For an animated show about a foul-mouthed alcoholic spy — whose crew includes a nymphomaniac and a scientist with a hologram girlfriend — “Archer” has surprising depth.
Much of that is a credit to its voice cast of the comedy world’s elite, including “Arrested Development” matriarch Jessica Walter as the equally acerbic Malory Archer. In Season 8 of the Emmy-winning spy satire, "Archer: Dreamland," which premieres April 5 on its new network FXX, the government-sanctioned spy agency Malory began running back in 2009 (turned drug cartel, turned PI firm) is now a mafia-style organization set in 1940s Los Angeles.
“Malory’s not Malory anymore, she’s Mother,” explains Walter of the new season, in which the show gets its most radical reinvention yet as a noir drama set inside the mind of Archer, who's in a coma after being shot. “In this scenario, she’s not Archer’s mother. She’s a crime boss in L.A.” We don’t think of Malory as nurturing, exactly, but losing that connection with Archer has made her “much more aggressive and devious, if that’s possible.”
Being back on the wrong side of the law suits her, Walter says, since even when she did work with the CIA it was never exactly by the book. Or, as Walter puts it, “She doesn’t have to pretend anymore to do anything within the limits of the law. All those traits that she always seemed to have simmering inside of negativity and hostility, they’ve bubbled to the surface and she can now let them out.”
Walter has a phrase she likes to call the Malory Archer that could never be — Miss Vanilla Ice Cream — but there’s a certain scenario in which she might actually work. “It would be fun in a coming season if she were this sweet little housewife with the apron; she couldn’t take it for long,” she says. “She’s gotta be the boss, the top dog, absolutely, and I don’t know how she’d be anything else.”
On the phone, Walter is quick with a laugh, slightly self-deprecating and nothing at all like the two cynical, judgmental women she’s currently known for on “Archer” and Lucille Bluth on “Arrested Development.” (About a new season of the Netflix show, she says, “From your lips to god’s ears, it should happen. They did call our agents recently to see if it could happen, but we haven’t heard back. Hopefully, it will.”)
If you have the fortune to run into her on the streets of New York — she’s done with the bicoastal life and no longer keeps an apartment in L.A. — don’t feel any hesitation about coming up to her. “I’m happy for anybody to recognize me at all,” she laughs. “Because when I go out unless it’s for work or something, I’m a mess — no makeup, no hairdo, blue jeans and a ratty old sweatshirt. A few times I’ve had people say, ‘You know you look just like that actress, what’s her name?’ Jessica Walter? And they say, ‘Yes,’ and I say, ‘I’ve heard that.’”
But playing these two women could rub off in other ways. There’s a reason glamorizing smoking in movies had such an effect in the 1950s — with both of them having unacknowledged issues with drinking, has that made her drink any more? “Oh, no no no, absolutely not. My god, I’d be dead!” But she can relate to the cigarette issue. She picked up the habit in the late 1960s, “when we didn’t know any better. But I’d never ever pick up one again ever in my life.
"I quit in 1983 because I was so aware that you’re committing suicide if you didn’t quit.” There was no trick to it, she says. She tried three times unsuccessfully, but on the fourth, she just woke up and thought, “‘Oh my god, this is it, I’m never going to put another cigarette in my mouth.’ Even if a part calls for smoking, I’d get these wrapped tea leaves. I wouldn’t ever have nicotine in my mouth again, ever.”
These days, her only habit is leaving behind city life for her home in the country about an hour away. “It’s like the Berkshires up there,” she says. “We have three acres, it’s like our own little forest, and we mostly just chill and read. We have some friends we’ve made over the years, but we don’t really do much, and that’s the whole point.
“On the other hand, we could never live there full time. I was born and raised in New York City, and I think there’s something ingrained if you’re a native here. We can’t live without the hustle and bustle of New York, and yet we can’t live without the quiet.”