With Michael Rooker’s rampaging redneck Merle back to haunt the survivors of The Walking Dead Season 3, we spoke to Norman Reedus, the man behind his brother, fan-favourite squirrel-hunting man-candy Daryl Dixon, to find out just how the malign influence of family is going to impact on the character who clearly blossomed without it…
What was it like working with Michael Rooker again?
Oh, it’s great! It’s nice to be back in that environment, in Season 2 with him being gone Daryl was sort of coming into his own – he had value and people rely on him for survival, and this new family that he’s grown really fond of – so with Merle coming back in, he comes in and he comes in in a big, angry way, not really getting along with anyone – I describe him as my drunk uncle at a Christmas party: “Hey Merle, man, shut up!”
Daryl’s become Rick’s go-to-guy in the absence of Shane. Will Merle drive a wedge between that?
I think that’s definitely a possibility. Rick has sort of become the brother that Merle wasn’t. Daryl kinda did what Daryl wanted to do, there were certain episodes where Daryl would go look for Sophia and Rick would say “Wait up, let’s get a plan together and do this properly” and Daryl would be like “Nah, man, I’m better off on my own” so he kinda did what he wanted to do, but he also loves being a part of this group – they need him as much as he needs them, so there’s certain things in certain parts of Season 3 where Daryl has to take a leadership role, and he takes it efficiently and immediately, but he in no way wants to be a leader of this group – he’s not like a Shane character. He’s sort of like this quiet enforcer, but there’s the possibility of sitting down with a group of sad faces and telling them, “We need to do this, we need to that” I think would just terrify Daryl.
What’s it been like actually defining the Merle/Daryl relationship after having had it talked about for so long?
I never really had a conversation with anyone about Daryl. Right from the beginning he was written very “F-you! F-you! I kill you! I kill you!” I tried to tear up in between killing squirrels and stabbing people, and try and make him feel like a little brother who’s lost his little brother, who’s his only family member and he was deeply hurt by that. I always try to give him layers, and if you can imagine growing up with a big brother like Merle – all the racism, all the drugs – I just… there was a script that had me taking drugs, and I told them I didn’t wanna take drugs. I want to grow up being embarrassed of being in that life, being embarrassed when Merle said things that were racist and so forth, and now I’m not under the influence of him, I’m only just coming into my own and discovering who I am. It’s become very interesting to play a character like that with television. I’ve only mainly done film, so in television you kind of drop these subtle seeds in the ground and hope they turn into trees so when that does happen, you get extra storyline – one of those things is that he was an abused kid, and being in a different setting and having that influence around, he’s becoming the man he would rather be.