For a woman who has played villains and decidedly nasty women for most of her career - from Clint Eastwood's tormentor in Play Misty for Me to Lucille Bluth in Arrested Development to the voice of Malory Archer in FX's spy send-up Archer - Jessica Walter is unfailingly polite.
She was late for our phone call and apologized profusely throughout our conversation. "I never do this!" she said over and over again.
Walter is in Bucks County for the next month to play another nasty piece of work: Ouiser in the Bucks County Playhouse's Steel Magnolias. Shirley MacLaine famously played the part in the 1989 movie version.
The cast is full of famous ladies, including Home Improvement's Patricia Richardson as M'Lynn and Castle's Susan Sullivan as Clairee. The show is directed by Academy Award nominee Marsha Mason, who played Ouiser in the 2005 Broadway revival of the classic dramedy.
Fifty-eight years ago! I was an apprentice in 1958 when I was 17. They used to have acting apprentices. I got equity there in 195-freaking-8. It was the Middle of the Night, that lovely play. The next year, or maybe the year after, they asked me to come back as a union member to do the first production ever of a Neil Simon play. It was called One Shoe Off, and it went to Broadway as Come Blow Your Horn. I played a nurse, but they cut my part.
I got very teary-eyed. I feel like I've come full circle. It's in my DNA. I just can't go too long without it. I need my theater fix. There's nothing like live performance. The audience becomes your partner in the whole thing. Actors are in the service of the people. We try to cheer them up. We just want people to come in and laugh and have a good time. And this play is so moving, it's such a great release. It's not just a career. It's doing something good for someone.
We've only had two weeks of rehearsals so I'm a nervous wreck, but we'll get through.
But there's not a bad apple in this bunch. Every single person has a specific thing that they bring to their characters. I'm in awe of these gals.
This is the only time I've been in something with only women. And the director is a woman. And the stage manager and her assistant are women. It's very sweet, it's like the play. Things happen when we're rehearsing in our little breaks. For instance, Elaine Hendrix who plays Truvy and is on [FX's Sex&Drugs&Rock &Roll], we were on a break, and a guy came to deliver her flowers, and we all got so excited, like we were in the salon.
She's such a devil. I've never played anything but villains. I've never played the ingenue. Those vanilla ice cream parts are so boring to me. Honestly, I'm not a bad person. I'm a normal, nice person. Then I realize how lucky I am because the parts I get are so juicy.
I got typecast when I was young. In this movie The Group, I played Libby. My description was "Libby, with a big red scar for a mouth." She was mean and frigid. I got typecast in those roles, but those are the good roles.
Born in Brooklyn, but raised in Queens. I need to say that. But Ouiser is not that polite. She pounces, she pretends to be polite. It's this Southern sweetness, but underneath is a dagger. It's how Southerners can be sweet but not so sweet at the same time, whereas in New York, you just say, "For God's sake, get it over with."