The Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman‘s Skybound Entertainment is celebrating its fifth anniversary at this week’s Comic-Con International in San Diego. And with the company’s first feature film Air hitting theaters on August 14th, fans can look forward to an exclusive new full-length trailer when Kirkman and his producing partner David Alpert take the stage for a panel in Room 6BCF from 3:30-4:30pm on Thursday, July 9th. To help whet our appetites, The Walking Dead‘s own Norman Reedus — who stars in Air as one of two engineers tasked with maintaining the planet’s dwindling population in suspended animation — took some time to chat with me about the movie, as well as what lies ahead for Daryl Dixon when his smash AMC TV series returns this October.
Nerdist: Air differs from most thrillers we see in the summer months in that it appears to be more of a psychological nailbiter than a spectacle.
Norman Reedus: Yeah, it was written very claustrophobic and it felt very claustrophobic when you read it. It felt claustrophobic filming it. That claustrophobia’s definitely a major role in the film.
N: It’s also a character study between your character and Djimon Hounsou’s. The two of you seem very yin and yang in the way you complement one another.
NR: Yeah, we got along really well. It was funny, because we’d be in the makeup trailer every morning and… It’s a two-person film primarily. You have no downtime at all. You never go to your trailer. You kind of just go from set to set. We’d be sitting in the makeup trailer and… I’d suffocate during part of that film. They had capillaries coming out of my face and veins on my neck popping out, and stuff like that. My face was generally purple the whole movie. They’d be making me look like that every morning, and I’d look over at Djimon, and they’d be making him look even more handsome every day. It would sort of just piss me off. [Laughs.] But he and I got on very well. The production was great, the producers. It was a very interesting thing, because I’d never met Djimon before that and I’d always admired his work. It was nice to do that with Djimon. It was very intimate, and our characters were similar and very different at the same time. One of them views their job a little bit differently than the other one.
N: How would you describe the two protagonists?
NR: Well they both basically have the same job. There’s different facets to that job. One of them is to maintain the environment that they’re living in and to keep these other people alive who are in their sleeping pods. But one of them sees himself as janitor, and the other one sees himself as a scientist. They basically kind of have the same job. And there’s a chess game that we’re playing, that we’ve been playing for six months, or probably years even, and it’s not over yet. You wake up and you move a chess piece and you go back to sleep. And you hope that there’s life after this. Not to give to much away, but one of them sort of gave up and the other one has hope for the future. They’re very, very different. Through a series of events they do end up sort of mirroring each other in certain ways and find hope in each other and sacrifices are made.
N: In some ways, Air looks like it harkens back to ‘70s thrillers like Alien.
NR: Yeah, and it kind of has this real Space Odyssey vibe to it in certain areas. There was an independent film called Moon which I really, really liked — with Sam Rockwell — and it had some of those characteristics as well. There’s even a poster of Farrah Fawcett on the wall, and I used to have poster in my bedroom when I was a kid. So it did sort of have that high-tech mixed with low-tech… The idea was to have high-tech controls and high-tech equipment at our disposal, but you had to throw it together in twenty-four hours. So there’s very high-tech equipment wrapped in duct tape, you know what I mean?
N: Robert has said he thought of you for this project because he suffers from “Norman withdrawal” when Walking Dead isn’t in production.
NR: Oh good! [Laughs]
N: What did he tell you when he approached you with the role?
NR: The thing is, when you work with producers that you know intimately, you trust them. I know the quality of what Robert puts his hands in, and the quality that he demands from the stuff that he puts out. I felt very comfortable going into the movie with him, because I know him and I knew what he’s capable of and what interests him. That made it very easy to say yes to it. Dave Alpert, as well.
I met with the director [Christian Cantamessa], and we had some long calls and conversations and meetings with my manager about the script. I felt very comfortable going into it. It was something different. I had never done anything like that, so I wanted to see what it would be like to be just sort of suffocated like that. It came out the way that I thought it would come out. I’m very happy with it.
N: This was Christian’s first feature film as a director. How did he fare?
NR: Christian reminds me a lot of Guillermo del Toro. Guillermo was the first director I ever worked with, and he kind of has that same sort of brain that Guillermo has. He’s very enthusiastic about what he’s doing. Which is infectious. It makes everybody excited as well, even with long hours. Complicated things that you can’t really put your head around, Christian had worked out. Airlocks and timers and all these different facets of the space that we’re working in that location; how to turn that into all these different things with the set dressing and camera tricks and the air being taken out and put into the facility. He reminds me a lot of Guillermo, I told him that right from the get go. I bet if Christian met Guillermo they would get along great.
He had a very complicated idea for this story, and sometimes when you’re trying to put your head around it when you’re reading it, things don’t make sense to you, and you need somebody to be really on their game and explain what this means and what that does going from this room to that room, and so forth. There’s lock of clocks, lots of timers, lots of air being sucked out of the room. It really had that feeling of, like I said, suffocation, when you were reading it, and claustrophobia. To have somebody like Christian, who was really on his A game, to put all those things into terms that we could all figure out so we could understand why we were doing things… Because when you read it, you’re like, “Wow, how does that work?” and “What does that mean?” and “If I go through here what does that mean for over there?” He really laid it out for us. He was a pleasure to work with.
N: It’s a testament to your talent that creators from Guillermo to Robert to Christian feel that when mankind is facing the end of the world, when the apocalypse is at hand, the person to call is Norman Reedus.
NR: I don’t know. If the shit hits the fan I’ll probably be hiding up in a tree somewhere. Hopefully it doesn’t come to that. [Laughs.] I don’t know. That’s pretty cool. I like movies like that. I like ideas like that. I like desperate situations and having to fight your way out of them and stand up for what you believe in. I like all those stories like that, and I’ve been very fortunate to work with some cool people and continue to, so I’m a very lucky guy.
N: Speaking of The Walking Dead… Could you describe what’s going on inside Daryl’s head at the end of end of season 5 and as he heads into season 6?
NR: He’s sort of in wild-animal mode at the moment. He trusts just those close people around him, and he’s put into situations, like we all are on the show, that really call for you to put it out there, whether you trust people or don’t trust people… I don’t know. You take a lot of wild animals and you put them in a domestic situation, and there’s a lot of people biting at each other. Daryl’s one of those people. He’s a very quiet person, and if he snaps he really snaps. So he’s kind of hanging by a thread as far as what he thinks of these people around him right now. It’s a very complicated storyline that’s happening right now in this season.
There’s lots of action and lots of drama and lots of sadness like we always bring, but this season’s particularly complicated. The storylines are really interwoven with future and past. Certain things happen, and you’re kind of like, “Wow, that just happened.” Then you’ll find out episodes later why that happened and what that meant. [Executive producer] Scott [Gimple]’s so good at planning for the future and taking little things and making them mean big things later. And you go, “Oh, that’s what that means…” A real mature sort of storytelling has really taken us over right now. It’s super interesting and super thrilling.
N: Daryl remains compelling because, among other reasons, while he’s by no means a mere victim, as soon as he starts feeling comfortable around people, he’s thrust by fate into, as you say, animal mode.
NR: Yeah, he can’t catch a break, that dude. [Laughs.] The thing is he’s kind of this sort of wolf creature that has sort of been adopted by these people, and he’s become very loyal to a few of them and he’d do anything for them. It’s like, “Will somebody please pet that wolf?! Just give him a glass of milk and pet him on the head so he can wag his tail for a minute.”
N: We’re looking forward to seeing The Walking Dead at this week’s Comic-Con. Are you excited about anything in particular this year?
NR: Yeah, man. I just the saw Comic-Con trailer. It’s craaazy! I’m super-excited about seeing that… I don’t know, just reconnecting with all those people. It’s so fun. We’re a bunch of goofballs, we’re having so much fun doing the show, and we really have fun at Comic-Con. We want everybody to just have a good time and have fun and enjoy it. It’s a good time, and it should be treated as a good time.
N: Thanks so much for your time, Norman.
NR: Thanks, bro!