Producer Gale Anne Hurd has left her mark on some of the best action films of the past 20 years; the Terminator series, Armageddon, both Hulk movies and so much more.
She’s now leaving that mark and helping to slay some zombies on the fantastic new AMC show, The Walking Dead.
I talked to her in a round-table interview at Comic-Con about casting the show, the incredible behind the scenes talent and yes, Zombies!
For the full interview, click onto the audio link above or download from iTunes.
How do you feel about the fan reaction so far?
Gale: We’re thrilled, absolutely thrilled.
I actually heard a fan just to the left of the panel say this show may be able to cure cancer, which I thought was great.
Gale: That’s a little too much pressure. But the zombie apocalypse I think cures cancer, you don’t have to worry about that anymore.
Frank [Darabont] talked about how he plans to veer off of the text. What is the process for coming up with ways that you’re going to do that?
Gale: It was a really fast process because honestly, we pitched it in October to AMC. November we got a green light to go to script. February we got a green light to go to the pilot. March I think we got a green light to go to six episodes.
But throughout the entire process, Frank and Robert and myself to a lesser extent, essentially have been discussing what makes the best TV series adaptation of the comic book. You only get so many little bubbles of dialogue in description in a comic book so we get to delve a lot deeper.
So in the first season, we don’t get as far as a lot of fans on websites have thought we did because we’re able to explore. And it’s a big cast. It’s a very big cast. So, we’re really able to focus on the great cast that we’ve got and dig deeper than Rob and Dave could do in the comic book.
And also have new characters that don’t appear in the comic book.
What Robert said to us was, he is all for potentially killing off people who don’t meet their demise so soon in the comic book and allowing in the comic book who are killed within a couple of issues to live longer. And it really is all about an overall arc, which is a different kind of arc than in a comic book.
Where can you get the most drama from the situation, from the characters that we have? And that’s first and foremost what Frank, Robert and the rest of the writers have been focused on.
With Breaking Bad and Mad Men, how is this show going to fit into AMC’s style?
Gale: Well first of all we’re shooting on film; both Breaking Bad and Mad Men are shot on film. They’re 35 millimeter, we’re super 16, but I think super 16 is completely appropriate for a show taking place after a zombie apocalypse.
And with an AMC series, you’re never going to get the note ‘speed it up.’ It’s: let it sit, let it breathe, let’s go deep with the characters, let’s not just get to the next zombie action bit. And I’ll tell you, both in some of the films I’ve done, other TV that I’ve developed, it’s always, ‘how do we speed it up, how do we speed it up.’
In this it’s literally, how do we let it breathe? So, I think that’s what we have in common with Mad Men and Breaking Bad.
In the comic the zombies are a background, it’s about the people surviving. But obviously zombies are kind of a cool aspect of it, you want to show them. Will there be episodes where we won’t see them?
Gale: We have the complete license of having an episode where the zombies do not appear. Regardless, there’s always the threat of zombies.
But it really is focused on the characters and the conflicts that develop. Everyone can pretty much predict what a zombie’s going to do.
You’ve brought on a lot of heavy hitter writers for this first six episodes. When you talk about it feeling like six 1-hour movies, you’ve brought on a caliber writing style that probably meets that.
Gale: Every writer that we have on staff is a show runner and they all write and they are passionate about this. If you know anything about cable: it pays a lot less than network. And people do it because they love the material not because it’s a big paycheck.
In terms of casting, did you immediately know who you wanted? What was the process?
Gale: As Frank said when he read the comic he already had people in mind for part of his repertory company. Laurie Holden as Andrea and Jeffrey DeMunn as Dale. But for the rest of the cast, every one auditioned. Every one- Lennie James didn’t audition. But everyone else that you see in the series, in the pilot episodes, auditioned. They became the characters.
You saw the banner. You sit there and you go from the actors to the characters straight from the comic book and you see that they match. And we weren’t looking only for physical resemblance; we were looking for the resonance of the character in the comic book to meet up to their performance.
Did you give the cast the comic book to read?
Gale: Absolutely. They all read the comic book.
Not all of it though?
Gale: At a certain point, they said I don’t want to know exactly where I’m going, I want to know where I start, and I get who I am, but I don’t want to have my performance affected by knowing where it is that I’m going.