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Jessica Walter on 'Arrested Development,' The Difference Between Lucille Bluth and Malory Archer and Her '70s Comic Book Movie

By Todd Gilchrist | Indiewire May 21, 2013 at 12:44PM

It's long been established that Jessica Walter, who plays the wonderfully boozy, manipulative matriarch Lucille Bluth on "Arrested Development," is nothing like her character. But what's interesting is precisely how much that's the case -- not just a genuinely nice person, Walter oozes sincerity – and more than that, gratitude.
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Jessica Walter in 'Arrested Development'
Mike Yarish/Netflix Jessica Walter in 'Arrested Development'

It's long been established that Jessica Walter, who plays the wonderfully boozy, manipulative matriarch Lucille Bluth on "Arrested Development," is nothing like her character. But what's interesting is precisely how much that's the case -- not just a genuinely nice person, Walter oozes sincerity – and more than that, gratitude. Even after working for more than 50 years in Hollywood, she's still enormously appreciative for all of the opportunities she enjoys, and genuinely enthusiastic about what's yet to come. And with "Arrested Development" set to return on May 26, what's yet to come holds enormous promise.

READ MORE: 10 Things We Learned About the New Netflix 'Season' of 'Arrested Development' From the Show's Stars

Indiewire sat down with Walter at a recent Los Angeles press day for the Netflix series, where she nobly tried to explain the complex narrative latticework that show creator Mitch Hurwitz used to revive "Arrested Development" from its seven-year slumber for a 15-episode premiere slated for May 26th. Admitting that even she didn't quite understand all of it, she discussed the process of getting back in the bottle with Lucille and rekindling the rhythms of the Bluth family with her fellow castmates. And if that wasn't enough, she talked about the "Dr. Strange" movie she made in 1978 that she still marvels at (no pun intended), if only because it managed to presage what she might look like when she reached her current age of 72.

Mallory in Archer

You had been doing "Archer" prior to returning to "Arrested Development." Do you make a clear distinction between the two, or did Malory help you get back into character as Lucille?

When you do animated features, animated TV – and we don't say cartoons. I got jumped on when I once said it was a cartoon -- but when you do animation, you can be so much broader. You almost have to be, because there's a certain energy to that kind of voice work, because that's all you have, your voice, to make it work. So I don't relate the two at all.

Really?

Yes, they're both mothers that don't know how to show love to their kids. They're both control freaks. Of course, now the more I'm speaking about it, the more it sounds like they're definitely alike. But Malory runs a whole big business, and Lucille is not self-made; all of her trappings come from other people -- from her husband, from manipulating businesses, not creating them. And I think there's a big difference between somebody who's self-made and somebody who's just living off other people.

How do you make that distinction when you're performing those characters?

Well, for instance, with Lucille, one of the main things I thought about was her goal is to stay in the lifestyle she's accustomed to living in, and so what does she have to do to achieve that? Malory, she works for a living and she runs the business -- she makes the money and she doesn't have to rely on people. Well, she has to rely on her agents to do their job, but she's the boss. Lucille secretly is the boss, but her husband doesn't know it. She's the woman behind the man, pushing, grabbing.

Jessica Walter in Arrested Development 2

What approach did you want to take with the character, and how much did you leave it up to Mitch and co. to recreate the energy she had?

From the beginning, when we first did the series, the writing is there, and as an actor, you decide the back story of the character -- you usually make it up -- because it fits your idea of what the character should be. And once that character is in your DNA, which Lucille was for three seasons, it was easy to just snap back into it when I saw the scripts. And the writers are so brilliant, our writers -- it's very character-specific writing. And the funny stuff is not like jokes, the funny stuff is because of the characters and their relationships, which is one reason why I think the show is so well-liked by sophisticated audience, and maybe why it wasn't the right show for Fox at the time, certainly, back then.

The third season of the show was very metatextual, talking about its struggles to stay on the air. How much does the new series do the same thing, talk about the time that's passed and where it's ended up?

Hopefully it feels like, oh wow, here are the Bluths, they're back and we're going to find out what happens. We pick up directly from where we left off.

Does it acknowledge the time that has passed?

I think we do. I think we definitely do.

How much of a scene would you shoot, even if certain parts were only for certain episodes?

It was all shot at once. For instance, in the episode you saw at the premiere, the scene with the family, which was very brief, Portia was in that scene, and so was David Cross, but their angles were not shown in that episode. They will be shown in their episodes. And in my episode, for instance, much more of that scene that wasn't shown will be shown. And in Buster's episode... you know, from everybody's angle. That scene ran for, like, 10 pages. Not the little two minutes that you saw in the premiere.

Jessica Walter in Arrested Development 3

So when you get that 10-page scene--

It will say, this is to be for Buster's episode, and it's in slanted writing so you don't get crazy. It was a very interesting way to work. [wink]

How much do you know about the narrator's monologues when you're acting in a scene?

It's scripted so they're in there, and many times we'll have to take a pause in the middle of a scene to leave room for a Ron line. So yeah, we know about them. How brilliant is he as the narrator? How about him in the show, playing the director? Or playing the producer, or whatever. It was in the premiere. Oh! You didn't get that one. Well, they showed it at the premiere, so it's not a secret.

How easy was it to fall back into the rhythms of the family?

To add on about my comments about the other thing -- the other side of it was that you really had to be on your toes. It was a really good exercise for actors, because you've got to be open, you've got to be relaxed enough to, you know, go with the flow, and to me I would either be doing some of my best work, or some of my worst. But it was challenging, it was interesting. I'd never worked like that before.

This article is related to: Television, TV Interviews, Jessica Walter, Arrested Development, Netflix, Archer, Dr. Strange






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