A lot of bad moms have surfaced on television in recent years, but very few of them have been as entertaining as "Arrested Development's" Lucille Bluth. In fact, the only TV mom who can hold a candle to the matriarch of the dysfunctional Bluth clan is Malory Archer, the chic-but-frosty head of the ISIS spy agency on the FX animated comedy "Archer."
Both women are played by Jessica Walter, who couldn't be less like her TV characters. In a recent telephone interview, Walter was warm, gracious and enthusiastic as she talked about Lucille's love for her children (yes, the actress strongly believes Lucille loves her wayward Bluth offspring) and about the "Archer"-"Arrested Development" crossover she'd love to see.
One of the things fans love most about "Arrested Development" is the meticulous arrangement of every detail; it's the kind of show that rewards multiple viewings, which is certainly what Netflix is hoping for when it unleashes 15 new episodes on May 26. Case in point: Even though I've watched each episode multiple times, there were things I hadn't noticed about Lucille's fashion choices and the kinds of alcohol she drinks at different times of the day.
Even when Lucille's making her disappointment in her children clear and treating the hired help with disdain, you can't look away from this perfectly accessorized matriarch, whose one weakness may be her overly close relationship with her son Buster. The youngest Bluth child, played by Tony Hale, is living proof that Lucille's other children may have been better off with less attention from their chilly mother, who, despite her many flaws, functions as the glue that just about holds the fractious family together (most gatherings, after all, take place in her luxurious condo).
"Arrested Development" creator Mitch Hurwitz doesn't want fans to know much about what's happened to members of the Bluth clan since fans last saw them. Suffice to say, it hasn't been smooth sailing for Lucille, who was last seen trying to evade the authorities investigating her family's shady finances. Her getaway vehicle: The Queen Mary. The very least you can say about Lucille Bluth is that the lady has style.
The following interview was edited and slightly condensed.
Can you get into character as Lucille if you don't have a drink in your hand?
You know, in most of my scenes, I don't have a drink in my hands. I pick the scenes very specifically where I drink, and I also pick the drinks very specifically -- [the time of day for the character dictates whether] it's a martini or chardonnay or Champagne.
If it's a morning scene, unless it's a very desperate occasion, I will have a chardonnay. She does not drink red wine, nor do I. If it's past 3 o'clock in the afternoon in the script, she will have a martini. There was one scene at 8 a.m. in the original series -- I come marching into the model home and I say, "I'll have a vodka tonic," and he says, "Mom, it's 8 a.m." And she says, "And a piece of toast." So it's all very specific.
I've seen the show so many times but I'd never noticed that. Obviously, one of the things the fans enjoy about the show is the level of detail in every area. Are there other Lucille details that stand out to you, whether or not fans have noticed them?
Well, she's so specific about having a flower or pin on her left lapel. Today I'm wearing a leather flower that I "borrowed" from Season 3 of "Arrested Development." I treasure that little flower. The thing about it is, they didn't have a lot of money for wardrobe on the original "Arrested Development" and they had even less on this one. [Katie Sparks is the head of wardrobe for the show, and Walter learned from her that] if you accessorize a suit or a dress properly, with scarves and jewelry and things like that, you can look like your outfit cost $3,500 when it only cost about $600. I definitely picked that up [from the show]. I'm not into clothes and jewelry and all that stuff, but I realized from Lucille's clothes how you can make something look more expensive than it is by accessorizing it.
You know, I have to admit, I was a doubter. For the longest time, I didn't really believe "Arrested Development" was coming back. I didn't want to get my hopes up, because if it didn't return, then that'd be too painful.
You know, I'm sort of with you on that one. We really wanted it to happen, but I thought, "I don't want to hope for it too much, because it'd be too awful if it didn't happen." I'm one of those people, I don't believe anything's happening until Wardrobe calls and says, "What size are you?"
So when these new episodes begin, has Lucille evolved or changed at all?
They don't want us to reveal anything, but I can say, Lucille will reveal talents you didn't know she had. She also is more desperate than she's ever been. [When the new season begins,] she's definitely in trouble. She's going to keep that lifestyle going no matter what, no matter who she has to manipulate.
That's actually kind of a relatable thing. We all want our lives to be a certain way, and Lucille's just honest about what she wants.
People relate to that. She's not afraid to say, "This is what I want. I'm used to this lifestyle." And she's desperate to hang on to that. That's what makes the situation funny: It's a real thing, it's a real goal.
And she also has an enjoyment of life. She likes what she likes and she just goes for it.
Yes. What other way is there to be?
And she's not lying to her kids about what her priorities are.
Right. She loves her children. I absolutely, totally, with all my heart, know that she loves her children. She doesn't know how to show it in all the correct ways, but she needs them and they need her. And that's the thing about our show -- it's a family. From Shakespeare's time onward, all stories are boy-girl, or family. Without family, you don't have anything, as far as a television show [goes], I think. You think about the good shows in the past, they're all about family.
And even the shows where people are not related, they end up becoming an ad hoc family of some kind.
Right, like "The Mary Tyler Moore Show." That little newsroom, they were a family. And the Mary Tyler Moore character, like the Jason Bateman character in our show, is the center around which the crazies revolve.
From what Mitch Hurwitz has said, these episodes are very intricately constructed and linked to each other in many different ways. Was it hard to keep track of where you were and what was happening when you were shooting?
I'm going to give you the short answer: Yes, it was hard. We were doing what they call cross-boarding -- if you have an apartment set that is in Episode 1, and then it's in 3, 5 and 7, and so forth, also, you shoot all those scenes consecutively. So you really don't know what's between scenes, necessarily, or what follows what. It's challenging.
Is it challenging for the audience or for the actors, or for both?
Oh, not for the audience, they're going to see everything. For the actors, it could be very challenging.
And was it a shorter shoot than how you made episodes in the original run? A more compressed production timeline?
Yeah, it was definitely more compressed here.
Was it strange to walk back on to those sets?
Yes. It was surreal. It was in your DNA. You did it for three years and you were in those places for three years, and that character was in your head for three years, and they recreated everything, down to the nails in the walls of the sets. Honestly, it was incredible. It was wild. Seamlessly, I think, everybody stepped back in.
When it comes to Buster, my theory is that he gets so much attention and love from Lucille because she figured out how to do that with him, but when it came to the other kids, she just couldn't get it together. So he got too much.
That's a great theory, that makes sense. I also look it at it as, Buster was the only one who didn't have the courage to leave her. He didn't have the courage to go out on his own and get away from her.
Or maybe he realized that she can't live on her own.
Yes, that too.
You also play another memorable mother on "Archer." I have to ask, do people ever recognize you from that, just from your voice?
Yes! They actually do. I can't believe it. It's just a voice. People who work behind the counter in the deli [will shout out,] "Hey, Malory!" in New York City, and things like that. There are fans all over. It's a great show, I love doing that show.
Malory is another character who's very forthright, likes money and likes a drink. And who maybe isn't so great with the mother stuff, but her son sticks with her.
Maybe she's the secret sister of Lucille.
That would be so great if that were true. I'd love to see a crossover.
Yeah, Lucille Bluth comes to visit them all at ISIS headquarters in Manhattan.
Maybe she'd be trying to get Buster a job.
Yeah, he could be an agent! He could be a spy.
He's such a lunatic, he'd fit right in at that office.
He would, he absolutely would.
In your mind, how are these two women different?
Well, Malory's hair is grey and Lucille would never allow that. But they are similar. Honestly, though, I think Lucille is a little more vulnerable than Malory. And also, Malory is running her own important business, whereas Lucille is [just trying to keep her lifestyle going]. So there's a big difference there. But they both have to have control.
Was there anything else you wanted to add about the return of "Arrested Development"?
Just to say that I think the show is better than ever, and we feel great excitement about it and we hope the audience will love it as much as we loved doing it.
Note: Check out my appreciation of the original "Arrested Development" run. Lists of my favorite episodes and supporting characters are below, and all HuffPost TV's "Arrested Development" interviews and coverage is here.
In which we meet J. Walter Weatherman, the one-armed man that George Bluth uses to teach lessons meant to make them more responsible. Given how the Bluth kids turned out, that worked out pretty well! Weatherman was part of an elaborate pot bust at the Bluth boat, a sequence that showed the comedy using one of its signature moves -- escalating, farcical confrontations among different sets of characters -- to hilarious effect.
A classic thanks to the insane fight among Buster, Michael and GOB, a conflict that began with Michael's attraction to GOB's girlfriend Marta, progressed through a misunderstanding about the word "hermanos," and ended with the Michael and GOB rolling around on the grass and Buster shouting, "Will someone please have the decency to punch me in the face?" Contains this classic exchange between an angry GOB and an actor on the set of Marta's telenovela: "Como?" "Oh, you're going to be in a coma all right!!"
A classic if only for the side-splitting scene in which GOB and Michael stage a rock-paper-scissors battle with a giant boulder and gigantic scissors (Ron Howard's bone-dry narration: "Unfortunately, the whole incident was covered by the paper."). But there's lots more to love in this gem from the second season, which found the show at the height of its game: There were the scathing Iraq allusions, Lindsay's crush on Thomas Jane, whom she thought was a random homeless guy and the specter of GOB being put in in charge. By the way, Michael "does not have a problem with that."
The gang's excursion to Mexico could have seemed frenetic had the storylines and jokes within them not been so well-orchestrated and gleefully deployed. But by that point in Season 2, the writers, directors and cast had built the "AD" machine up to the point that they could throw it into high gear and all the parts moved together beautifully; everything in "¡Amigos!" was pleasingly synchronized and delightfully ridiculous. As members of the clan hit the road to find George in Mexico, chicken dances erupted, mistaken identities abounded, Ice melted Lindsay's and Ann (her?) was accidentally left behind. It was a veritable plethora of amusing Bluth insanity.
The winning "Good Grief" ably demonstrates how "AD" managed to locate real heart inside all its dizzyingly constructed silliness. The show's appealing narration and folksy music balanced out its wackier elements, and here, the many references to the beloved "Peanuts" canon gracefully communicated a certain kind of bittersweet disappointment. There's so much to say about this ambitious half-hour -- which featured George as a witness to his own funeral, which GOB of course bungled -- that Ryan McGee and I did a whole podcast on the episode.
Never let it be said that "Arrested Development" shied away from going big and broad -- it did so effectively here, with an episode that built to a car slipping on a banana peel and Buster trying out his new crane-game skills on his own brother, who happened to be wearing a banana suit at the time. And any show that dwells on family member singing the lyrics of "Afternoon Delight" to each other has a firm grasp on cringe-inducing yet hilarious wrongness.
A two-parter jam-packed with delightful hijinks, in which Michael meets a "blind" lawyer named Maggie Lizer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), Buster wonders who his real father is, Lucille begins to like Ann (her?), Maeby struggles with her "Young Man and the Beach" movie, and the youngest Bluth brother famously encounters a "loose seal." Like many of the best episodes of "AD," these installments are dense with interconnected stories that skitter through the Bluth family like Buster on a juice-box rampage.
Lucille's attempt to make George Michael into her new Buster via the creepy Motherboy dance is stymied by Buster himself, who does all he can to save his nephew from his emotionally stunted fate. And the "loose seal" that ate Buster's hand, as it turns out, was eaten by a shark, which Barry Zuckerkorn jumped over (a deeply meta reference to the shark-jumping moment in "Happy Days" which gave rise to the term).
When someone gets what they want on "AD," it usually turns out to be a nightmarish experience, as is the case when George Michael and Maeby finally kiss and she says, "Hey, look at that, we didn't get swallowed up into Hell" -- and of course, part of the model home collapses into a pit. At the courthouse, there's another Michael-GOB donnybrook and a member of the Bluth family is finally put (back) in the slammer. It's not the George Bluth, of course; it's his hapless brother Oscar.
Worthy of inclusion in any "AD" Top 10 just for the scene in which Det. John Munch (Richard Belzer) leads a scrapbooking class (one designed to get the ever-gullible Tobias to share incriminating Bluth documents). The brothers Bluth finally make it to Iraq, where they find several Iraqi men -- all of them Saddam Hussein stand-ins -- living in a Middle Eastern version of the model home. Though the CIA wants to bust them, somehow Buster saves the day, and for once Operation Hot Brother is a massive success.
"Immaculate Election," which featured Mrs. Featherbottom and Buster's dalliance with a Roomba; "Missing Kitty," for general Kitty Sanchez nuttiness; "Spring Breakout," for Howard's deadpan evisceration of the narration of the melodramatic program "Scandalmakers" ("Real shoddy narrating. Just pure crap."); "Sword of Destiny," in which we meet Tony Wonder; "Meet the Veals," for the crazy series of confrontations among the Bluths and the Veals and for some memorable Franklin moments; "Mr. F," for the destruction of Tiny Town sequence -- giant mole, jetpack and all; the season 3 finale "Development Arrested," one of the show's more frenetic outings, but it brought the loony story of the Bluths full circle to the infamous boat party that began it all.
Played by: Henry Winkler Winkler actually made us forget the Fonz with his performance as the Bluth's memorably incompetent lawyer, whose attempts to give the family legal advice were hindered by the fact that he appeared to know nothing about the law. Maybe Zuckerkorn was so cheerfully unhelpful because he was more focused on his mysterious personal life, which involved rest stops, prostitutes and predilections that sounded, shall we say, unconventional. The show's Fonzie references had him giving a familiar "Ayyy!" in the mirror before combing his hair and, at one point, referencing an infamous "Happy Days" scene by jumping over a shark.
Played by: Scott Baio This Bluth family lawyer appeared to be a slightly more competent than Barry Zuckerkorn, but you'd think an ethical attorney would not represent one Bluth spouse while dating another, as happened when he worked on Tobias and Lindsay's divorce. Most notable for the slogan in his low-budget TV ads ("Why should you go to jail for a crime someone else noticed?") and for his web site, the Bob Loblaw Law Blog.
Played by: Ed Begley Jr. This hairless land magnate (whose misplaced eyebrows were a dependable source of hilarity) was the Bluth Company's frequent antagonist, and the forthright way in which he conducted business stood in contrast to the Bluth's frequent ethical lapses. The families' frienemy status went back years -- Michael always had a crush on his daughter, Sally (Christine Taylor), but he could never quite close that deal.
Played by: Liza Minnelli The vertigo-challenged retiree was Buster's paramour for a while, despite his fear of (and attraction to) older women and her problems staying upright. Minnelli's game, energetic performance as Lucille was a lot of fun, and her rivalry with Lucille 1 was especially delicious.
Played by: Ben Stiller GOB's magician idol was every bit as douchey as you'd expect him to be, and if we have any complaints about the character, it's that Stiller's schedule didn't allow him to stop by the Gothic Castle that often. No doubt true Tony Wonder fans own his stupendous magic video, "Use Your Allusion."
Played by: Judy Greer "Take a look at these!" You might recall Kitty Sanchez as an unstable former Bluth Company employee who was prone to showing off her breast implants, and that just about describes her particular brand of freaky insanity. But don't forget her infamous drink-off with Lucille at Senor Tadpoles, her creepy affair with GOB and her devious attempts to extort the Bluth family and steal George's sperm (timeless wisdom from George: "Never promise crazy a baby"). Would any of it have turned out differently if the producers of the "Girls with Low Self-Esteem" video series hadn't rejected a pre-implant Kitty?
Played by: Justin Lee George and Lucille's attempt to adopt a child came at an inopportune time: He arrived in the midst of the government's prosecution of George Bluth's various crimes. Still, Annyong was soon one of the family (much to Buster's chagrin), and though he went missing for much of Season 2, George found him living inside the walls of Lucille's condo in Season 3. Most memorable quote: "Annyong!"
Played by: Justin Grant Wade This popular jock was the object of Maeby's affections for quite some time, until she found out that GOB was his father and thus Steve Holt! was her cousin. (George Michael, despite his jealousy, was torn about informing Maeby of this fact, given that he himself had a crush on his cousin.) In the show's third season, he and GOB explored their father-son relationship, and even Michael got pulled into the Steve Holt! cult when he trained for a triathalon with him. Steve's exhortation to a weary Michael: "There's no 'I' in win!"
Played by: Amy Poehler Poehler played the wife of her real-life husband, Will Arnett, in a few episodes that highlighted both the haste with which GOB tied the knot and the fact that he never actually slept with her the night they got hitched. One of the few fans of Dr. Funke's 100% Natural Good-Time Family Band Solution, she figured prominently in the infamous "loose seal" incident that deprived Buster of his hand, and when she was in the Army, she had an unfortunate tendency to pose for very questionable photos.
Playing himself, the "Predator" actor sold Tobias a series of worthless acting lessons, but the most valuable advice he offered consisted of lessons in being thrifty. Thanks to Weathers, "Arrested Development" fans no longer throw away bones after a meal -- they make a stew. There's still plenty of meat on that bone!
Played by: James Lipton The warden of George's prison was an artistic soul: He allowed Tobias to bunk in a cell to prepare for a tiny role as an inmate, and he later pitched Maeby on his script for "New Warden," a hilarious compendium of jail cliches that, in one episode, was acted out by little kids. Needless to say, a savvy executive like Maeby wasn't interested.
In a cast full of characters who are willing to say almost anything, Franklin, a puppet GOB used in his act, stood out. His song "It Ain't Easy Bein' White" wasn't the crossover hit GOB was hoping for, and in a tragic turn of events, he was accidentally dyed white. Before that, an angry Franklin delivered a stinging putdown to Lucille in the clip here. (I don't know who's more shocked by Franklin's outburst, Lucille or Buster.)
Played by: Zach Braff The magnate at the heart of the Girls With Low Self-Esteem empire shared an unlikely secret with Tobias: They were both Never-Nudes, nudity-shunners who sported matching cut-offs beneath their clothes. There were quite a few notable actors (Martin Mull as Gene Parmesan, Malik Yoba as Ice, Jane Lynch as Cindi Lightballoon, Robb Corddry as Moses Taylor) whose roles on "AD" weren't large, but they made a strong impression anyway.
Played by: Mae Whitman Can't quite recall this character. Was her name Yam? Bland? Plant? Annabelle? In all seriousness, Mae Whitman is a terrific actress, but the show had a lot of fun with Michael's inability to remember anything about her or even that his son was dating her. Really? Her?
Played by: Steve Ryan This one-armed man was a constant menace during the Bluth children's childhood: George would employ Weatherman in grisly scenarios designed to teach the kids lessons ("And that's why we leave a note!"). He was central to the hilarious pot bust that took place at the Bluth's boat, and at one point in Season 3, he teamed up with the handless Buster to deliver an elaborate lesson to the Bluth brothers, after Buster ran into him at Weatherman's prosthetics shop. But I'll stop there, because I've learned my lesson: That's why we don't make lists of supporting characters!