Gale Anne Hurd has had an incredibly varied (and just plain incredible) career, starting off as an executive assistant to Roger Corman before becoming one of the biggest genre producers in the business, kind of like a lady Jerry Bruckheimer. With her ex-husband James Cameron she produced "The Terminator," "Aliens," "The Abyss," and "Terminator 2: Judgment Day" – big, complicated productions that set the box office on fire. In the years since 'T2' she has dabbled in comedy (the underrated Watergate romp "Dick"), family adventures ("Clockstoppers," which is sort of like the non-perverted version of Nicholson Baker's novel "The Fermata") and superhero yarns – shepherding two versions of both "The Incredible Hulk" and "The Punisher" to the big screen (with notably mixed results).
Most recently she's found success on the small screen, producing AMC's "The Walking Dead," which returned to television on Sunday night to record-breaking results. We got a chance to talk to Hurd about the transition from movies to television, what happened to former 'Dead' show-runner Frank Darabont and whether or not she has anything to do with upcoming "The Terminator" or "The Hulk" entries.
She said that her time with Roger Corman was invaluable to her ability to transition from the big screen world to the smaller scale of television. "I think all of my training under Roger Corman, including doing big movies for almost no money came in handy," Hurd explained. Not that she was totally prepared for the demands of television. "What surprises anyone is the pace."
Daunting was following up the six-episode mini-season for "The Walking Dead" that was so critically and commercially adored, with a second season now expanded to thirteen episodes. "Yeah… we wanted to make sure each one was compelling. We never felt, 'We'll just have a couple of them that aren't quite as good.' We wanted to hit it out of the park with each episode, which meant we started much earlier this year, with a larger staff. And it's one of those situations were more is indeed better – more time, more people, more talented writers." One thing that was incredibly important for season two, as far as Gale Anne Hurd was concerned, was that, "We have love amongst the rotting corpses of the zombies." She then clarified: "Just not between the zombies."
For those familiar with Robert Kirkman and Tony Moore's "The Walking Dead" comic book, the show has made some interesting deviations. We asked Gale if they were going to hedge closely to the comic book series or take other detours (in the same way that "True Blood" zigzags between faithfulness to Charlaine Harris' Southern Vampire novels and their own unique approach). "Since Robert Kirkman is one of the executive producers and in the writers' room every day, he's in the mix, and he's the first one to say, 'Look, if we can make better television by varying from the book, let's go for it.' They exist in different universes. Something that may play very well on television might not be strong for the comic book, and vice versa. Which is why we've kept the character of Shane alive."
Of course one thing scarier than the actual flesh-eating zombies on the show is the behind-the-scenes drama that swirled this summer, most notably with Frank Darabont, who developed the series and served as its showrunner in season one, quitting the show at least in part because he wanted more money per episode. Watching the second season stings, too, since so many of the great cast members are clearly Darabont hires. We asked Hurd if she was worried the coverage of these events could negatively impact viewers' opinions of the show.
Hurd noticeably refused to engage with the question, saying simply, "We're really proud of this season. We really have nothing to hide. Does anyone have fear when there's a transition? Absolutely. But when you've got a really talented group of people you dig right in and work twice as hard to make sure that nothing has been compromised."
We wondered if Frank Darabont was consulted at all, if Hurd herself went to him for any advice, or if he had been surgically lifted from the equation. It seems the latter. "He's an executive producer but he's no longer the show runner."
Since Hurd saw both "Hulk" films to the big screen (Ang Lee's impressionistic 2003 model and Louis Letterier's more monster-filled 2008 film), we wondered if she had anything to do with the Guillermo del Toro-developed television series currently in the works at Marvel Studios and ABC. "No," Hurd said, sounding somewhat sad. "Unfortunately not. But 'The Walking Dead' is keeping me busy and I'm very excited to see it. The second movie was very much inspired by the TV series so it'd be great to see it back on the air." (She wouldn't tell us if she has any other comic property she's ready to adapt, although she did pimp a comic book she co-created called "Dead Man's Run," which was launching at New York Comic Con, about a "jail break in which the prison is hell.")
Also worth noting is, since Gale Anne Hurd both produced and co-wrote the first "The Terminator" film, she's a co-creator, getting a credit on everything from "Terminator Salvation" to the short-lived "Sarah Connor Chronicles" television series. We asked if she had anything to do with the proposed new film, spearheaded by Megan Ellison, who is sort of like a young (wait for it) Gale Anne Hurd. "Factoring one of the many bankruptcies that have plagued the project, there have been three, believe it or not, Jim and I ended up no longer involved. Which seems odd to me. But that's bankruptcy court for you."
Now that "The Walking Dead" has premiered for its second season to gangbuster ratings, a third season is more or less assured. But since we talked to her before it aired, we asked if she had planned at all for season three. "We're hopeful we'll get an order for season three. But of course, before you finish thinking about season two you have to imagine where those characters are going to go in season three. And who is going to survive."
"The Walking Dead" shambles onto AMC on Sunday nights.