Over the course of her 30-year career, producer Gale Anne Hurd has been involved with many fan favorite genre properties from Terminator to Marvel’s Hulk and The Punisher, but few could have seen that only her second foray into television as executive producer of an AMC TV show – based on Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard’s zombie comic The Walking Dead - would overshadow some of her previous achievements as a producer.
This coming Sunday, March 31st, season three of the show will come to a close. This season brought in popular comic characters like Michonne and The Governor while creating a season-long conflict between the inhabitants of the prison and those of Woodbury.
ShockTillYouDrop.com used this opportunity to get on the phone with Hurd for a quick interview, mostly to talk about things that have happened over the past two seasons since we last spoke.
ShockTillYouDrop.com: I haven’t talked to you since right before New York Comic-Con not last year, but the year before, so we haven’t spoken in about two seasons now.
Gale Anne Hurd: There was a lot of episodes under the belt between now and then.
Shock: Yeah, lots has been going on. When I talked to you, Season 2 was about to start, and it ended with one of the biggest cliffhanger reveals on TV in recent memory with Michonne and the prison. Season 3′s been all about that and the Governor. How did you go about finding the right actors to play those two characters who are so popular among comic fans and they had to carry this season?
Hurd: Well, obviously, we look all over. David Morrissey was someone who was recommended to us by Andy Lincoln, he’s a friend, but he still had to audition as all of our cast members do. He was fantastic as playing the duality in the Governor because he can be incredibly charming but incredibly evil. And Danai (Gurira) put herself on tape and she has a very interesting background, not only having grown up in Zimbabwe–even though she was born in the US–but she’s also a very accomplished and award winning playwright. She’s a double threat. In fact, her play, “The Convert,” just won the LA Drama Critic’s prize for best original writing.
Shock: Wow, that’s impressive, okay. When she put herself on tape, did she already have some sword-handling skills beforehand?
Hurd: Well, we did some sides. They weren’t actually a scene that we ended up shooting, but we had sides. Then, we included a more physical scene when she actually came in and did the test audition and by the way, she did have sword training. She trained in drama school.
Shock: I spoke to Dallas Roberts a couple of months ago and it’s really interesting talking to actors who come on board “The Walking Dead.” Because they don’t really know anything besides the comics, and they often don’t even know what character they’re auditing for. How hard is it to kind of get actors motivated when they don’t really know what’s going to happen?
Hurd: That’s typical of any TV show, not just us. It’s standard in TV, but it’s obviously very different in a feature because there’s one script, you’re shooting it over a number of months. Generally, you don’t have any huge surprises unless you do reshoots and decide to keep a character alive or kill them off. But in television, it’s an evolving character driven story, so even saying that you may have intentions at the beginning of the season, may change, which is why oftentimes even if you anticipate a character may not make it, you don’t necessarily announce that in case the story evolves and they do survive.
Shock: I would think with Robert involved, any actor would worry about how much time they have to keep aside for the show since he has a reputation from the comic of just killing people off when you least expect it.
Hurd: Well, I think that’s part of why it’s such a successful comic because you can’t predict what’s going to happen. But I think in both the comic and the TV series, when a character does die, it has a huge impact on the rest of the survivors. It’s never really done just for shock purposes. If someone dies, it has an enormous affect on everyone else.
Shock: There’s a funny chicken and egg thing the more Robert has got involved with the TV show and how it’s influenced the comics. You introduce the Governor on TV and then he introduces Negan in the comics, who is even more despicable. The influence seems to go back and forth while still essentially being the same story.
Hurd: Yeah, yeah, he’s able to do that. I think, obviously now the more episodes that we have and he’s well over 100 issues of the comic book, it’s probably hard to keep straight.
Shock: Another interesting thing this season was you brought back Merle early on and Morgan more recently in a stand-alone episode. In that first season, did you guys always know that you wanted to bring those characters back and they were not going to be gone for very long?
Hurd: Well, yes, we always intended to bring them back. In fact, we were hoping to bring Morgan back even earlier, but Lennie James is so busy that he wasn’t available until this season.
Shock: The episode “Clear” was a great stand-alone show, it was very compact, so are you guys planning to do more of those in the future?
Hurd: You know, it’s not off the table. It all depends, once again, as we map out the season, how the different puzzle pieces fit together. But what has been interesting to do this season that we haven’t been able to do in previous seasons is, we have characters in two different camps. We’ve got the Woodbury group and then we’ve got the prison, so I think that has also helped expand the storytelling into Season Three.
Shock: Absolutely. Some of the actors have been doing amazing work including Laurie Holden as Andrew who just has had an amazing arc this season that’s just kept pushing and pushing her more as it went along.
Hurd: Yeah, absolutely. Laurie Holden does such a fantastic job that what we’ve discovered is that when fans are vocal about a particular character, either for it or upset, it just goes to show you how convincing our actors are to get that kind of a reaction.
Shock: How do you feel about having the finale of this season going up against the “Game of Thrones?” It’s going to be a really interesting DVR battle that night, I guess.
Hurd: You know, I think not everyone has HBO to begin with.
Shock: That’s true.
Hurd: So I have a feeling that people may be conflicted….
Shock: To say the least…
Hurd: But it’s great that technology’s allowed the opportunity now to see them both.
Shock: Another interesting thing this season is the black and white episodes, because they really look amazing even though they weren’t shot in black and white. They really hark back to the “Night of the Living Dead,” so a what point did you realize they’d work in that context?
Hurd: We were hoping from the very beginning to do something like that. It was something Frank Darabont discussed the first season was to, on the DVD, have episodes available in black and white because the comic is in black and white. So it really was more of an homage to the comic than to “The Night of the Living Dead.”
Shock: When we spoke a couple years ago, we talked about the gore and how AMC runs uncut horror movies already but this season, the gore was really over the top, so have you had to scale anything back or are AMC always open to what you’re doing?
Hurd: We haven’t gotten a note from AMC.
Shock: Wow, okay, that’s amazing.
Hurd: Nope. (Laughs)
Shock: The gore’s still pretty horrific in the black and white episodes as well.
Hurd: I know. I mean, look back on “Psycho.” Even though you don’t see very much, it was pretty traumatizing.
Shock: Have you started thinking about Season Four already?
Hurd: Oh yeah, we’ve got the writers room that are already working on the storylines for four.
Shock: I don’t feel like we’ve actually seen winter on the show, am I wrong?
Hurd: You know what? We’ve shot in late fall. Last season, we shot until the first week in December. Truly, it doesn’t snow very much in Georgia to begin with. You’re just not going to get that sense of the northeast fall, but we’re not going to put people in heavy clothes and bundled up when it’s 100 degrees out and 100 percent humidity when it’s the summer. Of course, the trees are going to be full of leaves and all of that, so it’s just a question of when we shoot.
Shock: I’ve always been curious about the timeframe of the show and what we’ve seen. Is there a lot of thought put into how much time is passing since Rick first woke up and where they are now? I think it’s fairly vague in the comics as well, but is that something that’s been discussed?
Hurd: Yeah, I mean, I think this season was six or seven months after the last, which explained how far advanced Laurie’s pregnancy was. I think we were imagining that where we start the pilot is about three to four weeks after the Zombie Apocalypse, and I think you can start figuring things out with those milestones.
Shock: Obviously, with the time you’ve been putting on the show, have you had time to work on some of these other things you’ve been developing, like “Hellfest” at CBS Films and other films?
Hurd: Oh yeah, of course. I mean, that’s one of the great things about being a producer, is that you can do multiple things. I have a fantastic team here at Valhalla, so when I’m on set, things don’t just go into suspended animation. And that’s pretty much all the time we had, so we weren’t able to learn more about any of them.
The finale of season 3 of The Walking Dead airs on AMC on Sunday, March 31 at 9PM Eastern.
(Photo Credit: Nikki Nelson/WENN.com)