Norman wears XXXXX // ๐Ÿ“ธ : Reto Sterchi
Norman wears XXXXX // ๐Ÿ“ธ : Reto Sterchi

Norman Reedus: Motorbikes Are My Freedom

From The Walking Dead to The Bikeriders, life's been quite the trip for Norman Reedus.

Words by Pete Samson
Photography by Reto Sterchi
Creative by Alison Edmond

Whether slaying zombies in The Walking Dead, or revving engines in The Bikeriders, Norman Reedus spends his life at the intersection of work and passion, normally on a Harley-Davidson.

He is, of course, best known for his 14-year stint as Daryl Dixon in the post-apocalyptic AMC drama The Walking Dead and its recent sequel series The Walking Dead: Daryl Dixon. Given the spin-off was named after Norman’s now-iconic protagonist, it’s fair to say that job has gone rather well.

Norman wears XXXXX // ๐Ÿ“ธ : Reto Sterchi
Norman wears red felt jacket, black cotton shirt, both by GREG LAUREN // ๐Ÿ“ธ : Reto Sterchi

When he’s not finding imaginative ways to kill the undead, Norman is also one of the world’s most high-profile motorbike fanatics. And since 2016, his docuseries Ride with Norman Reedus has also been broadcast on AMC. Norman travels the world on his motorcycle exploring biker culture, and is joined on the road by a different guest star each episode. His wingmen have included Easy Rider legend Peter Fonda, his The Walking Deadย  co-star Andrew Lincoln, and Hollywood icon Keanu Reeves. Another dream gig.

Norman wears XXXXX // ๐Ÿ“ธ : Reto Sterchi
Norman wears plaid and denim coat with gold trim, white tee, and denim drawstring pants, all by GREG LAUREN // ๐Ÿ“ธ : Reto Sterchi

And now, perhaps his most perfect fit. This time on the big screen, Norman shines as rotten-toothed Funny Sonny in The Bikeriders, Jeff Nichols’ ’60s-set film about the motorcycle club Chicago Vandals, based on the book by photojournalist Danny Lyon. It’s a sexy, smoldering, and sometimes savage movie which, notably, is based on a photographic study of this real-life biker gang, as opposed to a novel or memoir. Director Nichols has a well-earned reputation as one of Hollywood’s most subtly emotive filmmakers thanks to slow-burning indie classics like Take Shelter (2012) and Mud (2013). And he brings this sharp eye and deft execution to do tremendous justice to the source material here, maintaining the photojournalistic feel and immersing the audience in cigarette smoke, denim, gasoline, and the odd splattering of blood.

Norman wears XXXXX // ๐Ÿ“ธ : Reto Sterchi
Norman wears pinstripe suit, white shirt, and knitted tie, all by GREG LAUREN // ๐Ÿ“ธ : Reto Sterchi

Here, Norman shares stories from all three of these extraordinary projects, each one combining his talents and passions in perfect, greased harmony. Speaking shortly after The Bikeriders was released to public and critical acclaim, he shares the true stories behind movie โ€” in which he stars alongside Tom Hardy, Austin Butler, and Jodie Comer โ€” his future plans for Daryl Dixon, and how his love for motorbikes has helped him find escape and freedom throughout his life. Enjoy the ride!

Norman wears XXXXX // ๐Ÿ“ธ : Reto Sterchi
Norman wears red felt jacket, black cotton shirt, both by GREG LAUREN // ๐Ÿ“ธ : Reto Sterchi

I loved The Bikeriders. What a f***ing cool movie. Tell me about how the role came to you. Were you aware of the book prior to hearing about the film?

I was in Cannes, and was sat next to Jeff Nichols. We were talking for about an hour, and just having a good time. Then he said, “Hey, I have a movie. Would you like to play a part in it?” He said it was called The Bikeriders, and I said, “Wait a minute, is the Danny Lyon photo book?” And he said, “Yeah, you know that?” I have a signed copy of that book, I have a couple of prints from that book in my house, and I took a lot of those photos from that book when I went to Georgia to start The Walking Dead as reference for wardrobe and looks for Daryl. So I was well-versed in the book. He sent me the script and told me who was playing what parts. And I said, “Jeff, you have a lot of good looking guys in this movie. Can I go in the opposite direction?” And he said, “Sure.” So that’s how that happened.

Norman wears XXXXX // ๐Ÿ“ธ : Reto Sterchi
Norman wears wool and canvas coat by GREG LAUREN // ๐Ÿ“ธ : Reto Sterchi

Your character certainly has a striking look! Tell me about those rotten teeth โ€” did you have some fun with those?

Yeah, I’ve never really done anything with fake teeth before.ย  I had Greg Nicotero’s special effects team with me in Paris for Daryl Dixon, so I had them make the teeth. To get used to them, I’d wear them on the plane on my way to Ohio [to film The Bikeriders] and try and order my Diet Coke with the teeth in. Then when I got to Ohio, I went to Target in the teeth, went to Starbucks in the teeth, and eventually I got used to talking with them in.

Norman wears XXXXX // ๐Ÿ“ธ : Reto Sterchi
Norman wears plaid wool robe, black tank, black drawstring pants with suspenders, and motorcross boots, all by GREG LAUREN // ๐Ÿ“ธ : Reto Sterchi

How did you use Danny Lyon’s book to build your character?

There are pictures of Funny Sonny in Danny’s book, but not a lot. In the photographs of Sonny, he’sย having a great time, and looks like the funnest guy in the room, so I went in that direction.

Norman wears XXXXX // ๐Ÿ“ธ : Reto Sterchi
Norman wears pinstripe suit, white shirt, and knitted tie, all by GREG LAUREN // ๐Ÿ“ธ : Reto Sterchi

Jeff is such a collaborative director, he really listens to the actors and is up for new ideas. Hence the teeth, and the beard, and that whole look. When I look at old photography books, I think, “What was happening during this photograph? Who’s that lady standing in the background? What’s her story?” And I think Jeff did a really good job of capturing these memories and bringing them to life in the film. The time period, the motorcycles, the attitudes, the clothing. It’s all such a vibe.

Norman wears XXXXX // ๐Ÿ“ธ : Reto Sterchi
Norman wears wool, canvas and denim jacket, black wool cardigan, by GREG LAUREN // ๐Ÿ“ธ : Reto Sterchi

In the book, there’s a picture of Sonny kissing another member of the club, like a full open-mouthed, big kiss. When I got to the set, I asked Jeff, “Should I be looking at the character like we might have a relationship in the future?” He just said no, that the movie was about Benny’s relationship. But then I saw Danny backstage at the Los Angeles premiere, and I told him that I’d always wanted to know about that photograph, and whether they were a couple. He goes, “No, they were just f***ing around, screwing with me for the camera.” So it was nice to be able to get the true story from the photographer who took the picture.

Norman wears XXXXX // ๐Ÿ“ธ : Reto Sterchi
Norman wears pinstripe suit, white shirt, and knitted tie, all by GREG LAURENย // ๐Ÿ“ธ : Reto Sterchi

What do you think was the appeal of these biker gangs for the men involved?

I can tell you, from my perspective, what I imagine it was like for Sonny. He was sent on his bike from California to Ohio to beat a guy up because he didn’t turn in his colors before joining the Vandals. But they didn’t send the biggest, meanest guy. So in my imagination, Sonny was in trouble and they made him do it. To ride a ’56 Panhead from California to Ohio is a butt-breaker, so in my mind, it was a punishment. So he was kind of a f*** up already. Then he ends up drinking with them and hanging out, and once he starts to hear their stories โ€” which are in the book, by the way โ€” he realizes they are just as screwed up as he is.

Norman wears XXXXX // ๐Ÿ“ธ : Reto Sterchi
Norman wears red felt jacket, black cotton shirt, both by GREG LAUREN // ๐Ÿ“ธ : Reto Sterchi

I travel around the world for my travel show [Ride with Norman Reedus] and meet people who also ride bikes, and they all get along like they’re the same person. If I’m riding my bike from state to state, and it breaks down, it’s always going to be a motorcycle that stops and helps me. So I think once Sonny gets there, he realizes that these people are this band of misfits that have formed this family together because of the love of motorcycles. I think motorcycle culture is very much like that, and the idea of having a club based around motorcycles is a very natural thing. You want to be with people who are like-minded and have the same interests. And you’re not really judged in the motorcycle community. So when he gets there, it’s a sense of relief for him โ€” you guys are just like me.

Norman wears XXXXX // ๐Ÿ“ธ : Reto Sterchi
Norman wears pinstripe suit, white shirt, and knitted tie, all by GREG LAUREN // ๐Ÿ“ธ : Reto Sterchi

Tell us about your love affair with motorcycles? Where did that start and why has it become such a big part of your life? What’s so special about riding a motorbike for you?

When I was really little, I used to have a little BMX Mongoose, and I used to ride that for miles. It was a way to get away from my house and get away from any sort of trauma that I was going through. It was an escape thing for me, and to feel like I was in control of something. So that turned into motorcycles, and it’s kind of the same thing. You’re by yourself, nobody can bother you, you can’t answer the phone, it’s just this sense of freedom. You can smell the town you’re riding through, feel the wind on your face, but feel the motor below you. It’s not like riding a horse to me, I’m terrified of horses. It’s a controlled freedom.

Norman wears XXXXX // ๐Ÿ“ธ : Reto Sterchi
Norman wears wool and canvas coat, plaid shirt, white tee, and denim drawstring pants, all by GREG LAUREN. Boots, stylist’s own // ๐Ÿ“ธ : Reto Sterchi

I have a bunch of motorcycles now, they all have a different personality, they all sound a little different, they all feel a little different. Some are better for some things, some are better for other things. You talk to them, and they become a part of you. I have a ’46 [Harley-Davidson] Knucklehead that’s really cool. I have a Triumph 1200 we use on my travel show, and that’s the bike you want to ride cross-country because it’s super-comfortable. But my favorite is an ’87 [Harley] FXR, It’s root beer brown, it has some gold tint to it, and it’s custom made by a friend of mine, Yaniv, out of a company called Power Plant in Los Angeles. It fits me like a glove.

Norman wears XXXXX // ๐Ÿ“ธ : Reto Sterchi
Norman wears plaid wool robe, black tank, black drawstring pants with suspenders, and motorcross boots, all by GREG LAUREN // ๐Ÿ“ธ : Reto Sterchi

At what point did you want to become an actor, and what was your journey to get there?

We moved around [the United States] a lot [as a youngster], then my mom moved to Japan and I met this girl in Tokyo, so I dropped out of high school and moved to Tokyo. I met a bunch of English people out there, and went to England with them. We squatted in a house in Tooting Bec, and we would eat potatoes all day, take ecstasy, and hang out on Clapham Common. Then I went to Spain, and then I followed a girl to California. I was in LA and was working in a motorcycle shop, then one day I got in a fight with my boss, and he fired me, so I went to a party and got really drunk. A lady, the director of a play called Maps for Drowners that was playing at the Tiffany Theater, asked me about becoming an actor. I ended up as an understudy, and they told me I would never have to go on stage. But then the first night of the play, the lead guy didn’t show up, and I had to wing it. There was a lady from William Morris in the audience, and I started working right after that.

Norman wears XXXXX // ๐Ÿ“ธ : Reto Sterchi
Norman wears plaid and denim coat with gold trim, white tee, and denim drawstring pants, all by GREG LAUREN // ๐Ÿ“ธ : Reto Sterchi

I love that. So you didn’t grow up with a huge ambition to be a famous actor?

No, I mean, I was artistic. I was doing art shows and stuff in LA while I was working in the motorcycle shop. I just wanted to live in a house with a bunch of cats and drink coffee and make artwork. That was my goal in life.

And do you know what, that’s still my goal in life!

Norman wears XXXXX // ๐Ÿ“ธ : Reto Sterchi
Norman wears wool, canvas and denim jacket, black wool cardigan, ivory henley, black drawstring pants, all by GREG LAUREN. Boots, stylist’s own // ๐Ÿ“ธ : Reto Sterchi

Let’s talk about Daryl Dixon. As part of my research for this chat, I found an interview from 2011 where you said you hoped to play this role for a long time. And here we are, in 2024, so that went pretty well. How much longer would you like to continue to play this part?

I think maybe six or seven more years. The Daryl Dixon spin-off has given me an opportunity to take the show in a direction that’s different to the original show. I didn’t want to make the same show again in a different location. I wanted to reinvent it. And they let me, with the other like-minded people involved, invent something new. So it feels fresh to me. It’s in a different language. It’s shot a different way. It’s not really about zombies, and who’s going to get bit this week, it’s completely different. So as long as I keep reinventing it, it’s fun.

Norman wears XXXXX // ๐Ÿ“ธ : Reto Sterchi
Norman wears pinstripe suit, white shirt, and knitted tie, all by GREG LAUREN // ๐Ÿ“ธ : Reto Sterchi

We went to Paris, and we didn’t want to make an American show and drop it in a European country, not have it reflect anything of the place that we were filming it at. So we wanted the French people to look at it and feel like it was their show, too. And it worked. French people love the show. So I’m excited for them to see season two [released in September].

Norman wears XXXXX // ๐Ÿ“ธ : Reto Sterchi
Norman wears wool and canvas coat, plaid shirt, white tee, and denim drawstring pants, all by GREG LAUREN. Boots, stylist’s own // ๐Ÿ“ธ : Reto Sterchi

The show, and your character in particular, has such intense fandom around them. That’s what has kept the show, and the character, alive. What are some of the craziest things you have experienced that shows the passion of these fans?

There are so many. I’ve seen it all. One of the coolest things was when we were filming Ride in Coney Island, and these girls came up and said, “You have to come and see this next door.” So we went to the Coney Island Aquarium where there is this shark, and his face has scratches all over it, and his teeth are all busted up, he’s the most gnarly shark ever. And his name is Daryl Dixon. So that was pretty cool.


Grooming by Sonia Lee
Shot on location at OPC, Hawthorne, California

Many thanks to Jesse Simon


Pete began his career on Fleet Street more than two decades ago, and has worked for some of the worldโ€™s biggest news, entertainment, and wellness companies as a writer, editor, and media executive. He co-founded Mr Feelgood to help demystify the world of personal development, and to encourage men to discuss and improve their mental health, by sharing the wisdom and lessons learned of inspiring artists and leaders.

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