very lucky right now. Even if I don’t have any time off, ever!