The zombie apocalypse has been very, very good to Gale Anne Hurd.
With AMC's The Walking Dead breaking cable rating records and renewed for a third season, the executive producer is now eyeing a full slate of mostly action-adventure films, TV series, and comics in the upcoming months through her production entity, Valhalla Entertainment—including a project with old pal Frank Darabont.
The iconic producer of the Terminator franchise and Aliens still has her hand in films—one that's being set up at an undisclosed studio, and another, coming-of-age Dakota Fanning drama Very Good Girls, that shoots next year.
And she's discussing a project with Walking Dead developer Darabont (who AMC fired last summer), which is still under wraps. (Darabont's office couldn't comment.) "He's so talented and a good friend," says Hurd. "He's made some of my favorite movies of all time. There would not be a Walking Dead without him."
For Hurd, who has a reputation for being smart, tough, detailed, loyal, and actor-friendly, it's a significant pipeline considering her hands-on producing style. "I'm very involved on the set and in post-production," says Hurd. "I don't only show up at the wrap party or premiere. I like to get my hands dirty."
Michael Rooker, who plays Walking Dead's Merle Dixon, recalls Hurd spending hours on an Atlanta rooftop in 110-degree heat with the rest of the crew, during one of his scenes. "It was grueling conditions, and she never left," he says. "She kept making sure I had enough water and was doing okay."
Her hands-on approach and Hurd's Dead cred are two of the reaons she's enjoying status as a go-to TV producer—a role she's relishing. "Getting picked up for a whole season, you have 13 hours to tell character-driven stories, as opposed to two hours with a feature," she says. "TV affects people's lives differently, because the characters are invited into their living rooms. And the buzz during the weeks the show is airing is very addictive."
Her pirate drama Port Royal, in partnership with The Departed producer Graham King, has been set up at FX Networks, with The Shield producer Scott Rosenbaum writing the pilot. And, along with New Franchise Media, she's developing Jeffrey Archer's spy novel, The Eleventh Commandment, into a series.
"Both involve larger-than-life characters outside of society," she says. Set in late 17th century Jamaica, Port Royal chronicles the New World's "richest and wickedest city," a self-governing haven for corrupt mercenary pirates, politicians, and merchants. "The Eleventh Commandment is about a CIA agent who is being set up by his own agency," she says. "All along, he believes he's been doing the right thing, but now has to confront the path of what he's been doing for a living."
Port Royal isn't Hurd's first foray into pirate lore. She produced a 2008 National Geographic documentary called The Pirate's Code, about Black Sam Bellamy and the search for his ship, the Whydah Gally, which sank off Cape Cod in 1717.
"I'm a huge historical fiction and non-fiction fan," she says. "What most intrigues me about pirates is that they operated under a nascent democracy. They voted as to who would be captain, who was only in charge when they were about to go after a ship, and could be ousted. Everyone received equal pay, and they had a nascent workman's comp policy, where they would get compensated for losing a hand or a leg, which was unheard of outside of pirate brethren."
Then there are the comics, which is more of an excuse for Hurd to channel her inner geek. Though in talks with other publishers, her first two projects are with Aspen Comics ("They put so much effort into all of their titles," she says). The sixth issue of The Scourge—about a global pandemic, from writer Scott Lobdell and artist Eric Battle—arrives in the next couple of months, while Dead Man's Run, about a jailbreak from hell, from writer Greg Pak, artist Tony Parker, and colorist Peter Steigerwald, debuted last October at New York Comic Con and returns in January.
"I've always loved comic books, which is why I've done films like Hulk and The Punishers," she says. "I just like the comic book sensibility. If I can turn them into films and TV series, that's just icing on the cake."