Jessica Walter's Alter Egos Jessica Walter talks about playing boozy, acerbic moms on Arrested Development and Archer — and shares stories from her early days on TV.
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Jessica Walter's Alter Egos

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Jessica Walter's Alter Egos

Jessica Walter's Alter Egos

Jessica Walter's Alter Egos

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Ophira Eisenberg chats with actor Jessica Walter on Ask Me Another at the Bell House in Brooklyn, New York. Mike Katzif/NPR hide caption

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Mike Katzif/NPR

Ophira Eisenberg chats with actor Jessica Walter on Ask Me Another at the Bell House in Brooklyn, New York.

Mike Katzif/NPR

Jessica Walter is perhaps best known for her roles as Lucille Bluth on Arrested Development, and Malory Archer on Archer: two icy, booze-swilling mothers without much of a motherly instinct. But these roles came to her later in her career. Walter wasn't cast as Lucille until she was 62 years old. Before the Bluths came along, she wasn't sure if her career might be slowing down.

"You know, I didn't panic about it. But there was a period from about 60 to 62, when I thought... things are not looking good," she told NPR's Ask Me Another host Ophira Eisenberg at the Bell House in Brooklyn, New York. "And then, oh no, there came that wonderful role!"

Walter was offered another pilot that year, but said she found it underwhelming. "I said to my agent, I know there's something better out there for me." And that script came along: Arrested Development. "I auditioned on tape in New York, and they liked me so much they flew me out the next day." Walter auditioned in the same round with her now-castmates Will Arnett and Tony Hale, who play G.O.B. and Buster Bluth on the show, respectively. "All three of us got the part!"

As Malory Archer, Walter plays the sharp, savvy CEO of a spy agency in the animated TV show Archer. An unexpected perk came when her husband, Ron Liebman, was cast as Malory's love interest, but it didn't last, due to the show's tendency for reinvention. "Then they decided that Malory should not be married," Walter said.

Jessica Walter reflects on her early days on TV on Ask Me Another at the Bell House in Brooklyn, New York. Mike Katzif/NPR hide caption

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Mike Katzif/NPR

Jessica Walter reflects on her early days on TV on Ask Me Another at the Bell House in Brooklyn, New York.

Mike Katzif/NPR

That wasn't the first time she and Liebman played opposite one another. They'd performed on stage together in the Neil Simon play Rumors, and "lots of TV," as Walter said. "He's so brilliant. I've learned more about acting from him than anybody in the world," recalled Walter. "Once in a while, [we] took it home. We were doing a play once, and I remember saying to him: 'Is there nothing you won't do to get a laugh?' We take it home sometimes, yeah. Oh my goodness."

For her Ask Me Another challenge, Walter played a game about 1960s and '70s television theme songs. It's no wonder she was good at it: The Love Boat, Colombo, Mission: Impossible, Hawaii 5-0, and Murder She Wrote are just a few of the many TV shows she's appeared and starred in. "Let's say I know the shows," she said. "I was in a lot of them."


HIGHLIGHTS:

On a lesser-known role that still paid off:

"I was on a show that actually didn't do well. Our show was called Amy Prentiss. And nobody knows that one! It was good for me, though. I got an Emmy!"

On the similarities between Malory Archer and Lucille Bluth:

"They do, they have a lot in common. Except their hair. Malory has gray hair. And Lucille would never!"

Heard on Jessica Walter's Alter Egos.