“The first thing I notice about Norman Reedus when I walk into NYC’s Dune Studios for our shoot, is the fact that he’s already there. I’m a little surprised because punctuality seems at odds, a little incongruous, with the image of Norman Reedus. But not much about Norman seems predictable.”
STORY & INTERVIEW BY MICHAEL WILLIAMS
Walking With TV’s Deadliest Legend
The first thing I notice about Norman Reedus when I walk into NYC’s Dune Studios for our shoot, is the fact that he’s already there. He’s arrived early. In fact he’s arrived a few minutes before both my assistants, my editor, and I arrive. I’m a little surprised because punctuality seems at odds, a little incongruous, with the image of Norman Reedus. But not much about Norman seems predictable.
It strikes me that there’s something a little paradoxical about the man. That this crossbow carrying, zombie hunting, motorcycle riding, badass, is also incredibly friendly, kind, and considerate takes me back for a second. Indeed, he treats everyone on set during our shoot with the same easygoing kindness as he treats our editors, introducing himself to each and everyone on set and me. That’s something I don’t always see on major celebrity shoots. But Norman is not the norm.
Despite all the warmth and charm there’s still this wonderfully restless and slightly menacing quality to Norman. He’s the kind of man that I would want on my side if a bar fight were to break out. But let’s hope things never go in that direction.
Our shoot and interview that followed was effortless. In fact it was fun. I felt like I was spending the day with a dear old friend. I see why his fans are both so crazed and so loyal to him. Success for Norman Reedus has been hard-earned, well-deserved, and looks good on him.
Michael Williams: Why did you become an actor?
Norman Reedus: I ended up at a party in Los Angeles one night and got really drunk, after yelling at a few people from the second floor—someone approached me about being an actor. They asked me to do a play at the Tiffany Theater on Sunset. The play was called Maps For Drowners. I was an understudy and the first day my lead didn’t show up so I filled in. There was a woman in the audience that night named Laura Kennedy who was at William Morris at the time. She ended up side-pocketing me, which means she didn’t sign me. That’s where they don’t really sign you but send you out on your own. I started working. Now Laura is a casting director. She cast me in the Boondock Saints—and we just kept going from there.
MW: So, you had no experience going into it right?
NR: None—at all. The play was the first thing I ever did.
MW: A lot of lines to memorize?
NR: Oh yeah. It was terrifying. I mean, right before that I was working at a motorcycle shop in Venice called Dr. Carl’s Hog Hospital. Incidentally, I ended up having a fight with the boss and quit and then went to that party that same night so it all kinda relates. But yes, it was terrifying. The first film I did was called Floating. Then I did Mimic. Or maybe I did Mimic first because Guillermo del Toro got me my Sag card on that film. So—let it be known—he basically started me (laughs). Then I did Floating, then I did Six Ways To Sunday with Debbie Harry. And then I just kept going.
MW: How old were you?
NR: Oh god I don’t know, that was a long time ago. I guess I was in my early twenties. It was a long fucking time ago.
MW: Did you have any premonitions that you might become an actor?
NR: It seemed like everyone in LA was doing that. You know what I mean? (Laughs). I had a bunch of friends who went to Otis Parsons Art School. Every once in a while we’d do a group show. We’d lug our shit somewhere and nail it on the walls ourselves, throw a party, and call it a show. I was doing things like that as well. I had taken seven French doors, like seven foot ones, that I got from a newspaper out there called The Recycler. And I did this little girl’s body and elongated her at the knees and the elbows and wrapped her in different gages of wire and so on. Then we’d throw a party in Beverly Hills. We did shit like that all the time. But to be honest, I don’t think I thought I was ever going to be an actor.
MW: Is there anyone who’s been a key influence on your craft? Like, say, Strasbourg?
NR: I don’t even know what Strasbourg is (laughs). And I don’t know what the ‘methods’ are. I also don’t know what the Stella Adler technique is. In fact, I don’t know what any of that shit is. No, I’ve been fortunate to work with good people off the bat. And I’ve learned a lot from them. Case in point: I learned a lot from watching Willem Dafoe early on. Also, Alan Rickman, I learned a lot from him. I also had really good directors—like Guillermo (del Toro). He became a friend of mine. And watching him work is just infectious. He’s got the coolest attitude towards the work. I remember working on Floating. That movie’s about a kid and his father. After a drunk driving accident his father’s in a wheelchair, but the kid’s at an age when all his friends are going off to college and starting lives for themselves and so forth. The kid has to deal with the guilt of going off and leaving his father in that condition.
On the set, the director comes over and softly says, “So how do you want to prepare for this?”
I’m like “Well, what the fuck are my options? Coincidentally my own dad was dying at the time and he was in a wheelchair, so I said, “Just give me a phone then come get me in five minutes.”
I called my Dad and had a normal conversation with him—then we did the scene, then I cried so much in that scene that I had so much snot coming out of my nose that they couldn’t use the first take which I begged them to use but they didn’t. Then we broke for lunch. I didn’t go to lunch with the crew. I went to take a nap. During the break this grip came up to my tiny little room and said to me “Look, I know you’ve never been on a movie set before.” I guess that was painfully obvious. “But I just want you to know that during lunch it was painfully quiet in the there. And that never happens. So that was a good scene you did”. I thought to myself, “Oh, so that’s what this acting shit is all about. You just jump in and do it”.
MW: Now you’re an actor on the The Walking Dead. Any different on that set?
NR: It’s my favorite job I’ve ever had. I’m having a blast on that show. We shoot that out in the woods in Georgia. There’s none of the regular traps that I think you would have if we, say, shot in Burbank or something. Also, I’ve had five years to work on a character instead of a month so all these little things that you do can take on more meaning. Sometimes you drop these little seeds behind that later become trees in the storyline. So, you have all that to work with and it’s great. The cast and the crew and everybody there, they become such a tight family. It feels good when the band’s together. It’s quite the blessing actually.
MW: Outside of work you have this affinity towards motorcycles.
NR: When I was a kid there was this friend of mine named Tune who had a Yamaha YZ80. Oh my god it was so loud. We used to ride through neighborhoods and hide from cops. We’d hide in an alley then take off the other way. We’d try to ride wheelies. We’d end up having to get stitches. All that crap. It was so cool. That’s where it first started. Then I worked at a couple of shops. I didn’t really do much mechanical work except maybe some basic stuff. I couldn’t really listen to a bike and tell you what’s wrong with it back then, but now I kind of can. In Georgia, that’s how I get to set every day. I ride through the country. The cast lives over in Atlanta and I live the opposite way, an hour away, in the woods— like, way out in the fucking woods on a lake. It’s beautiful. So, I ride everyday with the sun coming up and it’s cool.
MW: If you weren’t acting what would you be doing?
NR: When I was really little I wanted to be a marine biologist. That’s what I really wanted to do. But I don’t think I’m dedicated enough to pull that off. I don’t know, then I just thought I’d live somewhere in the woods with a bunch of cats and just make art and just be quiet.
MW: What’s next?
NR: I have a book of photography that just came out called The Sun’s Coming Up Like a Big Bald Head, and all the proceeds go to charity. It’s a bunch of images that I’ve taken over the past fifteen years—like in Russia, in Berlin. It’s pretty cool. It’s all over New York. It’s in St Mark’s books and a bunch of other book stores, too. I have a book of fan art that just came out also. You can get both books at www.bigbaldbook.com. I have an Adult Swim cartoon that’s coming out as well. Yeah, I’m playing a voice. Me and Danny Trejo and a few other people. It’s a blast! We record it in Atlanta. I also have a film coming out called Triple Nine that John Hillcoat directed with Woody Harrelson, Casey Affleck, Kate Winslet, and just an awesome cast of people.