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.

Jessica Walter's Alter Egos

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JULIAN VELARD, BYLINE: This is ASK ME ANOTHER, NPR's hour of puzzles, word games and trivia. I'm Julian Velard. Now here's your host, Ophira Eisenberg.



Thank you, Julian. It's time to welcome our special guest. You know her as Lucille Bluth from "Arrested Development" and the voice of Mallory Archer on the animated series "Archer." Please welcome Jessica Walter.


EISENBERG: Jessica, just a couple fans.

JESSICA WALTER: Oh, it's so nice. Thank you so much.

EISENBERG: Yeah. So I said at the very beginning of the show that you were born in Brooklyn. This is true.

WALTER: I was born in Brooklyn. Only we only lived there for a year...


WALTER: ...On Avenue M.


WALTER: Hey. And - (laughter) and then I left home at about 18. And I went to Manhattan...


WALTER: ...And lived...


WALTER: That was big. That was big.


WALTER: I'm an Upper West Sider. I live there now.

EISENBERG: Sure, sure. So, Jessica, you have an incredible career. We know you from so many films and theater and television for 50 years. I mean, we're talking so...

WALTER: More than 50, dear, I'm sorry to tell you.


EISENBERG: OK. Work in television for more than 50 years...

WALTER: Yeah, believe it or not.

EISENBERG: ...And just thinking - like, right - "Love Boat," "90210"...

WALTER: "Love Boat," oh, my God.


WALTER: You know, I have to tell you, the "Love Boat" - actually, once a year they would go on a real cruise. The rest of the time it was on the sound stage. And I got the real cruise one year.


WALTER: It was - I did several of them - "Love Boats." But it was a two-hour because the real cruises - you know, they weren't going to waste that money on one hour. So we went to Australia and the Fiji Islands.


WALTER: I took my daughter with me. It was the best.

EISENBERG: And you're also filming?

WALTER: Filming and getting paid for this experience.


WALTER: I'm telling you, the perks.

EISENBERG: That's amazing. "Hawaii Five-0," any...

WALTER: "Hawaii Five-0" - I was in the original one.


WALTER: I did a crossover from "Murder She Wrote" to - I was in all those shows, people.



WALTER: But they did a crossover with Angela Lansbury - "Murder She Wrote" - went to solve a crime with Tom Selleck. So it was a two-hour.


WALTER: And I was - I was actually the killer.



WALTER: Now, on that show, I've also been the kill-ee (ph). I've been - I did about nine of those shows.

EISENBERG: So you've had this very prolific and long career. And we're going to get to obviously the role that you got when you were 62 years old on "Arrested Development."


EISENBERG: Was there ever a time in your acting career as you were getting older as a woman where you panicked and thought, this is it; I'm not going to work?

WALTER: You know, I didn't panic about it. But there was a period I would say between when I was about maybe - it was only a 13-month period - I counted...



WALTER: ...From about 60 to 62, when I got that role, that I thought, things are not looking good.


WALTER: And then, oh, no, there came that wonderful role.

EISENBERG: So - and I read that you were very proactive in getting the role on "Arrested Development."

WALTER: In what way do you mean?


EISENBERG: That you basically - you took a plane to...

WALTER: Well, actually, what happened was I was actually offered another pilot that year.


WALTER: The mom. You know, and I said to - I said to my agent, I said - and even though I was, like, you know, looking for something good, I said, this - I just can't do this. Even though it was an offer, I said, I just - I know there's something better out there for me. And then that script came along, "Arrested Development." Yeah, I auditioned on tape in New York.


WALTER: And they liked it, so they flew me out, like, the next day...


WALTER: ...To meet the suits, we used to call them.


WALTER: The executives, the suits. And I auditioned for them on the same day Tony Hale auditioned. We were all outside. Will Arnett - we were all outside waiting to audition. And we auditioned with Jason. He had already been cast. And I think Portia had been cast. So they wanted to see chemistry. And all three of us got the part.

EISENBERG: Right there on the spot?

WALTER: All three of us that had flown on the same plane...


WALTER: ...To hope that we got these roles.

EISENBERG: Yeah. And so they hire you right there. And then when do you start shooting?

WALTER: They actually - they did because I said, OK, well, I'm going back to New York.


WALTER: Oh, no, no. They said, no, we're going to rehearse.


WALTER: I said, I didn't bring all my pills. You know, I...


WALTER: ...I brought medication for, like, two days, you know? But it all worked out.


EISENBERG: And then you do a role - you voice Mallory Archer...

WALTER: Mallory.

EISENBERG: ...On "Archer."


WALTER: That's great fun. And that's a great bunch of people.

EISENBERG: Yeah. And that - you know, Lucille Bluth and Mallory Archer have a lot in common.

WALTER: They do. They have a lot in common except their hair.


EISENBERG: Yeah. Yeah. Right.

WALTER: You know, Mallory has gray hair, and Lucille would never, never.


WALTER: You know, I realized that I know this venue from - we did - the first "Archer" live, we did here, yeah, oh so long ago - yeah, like, 10 years ago, yeah.

EISENBERG: And when you are doing the voiceover for "Archer" - you said you did the live show here, so obviously you're all together. And that's an experience.

WALTER: That was - we're not together when we do the recording.


WALTER: Yeah, we do it alone, separately.

EISENBERG: Yeah, so, I mean, how do you create the warmth?

WALTER: It's amazing. The chemistry of that cast - and we're never - we never never record together ever. We see each other, like, twice a year.


WALTER: You know, I don't know. The chemistry just worked with that voice cast.

EISENBERG: Yeah, well, I mean, you see one person more often than that in the cast.

WALTER: Oh, you mean of the prior cast.

EISENBERG: Yes, of the prior cast.

WALTER: Yes, yes, well, it just so happens - no, my husband, who's here tonight - he played Ron Cadillac - yay.


WALTER: Ron Leibman - yes, he - and then they decided that Mallory should not be married. So...


WALTER: You know, every year the story was different.


WALTER: We've got a great story coming up this year.

EISENBERG: Oh, yeah?

WALTER: I'm not allowed to really say what it is...


WALTER: ...But it's great.



EISENBERG: Now, working with your husband on "Archer" - that's not the first time...

WALTER: No, we've worked together a lot, yeah.

EISENBERG: ...That you've worked together - "Rumors."

WALTER: We did "Rumors" on Broadway, a Neil Simon play. We've done - oh, somebody out there saw it - oh, my God.


WALTER: We've done lots of TV together.


WALTER: He's so brilliant. I've learned more about acting from him than anybody in the world. We've worked together a lot.

EISENBERG: Working together, do you guys take it home at the end of the day? Or are you the kind of people...

WALTER: You know...

EISENBERG: ...That the curtain goes down, and you're like...

WALTER: Once in a while - took it home.



WALTER: I remember saying to Ron once - by the way, Ron won the Tony when he played Roy Cohn in the original "Angels In America."


WALTER: But I remember. We were doing the play once. And I said to him - I said, is there nothing you won't do to get a laugh?


WALTER: We take it home sometimes, yeah.


WALTER: Oh, my goodness.

EISENBERG: All right, Jessica.


EISENBERG: Are you ready for your ASK ME ANOTHER challenge?

WALTER: I am. I'm ready.

EISENBERG: All right, fantastic.


EISENBERG: Jessica Walter, we know that you are a huge fan of television from the 1960s and '70s.

WALTER: Well, let's say I know the shows.

EISENBERG: Oh, you know the shows.

WALTER: Yeah, you know, yeah, yes, absolutely.

EISENBERG: Did you have a - what's your favorite...

WALTER: I was in a lot of them.

EISENBERG: You were.



WALTER: "Mission Impossible."

EISENBERG: Oh, yeah.

WALTER: Yeah, I did one of those.

EISENBERG: That sounds fun. But action's fun, right?

WALTER: You know, what else did I like? Oh, my god - oh, "Colombo."


WALTER: I did one of those, too. We sit there, and we watch the old "Colombos." They're so wonderful.

EISENBERG: I watch them all the time, Jessica.

WALTER: Love them. Do you?

EISENBERG: It's my comfort show.

WALTER: Yeah, absolutely.

EISENBERG: Yeah, I love them.

WALTER: "Colombo" - God, there were so many good shows. I was on actually a show that didn't really do well. Our show was called "Amy Prentiss." Nobody knows that one.

EISENBERG: But they will all look it up now.

WALTER: It was good for me, though. I got an Emmy.


WALTER: You know, good things come from, you know, things that don't work.


EISENBERG: So it just happens that our keyboard...


EISENBERG: ...Player, Julian Velard - he has memorized a bunch of television theme songs, right, Julian?

VELARD: That's right. It's a pet project of mine. I keep a spreadsheet of all the TV themes I know.

EISENBERG: So this is what we're going to do. Julian's going to play a theme song. You just have to name the show.

WALTER: Oh, my God, I hope I do well.

EISENBERG: You're going to do great. And if you do well enough, listener Mitch Burke from Indianapolis, Ind., is going to win an ASK ME ANOTHER Rubik's Cube.

WALTER: Oh, wow, oh, my God - no pressure.

EISENBERG: No pressure.

WALTER: All right.

EISENBERG: OK, it's going to be great. It's going to be great. Here's your first theme.

VELARD: (Singing) Boy, the way Glenn Miller played...

WALTER: Oh, "All In The Family."


WALTER: Everybody knows that one.

EISENBERG: Everybody knows that one. What's next, Julian?

VELARD: (Singing) Well, we're moving on up to the East Side...

WALTER: Oh, it was called "Moving On." No, it was...

VELARD: (Singing) ...In the sky...

EISENBERG: You can listen to more of the song.

VELARD: (Singing) Moving on up...

WALTER: "The Jeffersons."

VELARD: Correct.


WALTER: Oh, my God.


WALTER: So far...

EISENBERG: So far you're doing great.

WALTER: Yeah, OK, he's getting that Cube.


WALTER: He's all right.

EISENBERG: That's the first...

WALTER: Now what's happening? Next one.

EISENBERG: Oh, next one.


EISENBERG: All right, all right, this one's tough.

VELARD: I like - this one's my favorite. (Singing) Who needs wings to fly - certainly not I. I prefer to take up on the breeze, follow any swallow that will please my fancy.

EISENBERG: Sally Field.

WALTER: "Gidget" - no.

EISENBERG: She plays a...

WALTER: "Flying Nun."


WALTER: "Flying Nun."


WALTER: But you helped me.

EISENBERG: All right, this is your last clue.

WALTER: Oh, my God.

EISENBERG: Go for it, Julian.

VELARD: (Singing) Welcome back.

WALTER: "Welcome Back, Kotter."



EISENBERG: I started to hear some rhythmic clapping. Let's hear it. I want to hear it.

VELARD: (Singing) Your dreams were your ticket out. Welcome back to that same old place that you laughed about. Well, the names have all changed since you've come around. But the years have remained, and they've turned around - that was wrong. Who'd thought they'd lead you.

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Singing) Who'd have thought they'd lead you.

VELARD: (Singing) Back here where we need you.

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Singing) Back here where we need you.

VELARD: (Singing) Yeah, we tease him a lot 'cause we got him on the spot. Welcome back. Welcome back, welcome back, welcome back. Welcome back, welcome back, welcome back.



EISENBERG: I didn't quite expect that. All right. Congratulations, Jessica Walter.

WALTER: Thank you.

EISENBERG: You and Mitch Burke won ASK ME ANOTHER Rubik's Cubes. Give it up for Jessica Walter, everybody.


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