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'Walking Dead' star Norman Reedus hitches a 'Ride' with new series

After six seasons of the AMC hit “The Walking Dead,” Norman Reedus could be forgiven if he needed a break from the grim, viscera-splattered world of his motorcycle-riding, zombie-slaying alter-ego, Daryl Dixon.

Except Daryl remains a strong presence in “Ride With Norman Reedus,” the new motorcycle road-trip-styled unscripted series starring Reedus that premieres Sunday night on AMC. There’s Reedus with friend and fellow actor Balthazar Getty being genuinely impressed by a zombie-themed burlesque show in Las Vegas in one episode, and there he is meeting and greeting a small crowd of fans between twists through a North Carolina highway in another. “Anybody ever tell you you look like Daryl from ‘The Walking Dead’?” one asks.

It’s a clear tonal shift from the corpse-riddled end times of Reedus’ day job, but fame – and the role that helped bring it to him – is never far away.

“Yeah, I’m not mad at it,” Reedus said, dressed in a dark blazer and henley in a hotel room on a hazy spring day in Beverly Hills. “I like having fan interaction and I like feeling like it’s our show – fans included. You know, it’s part of [fame] and part of what I’ve embraced with it. It gives you strength to keep pushing forward.”

That momentum is also a big part of “Ride,” which allows Reedus to indulge a longtime passion for motorcycles, which began with getting into scrapes on a friend’s dirt bike when he was 13 years old and continued through his first real job when he moved to L.A. and worked at the since-closed Venice bike shop, Dr. Carl’s Hog Hospital.

“I do some of my best thinking with a helmet on,” said Reedus, who compared the riding experience to yoga. “You’re aware of everything going on; it’s not like you tune out what you’re doing. But you’re by yourself, you’re not texting, you’re not listening to the radio,” he adds with a bit of a sneer (though he’s a big music fan).

“There are no blind spots, you’re kind of wide open and you end up in this Zen sort of state where your head is clear.”

“There is nobody more passionate about motorcycles than Norman Reedus,” said Joel Stillerman, AMC’s president of original programming and the man who proposed the idea for the show.  Reedus said yes “before [Stillerman] changed his mind.”

“He's so easy-going and up for an adventure,” said Getty of his ride with Reedus. “There's something very youthful about him, and we're both big kids, so that's always fun.”

The show attempts to reflect that sensibility with a loose, just-hanging-out structure that recalls many travel-tilted programs on basic cable. The first season of “Ride” encompasses six, geographic-specific, one-hour episodes with Reedus’ voice-over and in-helmet microphones narrating the experience alongside stopovers. They include visits with sought-after custom bike builders like Roland Sands, snapshots of kitschy local landmarks and, in one instance, a port-a-potty drag race. Think of it as something that could have fallen out of Anthony Bourdain’s universe except with loving footage of motorcycle parts. (The resemblance isn’t a coincidence — two of the writers on “Ride” have experience with Bourdain’s series.)

“I love that show, so it was always in the back of my mind,” Reedus said. “Then I watched the cross-world one that Ewan McGregor did [the mid-’00s U.K. docuseries ‘Long Way Round’]. His is a lot different in that he takes five people and travels across the world and it’s a longer-distance thing, and ours is a shorter-distance thing and with more people,” Reedus explains with a laugh.

His itinerary for the series includes a ride along PCH from L.A. to Santa Cruz to meet the hosts of a motorcycle podcast, a trip to Death Valley with Getty and an all-woman riding club, and a venture through Florida with something of an authority on the motorcycle road trip: “Easy Rider" star Peter Fonda. “It ended up with him showing me the history of the Keys,” Reedus said. “He’s a legend.”

And though Reedus’ roots in Los Angeles and his current home in New York City draw a clear distinction between his life and the one he occupies on “The Walking Dead,” he admits that Daryl continues to creep into his life as much as the other way around. “The head space of Daryl doesn’t really leave my brain, to be honest,” he said.

For the past seven years Reedus has also kept a home in Georgia near where “The Walking Dead” shoots, and he moved his bikes there as well because, as he said, the riding was just too good. For all of his fondness for big-city energy that he references on “Ride,” he now finds a lot to like in the more wide-open spaces.

“I wake up in the morning and shoot a compound bow at trees, have a cup of coffee and go to work,” he said. “Which I think is a felony in New York.”

Follow me @chrisbarton

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