Jessica Walter on ‘Archer’

The woman behind Archer's domineering mother Malory tells us what's coming up in season 2.

Blair Marnellby Blair Marnell

Jessica Walter on 'Archer'

FX’s biting animated spy comedy "Archer" wouldn’t be the same without Malory Archer, the overbearing mother and hard-nosed boss of the lead character, Sterling Archer (H. Jon Benjamin). And it’s very telling that when "Archer" creator Adam Reed conceived of the role, he sent it out to casting agents with a note that said "Think Jessica Walter." When Walter turned out to be very interested in the part, Reed actually used her name to attract some of the other cast members.

As an actress, Walter is probably best known for portraying Lucille Bluth on the cult comedy series, "Arrested Development." More recently, Walter has been in rehearsals for a Broadway revival of "Anything Goes" and co-starring in the TV Land sitcom, "Retired at 35."

During a recent press conference, we spoke with Walter about the new season of "Archer" and she was surprisingly forthcoming about several of the upcoming plotlines, including Sterling’s potential fatherhood…
 


Q:
How did you initially get involved with "Archer"?

Jessica Walter: 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: When you read the scripts for"Archer," do you ever think, “Are they really going to let me say this and get it on the air?”

Jessica Walter: 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 (Reed), 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 are your thoughts on Malory potentially being a grandmother this season?

Jessica Walter: 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 can not ever call me grandma." So I don’t think it’s going to go well at all.

Q: Are we ever going to find out who Archer’s father is? And do you have an idea who you want it to be?

Jessica Walter: 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… just the one that… 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.

I’m not giving anything away by saying this, but—I just said today, some Russian bad guys catch Archer. I appealed to my friend Jackov—spelled Jackov, but it’s pronounced Jack off—Nikolai who I’ve had an affair with in Episode 1 actually last season. And he wants to know if he’s the father and he asks me what the odds are and I say, "Well, one out of three— actually it’s probably like one out of ten,” … feelings.  So, he’s a possible, Nikolai Jackov.

Q: Will we see any of Malory’s backstory this season?

Jessica Walter: Yes.  First of all, we’re going to see how and when I hired Lana Kane for my agency.  I’m trying to think… are we going to see more about how [Malory] came to [meet Woodhouse]? Yes. It was in a bar when I was pregnant, that I can tell you. When Malory was pregnant with Sterling that’s where I met Woodhouse.

Q: 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?

Jessica Walter: 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: How would you define Malory’s relationship with her son?

Jessica Walter: 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: Aside from Malory’s interplay with Archer, which character do you enjoy playing off of the most?

Jessica Walter: 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 of the things that happen to Malory this season?

Jessica Walter: 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.

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.