If you think the blood and guts of the zombie apocalypse in “The Walking Dead” is uneasy turf for a nice lady like producer Gale Anne Hurd, think again.
Hurd began her film career as an executive assistant to Roger Corman, the widely acknowledged “King of the Cult Film” whose prolific portfolio ranges from ’50s and ’60s pulp like “Devil’s Angels” and “Attack of the Blood Beast,” to “Rock ‘n’ Roll High School” featuring punk pioneers The Ramones, to the original “Little Shop of Horrors” and “Death Race 2000.”
And she’s done plenty since then in a consummate Hollywood career.
The Los Angeles native worked her way up at Corman’s New World Productions, eventually becoming president before launching her own production company in 1982. (Along the way, she’s wed directors James Cameron and Brian DePalma before marrying screenwriter Johnathan Hensleigh in 1995. By way of film-buff cred, she also owns a yacht named “Double Feature.”).
Hurd has produced a few little films you may have heard of: “The Terminator,” “Aliens,” “Hulk,” “Tremors,” “The Abyss” and “The Incredible Hulk” among them.
And her next project is “Hellfest,” a delicate little feature about a costumed killer run amok at a Halloween-themed amusement park. So yeah … bring on the zombies.
Recently, Hurd took time out from her hands-on role as executive producer on “The Walking Dead,” filming in rural Georgia, to talk about the breakout popularity of the AMC series, adapting a comic book to the small screen, the enduring appeal of the undead and life after the departure of show-runner Frank Darabont
CNN Geek Out: Based on the ratings “The Walking Dead” has been getting, it’s apparent that the show has branched out beyond genre fans for its audience base.
Hurd: That is the feedback. It started with the people who were already aware of the comic book and fans of the comic book and people who are zombie fans. But I think with the ratings we got, you have to break out beyond genre followers.
My sense is that people [became curious when friends said] “I’m not going out on Sunday night, I have to be home to watch “The Walking Dead.”
We’ve got a pressure cooker because every decision you make is a life-or-death decision. When you’ve got that ramping up the stakes, if you connect with the characters, you really have gripping television. If we get it right, we’ve got those built-in stakes but at the same time we have fun with the fact that we are in a world that is populated not just by zombies but by other humans as well.
Some people watch the show to see the unique and graphic ways that we dispatch the zombies and other people look away from that when it happens. We’re delighted to have both kinds of viewers.
CNN Geek Out: As the second season progresses, what can viewers expect?
Hurd: Obviously, the tensions are continuing to rise with the love triangle between Lori and Rick and Shane.
You also have tension with people who didn’t want to survive the CDC like Andrea. Is she going to embrace living now or is she going to look for another way to die? We also introduce new characters, like Herschel’s farm. We not only have the new characters but the dynamics that those characters bring to our group.
CNN Geek Out: In several key instances the show hasn’t stayed true to the comic’s storyline – more “True Blood” than “Game of Thrones.” How are those decisions made?
Hurd: We’re very lucky that Robert Kirkman, the writer, is not only an executive producer but he’s one of our writers. He’s present in the writing room as these decisions are made about how close we should hew to the comic book.
Should we introduce new characters? There’s no one who knows “The Walking Dead” better than Robert. We don’t have to scratch our heads and say, “Gee, I wonder what the creator would think?” Any changes that are made to development, we have his blessing and, in many cases it was his idea.
Since this is a different medium, we have the opportunity to really delve into characters and have scenes in which there’s a lot of dialogue that, when you have little bubbles in the comic-book panels, you just can’t have that. And, of course, when we have a graphic moment of violence, you get to see it in all it’s glory. It’s all guts and glory.
Obviously, one of the first things that happened is we kept Shane alive.
He meets his demise very early in the comic-book run. But he’s such a vital character and the drama that’s created from the love triangle is just something you don’t want to miss out on with the TV series. We also wanted to invent new characters like Daryl Dixon and Merle Dixon. Both of them have become fan favorites.
CNN Geek Out: Zombies have had a major resurgence in the past few years. What do you think accounts for their enduring appeal?
Hurd: Zombies are the worst version of us. They’re cannibals.
Once you become a zombie, you see a loved one, a child, as dinner. It’s kind of taboo in a way. I think we’re always fascinated by that. We want to look the other way, but we can’t help ourselves. It’s like a wreck on the freeway – you know you shouldn’t look, but you can’t help yourself.
Then there’s the “but for the grace of God” aspect. “Thank God it’s not me.” There’s something sexy about vampires. Yeah, it might be nice to be a vampire and live forever and not grow old. There’s something cool about that.
But I don’t think anyone wants to embrace their inner zombie-dom. You never get to read a good book. You’re never going to love someone – except as a possible meal.
CNN Geek Out: This season was expanded to 13 episodes, compared to six in Season One. That has to be nice.
Hurd: We really get the opportunity to explore the characters we introduced last season, introduce new ones and really connect with them. And, obviously, we have a lot of opportunities for very intense zombie encounters. I think you’ll find that we’re certainly not shying away from putting things on your TV screen that you’ve never seen before. But that’s not the only reason to tune in and that shouldn’t scare people away that aren’t into that. It’s very easy to look away.
CNN Geek Out: There was a lot of talk among diehard fans when show-runner Frank Darabont was dismissed during filming for this season. How has that been?
Hurd: He’s in touch with all of the people who were friends of his before the show and before he left. Oddly enough, it’s not strange at all. People may have expected that, but he is not only one of my closest friends, he’s one of the most talented and generous people I’ve ever met. We’re talkking about other projects … . Frank and I have been friends for over a dozen years. We’ve had things to talk about other than the show and will continue to.