Jessica Walter

Jessica Walter has a diverse acting career for more than 50 years, ranging from film to television and every single genre in between. She’s appeared on a multitude of television series from The Alfred Hitchcock Hour to Columbo. In the 90′s, she could be heard on the prehistoric sitcom, Dinosaurs, as the pained upon wife, Fran Sinclair. As of late, she can be seen (and heard) everywhere on the TV Land sitcom, Retired at 35, and as the voice of Malory Archer, on the hit FX series, Archer. She’s also returning to her massively loved role as cold-hearted, and perky Lucille Bluth on the new season of Arrested Development on Netflix in May. She’s also got a long film career as well with roles ranging from Play Misty for Me, to roles in my favorite films growing up, Tapeheads and PCU. She’s just as whip-funny and warm as she comes off, a true pleasure to talk with, folks.

Recently, I had some time to talk to Ms. Walter about some choice work in her filmography:

What drew you to Archer? Is it love of voice work?

You know, my agent, this wonderful agent I have, Cynthia McClain she called me one day and said, “I have this copy, an audition copy,” and I don’t know if your familiar with the voiceover world –

A little bit, yes.

Because what they usually do when they have a copy out is they’ll say ‘Think Linda Hunt,’ or ‘Think Marlo Thomas’. They’ll have it in parentheses so that the people will get an idea that are auditioning for what they’re looking for. And the Archer copy came through and it had ‘Think Jessica Walter.’ My agent called up and said, “I represent Jessica Walter,” and if I submit the material to her, maybe she’d like to do it. And that’s exactly what happened. She submitted the stuff to me, you know whatever they have in that script. And I said, “Oh my God, I would love to do this.” That’s how it all happened. So I didn’t have to audition for my own thing.

Do you love doing voicework? I know you play Malory on “Archer,” and you were Fran Sinclair on “Dinosaurs.”

Fran, that was great — just wonderful writing on that show.A lot of those writers went on to become well-known half-hour sitcom people. Yes, I do love doing voiceover work for several reasons. One, is that you don’t have to memorize anything. You can read it, and also you don’t have to have makeup and hair. You can just shuffle in their in your pajamas, and no one will know. Including the people you’re recording for. For instance, with Archer, they’re in Atlanta and we do everything over the satellite and telephone in a studio, and they’re in their studio in Atlanta and they never see me. So, I could just come in there in a potato sack, roll right out of bed and who would know. Except the poor engineer that was in my studio. Also, it’s just, the bottom line is you’re getting paid to go over the top and scream and howl in a little booth and you’re getting paid for it. Can’t think of any job better than that.

“Archer” was hysterical from the first episode, I really enjoyed it.

Well, you know Adam Reed, our creator — commander in chief, is so brilliant. He writes every one of them, I don’t know how but he does. Without him there would be no “Archer,”  he’s just brilliant. He’s just knowledgeable about so many things that you can’t even believe, a lot of the jokes are very smart jokes, where you’d have to be sort of intelligent to understand them. There are not enough words to tell you how much I’m crazy about him.

Did you forsee “Arrested Development” being the critically loved show that it is today?

When I read the pilot, I thought it was really funny, I laughed out loud. So sophisticated and different, I didn’t really think about it far enough ahead to wonder, ‘Will the critics like it?’ I just knew that I liked it a lot. Honestly, the critics are the ones that kept us going for the three seasons on FOX. Because, their reviews and their support really helped FOX to decide to pick it up for those three seasons.

And the Emmy.

Oh, yeah. I myself was actually nominated for an Emmy but didn’t win, for Best Supporting. We had Jason (Bateman), he won a Golden Globe in the first season for his character, and Jeffrey (Tambor) and myself were nominated. Jeffrey, I think was nominated twice. So, it was just a gift, a real gift. I look at it that way.

How was the atmosphere on set when you reunited for the fourth season?

Oh my God, it was surreal. Absolutely surreal. When we were all together in the penthouse set which happened about two weeks in, because there were very few times during the whole fourteen episodes, the entire family was together. And the first time that we were together, the nine regulars, it was kind of amazing. Because there we were in the set, Lucille’s penthouse that had to be recreated down to the nails in the wall. And everybody, except for Michael Cera and Alia Shawkat, who were 13 or 14 when we started, looked the same. And it was nine years later when we did that, wow, from when we had first met. And actually, the last time we finished filming was in December 2005, seven years later, there we were. It was amazing.

And I’ve probably watched the series at least four or six times through and it’s still hysterical, every single time.

I’m so glad you feel that way. People do feel that way, they watch the DVD’s over and over because they keep finding jokes they hadn’t found before.

Once it comes to Netflix, I know it’s going to be a marathon party for sure. It’s so exciting.

It was exciting to do, it really was. We did the fourteen shows at once, cross-boarding is what they call it, meaning usually if you cross-board a show even two shows, it’s really difficult. But, fourteen, my God. Mitch Hurwitz, speaking of great commanders in chiefs, I don’t how he does it. And he directed them all too. He had a co-director, but Mitch and this wonderful guy, Troy Miller directed every single one of them and for me, Mitch was just a great director for me. Some directors are okay, but they don’t quite get you but he understood me and he understood Lucille, which was wonderful for me. Because he had not directed any of the original ones way back. So, I didn’t know him as a director. We knew him as a writer.

That just shows Netflix’s great interest in giving him complete creative control. He’s writing and directing all the episodes, or I guess he has the writer’s room but he is directing all of the episodes, so at least he has that creative control.

Yes, well he always did, he’s very into the writing of it and always was. And we have a lot of the same writers we had way back, Richie Rosenstock, Jim Vallely, there’s some new blood in there — one woman. But, I think we were blessed to have those writers back, the ones from the beginning.

Have you seen the new season yet?

None of us have seen a frame of film, except at the TCA’s, the Television Critics Association about a week ago. They showed a clip of Lucille and Buster, it didn’t have any dialogue, it was that Lucille can’t smoke in her apartment so she blows the smoke into Buster’s mouth, and he runs to the French doors near her chair where she’s sitting and he exhales the smoke out of the apartment. [Laughs] Only on Arrested Development, would they think of that. And they just played the whole take, which ran about three minutes, because there’s no dialogue so you’re not giving away any plot points which they don’t want anyone to know. So, that’s the only frame of film that, to my knowledge anyone has seen.

One of the questions I knew I would want to ask when I knew I would be talking to you was, did you make up your chicken dance, or is it something that was scripted?

Well, each person made their own. You know they said, ‘What is your version of a chicken dance?’ And I made up mine, which is just sort of flapping my wings. The other people had much more interesting ones, but yeah, everyone made up their own.

Oh, that just made my day.

Did it?

I just think that but the [Lucille’s chicken noise] is just to me, so funny. 

God, I’m glad I was so desperate. I thought, I’ll just flap my wings and cocka-doodle-do there.

It’s funny because it’s so garish, it’s just an outlandish version of a chicken.

Well, I’m glad.

Can you tell me about any interesting stories about ”Play Misty for Me,” and what it was like to work with Clint Eastwood?

Oh, Clint… Well, it was wonderful, one of the highlights of my career. It was a wonderful role. That was his first film as a director, and he was great, I mean he’s one of the most respected people in the biz as they say. And I can certainly attest to that, he’s a wonderful fellow. And at the time he was very underrated, they had thought of him from those spaghetti westerns and “Rawhide,” and I just knew he was going to do wonderful things and go far, far, far. And he has.

Was it fun to play menacing?

You know, I usually do play menacing so for me, it was very familiar. All of my characters tend to be menacing in their own way, including Mallory and Lucille, and especially that character in “Play Misty for Me.” It’s great fun. You know to be the ingenue, and Miss Vanilla Ice Cream and sweet and perky, is not as much fun as the juicy villain at all. Not that I’ve missed out on any chances to play perky.

Oh, come on, Lucille is totally perky.

Well, perky but not sweet. You know, what I mean by perky-sweet, the bouncing ingenue, All-American like Debbie Reynolds. For some reason I don’t get those roles.

But, you’re so good at doing the other stuff, that’s what’s best.

Well, thank you. [Laughs] Well, if I’m going to get typecast, I’d much prefer to be the villain than the ingenue.

Any fun stories about “Grand Prix?”

Oh, “Grand Prix,” my God. You know that was one of my first movies, and what a trip that was. We followed the Grand Prix circuit and it was one of the last, budget is no kind of limit movie. Traveling all over Europe, meeting those international stars. I was 24 years old when I did that movie and there was Yves Montand and Toshiro Mifune, you know who was a big star in Japan before and after. And Eva Marie Saint, and chauffeured limousines 24 hours a day. I mean, it was like a fantasy the whole thing. And the great John Frankenheimer was the director, “The Manchurian Candidate” among other things. It was quite an experience, I was gone for five months in Europe, and I was very happy to be home, I kissed the ground. How old are you?

I’m 27.

I can tell from your voice, this person’s not very old. I love that you know some of the things from the old days, like “Grand Prix,” or “Misty.” ‘Cause that’s from a long time ago.

With your connections to Ron Howard, and he is doing a film about Grand Prix racing called “Rush,” have you discussed with him about doing a cameo as a callback to the role in ”Grand Prix?” 

Wow, you know I didn’t even know he was doing that, so that shows you where I am, I know nothing about that. I didn’t even know he was going to do a racing movie. At the time, Steve McQueen did a racing movie called, “LeMans,” which was about that racing circuit and it was a big race, and you should pardon the pun, race to see who would get on first. Steve McQueen in “LeMans,” or James Garner in “Grand Prix.” And we went on first. There was a rivalry there, not between the guys but between the films. I never saw “LeMans,” did you?

No, I hadn’t. I only know Steve McQueen from “Bullitt,” that’s got the big car chase.

Yeah, he was the big hot star at the time. But, so was James Garner, really big. And a sweeter, nicer person never in the world is there than Jim Garner, that I can tell you.

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