At 70, Jessica Walter is working more than ever. TV Land has picked up her series Retired at 35 for a second season, FX has ordered a third season of her animated show Archer, and now she’s on Broadway, starring as the overbearing mother Evangeline Harcourt in the revival of Anything Goes, which opens tonight. Vulture chatted with the Arrested Development alum about her cookie-eating habits, her encounters with tall men, and the odds she’ll reprise her role as Lucille.
How did you wind up in Anything Goes?
I got an offer out of the blue from [director] Kathleen Marshall. I was in L.A. doing my little Retired at 35 series last fall, and I just got an offer. I was so thrilled.
No! No audition, no anything — that was nice, too!
Were you familiar with the material?
I had seen the Patti LuPone version in 1987, and I read it a couple of times before I said yes, just to make sure I could contribute something.
What appealed to you about the part you were offered?
I liked it because she’s a survivor. I like survivor-type roles. Sort of like Arrested Development, Lucille.
Speaking of: What’s the latest about the Arrested Development movie?
First of all, let me say thanks to New York Magazine because they loved Arrested Development from day one. And they keep putting it in the magazine, little things like what’s happening with the movie. They’ve been really good about Archer, too. You know, on that last page [“The Approval Matrix”], there’s always a little mention. But I have no idea about the Arrested Development movie. You know, we always hear it’s going to go forward and then nothing happens.
Jason Bateman told MTV about a month ago that it was on, but he didn’t give any real details.
Yeah, I hope they do it before Michael Cera becomes a grandfather. Oh my God. But we loved doing that show and the fans are so wonderful. I’ve seen every episode fourteen times, you know?
Are you still in touch with the cast?
Occasionally I’ll talk to Tony Hale. Over the years I’ve talked to a few people. But I live here and they live there, and that’s a big difference.
What’s it like working with George Segal on Retired at 35?
I love George. George and I did a movie long ago called Bye, Bye Braverman, directed by Sidney Lumet. That was in 1966, can you believe? He’s got a great sense of humor. He’s also a very generous actor to work with, he’s always got my back and that means a lot. I’ve been very lucky with my leading men. Yeah, Clint Eastwood — that wasn’t bad. James Garner — that wasn’t bad. Tall! So tall! They’re tall!
Do you think television has been a boon for women, especially women who aren’t 23?
Oh, yes! Oh my goodness, yes! I mean, look at TV Land, Betty White and Valerie, all those gals — they’re all 50 plus, probably. One of my favorite shows ever is The Good Wife. I don’t know how old Julianna Margulies is, probably in her forties. And Christine Baranski is on that show, and she’s an older — she’s not 23, let’s put it this way.
And right now you’re doing eight shows a week on Broadway. How do you have the energy?
I think that when you’re doing something you really love and you’re in a really happy environment with positive thinking, and the air is clear and fresh — does this sound corny, although I don’t mean it to be? I mean, you can have a small role in a project that’s really depressing and the people aren’t nice and you feel like you just want to go to bed for six weeks, you know what I mean? So I think it has a lot to do with surroundings — with the other people, and with the vibe in the air.
But when do you eat? When do you sleep? Do you go to bed at two in the morning?
I don’t keep my normal schedule. And I’m not one to have a big meal before the show. So I sort of graze throughout the day and don’t really eat a whole lot at all. And then after the show, I’ll come home and have a burger, or chicken and salad. And cookies. Love cookies. Yesterday I told my husband [actor Ron Leibman], “Oh! It’s a day off, pick us up a special kind of cookie.” So he comes back with Fig Newtons. I couldn’t believe it. Fig Newtons!