It’s not every day that you get a chance to speak with a television icon but it happened to me when I was given the opportunity to speak with multi-talented actress, director and consultant, Chip Hurd.
Depending on what era you hail from, you have more than likely seen Hurd in a number of roles, including appearances on “Rhoda,” “Barnaby Jones,” “What’s Happening,” “The Amazing Spider-Man,” “The Facts of Life” or “Living Single.”
During our conversation, we spoke about her acting career, one of her iconic television roles, her transition to working behind the scenes, and her production of the “The Passion Play” at Shepherd Church in Porter Ranch, CA in April.
“It was like an escape,” said Hurd about acting and the beginning of her career. “I felt this thing in me that would act stuff out and looked at a lot of Judy Garland movies.
“So, I always felt that I wanted to do that—until I got older and changed.”
One of her first roles, following in the footsteps of Garland, was in the musical “The Wizard of Oz,” where she joined a multi-cultural cast in playing Dorothy while touring in Philadelphia.
“That was my first big job I would say.
“It’s not so much the acting—I used to love winning the role, I didn’t look so forward to going to work to do the role.
“I liked the challenge of winning [the role],” Hurd said laughing.
Most remember Hurd wielding a hot iron at her daughter (played by a young Janet Jackson) on the iconic television show, “Good Times.” I spoke to her about playing Linella Gordon and the impact the character had on her career.
“Mrs. Gordon did a couple of things,” said Hurd. “The positive side of it was I enjoyed, to the hilt, the friendship the Jackson family and we experienced because of that.
“Janet, after we did the few episodes together, she called me that very same summer and she said ‘I want to do something else with you.’
“I wrote a play for her and we did a little play, in a really tiny theater;I think 25ft. and her whole family came, which took up the whole 25ft.,” said Hurd.
When asked which roles she likedplaying the most, Hurd said she only picked roles she liked, which made choosing difficult.
“I don’t have a favorite, every one of them I loved and tried to do my best.”
Hurd eventually made the transition from acting to coaching and consulting behind the scenes. She began to receive opportunities to work with directing and production greats such as Tony Singletary (“The Jeffersons,” “What’s Happening Now,” ”Gimme a Break!”), John Bowab (“Benson,” “The Facts of Life,” “The Cosby Show”) and Stan Lathan (“Sanford and Son,” “Roc,” “Moesha”). Hurd shared how she was called upon to give her advice on directing scenes and provide feedback on set and as a result, found a new interest.
“I lost interest in just myself acting and I actually thought, that’s not really my gift, as much as I thought it was,” said Hurd. “I think my real gift is looking at the whole thing and growing into the confidence to say I know what all these actors should be doing in this scene—and that became fun.”
She added, “Getting a chance to work with some of those gentlemen, they became mentors for me.”
Some of Hurd’s directing and consulting credits include “Hangin with Mr. Cooper,” “Sister, Sister,” “Living Single,” “The Parkers,” “Meet he Browns,” and “House of Payne,” just to name a few.
Hurd recalled getting an opportunity, landing what she called her “dream job” directing episodes for Disney’s “Hannah Montana” and coaching actress and singer, Miley Cyrus. She later got a call from entertainment executive and producer, Kyle Bowser, husband to writer and producer, Yvette Lee Bowser (“A Different World,” “Hanging with Mr. Cooper,” “Living Single”), to direct “Inspired by … The Bible Experience,” an audio version of the Bible published by Zondervan.
“I said I’d love to direct the Bible, I love Jesus, I love my spiritual time with the Lord,” said Hurd. “I went in and next thing I know, I actually was hired and for two and a half years, I’m not able to go on directing jobs because I’m doing the Bible.
“And out of that became my joy of all time.”
Starring an all African-American cast, Hurd directed an all-star list which included Blair Underwood as Jesus, Samuel L. Jackson and Paul Adefarasin as God, Kirk Franklin as Simon Peter, Angela Bassett, Dule Hill, Cuba Gooding, Jr., Denzel Washington and Pauletta Washington in the Song of Songs, LL Cool J as Samson, Eartha Kitt as the Serpent, Bishop T.D. Jakes as Abraham, and Bishop Eddie L. Long as Joel.
While working on the Bible Experience, Hurd met one of the men behind the project who thought she would be a good fit for directing “The Passion Play” at Shepherd Church. After attending the church and seeing the play with her husband, they decided to become members and Hurd’s directing antenna was already buzzing.
“The whole time I’m sitting there, watching ‘The Passion Play,’ and I’m going, ‘oh God, this has got so much potential to be a Broadway show—I’d love to get my hands on it.’
“But that was quietly happening in my head as I watched it because it was beautiful.”
Hurd was asked a year later if she could take over production as the previous producer wanted to retire.
“I said ‘oh my gosh, I would love to do it,’” said Hurd, “and that’s how I got the opportunity.”
The Passion Play will celebrate its 28th year in production in 2020. Hosted by Shepherd Church, “The Passion Play” is considered the last remaining musical production in Southern California that chronicles the last days of Jesus Christ on earth. The annual event has become a local tradition for thousands of Angelenos as they prepare to celebrate Easter.
The play is written and directed by Hurd and executive producer, Susanne Walden, who has overseen the production for the past 16 years. Hurd spoke on some of the changes she brought to the production.
“When I came in, I did it more like a ‘Les Miserables’,” said Hurd. “They had started [The Passion Play] with the last three days of [Jesus’] life, I started at the beginning of Matthew.
“Now it’s evolved to sets that move—it’s huge.”
It was a pleasure talking to Hurd and getting to know her story and especially her work with “The Passion Play.” After the interview, she had a few words that she wanted to share with everyone.
“At a time like now, when we are so struggling with government leadership and threats of war and all the things Jesus said to be looking for in the last days—the one thing I believe strongly about ‘The Passion Play’ is you get to find out what His passion is and when you find out it was you, individually you, that should do so much to put an umbilical cord between you and Christ that you can’t live without Him.
“Because in this uncertain time—we can’t live without Him.”
For more information about “The Passion Play, please visit www.shepherdchurch.com