February 8, 2013 3:00 PM | By Matt Schichter

The Walking Dead's Norman Reedus previews what's next for Darryl and Merle

MSN caught up with Norman Reedus who plays fan-favourite Darryl Dixon to chat about crafting the character, working with the crossbow, and what we might see when the show returns.

Norman Reedus, The Walking Dead (© Blake Tyers - AMC)

It’s been an arduous two months waiting to discover the fate of brothers Darryl and Merle Dixon (Michael Rooker )– who we last saw pitted against each other by The Governor in a fight to the death – but now The Walking Dead returns Sunday at 9 p.m., ET, on AMC.  MSN caught up with Norman Reedus who plays fan-favourite Darryl Dixon to chat about crafting the character, working with the crossbow, and what we might see when the show returns.

We last saw you and your on-screen brother Merle about to go at it. What can you tell us about that scene?
I went into that scene trying to be as little as possible. We could have played that scene both of us just like caged animals just kicking and fighting. We could have played it that way. I thought it was more interesting to play it as small as possible, and look as scared as possible. That scene to me is not really about The Governor, and that arena. It’s about seeing Merle in that situation. How do you play that? Do you play that like, “I’m going to kill everybody” or do you play it like little brother and big brother. I wanted that interaction when we see each other to be more of, “I’m little brother. Help me.” It brought out a side of Merle where he went from, “I’ve killed everybody. Oh my God. What have I done.” We played it like that. That was a choice.

Is that something that came out in rehearsal or the script?
Rooker and I work really well together. He’s such a good instinctual actor. You can throw something completely different at Rooker and he’ll just react differently. You can’t really say, “I’m going to go in and do this.” There was a lot of whimpering, and crying, and scary sh*t coming from me underneath that hood that he could hear before that hood came off. I’m sure it just put him in that place. He played that part how he wanted to play it. It’s not really one of those things where you go, “Hey, I’m going to try this. I think you should try this.” You trust each other. Rooker’s just really good.

Talking about the hood coming off, I found it very interesting, that you chose to back into your captor [The Governor] when you saw your brother, almost in a ‘protect me’ way.
I’m so glad you noticed that. I didn’t make a conscious decision to do that. I just made a conscious decision to react to seeing Merle a certain way. Instinctually, I backed into the bad guy.  All the characters on the show are so rich, and they do these little things. It’s not a show about zombies. It’s a show about these people. It thrills me when people pick that stuff up. That was something that just instinctually happened, and I was super proud of that. It showed that we were all there together doing it. I really dig that. It’s like when Carol leans over and kisses me on the forehead after I get shot. I flinch, like, “Don’t hit me.” Now there’s a story line that I was an abused child. These little things help develop the character for me, the writers, and the audience. I love when people point that stuff out.

What inspired Darryl’s backstory, not having the comic book to go off like everyone else did?
I never actually had a conversation at all about the character when I first started with Frank Darabont, or anybody. I showed up on set and knew some of Merle’s stuff. I watch a tape of him. Then I started to create a backstory. Working with the writers, they’re very generous. They bring you into the writer’s room and they talk about, “What do you think Daryl thinks about T-Dog?” They just try to imagine what it was like growing up like that. Just imagine having a big brother that probably put me down, and had to fight for everything. I thought about reasons people fight. Some people fight to protect somebody. Some people fight to look tough. Some people fight because they’ve always had. I just took it from there, and try to drop little hints at things about my storyline that sort of became stories.

David Morrissey was saying earlier this week that he stays in accent in between takes. When do you become Darryl?
I start pretty early. It’s not hard to go full-redneck when you’re shooting out in the woods in Georgia. I did The Conspirator right before I started the first season. It was a very guttural, grunty, thing I was trying to do. I sort of rolled into Daryl with that attitude. Everything comes out of the top left in his face. He doesn’t really want to look you in the eye unless he has to. That’s changed from season one to season three. Now he’s a guy who looks you directly in the eye. In the beginning, I tried to not look people so much straight forward, like I was hiding something. Now, he’s hiding things, but he’s also wearing his heart on his sleeve. He’s evolving.

I hear you work with digital arrows and real ones at the same time during the same scene. How does that work with the crossbow?
You can’t shoot a real arrow on set for safety reasons. It has to be a digital arrow, but you have to show yourself loading the crossbow. Say there’s twenty walkers in front of me, and I have to kill them real fast with a crossbow, it’s not an automatic weapon, so you have to pull the arrow, show the arrow, load the crossbow, go to shoot, drop it out of frame, throw the arrow on the ground, raise it back up to where it was, fire the digital arrow. Then you have to always get your arrows back, because arrows are scarce in a zombie apocalypse. You have to yank it out of a forehead. You have to maybe stick a knife in another one. Pull the arrow out. Load it. Drop it under the camera. It becomes a math problem.

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