She learned in the ‘70s from producer Roger Corman that women in Hollywood could do whatever job they wanted — and ever since, she’s been proving him right. With her hands-on approach to TV and film, Gale Anne Hurd keeps productions rolling.
Sure Hand, Cool Head
Drenched in sweat under a blazing mid-summer Georgia sun, The Walking Dead star Andrew Lincoln marveled at Gale Anne Hurd’s ability to stay oh-so-cool.
“We’re shooting in 110-degree heat in Atlanta in the middle of an open field, and Gale manages to look immaculate,” Lincoln recalls of the show’s executive producer. “She looks like Katharine Hepburn in The African Queen, wearing safari clothes and looking like a million bucks. Everybody else is looking apocalyptic.”
In more ways than one, Hurd can withstand the heat. In fact, that wilt-free image offers an apt metaphor for the veteran producer of film and TV, who has weathered a fair share of behind-the-scenes tempests on the zombie fest. Though the AMC series is one of the most successful on TV, it might be one of the most volatile, with two showrunners exiting within eighteen months. In late February, Scott M. Gimple was announced as the newest showrunner. Hurd rejects reports of dissension on the series, which begins production of season four in May. “What drama?” she asks. “It’s not the drama the media has made it out to be.”
One thing is certain: Hurd remains a stabilizing force on the show that has redefined the promise of cable amid a shifting television landscape. Despite stiff competition, the series’ February 10 mid-season premiere drew 12.3 million viewers.
“It may be too cliché, but she’s kind of a pit bull,” says fellow executive producer Robert Kirkman, whose post-apocalyptic comic book is the basis for Walking Dead. “She knows what she wants and she does what the project needs. I give Gale credit for being the driving force that got this show into production.”
For more than three decades, Hurd has honed that tenacious approach. The southern California native and Stanford grad came of age in show biz during the progressive 1970s, working for film pioneer Roger Corman. “I was asked by Roger during my job interview what path I wanted to pursue as a career,” she recalls. “I never anticipated a question like that because I thought, well, women would be assistants the rest of their lives or maybe head of story development. But in Roger’s eyes, we could do whatever we wanted.” While working for Corman, Hurd met future husband James Cameron, with whom she would collaborate on some of the most iconic sci-fi films of the 1980s, including The Terminator and Aliens. The marriage ended, but Hurd and Cameron remain amicable. She is now married to writer-director Jonathan Hensleigh, and the couple is teaming on a scripted series at Discovery Channel based on the 1958 Robert Mitchum film Thunder Road. Meanwhile, she is also developing the feature The Boston Stranglers with another ex-husband, director Brian De Palma, with whom she has daughter Lolita.
And though she has been dubbed a fanboy goddess, thanks to her predilection for testosterone-fueled storytelling, Hurd bristles at the idea that her projects are geared to the young male psyche. “Most of the stories I respond to are [about] ordinary people thrust into extraordinary circumstances and how they cope,” says Hurd, insisting she would be just as comfortable in Jane Austen’s universe as that of the bloodthirsty undead. “Most of my projects have starred or costarred women, from Terminator to Aliens to The Abyss.”
For USA Network, Hurd is developing Horizon, a World War II drama that focuses on an FBI secretary who discovers that her husband may have been killed by extraterrestrials in the South Pacific. “If you wanted to create the prototype of the ideal producing partner, it would be Gale,” says Jeff Wachtel, co-president of USA Network and co-head of original content at Universal Cable Productions, where Hurd’s Valhalla Entertainment has a production deal. “She has impeccable taste and a pioneering spirit.”
Also in the Valhalla pipeline is the series Crash and Burn, about Hollywood stuntmen in the 1970s — a project for FX that sees Hurd returning to the decade of her show-biz baptism. “I think it was the first time that women had any opportunity whatsoever,” she reflects. “And then it all shifted. We’re still not back to where we should be. But in the ’70s — in the late ’70s — there were at least role models.”
For women looking to make show-biz inroads today, Hurd offers a shining example. She keeps her development slate compact — about a dozen film and TV projects at any given time — allowing a high development-to production ratio and a more hands-on approach on each project. “For me, it’s not just putting my name on something and having other people do the work,” she explains. “I really do the work.”
Moving forward, Hurd will continue pouring her efforts into Walking Dead. But she quashes rumors of spinoffs and big-screen adaptations. “It’s hard enough to do this incredibly demanding show,” she says. “So I say, ‘Let’s not get distracted.’ Anyway, what are we going to do? Walking Dead: Los Angeles?” —Tatiana Siegel