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Gale Anne Hurd on "The Walking Dead"

(Interview by Lee Karr)

Like most everyone else here at HPotD.com, I'm really looking forward to the upcoming series for The Walking Dead. When I first heard about the possibility of a television show adaptation, with the likes of Frank Darabont and Gale Anne Hurd involved, I was extremely excited.

When the show was given the go ahead to start production by AMC, my first thoughts were how could I get a chance to visit the set? Unfortunately an opportunity to do that never did come to fruition. However, with the help of AMC publicist Jill Dortheimer I was able to choose, from a group of key people on the production, an interview for this website. My choice was an easy one with Gale Anne Hurd.

Ms. Hurd has been involved with some truly classic genre films in her career. Everybody knows that she produced the The Terminator, T2, Aliens, Tremors, and Armageddon. However, not a lot of people know that she started out as a production assistant on such low budget shockers as Alligator and Humanoids from the Deep.

During our talk she came across as very enthusiastic and proud of her latest production. Her excitement for the show really came through as genuine to me.

This interview will hopefully be the first in a series of interviews for HPotD.com about The Walking Dead. I've put in several requests for a Frank Darabont interview and Greg Nicotero has also agreed to talk about the show. Fingers are crossed that those interviews will happen. We shall see, after all these guys are pretty busy!

Now, without further ado, here is my interview with the wonderful Ms. Gale Anne Hurd...

So how did you come to be involved with the show and its development at AMC?

    Well, there are two components to that. The first is that I am a long time fan of The Walking Dead, the graphic novel comic series, and when I explored who had the rights to it I found out that Frank Darabont had been involved, that he had initially developed it at NBC and NBC had chosen not to go forward. And as it turns out Frank is someone that I've known for a long time because he and my husband, Jonathan Hensleigh, are very, very close friends. So I've known Frank socially for a long time.

    The rights had reverted back to Robert Kirkman and he and the folks at Circle of Confusion (production company) were exploring a number of different options as a potential new home for the project. When it became free and clear, Frank and I spoke to Robert and David Alpert (one of the executive producers) and said 'we think we've got a great home for the project'. Because simultaneously - as I said there were two tracks to this - the second track is that I and a executive at my company and Robert had been in touch with the executive development team at AMC in Los Angeles, and they were already - believe it or not - fans of The Walking Dead. Who'd a thunk it?

    At the time you know, it wasn't something that one would immediately assume would be of interest to AMC...you think Mad Men. You go Mad Men / The Walking Dead? Not so sure. But then if you're familiar with Breaking Bad, it's not a huge leap and if you're even more familiar with their genre programming, Fear Fest, you realize it's actually not such a huge leap.

Can you talk about Frank Darabont and the enthusiasm he brought to this project?

    Well first of all Frank is not only a huge horror fan but deeply committed to The Walking Dead and to the zombie genre as a whole. If you were to ask him he would tell you that Night of the Living Dead had a huge impact on him when he was growing up and he considers it a Holy Grail.

    Frank doesn't do anything half heartedly. He throws himself into any venture a thousand and one percent and that's been the case on this project. Some people might think, 'okay well he's a big feature writer/director, will he just be putting his name on it?' No, Frank has been involved in absolutely every frame of every episode.

    He brought such a great team together. In the pilot, which of course Frank directed, David Tattersall - who shot the The Green Mile for him - was our D.P. Greg Melton, who'd worked with Frank before and did The Mist, was our production designer and then Alex Hajdu who had worked with me actually on The Terminator, as well with Frank for many years. Greg did the first few episodes then Alex picked up the mantle. Also, Hunter Via who's one of our editors is someone that Frank worked with before on The Mist. It's a tremendous team. Frank also had a pre-existing relationship with our composer Bear McCreary, as well as a number of our cast members.

Can you talk about the casting and how you found the lead character of Rick Grimes in the person of Andrew Lincoln?

    You know what, another terrific thing about being in partnership with AMC is they want the best person for the role. A lot of people, a lot of studios or networks tell you they really want the best person for the role, then they'll give you a list (laughs), and say as long as that perfect person is one of these five names! That's not the way AMC works and you can tell that from the casting of their other shows. So the door was wide open to finding a Rick that really wasn't familiar to American audiences.

    You look at Jon Hamm in Mad Men. He'd been in many other things, but he wasn't completely identified with a particular project before. And they supported us in finding someone new to the U.S. to play Rick. We actually did auditions in Los Angeles, New York...people auditioned in the Southeast. I think we had people audition in Chicago, in Australia, in New Zealand, in the U.K. and we looked at every one of them. Our casting directors Sharon Bialy and Sherry Thomas, who also cast Breaking Bad, helped us in that search. We saw this guy we didn't know...we weren't familiar with, Andrew Lincoln, and there was something there. Frank spoke to him on the phone and gave him some direction. He put himself on tape again and we loved what we saw and we brought him over here to audition in person...in Frank's garage (laughs).

    The interesting thing is we actually - which is quite unusual - cast Shane first, so Jon Bernthal was already on board. In pilot season, which is a difficult time because there is a limited pool of talent and if you've got someone good, everyone wants them. So we wanted to make sure when we found someone who was ideal for Shane that we locked him up.

How has AMC been about the gore and graphic violence? Have they set any restrictions for the show?

    If you've seen Fear Fest you'll see that quite a few of the classic genre films that they air are aired without any editing of graphic scenes. If you're a fan of Breaking Bad you'll see that it certainly veers into graphic, intense violence but nothing that's gratuitous - it serves the storytelling. It's the same way here - you look at Frank's body of work and it's not gratuitous. But you know what? We do have zombies and zombies attack and eat people and people dispatch zombies...it's going to be a staple of the show.

    We've never felt as if any notes from them have gotten in the way. In fact I'm not sure that we've had to edit anything.

    The only thing is language and to me this is not about how many F-bombs you can put into an episode.

Can you talk a little bit about the work that Greg Nicotero and KNB EFX has done on the show, which is a little new for them considering they usually do feature films?

    Frank goes back with Greg Nicotero - I actually worked with KNB as well on The Hulk. Not only are they one of the best, they love the zombie genre as much as we do and you know Greg's history with George Romero, etc... We wanted our zombies to be completely believable, yet at the same time we did not have the budget or the time to have the huge make-up crew that you need to have to prepare a hundred zombie extras for the days that we have large zombie extra calls. We had different levels of zombie make-up. We had the heroes and those were literally 2 hours in the chair, contact lenses - they're the ones that you'll see close up. Then we have the middle ground extras - that's probably an hour make-up. Then you have some background, and then deep background - we have some masks. But the important thing is that you never want to show your hand.

    I challenge anyone to look at Greg's work - and the terrific, incredible extras that we have in the series -, and ever be taken out of it. It plays dead real and that's what we were going for. The zombies really exist!

    People wonder 'okay, what can they do on a t.v. budget? Is there going to be a diminution in the level of craft?' Absolutely not. We are making a 45 minute movie every week and we did not lower our standards.

You mentioned George Romero earlier and there has been talk that he might be asked to direct an episode for the second season. Is there any truth to that?

    Well first of all we have to get an order for a second season. That's also a rumor that was on the internet that we had been picked up - we have not been yet. We are hoping for that! So the first thing that would have to happen would be that we were picked up for a second season.

    I know Frank would love that more than anything and then of course it's going to be entirely up to George.

Can you talk about any influence that Romero's films might have had on the show?

    We consider Night of the Living Dead to be the classic zombie film. It's the Holy Grail. In that respect, the zombies weren't funny - they were a real threat. At the same time they didn't have super human speed. They weren't Usain Bolt, who can run 100 meters in 9 seconds. They are dead by the way! So we thought it was important to take it very seriously and think about if you were dead you wouldn't be moving quickly - you had some serious bite mark, your internal organs were effected - you've been chomped on a bit. You probably wouldn't be getting around like a world class sprinter.

    We talked about the zombie in the cemetery. You know, he can get up to a jog, but he's not going to win the track meet.

So how has shooting in Atlanta gone?

    Absolutely fabulously, except we are dealing with 99 degree temperatures and 99 percent humidity. The cast and the crew really deserve medals of valor.

    The funny thing is in one episode when we had an air conditioned interior - as much as we couldn't believe we were saying it - we kind of missed the verisimilitude of being outside in the kind of conditions that our survivors find themselves in. There's no air conditioning anymore, you're really at the mercy of the elements and we grew to embrace that.

How did you decide on the directors for the other episodes? I noticed that Ernest Dickerson, who worked on George Romero's "Day of the Dead", directed an episode for the series.

    Exactly, which we didn't know when we first talked with Ernest. I've been a long time fan of his starting with his work as a cinematographer and then as a director, both in features and in television.

    It was really important that all of the directors shared the same sensibility that Frank established with the pilot, that all of them embrace the idea of the story and the genre and took it seriously, had a really good eye, but at the same time were really talented acting directors.

    Anyone who's familiar with Robert Kirkman's books, they're very character driven. I think that's why they're as successful now and more so than when the series first kicked off and why they won the Eisener Award and continue to pick up awards as best continuing series.

I guess my final question would be how would you sum up the experience and what can the fans look forward to?

    First off it's been a privilege and an honor to be able to bring the comic series to life and especially to do so in the company of such tremendous partners as Robert Kirkman and Frank Darabont - it's truly a dream team for this. Then to have the tremendous cast is icing on the cake, really.

    I think that fans will find that we are very true to the spirit of the comic book, but obviously we are in a different medium and have more time to spend with the characters. We're not limited to X number of panels per page. I think that audiences will find out even more than they were able to discover in the comic book because we have that time to delve into the characters and their back stories. At the same time if you love zombies, you're gonna love The Walking Dead.

That's a perfect way to end! I can tell you that the fans at Homepage of the Dead are really excited about this show and appreciate you taking the time to discuss it with them.

    Oh good! Well, we're extremely excited about the fan response and it's so important to us that we do it right because we're in it for the long haul and we want the fans to be in it for the long haul right along with us

Interview by Lee Karr

( Homepage of the Dead, October 2010)
Hits: 6078 since 5-Oct-2010

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