Interview: Koko Ntuen
Photographer: Shanna Fisher
Styled By: Quentin Fears
Norman Reedus, of Boondock Saints fame, is a veritable jack-of-all-trades. In addition to his acting, he is a talented artist and has been showing his work as a painter, sculptor and photographer since his early days working in a Harley Davidson shop in Venice Beach. Since then, he has appeared in films alongside talents such as Willem Dafoe, Stephen Dorff and Gretchen Mol, among others. Though he may be playing wild zombie-killer Daryl Dixon in the hit show, The Walking Dead by day, by night Reedus is a devoted father to his son, Mingus (named after the legendary Jazz musician, Charles Mingus).
With an upcoming film release and a new season of The Walking Dead on the way and a title role in Lady Gaga’s latest epic music video Judas, Reedus invited us to his Chinatown Apartment for a chat.
LG: When did you realize you wanted to be an actor?
Norman Reedus: I didn’t really have an idea I wanted to act until I did it. I remember a scene in my first film called Floating. There was one bit where my father in the film had to stand up out of a wheelchair and hug me after all this horrible shit happened. The director came in and asked how I wanted to prepare for the scene. I literally asked what my options were. I had no idea. I ended up just calling my real dad, who was coincidentally sick and in a wheel chair. Then I did the scene five minutes later. A grip came up to me after lunch in my little holding room where I slept for an hour while everyone went to lunch. He told me nobody spoke during lunch and [that they] hardly ate their food. Maybe he was just being nice because he knew I hadn’t done this before, and it was at that moment I thought, “Oh… this shit isn’t fake, it’s real.” I am always looking to feel that again somewhere, as much as I can. It changed something in me. I’m really fortunate and happy this job found me and that I found it. I’m always very grateful for that.
What was your experience like leaving home at such an early age? How did that help you navigate through Hollywood?
I’m not sure. I left home early to do other things. I wasn’t exactly a runaway, it just worked out better for everyone that I left when I did. I think life experience probably helps you in whatever your job may be, dealing with people, etc. It can’t hurt. Well I guess it could.
I don’t know man. Navigating through Hollywood, etc., I’ve made a lot of mistakes. Maybe those two are connected in some weird way. I started out angry, with big chips on my shoulder, not really feeling like I fit in. Maybe that even helps to an extent. Who knows? I know I kinda glared at everyone for a long time, actors included. I just assumed people were out to hurt me somehow. I was a bit too defensive, maybe. I’m a really nice guy, or so I like to think. You know in that movie Mystery Train, where that girl is putting lipstick on her boyfriend and he’s sitting on the floor? She asks him why he’s always so upset, and he answers, “I’m not, it’s just how my face is.” Maybe I got that face.
What was it like getting ‘discovered’? What do you think you would be doing if this moment never happened?
Well, I was at a party a bit drunk, yelling at everyone. Someone approached me. It sort of happened like that. I just wanted to live quietly as a kid. I wanted to stay put and have some land and things that were mine, nothing really fancy. Just my area with my stuff that I could keep.
What did you want to be when you were growing up?
I wanted to be a Marine Biologist. I remember watching shows of Jacques Cousteau. He was so cool! He seemed to have the best life. I wanted to be him.
Where did you first live when you moved to LA?
I followed a girl there. She immediately left, hooked up with an old boyfriend, and left. I ended up living downtown with some friends, back when nobody really lived downtown. It was mostly trash cans of fire under bridges and us really.
How do you get in the mood to act in such a fantasy world as The Walking Dead? Does it seem much different from acting in something more reality-based?
Well, it’s about 110 degrees there. That helps. Greg Nicotero is so good with the zombies; they really are frightening up close. It’s just such a good team all around. The actors, directors, producers, everyone really. It’s not hard to be motivated.
When do you feel like you have more control: when you are doing photography, sculpting, painting or when you are acting?
There’s not so much a difference, really. Just alone, or not alone. Kind of the same, other than that.
What’s your favorite food?
Oh, man. What don’t I like? I’m a goat; I eat everything
What is your summer routine?
Mingus, park, friends. Sunshine, when I can find it.
What are you listening to now?
Lots of Chet Baker lately and Desmond Dekker. It changes.
What were you doing when you were 28?
I was up to no good, really. I’ve gotten smarter, I think.
What is your favorite weapon to act with on screen?
Crossbow! Hands down. I seem to use a lot of guns and knives. A crossbow is painful on the spine when you run, but a blast to shoot zombie brains with.
What is it like to have a doll in your likeness?
It’s kinda funny. My son has a few in his room. I want ‘em to talk. I like when they include my tattoos though, it’s funny. Maybe I will fry one with a magnifying glass. Get it on Super 8.
Has The Walking Dead gotten you interested in comics?
Yeah, a bit. They are so complex, really emotional. I didn’t really take notice of that until now.
What role do you play in your new movie The Conspirator?
I play Lewis Payne. He was kind of a rockstar during the trial. Girls liked him and watched him during it. He would stare out the window, eat all of his food when the others didn’t or couldn’t and refuse to visit with the priest like the others did. He even played jokes on the prison guards. Kind of like the Murphy of the group. The film doesn’t really focus on the conspirators as much as Mary Surrat, the mother of one of them, and her lawyer, but I learned quite a bit about him.
Where is your favorite place to live?
New York. Hands down.
If Murphy MacManus, Daryl Dixon and you got in a fight, who would win?
I would definitely lose. I bet Murph and Daryl would end up in a bar, crying into their drinks and hugging it out.
Where did the name of your production company Big Bald Head come from?
It’s from a Laurie Anderson song, ‘Sharkey’s Day,’ “The suns coming up / like a big bald head.” It was my first concert.
What was the craziest New York moment that happened to you?
I remember smoking a joint when I first got here, walking down the street with a friend. A cop yelled us over and said, ‘What are you, an asshole?’ I walked away from that ticketless with my tail between my legs, just scolded like your dad woulda’ done. I would have rather gotten a ticket to be honest. He just slapped me, basically.
What has been your favorite performance to date?
Daryl, I think. The Walking Dead is such a cool job. I’m over the moon about it.
Do you watch The Walking Dead on television?
Fuckin’ A, I do.
Tell us one thing that no one knows about you.
I’m really happy.