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Jessica Walter

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Archer is an animated, half-hour comedy that revolves around the spy agency known as the International Secret Intelligence Service (ISIS) and the lives of its employees.

Although their work of espionage, reconnaissance missions, wiretapping and undercover surveillances is daunting and enigmatic, every covert operation and global crisis are actually unmitigated occasions for the ISIS staff to undermine, sabotage and betray each other for personal gains, pleasures and prosperity.

Jessica Walter is the voice of Archer's domineering mother and the rapacious CEO of ISIS, 'Malory Archer'.

PCM had a chance to speak with Jessia about Archer, Arrested Development, and her long, amazing career!

Interview

Q: We were interested in hearing about how you initially got involved with Archer.

JW: You know it was funny my agent told me, my voice over agent, I was in New York and she was in L.A., and she said, "I just got some copy here for people to audition for this new animated show that's coming on FX. In the copy it says, the character's name, Malory and it has in parenthesis, think Jessica Walter, Arrested Development." So she said, "Are you interested?" She sent me the whole overview of it and it looked great. The picture actually, of the character it looked so much like me, it was a little scary. I said, "Yes, I'm very interested." So she called, she said, "I represent Jessica Walter," she called the FX people, "and she'd love to do it," and that's how it came about.

Q: Obviously there are similarities between Lucille Bluth and Malory Archer. What attracts you to that kind of character?

JW: I don't know that I'm-well attracted to them because they're juicy characters to play, but I don't know why I always get those roles. I think it's interesting. However, I think it's great because if plain is vanilla ice cream, your basic nice gal, is really boring.

Q: Really since Arrested Development, you've had this resurgent, but like Betty White always says, she never really went away. Do you think Arrested Development really opened some new doors, another side of you?

JW: I definitely do. I had always been working before then, but something about that show I think was a renaissance, as they say, for me and for some other people too. For Jason Bateman, for instance, I think it was totally renaissance for his career. He'd been doing so well, but that part, sort of I think led him into the parts in films that he's doing now.

Q: When reading the script for Archer and the things that you have to say, do you ever think, "Are they really going to let me say this and get it on the air?"

JW: Interesting you should bring that up because just today, I had the recording session for number 12, Episode 12, and I did say that. Adam, he reads the other parts with me by satellite. I said, "Adam, where do you think up these things? Oh, my God." There was only one time I had ever questioned it because we're there to serve the writer.

It's not us, it's the character speaking, but there was one thing I questioned once it was a thing with Jackie Kennedy and little John John saluting at JFK's funeral. They were using that image or something and I did question it and they assured me it was satirical, etc. and I agreed when I finally understood it because I would never do anything against the Kennedy's, ever. But that was the only thing in all these episodes that I've ever questioned.

Q: What makes Malory different from other characters you've played in the past? Specifically, what makes her different from Lucille, I mean besides the whole running as spy agency thing?

JW: Well, first of all, this may sound trite but Lucille would never let her hair go gray. Malory has gray hair. I don't know how comfortable she is about herself, but she let her hair grow gray and that says a lot about a person. They are very similar. They really are very similar. They even sort of dress in a similar fashion, with the suits, but I had nothing to do with that, the little flowers and the broaches on the lapel and the suits.

Q: What are your thoughts on Malory being a grandmother this season?

JW: Malory is not thrilled about being a grandmother and I don't think it's going to go well, let's put it that way. I know in one episode, last year I think it was, he broached the subject or something and she said, "You cannot ever call me grandma." So I don't think it's going to go well at all.

Q: Now the burning question with Archer is are we ever going to find out who his father is or do you have an idea as maybe who you'd might want it to be?

JW: Wow. I'm just trying to think because I know it seems to come up in a lot of the script. She doesn't know who the father is, that's the thing. It could be one of three or four people. I don't know. In the first episode I think he goes-am I right Scott about this?-or just the one that was shot today, we recorded today, he's looking for his father in Russia somewhere. I don't know. I guess you're going to find out, but probably, hopefully, not for a season or two more, which means we'll be still there.

Q: Do you approach during the role as an animated character any different than you would if it were a live action?

JW: Only in that we can be a lot more broad. We can be broader with these characters than we would be if we were on stage or on TV, meaning as people, but it comes from the same basis of what is the story about, what is my intention in the scene. It comes from a truth. Am I afraid, really, that my son is going to die? Of course I'm afraid he's going to die, that was today's episode. It's exactly how I would read the scripts for all the kinds of information and intentions that I would if I were doing Retired at 35, let's say. It's just that we can be a lot more broad in this kind of situation because it's animated.

I shutter to think if Arrested Development had been on FX, what would have it been, but actually, we probably would have still been on the air.

Q: So there hasn't really been anything that you've read that has really shocked you?

JW: Oh, a lot of this stuff shocks me; oh, a lot of it. I mean I couldn't even pick out one thing, but that's me and that's not the character. I have to draw the line.

Q: Now, Malory Archer has a very interesting mother and son relationship. What were some of your favorite mother and son moments from Season 1 and what do we have to look forward to from Season 2?

JW: I had a lot of good mother and son moments there with him in Season 1, I'm trying to think. There was a whole episode actually towards the end there. I'm trying to think of the title. It has something to do with Mother, oh, "Dial M for Mother." As if, obviously, an analogy to Dial M for Murder. We had a lot of-he goes crazy because he's wired up with some weird things and he shoots through the door.

We somehow come to-I realize he's gone crazy and how much I love him. We're sitting on the floor and he wants to have like his cereal, like he was a baby again. I should cook him like a pancake with cheese on it, or whatever. It's like Archer's version of Leave it to Beaver. Everybody, in their own way, we do love each other. There were so many moments that I can't really think specifically. We don't have that many moments that we're crazy about each other but down deep, we are.

Q: What is it like to work with such an interesting cast of characters with Adam and Aisha and Judy. I mean that has to be an incredible experience for you. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

JW: First of all, to work with Adam and his partner Matt Thompson and his gang that are do the recordings with us is beyond fabulous. Adam is really a good actor and he reads all the other parts for me, so it's like doing a little scene. We never get to see each other, the actors. We all do it separately. I have, however, seen them at these FX parties and we've had a wonderful time, but we record separately.

Q: what do you think your relationship with Archer-there seems to be this disassociation as if you're my son but you're not.

JW: Well, she wants to make that business successful, the spy agency that she's running. If anybody gets in the way or threatens that even her own son, business is business. Her priorities, let's put it this way, are not the usual. Like today, as a matter of fact, in this session there was something where Archer was greatly threatened. His life is threatened and I say to Lana, "Please, please, please, you've got to go over there and help, whatever, to free him." She says, and I quote, "Oh, but he's such a douche bag." I say, "I know, dear, but he's my son." I mean her priorities are let's say, certainly not mine where my daughter comes before anything.

Q: I'm wondering is there anyone good enough for Sterling. Does Malory think any woman is good enough for him to spend the rest of his life with and is Lana one of them?

JW: There is no one that's good enough for my son, no one. That's Malory speaking. There's no one good enough for him. Lana would probably come close because she is gorgeous and bright, but no, there's nobody good enough.

Q: Since we're in New York and your schedule is so busy all the time, where are some of your favorite places in the city to relax and unwind? Do you have a favorite restaurant or spa?

JW: We have a house in the country in Pound Ridge, my husband and I, and on weekends that's where we go. We go to our little country house which is not so little with three acres. We take the dog and we really chill, as my daughter would say.

Places that we like here, restaurants that we like: Gabriel's, which is West 60th. We like Café Luxembourg. Joe Allen, we love Joe Allen because we see our pals there. What else? They closed two of our favorites. They closed O'Neals', the O'Neals' across from Lincoln Center area. They closed it and there was another one that closed that we liked. In L.A., they just closed two of my favorite restaurants too.

Q: You kind of impressed a roster of guest voices so far on the show. Who would be some of your ideal guests that you haven't had yet, guest voices on Archer?

JW: I would love Joan Rivers. Could you imagine her on Archer with that voice? Oh, I'd love Colin Firth. Colin Firth the guy, the English actor who's in The King's Speech, he played King George. I'd love him in anything; let's put it that way. Who else would we love in Archer? Wow, my co-star George Segal in Retired at 35. This is the TV Land series I'm doing right now. I'd love for him to be in it. My husband Ron Leibman, a wonderful actor. You know who would be good is Christine Ebersole. She's also in the big Broadway musical Diva. She's in Retired at 35, too as a recurring character, she great, very special. You know that great kind of musical comedy voice. She'd be great.

Q: You have been a serious actress on television. Forever, you've been on everything. I wanted to ask what's it like to act by yourself without an ensemble cast or people around you are doing the voices for the show. What's your approach for the morning and it must be sweet getting in without worrying about makeup?

JW: Oh, one of the most positive things about this kind of job is no makeup, no hair, and no wardrobe.

Q:I wanted to know about your approach to it. On a set, you've got a little bit of input from actors. You can change the nuances. Here, you're just working with your own voice.

JW: That's a good question and actually, I was explaining to someone before. I've this before. I did a show called Dinosaurs. It was in the '90s, Jim Henson's. There we animatronics, huge big puppets. It was on ABC. It was the same situation, even harder, because they had real bodies in the puppets. The animatronics, like ninja turtle type puppets, except they were dinosaurs and those people did the mouths. So we then how to do a voice all by ourselves and had to match the bad acting that was in these puppets.

That was not easy. But the thing is, with this show which is a blessing, Adam Reed, the creator, our commander and chief, he reads the scenes with you and I make a big stink that he has to record me because he gives back so much when he reads the scenes. It's like having another actor in the room, and we don't just do it line by line we go scene by scene. So you really get a run on it.

Q: I have to go back in time and ask another question, regarding the Dr. Strange film. When that came on, the next morning-I'm aging myself here, I was in high school-it was the talk of the school but we never heard anything else about it. How did they approach you regarding that show? Did they say it's going to be a movie? It's going to be a series or, there's very little information about that out there.

JW: Well, it's interesting because it was just the movie of the week. It was never meant to be a series, in those days they did those two hour movies and I just got the offer to be in it and was very happy to do so. We had a wonderful cast there John Mills was in it, Sir John Mills. I'm trying to remember who else we had some good people. It wasn't to be a series, to my knowledge, and we did. We did it and that was it. It was on. It's interesting though because people remember it. I'm so impressed.

Q: When you read a script for the first time, other than interactions with Sterling, what characters interactions with Malory do you enjoy the most and why?

JW: Well I enjoy Woodhouse because he's such a prig and you know I just love to put him down and take him on. I enjoy them all, but specifically, if I had to pick a couple, it would certainly be Sterling because there's such a drama to a relationship and you can go so crazy screaming and telling him that he's worth nothing, et cetera. That's kind of fun. Nikolai Jackov, my ex-lover who could possibly be Archer's father. That's another one because I love his Russian accent, the way he talks to me. This is Malory speaking, not me. I like them all, but I would have to say Woodhouse and I love yelling at Pam. I yell at her a lot this year.

She's great. She is so great this woman, Amber Nash. They made her a regular this year, which is so wonderful. She's just terrific, terrific gal. So, I would say those people in particular, but everybody.

Q: What are some things that happen to Malory this season.

JW: A lot. First of all, I'm having a romance with the head ODIN, Len Drexler is who is voiced by my former co-star Arrested Development's Jeffrey Tambor. I try to make ISIS a "green" environmentally workplace, but I don't do it because I'm concerned about the environment; I do it because of tax breaks.

Much drinking, like last season; she's not aware, but she's definitely an alcoholic. Maybe they'll get into that someday, that'd be great. I'm horrified when I learn that Sterling may be the father of a baby with a prostitute making me a grandmother, but you will see a bit of my maternal side underneath my tough exterior.

What else happened this season, wait a minute? Oh, Woodhouse, my favorite. We learned that Woodhouse was a member of the Royal Flying Corp during the First World War and we learned the circumstance where I met him. As I said before, it was in a bar where I was pregnant with Sterling. Oh, we're going to learn that Agent Roy Gillette, voiced by our creator Adam Reed, was once a medal winning Olympic skier. Let me see, I drag my team to Switzerland to secure funding for ISIS from a billionaire. Oh this is with a promiscuous daughter, I think this is Episode 1, am I correct?

The daughter has her eye on Sterling and, I'm going to tell you, it's more racy than the previous episodes, if there can be such a thing. There's a Ponzi scheme, we're wiped out, ISIS. We are wiped out in a Ponzi scheme. So I attempt to sell the company to a rival agency, ODIN. We have to see the mayhem that ensues with that, that one I remember. You know when you do so many episodes it's hard to specifically remember. Plus, if you're doing other jobs, all the scripts kind of like-although I, comparison between Retired at 35 and Archer.

Q: I was wondering if you have any Arrested Development movie news for us?

JW: I wish. I have no news. Every year we hear we're going to do it and that the script is being written, but I have yet to see one. I only hope that Michael Cera does not become a grandfather before this movie- But I haven't heard of anything. Maybe it's not going to be. I don't know, but anyway, I hope it will be.

Q: Obviously, some of the comedy of Archer comes from the vocal performances, but do you ever find yourself reading the script and laughing out loud at the things that are written? If so, are there any other series where you've laughed as you read them?

JW: Well I have to tell you with this, I do laugh out loud. I really, really, honestly do. It's so far out and so out there. Of course, Arrested Development I laughed out loud too when I read the script. Sometimes IFC is having reruns of them here anyway and I'll see something and I laugh even though I read the script and I did it and I know what the story is. It's still funny. Funny is funny.

Archer is truly funny, I think, and I guess it's not just me that thinks so because we're getting some die-hard fans. People stop me all the time, I'm always surprised because I'm just a voice, "Oh, wow, when is it coming back on?" But I do laugh and I just think it has a real special thing about it, don't you?

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