The wow factor of Gale Anne Hurd’s career can’t be overstated: Hurd breathed life into 1984’s The Terminator as writer and producer. She served as producer on such Certified Fresh movie fare as Aliens, The Abyss, and, as executive producer, Terminator 2: Judgment Day.
And now — after numerous awards and accolades — she’s the queen of zombie TV: executive producer on AMC’s The Walking Dead and Fear the Walking Dead and consulting producer on the Chris Hardwick–hosted after-show Talking Dead.
Hurd graciously took time out of her packed schedule to speak to us about the expanding world of The Walking Dead, which premieres season 7 on Oct. 23; her newest project, USA’s Falling Water, which debuts on Oct. 13; and the state of women working in Hollywood.
Debbie Day for Rotten Tomatoes: So I have to ask the question: Who did Negan kill?
Gale Anne Hurd: He kills me. He killed me, and everyone’s gonna be really disappointed. (Laughing.)
RT: Have you been on the show?
Hurd: I’ve never been a zombie. My daughter was, back in the first season, in the season finale. She’s represented for the family.
RT: Is there a reason why you haven’t decided to, or are you just too busy?
Hurd: I’m just one of those people, that — you know how you hear people talk about someone fail [The Walking Dead executive producer] Greg Nicotero’s Zombie School? Uh, I would probably be a failure. I’d probably wash out. And no one would have the heart to tell me, and I’d ruin some amazing scene, or, even worse, they’d, like, put me in such distant background that — I wouldn’t want to spend an hour and a half in a chair getting made up.
RT: What do you do for the show on a day-to-day basis these days?
Hurd: It depends on the time of year. I’ve obviously got multiple shows that I’m working on, so I’m always — for The Walking Dead, obviously…hearing from [showrunner] Scott Gimple what the season arc’s going to be and essentially what every episode is going to be. Very involved in all of the casting. And I tend to be there for pre-production in the first episode or two episodes of the season, and then I just start going back and forth. Very involved in marketing and promotion of the show…everything from artwork to even visuals of the shows — all the packages for the EPKs and things like that…. The first two and a half years, I was on set almost every year — the first two and a half seasons. Now that we have more than one show, I don’t have the luxury of being there every day.
RT: Are you nostalgic at all for that?
Hurd: I have to say, anyone who hasn’t spent time on our set cannot appreciate just how challenging it is. Shooting in Georgia in the heat, in the humidity and the bugs — you just can’t appreciate it until you’ve been through it. It never ceases to amaze me, the commitment that every single person on the show — cast and crew, all of the extras, everybody — makes every day of what is a very long season. We start shooting at the beginning of May, and we wrap just before Thanksgiving. And that’s five days a week as a minimum, of on-set time of 12 hours, and a lot of people are commuting an hour each way. That’s just huge. I don’t think that there’s another show, in its seventh season, in which people are so giving with their all.
RT: Which storylines are you most looking forward to this season?
Hurd: Negan is just such a game-changer. And we could not have cast someone more perfect than Jeffrey Dean Morgan. And it’s just been a pleasure to see him bring Negan to life. Obviously, there are very sad moments, because…while fantastic to watch from a performance perspective, his quid pro quo — from his perspective, of course — is justified, because if you look back on it, it was Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and his group who came to the sleeping Savior outpost and killed them in cold blood — he’s exacting revenge. Negan is fantastic and, obviously, we have King Ezekiel (Khary Payton) and The Kingdom, along with his tiger, Shiva — another character that I know fans of the comic book have wanted us to bring to life, and, in fact, probably thought we weren’t, at least, with the tiger. So I think people have been very excited to see the sneaks that we have posted of what those two are going to be like.
RT: I think it’s exciting that such prominent characters are being introduced at this time and together. It seems like it’s frothing to a level of excitement that, um — What can I ask that’s anything that you can talk about?
Hurd: The key thing here [is that] we’re really expanding our world this season. We still have Alexandria — of course, it’s going to be changing. We have The Kingdom. And we have Hilltop. We have where the Saviors are. So, there are so many different communities now — and the characters that populate those communities — that it is a great big new world (laughs) for the people who survive, the people who survive that dark and brutal evening from last season. That’s something that we’ve only indicated; we’ve seen one community at a time, really, and just as it opened up the comic books, it’s going to open up and expand the world of The Walking Dead. That’s, I think, something that people have really enjoyed in Game of Thrones — just the different communities, the different groups and how they interact — and there’s gonna be that wider scope in The Walking Dead. All with really, really interesting characters, whether it’s Gregory (Xander Berkeley) at Hilltop — who you wonder how such a sort of squirrelly, seemingly cowardly guy could be a leader, but sometimes those are people who maneuver and manipulate so they can survive.
And then you have King Ezekiel — very much, almost like a feudal lord with his pet tiger. Then you have Negan, who is unlike any villain we’ve encountered on the show, because he’s incredibly charming, he’s incredibly brutal, and he owns it all. He’s not trying to convince himself that he’s doing the right thing. In his mind, if he does it, it’s right. And that wasn’t the case for the Governor, who, I think in his mind, was trying to justify just about everything that he did, and wanted to think of himself as a good guy.
RT: At Negan’s level of leadership and where that world is right now, it completely makes sense. I’m trying to psychoanalyze him now.
Hurd: Yeah, and as our unfortunate survivors discovered, his reach is quite long, and it’s not just the one outpost. They would’ve been fine if he’d only had that one outpost and that was his headquarters, because that is the world that Rick and his fellow survivors believed was — it’s their world. It was their world of Alexandria, it was Sanctuary. Every community that they’ve encountered has just been within those walls. Negan’s – it’s the first time he’s encountered someone who has control of so many different groups and communities.
It really opens things up, because they’ve always faced threats before that were within one set of walls — at Terminus, et cetera. They’d have scouts and all of that, but if they destroyed the nest, so to speak — but, in this case, it’s going to be a lot more challenging.
RT: So how did you get involved with Falling Water?
Hurd: A few years ago, Blake Masters, the showrunner, and his writing partner on the project, the late Henry Bromell, came for a meeting and said they had this absolutely fantastical and — as it turns out when I read it, fantastic — spec pilot called Falling Water, and that it dealt with our dream world. I mean, that’s one thing we all share in common, regardless of our background, or culture, or ethnicity, is we all dream.
And if you take the conceit… What if someone could enter our dreams, and what kind of power they would have, which is compelling to me, but only compelling if it’s rooted in characters that I care deeply about. What’s so fascinating about the show is that we’ve got three fantastic lead characters.
We have Tess, who’s a trendspotter, played by Lizzie Brocheré, who is on American Horror Story and also one of the stars of Versailles. She feels very strongly that she had a baby, but there’s no proof that she did, so she’s trying to get to the bottom of that, and if indeed she did, find that child.
And then, the character of Burton, played by David Ajala, who’s starring on the West End in London, right now in a play that’s about to go up: One Night in Miami. He is the head of security — in other words, a fixer — for an investment bank in New York, which means that he gets people out of trouble, and he tries to keep the company from getting into trouble, through protecting it from any nefarious activities that any of its executives might do. And he’s madly in love with a woman that may only exist in his dreams. And she’s very, very real to him, but he can’t seem to connect with her in the waking world.
And then, the third character of Taka, who is a police detective played by Will Yun Lee, who is in Hawaii Five-0. He’s called “The Hunch.” He’s someone who always seems to have a sixth sense about things, and he is desperately trying to reach his mother. His mother, for over a dozen years, has been catatonic, and he wants to reconnect with her. So they’re people who have very active dream worlds and are seeking answers in their dreams. As it turns out, their abilities may make them prime targets for people who have nefarious plans for people who are such powerful dreamers.
RT: That hints at who the villains are — can you say, or is discovering the villains part of the story?
Hurd: There are various groups that want people with that kind of ability. I don’t know if you’ve read about it, but it turns out that, recently, scientists, neuroscientists have found that you can possibly hack people’s dreams. So, as far-fetched as we thought this project was, when it was originally envisioned by Blake and Henry, years ago, it turns out that we’re not that far off of something we could be facing very soon, which is people who can hack into our dreams.
RT: That’s frightening.
Hurd: (Laughing.) It is. I mean, it’s the one thing that you think is your own. “It’s my dream, and it’s taking place in my mind.” Well, maybe other people can see it, too.
RT: That is really, really terrifying. And there’s some freedom in the dreams, I think, in that it’s one thing you can’t really control. But now, if you can hack them, you can control them, and can that be kind of a drug, I wonder?
Hurd: Yep. Well, you’ll see, and a lot of the things you’re talking about are examined in the show.
RT: The status of women in Hollywood — how are you feeling about it these days? How has it changed, with all of the discussion going on about it?
Hurd: Well, I’m really glad that there is a spotlight on it, because it’s important. I mean, change — meaningful change — won’t really happen if people aren’t aware (laughs) that there is a problem. And now people are aware. There’s no getting away from that.
If you go back and you look at my history, my films have often featured female protagonists, long before I think it was popular or even common. And I’ve worked consistently with women directors and people of color; in fact, our writers room on Falling Water, is 60 percent female, and our cast on the show is incredibly diverse: We’ve got three leads, and one is African-American, one is Korean-American, and one is actually French.
People are finally accepting that we live in a diverse world, and we should be seeing those characters on the screen, whether it’s the big screen or the small screen.
The Walking Dead season 7 premieres Sunday, Oct. 23 at 9 p.m. ET on AMC
Falling Water airs Thursdays at 10 p.m. ET on USA