Throughout the early 2000s, actor Norman Reedus capitalized on his Boondock Saints fame to get work in a variety of different films, but by the time the more maligned The Boondocks Saints II came out in 2009, it seemed like he might not find another part that enraptured fans in the same way. And then along came The Walking Dead, forever cementing his place in pop culture as Daryl Dixon. And why did Reedus go with the unproven zombie drama above anything else on the boob tube? Basically because it was the kind of show he’d be interested in seeing.
While his previous TV work had been limited to a couple of episodes of Charmed and the stellar John Carpenter installment of Masters of Horror, Reedus was interested in making the shift from big screen to small screen. Here’s how he explained it.
I went to L.A. for pilot season just to see what was on TV because it was starting to become really great. I was already watching AMC shows like Breaking Bad and Mad Men religiously. There were so many similar scripts — hospital and cop dramas — and then The Walking Dead was so different. It stuck out like a sore thumb. I had a feeling it was going to be something cool that I would want to watch. I asked to go in for anything, even something just for a day. They got me in for an audition — not in front of Frank [Darabont] — but I read Merle's lines.
It’s not a huge stretch to picture Reedus playing the part of Merle, since he and Daryl are brothers and both have a similar mean redneck streak (although Daryl has a softer side that Merle sorely lacked). It's a lot harder to see Reedus on a hospital show like Chicago Med or a procedural like CSI. But it turns out that co-developers Frank Darabont and Gale Anne Hurd weren’t actually interested in him taking that role, since Michael Rooker had already been cast, something Reedus had previously been told.
And so, not looking a gift zombie horse in the mouth, he was excited when he got a callback for another audition. Reedus told EW how the rest of that day went for him.
I came in and read different Merle lines. I thought maybe Rooker was not going to be doing it. When I left the offices in New York, I was walking home through Chinatown and got a call saying Frank created a new part – Daryl – for me. I did cartwheels in Chinatown! It was a dream. I didn’t know how long I’d last or if it was just one episode.
Considering The Walking Dead already had a full slate of characters from the comic book, having one of Hollywood’s most respected writers and directors create a new one specifically for Reedus is pretty special indeed. Daryl is one of the main reasons why the show’s fanbase is so gigantic, and he’s been at the center of the series’ rumor mill almost since the beginning, and every season sees rumors of his death (that never pan out). Not even his sexuality has been spared. Will Daryl still be there when the show ends? There’s a damned good chance.
Fans will be able to see what becomes of Daryl when The Walking Dead Season 6 premieres on Sunday, October 11 on AMC.