Martinis with ‘Lucille Bluth’: Jessica Walter spills on the new ‘Arrested Development’
By her count, Jessica Walter has been a member of the Screen Actors Guild for 50 years, a period of time that encompasses a vast body of work — dramatic (“Grand Prix”), suspenseful (“Play Misty for Me”), supernatural (“Dr. Strange”) and, most recently, comedic (“Archer”). But for Walter, the forthcoming return of “Arrested Development” offers a reassuring reminder that her career has transcended not just different genres, but different generations.
“Certainly demographically, there are probably people who thought I was dead,” Walter says candidly. “I have people that are my age and older who know who I am, who remember some of my work from the old days, and then I used to get, ‘Wow, my mother really likes you.’ Then I’d get, ‘My grandma really likes you.’ And now I get, ‘I really like you!’ So how can I be unhappy about that?”
According to Walter, who plays boozy matriarch Lucille Bluth, virtually every line of dialogue in the 15 new episodes creator Mitchell Hurwitz wrote has a double (or even triple) meaning, much like those in the 53 episodes of the show that were broadcast during its three seasons on Fox. But because each episode now focuses on a different character instead of simply following Jason Bateman’s Michael Bluth, conversational contexts shifted frequently — a change that provided a considerable challenge for Walter and her co-stars as they navigated Hurwitz’s latticework of plot strands and one-liners. “We didn’t know a whole lot a lot of the time, which makes it much more difficult,” she admits. “In the end, it all worked out, but it’s a strange way to work because you don’t have all of the materials.”
Still, the actress says she slipped easily back into the role, even after a seven-year hiatus between the show’s cancellation and its rebirth on Netflix. “The thing about our show which I think you probably realize from watching it is that the writing is so character-specific,” she observes. “Once I heard Tony [Hale]‘s voice and once I saw him, there he was with the hook and his pathetic demeanor, he was my little Busty again.”
Between Lucille on “Arrested Development” and Mallory Archer on “Archer,” Walter finds herself in the midst of a remarkable career renaissance, a fact she’s grateful for, regardless of whether people know her prior to playing these cantankerous, irresistibly manipulative mothers. “I’m so glad they think of something,” she says humbly. “At my age I’m privileged that they think of something, so it doesn’t bother me a bit if they think of me as Lucille. And people have been really nice — they don’t seem to think of Lucille as horrible, thank God. But as long as they’re thinking of me, it makes me happy.”