05/23/2013 12:44 pm ET

'Arrested Development' Returns: Jessica Walter On The New Lucille


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.