By RODNEY HO/ email@example.com, originally filed Saturday, June 4, 2016
AMC’s Joel Stillerman, who runs original programming and development for the network, was trying to think up ways to leverage “The Walking Dead’s” most popular actor Norman Reedus.
He pitched to Reedus an enticingly simple idea: travel the country on a motorcycle. Reedus’ reaction? “I said, ‘Yes, yes, yes, yes, before you change your mind!’ ” said the 47-year-old actor, a motorcycle enthusiast since he was a teen. The result: six episodes of “The Ride With Norman Reedus,” debuting June 12 at 10 p.m.
I spoke with him Friday by phone about the show itself, why he loves motorcycles and his feelings about “The Walking Dead” entering season seven this fall. In a way to to lighten the mood, he called me “Rodney on the Roq.” I had no idea what the reference was but he grew up in Los Angeles and that man is apparently a legendary DJ in town. (I’m a native New Yorker. My biggest Rodney reference as a child was Rodney Allen Ripley, a child star of the era.)
The first episode of “The Ride,” where he drove with different motorcycle enthusiasts up the Pacific Coast Highway in California, highlights Reedus’ easy rapport with people, his approachability with fans and his lighthearted sense of humor. Reedus is far sweeter than his often gruff Daryl Dixon character on “The Walking Dead.” (Extended preview trailer here. Embed code didn’t work for me.)
Q: When was the first time you rode a motorcycle?
Reedus: First time I rode a motorcycle, I had a friend who had a YZ80 dirt bike. We used to take turns on his dirt bike, take turns getting stitches, running from the police, hiding between cars and gunning the engines and going the other way. It was scary and thrilling.
Q: Why do you love motorcycles so much?
Reedus: I’m still like I was as a kid. I’m the same guy with less stitches. You’re kind of wide open on a motorcycle. You are aware of everything around you. It’s kind of like when you go down the freeway and you see that golden retriever hanging out the window with his tongue sticking out.
Q: Hopefully you aren’t catching flies on your tongue!
Reedus: No problem if you have a full-face helmet. I do bite the edges of my tongue sometimes if I chew gum.
Q: How many bikes do you own?
Reedus: Five bikes. I had some in Georgia where we film the show. I had some in a garage in the East Village [of New York City.] But eventually, I took them out of there and brought them all down to Georgia. The rides are much better here. There’s no traffic, just cows going by. That kind of vibe. I get back to New York after the shooting is done and it’s winter. There’s snow on the ground. It’s hard to motorcycle there.
Q: Does this show give you an excuse to ride in cool places you might not otherwise go?
Reedus: I probably would have gone to these places anyway. It’s such a unique thing, this show. It’s not scripted. It’s off the cuff. We meet people and we say, where are you headed? They say, ‘Why don’t you try this route? You get to see this!’ We get to see all sorts of new things. I’m not a motorcycle expert. I’m learning as we go along. People watching it can feel like they are on the ride with us.
Q: How did you come up with the locations for the first six episodes? Did you have a wish list and then consult with the producers?
Reedus: It was a combination of that. We shot during the winter so we needed warm places. The places we picked are very heavy with motorcycle culture. [He hit spots in North Carolina, Florida, California, Nevada, Texas and Louisiana.] I learned you can ride across America and do 100 episodes and not see everything. The routes are endless!
Q: You guys used special Bluetooth wireless headsets to talk to each other. Is that something you’ve done before?
Reedus: No. This is the first time I’ve used it. It’s super weird at first. But then it feel pretty normal. If you’re on a long ride with somebody, you end up hearing them sing to themselves. And talk to themselves.
Q: You sing to yourself while you’re riding?
Reedus: Oh yah! You sing to yourself like you’re in your shower. You talk to yourself. Then again, you do your best thinking with a helmet on. It’s like being in an airplane sitting there alone. It’s how I get to work on ‘The Walking Dead.’ I learn my lines that way. I think about the scene I’m about to do. I decompress on my way home. It’s truly my own little zen moment.
Q: In the first episode, you try out an electric motorcycle. You told a podcaster that would be an ideal way to travel in ‘The Walking Dead,’ right?
Reedus; It’s like your a** is sliding on ice. You could place solar panels on the bike. It’s real quiet. You don’t draw attention.
Q: Good way to quietly get away from zombies, right?
Reedus; They couldn’t catch me on a motorcycle anyway!
Q: Who do you like to ride with while in Atlanta?
Reedus: I ride with Steven [Yeun, who plays Glenn] [Just last month, they helped out at an accident scene.] I ride with Austin Nichols [who plays Spencer.] I ride with Jeffrey Dean Morgan [who plays Negan.] There are some people on the crew that ride bikes. But it’s also fun just riding by yourself.
Q: Now that you have spent so much time in Atlanta over six years, what do you like the most about being in Georgia?
Reedus: I like the people there. I like the scenery. I like the roads there. The view. You can just ride for a long time and barely see any cars if you take certain routes. I like to see the baby cows. I like the smell. I like to feel the wind. There’s a lot of nature. It’s nice. I live in Chinatown in New York. It’s completely opposite.
Q: On Walking Dead, was Daryl Dixon a biker from the get go? Or did you talk them into it?
Reedus: From the beginning, there was a scene where I was supposed to be on a horse. I’m scared of horses. There was a motorcycle in the background. I asked, ‘Who’s motorcycle is that?’ I’m told, ‘That’s your brother Merle’s bike.’ I said, ‘Maybe I can ride that!’ It would make sense. My brother rides so I should know how to also. That was a way to get around my fear of horses.
Q: How many seasons of “The Walking Dead” do you think are viable before you feel it’s time to close shop?
Reedus: It can go on for a long time. We have such good source material [from the graphic novels Robert Kirkman writes.]. The source material is really interesting. It goes on for a long time. We’re lucky we have that. We have a bible we follow that we can deviate from.
Q: But your character isn’t even in the graphic novel!
Reedus: I’ve always felt blessed. My character can bend in a bunch of different ways. I’ve never felt like that was an issue.
Q: Did you like the Negan cliffhanger? Obviously, a lot of fans didn’t.
Reedus: I was okay with it. I knew where we were going. I actually like cliffhangers to be honest. I like throwing something at the TV. ‘Oh my God!’ It’s part of entertainment. I know everybody is into instant gratfication. I get it, especially nowadays with everyone on Twitter and Facebook. They want to know now. Then again, I don’t want to sit down at a movie and have someone tell me the ending before it starts. I get it but I will say that what we’re doing in season seven is well worth the wait. It’s worth the wait!
[I didn’t ask if Daryl was the one Negan bludgeoned to death. Come on! Not gonna happen.]
Q: I’ve said for years you are the least likely person to ever get killed off the show because there would literally be riots in the streets. Do you have even an inkling or desire to leave voluntarily?
Reedus: Oh, I’d never say that. I love this job. I love the people I work with. I put a ton of effort into this part. I still enjoy it like the first day. It’s a blessing to be part of something you like this much. I still like it as much as I ever did. There’s no way I would do that.
“The Ride With Norman Reedus,” 10 p.m. Sundays, starting June 12, AMC