Norman Reedus: You need jumbo elephant balls to be an actor

Norman Reedus stars in The Walking Dead

(Picture: Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images)
Actor Norman Reedus, 44, plays Daryl Dixon on zombie action show The Walking Dead. One of his hobbies is photographing roadkill.

You wanted your character to have a dog when you started. Why? I’m a big fan of the Mad Max movies. He had a dog and I thought it would be nice to have a dog. They put the kibosh on that because when you have an animal on set, you need to have two the same, same with babies. They’re notorious for taking up time.

What’s the policy regarding the zombie-fictation of pets on the show? Robert Kirkman, who created the comic book and the show, has said it’s not a virus that attacks animals, just humans, so there are no zombie animals. If anyone knows, it’s him.

What’s the interest in zombies about? Is it a metaphor for the grind of capitalism? I’ve heard all the theories. It has more to do with the characters. Everyone’s infected. This is your life. Your clock is ticking – just like in real life – so what kind of person do you want to be? What decisions will you make? That’s the appeal of the show.

Have you ever had a supernatural experience? I’ve shot films in locations that have seemed haunted. I shot a film in a maximum-security prison in Russia. Part of it was on a psychiatric ward – there were definitely some creepy vibes there. And I shot a film on Roosevelt Island, New York, on Halloween a few years ago where I strangled Harvey Keitel, put him in a taxi and pushed it into the river. We shot it near the ruins of a hospital that had been used for syphilis patients. They’d take them off Manhattan and put them on this little island – that was pretty creepy. But I’ve never seen a ghost.

Why did you become an actor? I followed a girl I met in Japan to Los Angeles and ended up working in a motorcycle store. I quit the job one night, went to a party in the Hollywood Hills and ended up yelling at a bunch of people. Someone saw me yelling and asked me to be in a play. The first night, there was an agent in the audience who took me on and sent me out for jobs. I did a film called Floating early on that had a scene which was similar to a real-life situation I was in at the time. It involved me having a conversation with my father, who was dying. It was close to home and it made me realise acting wasn’t just making faces for the cameras, it was a real art form. That scene opened my eyes and made me want to try harder at it. You need jumbo elephant balls to be an actor in the first place because there’s a lot of rejection – so you need to believe in it.

What was working with Guillermo del Toro like? He gave me my first job on a film called Mimic and I later worked with him on Blade 2. He’s such a complicated, creative guy but he has so much fun. On Blade, there was so much money, so many departments, huge sets, but he was there having such a good time. Wesley Snipes would be doing all his martial arts stuff and Guillermo would be behind the monitor punching the air and going ‘pow, pow, pow’ – it was a joy to watch him have fun with it all. He has such an infectious attitude.

What’s the worst job you’ve had? The motorcycle store wasn’t that much fun. It was a lot of grunt work – changing oil and tyres. As far as acting, I did a film early on which involved me crying and breaking down and making a confession. As I was doing it, I looked at the other actor in the scene, who was looking over my shoulder, saying: ‘Can I get a cappuccino?’ I was like: ‘Is this how it works? Is this what you’re supposed to do?’ I was so new to it, I didn’t know any better. Now I think: ‘What a jerk…’

What’s your photography book about? I’m always taking pictures and travelling with a camera, and have so many photos that I’ve done a book. I had an art show in Times Square a few months ago – 30 pictures of roadkill I took in Georgia, where we do the show.

What’s the visual appeal of roadkill? I ride a motorcycle to the set and I see a lot of roadkill. The people from the show asked me to take pictures of what I see every day. I think they wanted behind-the-scenes stuff from The Walking Dead but I’m not allowed to do that, so I stopped my bike and took glamour shots of roadkill. Even with the short films I do there’s a lot of grotesque imagery, which I try to make as pretty as possible. It’s become my thing.

What are the main varieties of roadkill you see? Armadillos, raccoons, possums, deer, rabbits, cats, dogs, foxes – anything that moves out here, someone’s hit it with a truck. The gallery were like: ‘These are Christmas shoppers in New York, they don’t want to see cats with their eyeballs popped out’ and I was like: ‘Cancel the show, then, because I’ve got so much of it.’ Everything ended up selling right away and the money went to Oxfam, which was cool.


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