There are too many hilarious Lucille Bluth–isms to go over in a single conversation with Jessica Walter, who plays Arrested Development’s boozy matriarch. But there are the classic bits that have risen to the top, preserved and popularized in endless little GIF loops all over the web. Her signature wink. Her excited reaction to Gene Parmesan. (If the form has a flaw, it’s only in its inability to capture the sound of Lucille’s chicken call: coodle doodle doo … coodle doodle do.) On the occasion of Arrested Development taking on Cheers in today’s quarterfinal of Vulture’s Sitcom Smackdown, we rang up Walter (currently starring as another hostile, martini-swilling mom in FX’s Archer) and she agreed to jump down the rabbit hole of Lucille’s most mesmerizing and enduring GIFs.
The creepy double-wink in “The One Where Michael Leaves” (season two, episode one) Michaelnotices that the Bluths’ model home is very similar to the ones George Sr. may have been building illegally in Iraq. Lucille reassures Michael that it would be a very difficult charge to prove — and then winks at him. Twice.
She first did Lucille’s special slo-mo wink in the pilot, thinking it would be a nice touch. Also, she wanted to show off. “Most people can’t completely close one eye. Try it, try it! You’ll see. It’s very hard to close one eye totally and keep the other one open. It just so happens I’m able to do that, so I worked it into the script,” Walter laughed. “I thought it would be fun. It’s the strange, twisted thing she does.” Lucille later gives not one but two winks to Michael (Jason Bateman: also an accomplishedwinker). “I remember [Michael would] always say, ‘How can we ever stop you from making that face again?’” When Vulture told Walter that the wink is one of the more circulated Lucille memes online, she sighed in relief. “Oh my God, I’m so glad! I do it a couple of times in these fourteen episodes,” she said. “I mean, I don’t overdo it, but I tried to get a few in. I don’t know if they’ll keep ‘em in, but I’m glad to hear it’s been appreciated.”
The “Whore!” cry in “Whistler’s Mother” (season one, episode twenty) Lucille fails to recognize Lindsay, who is protesting the war by the side of the road (in a cage while being hosed down) and shouts at her. Afterward, Lucille adds, “Now there’s someone who could have used a good mother.”
The drive-by outburst wasn’t an ad lib. “The wink was mine. Whore was not. That was our genius writers,” Walter said. “It was the perfect thing Lucille would say to someone so scantily clad. And she was wet!” Walter was happy to hurl the slur out the passenger-side window as many times as was necessary to get the shot. “When I’m acting and something’s right for the character, I don’t even think twice.”
The Gene Parmesan scream in “¡Amigos!” (season two, episode three) Lucille hires private investigator Gene Parmesan (Martin Mull) to track down George Sr. after he escapes prison. He shows up at her penthouse in a blue bear suit with balloons. She’s delighted to be fooled.
Few things put a smile on Lucille’s face, and Walter remembers feeling pretty giddy about getting to squeal for Gene Parmesan’s fantastically horrible disguises. “First of all, Martin Mull, who plays Gene, is so adorable,” she said. “I did like getting to smile and scream. You know, there’s something very little-girly about Lucille. I don’t see her as any kind of a villain. She gets excited about these surprises of his because I believe that’s how she’d react!” Walter revealed that she recently got to channel Lucille’s girly side once more. “Gene comes back,” she said. “He’s in our new season. He fools me again! I couldn’t wait to film that episode, truly.”
The chicken dance in “Spring Breakout” (season two, episode seventeen) and “British Eyes Only” (season three, episode two) In “Spring Breakout,”Lucille taunts Michael in front of the board while hung-over and high on Buster’s painkillers, and in “British Eyes Only,” she joins George Sr. and Lindsay in making fun of Michael’s lack of a love life.
There were no directions in the script or from series boss Mitch Hurwitz on how to badly impersonate a chicken. “We all had to come up with our own dance. All I could think was to flap my wings,” Walter laughed. “I did also think about Lucille always being a little bit tipsy during the day and what that might look like while she’s doing this chicken thing. Somehow the coodle doodle doo came out.” When it was time to debut her coodle doodle doo alone in the Bluth boardroom, the dance came very naturally to her. “Lucille was really quite drunk in that scene, so it wasn’t embarrassing at all. It was easy,” Walter said. She had, however, first tested a few moves in front of her dressing-room mirror, where she settled on a demure, “I’m a Little Teapot”-style flutter. “I don’t know that mine is as good as Will’s — his is just incredible,” Walter said. “But I’m sort of the old crow in the bunch. I’m not as wild as the kids.” And she never had a problem keeping a straight face. “Lucille’s so self-involved, she’s never really looking at what anyone else is doing unless it benefits her financially.” Along with the rest of the Arrested cast at TheNew Yorker Festival in October 2011, Walter revived Lucille’s chicken dance onstage. “Somebody in the audience asked, and of course, we’re all game!” she said.
The Land of the Dead look in “Making a Stand” (season three, episode eight) Lucille scares her family while recuperating from cosmetic surgery.
Lucille’s post-op look — red, bandaged, blistered, bruised — became the face of the monster in Maeby’s horror movie (her studio exec Mort Meyers even mistakes the name of Lucille’s plastic surgeon for a prosthetics artist on Land of the Dead). Walter recalled spending upward of two hours in the makeup chair being transformed. “Obviously we didn’t have to do the hair, but it still took quite a while. It was a little scary to see, if I’m being honest,” she said. While Walter wandered around the set that day between scenes, someone snapped a picture and gave it to her. She hasn’t lost it. “I don’t keep it in my wallet or anything, but I’ve got it. Of course I do. They really did a brilliant job on me,” she said.