Norman Reedus

Norman Reedus has made Daryl Dixon tender in "The Walking Dead," but as he says, "You can┬┐t not look cool holding a crossbow." (AMC)

Norman Reedus never wanted Daryl Dixon, the redneck he plays in AMC's "The Walking Dead," to be a younger version of Daryl's racist brother, Merle.

He's definitely showing more sides of Daryl in Season 2 of the hit series, making the fan favorite both tender and tough. He's still a loner, but he's slowly opening up to individuals in the group.

He's also become a real hero in the face of the zombie apocalypse. While other members of his group are ready to hang up the search for young Sophia, Daryl remains committed to finding Carol’s daughter—most likely because he feels a kinship as the survivor of abuse himself.

"You feel for Daryl," Reedus told me at the beginning of the season. "He’s just as ferocious as ever, but you understand why he’s not just a nut, he’s not just Merle again.

“He’s a guy that’s just incredibly emotionally and spiritually damaged.”

It’s a standout portrayal by Reedus, one that Andrew Lincoln, who plays Rick Grimes, called “phenomenal.”

“What he’s done with this role is beautiful and bewitching, and really intelligent as well,” Lincoln said in a separate interview. “Norman’s a great, great actor.”

In the two most recent episodes (spoilers if you haven't seen them), Reedus showed the depth he’s found in Daryl, who last week told Carol a lovely story about the Cherokee Rose and, in Sunday’s “Chupacabra,” went all badass again, pulling an arrow out of his own side to use it to kill a zombie, eating squirrel sushi and making a necklace out of zombie ears.

Oh, and did I mention he had a hallucination in which Merle belittled him and told him that Rick and the group are not his friends? As Reedus said during our conversation, Merle’s influence still runs deep—which explains why, when Carol leaned in to give him a thank-you kiss, he pulled away and tried to refuse her compliments.

"The dogs with the loudest bark are the ones that are most afraid,” Reedus said, explaining his approach to Daryl, about whom we will learn even more devastating backstory. “I’m trying to play [Daryl] sort of like a scared, wet animal in an alley. He’ll lash out at you, but he’d really love it if you took him inside and gave him some milk.”

Here's more of the conversation Reedus and I had earlier this year. We talked about Daryl, the zombie apocalypse, crossbows, Mothra and “The Boondocks Saints.” But first, he was very happy to hear that he’s made me pass out.

Thanks for doing the interview. First off, I wanted to tell you that you made me pass out in Season 1. When Daryl found his brother’s hand, the look on your face—I just went “plop.”
Oh, right on. [Laughs.] I don’t know, is that good or bad?

Well, it’s good I guess. I mean I wasn’t driving or anything, right?
You weren’t flying a plane. … So like anything dramatic will make you just pass out?

Yeah, it’s usually peoples’ reactions after either stabbings or body parts being chopped off. But it’s never the actual visual of that happening.
Wow. Why is that? That’s awesome. I mean it’s weird, but it’s awesome. Can you watch all of the second season and then call me every time you pass out? Because I bet I make you pass out again. … That’s my goal for the rest of the season. I’m going to make you pass out.

So anyway, you’re down in Atlanta right now, right?
I am. Well, I’m in Senoia—well, I’m actually staying in Noonan which is like 10, 20 minutes from Senoia where we film, and Senoia is about 45 minutes south of Atlanta, like out in the sticks.