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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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Jeffrey Tambor and Jessica Walter in 'Arrested Development'
Adam Taylor/Netflix Jeffrey Tambor and Jessica Walter in 'Arrested Development'

You're obviously nothing like the character. But is there an aspect of you they wrote into the character as a result of your interpretation of her?

That's such an interesting question -- I've never thought about that. But I think that when you're a regular on a show, they do sort of probably glean-- they hear your voice, and start to write a little bit in that direction, that they feel your voice is. I'm sure that's true, that they did that for all of the characters. 

Her reaction to Gene Parmesan, for example, almost seems out of character for her. But is that something you came up with?

I remember that. It's funny because I've had a lot of scripts and things in the past where it says, "so-and-so screams." And to me, if you've got to scream, you've got to really scream. So I think the first thing they wrote was "Lucille squeals with delight" or something, and to me that was like a scream.

"To me, if you've got to scream, you've got to really scream."

And in the pilot, when George Sr. is talking "I'm going to give my company to the most sexy, the most wonderful..." and everybody thinks it's Michael. And he says to Lucille, and there was no scream in there, and I screamed. And from that they did a whole thing with flowers, and I don't know -- it says scream, I scream! Or squeal, I squeal.

But the Gene Parmesan thing -- Lucille is multi-faceted, and I think that's good about the writers, they realize you can be silly and still be Lucille, or you can be serious if you're Tobias. Multi-layered, our writers wrote us multi-layered.

Do you interact with Jeffrey Tambor's character differently as Oscar than you do with him as George?

Yes, yes, because Oscar in Lucille's mind is just a pathetic loser.

Who she's sort of in love with.

Well, yeah – but I think she really loves George, or they could not have stayed together all these years. There's a lot of hanky-panky going on for the two elders of the group.

How does that distinction manifest itself in terms of your collaboration with Jeffrey?

When he comes on as Oscar, he's so different that that's what I react to. I'm reacting to Jeffrey playing that sad-sack Oscar who's so crazy about me. When he comes on as George, I react to him as George Sr. The funny thing is sometimes Lucille doesn't know which one it is, and you'll see that coming up too. I may never work again because I'm giving away these little things.

Jessica Walter in Arrested Development 5

Did you have any concerns that they would be integrating guest stars like Kristen Wiig and Seth Rogen into the show, since they might take away from the screen time the original family might have?

I never thought about that. No no no, and obviously when you get someone like Kristen Wiig to play you as a young woman, I mean, I was blown away -- I was thrilled. It never occurred to me to think of them like "the guest star of the moment." It's all such an ensemble piece, and the thought that we could attract such good people, like John Slattery. I never thought about it. Honestly, they were just part of the cast that week.

Changing gears a little bit, you did a TV movie in the late '70s, a Dr. Strange movie.

Oh my God! You have done your homework! "Dr. Strange."

People want to see a movie about him, but that occurred when those adaptations were in their inception. Did you have any idea these would become the phenomenon they are?

Never. Never. I think that was like 1978, but never could I have foreseen it. That has a big cult following, that little Dr. Strange movie.

Have you revisited it?

No, but somebody – there was a clip of it on the internet, me being 180 years old, standing on a cliff where they do the old age face with the cast of your face, and it's scary because it's kind of what I've started to look like. So I was like, quick, turn it off! Yeah, I haven't seen it in years and years and years.

'Dr. Strange'
CBS 'Dr. Strange'

Would you come back for a Dr. Strange movie now?

First of all, I'm about 500 years too old for that part, because she was in her early thirties, that character. But I could do a cameo as her great-grandma.

Why do you think it is that we like watching these people that we don't like?

Or people that you love to hate. Well, I know I do -- I love watching movies with people that I hate. I love those old movies with Bette Davis where she's the evil one. Because we all have that in us, and we can't really act on it as the audience, but we can watch the actor act on it and it sort of releases those feelings in us. You know, everybody has those feelings of rage and murder and manipulation, and we can't really do them in real life. So watching someone else do them, I think, is a release.

Do you feel like that's a timeless idea? Because it seems like that's the focus of a lot of shows now -- "It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia," "Archer"...

"Dallas"! J.R. -- everybody loved hating him, and he had his vulnerable spot. He was like a real person -- he did everything for his son, and he wasn't a cliché villain at all. I think if you can find the vulnerability in your villains... Lucille, for instance, she really loves Buster, and the idea that Buster might walk away is so horrifying. I remember some early episode, in the old days, and Buster said something about her, and she goes, "My Buster? My Buster said that?" I don't know.

How has this and "Archer" introduced you to a different kind of fan -- animation, sci-fi, as opposed to fans of your older work?

Jessica Walter on Arrested Development 6

"Archer" fans are wild -- they're wild. I did a couple of those "Archer" live shows, and honestly, I didn't know about half of what they were talking about. I really didn't. But you know, I am just so lucky because people are so nice. Maybe it's because I'm old or something, but they're so polite and nice. I haven't had any bad experiences with fans. It's not like I'm Rock Hudson and they're like, "Oh my God!" and you can't walk anywhere.

My fun experiences are when I'm walking around just like me in New York where I live, no makeup, no hair, with a dog, and people say, "You know, you look just like that woman who plays Lucille Bluth." And then they walk away! [laughs] They walk away. So it's fine by me.

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






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