Darryl Dixon isn’t even in the Walking Dead comics—but he’s become such a beloved character on the TV show that tons of people wear T-shirts threatening to riot if he’s killed. We asked actor Norman Reedus what it is about Darryl that makes him so beloved.

“I think he wears his heart on his sleve,” said Reedus of his character. “I don’t think he’s trying to trick you or fool you. I think he has a certain amount of loyalty to him. He would never cross boundaries with that.”

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And Reedus said that the evolution of Darryl has been unusually compelling, too. “Usually, you have a good guy who’s broken, and he goes bad. This guy started off bad, and was a loner and couldn’t relate to anybody, and didn’t want people around him.”

Darryl “had a huge chip on his shoulder,” said Reedus. “We’re watching that chip slowly get chipped off. He found a sense of self-worth through these strangers he would never have hung out with. And I feel like you’re watching this guy sort of become a man that... firmly believes in the things he believes in. He’s becoming admirable. People rely on him, for the first him.”

“I think there’s a whole bunch of things” that people love about Darryl, said Reedus.

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And because Darryl isn’t in the comics at all, there’s no way of knowing what might happen to him. “I like having the door open wide,” said Reedus. “It’s fun. I like it. I’m not the only character on the show that’s not from the comic book, though.”

Reedus is starring in a new movie called Air, alongside Djimon Hounsou, which opens in select theaters on August 14. In it, Reedus and Hounsou play the two caretakers of a facility where some of humanity’s brightest people are kept in cryogenic suspension, after a catastrophe has rendered the Earth uninhabitable for decades.

And both Reedus and Hounsou go kind of nuts, in different ways. Reedus said this is a normal response to the apocalypse: “It’s the end of the world. I think I’d freak out a little bit.” And he figures everybody after the apocalypse is freaking out and hallucinating and losing their minds.

When Reedus read the script for Air, “I physically felt something from it—a sense of claustrophobia that I hoped they kept throughout the film.” And they talked about the film Moon a lot on the set, and everyone was saying, “We love that movie and we’re hoping to have this kind of feel to it,” said Reedus. “I thought that was a really cool statement to make.”

But why does Reedus’ character get a job running this incredibly important cryo facility, when he doesn’t seem to believe in his mission? “It was a little last minute,” said Reedus. If his character didn’t have the skillset they needed to keep the place operational, “I definitely don’t think he would have been invited.” And this was happening all over the world, all at the same time.

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“That’s why there’s so much high-tech equpiment wrapped in duct tape,” said Reedus. “It was all last-minute.”

The central debate of the film is between Reedus and Hounsou, over whether there’s any point trying to carry on. “Djimon’s character, he believes there is hope for the future, that we’ll be the ones to bring these people to a place, and let them repopulate the Earth. He believes in his job. And I think my character, Bower, does not. And he’s being screwed with. No-one’s ever going to call us. We’re going to be stuck here forever.”

Adds Reedus, “Having those two points of view completely counterbalance where they end up at the end of the film.”

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Air is produced by Robert Kirkman, who also produced The Walking Dead—and when Kirkman got in touch with Reedus about it, he thought he was about to hear that Darryl was being killed off. “When your executive producer and creator calls you and goes, ‘Hey, can I talk to you about something?’... I think all of us are fearing that phone call. Because they’re going to kill off all of us at some point.”


Contact the author at charliejane@io9.com.