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Jessica Walter relishes role as matriarch of dysfunctional family

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NEW YORK - Jessica Walter is reveling in her role as Lucille Bluth, the selfish, mercurial, chemically dependent matriarch on "Arrested Development."

"I think that she's a great dame," Walter said this week. "I'm crazy for Lucille. I don't think she's a bad person. Her priorities may be a little screwed up, but she does love her children - in her own way."

The part has brought critical accolades and an Emmy nomination for Walter, who has racked up numerous nods in a long career. (She won her only Emmy 30 years ago for the short-lived crime drama "Amy Prentiss.")

The cast of "Arrested," the Fox comedy, reunited last week in Los Angeles to start work on the third season of the show, which premieres Sept. 19. Last season, all manner of deliciously smarmy family secrets were spilled, including the real paternity of Lucille's last-born son, Buster (Tony Hale). Michael (Jason Bateman), meanwhile, managed to trick his mother into rehab to deal with her little alcohol problem. And this season, Lucille goes off her postpartum medication.

"Of course, it's been 32 years since she's had Buster, but that's how long she's been depressed about him," said Walter. "All kinds of horrible things ensue. I do, at one point, let my car roll into the lake with Buster in it - like Susan Smith did with her children."

Which would make Lucille Bluth the Mommie Dearest of TV comedy.

"I'm sure Lucille doesn't have one wire hanger in her closet," Walter said.

The actress, who lives with her husband, actor Ron Leibman, on the upper West Side, is a veteran of the New York stage and has appeared in classic TV series, including "Trapper John, MD" and "The Streets of San Francisco." She got her first big-screen break in 1971 when Clint Eastwood cast her as his murderously obsessive lover in "Play Misty for Me." She said fans still approach her to tell her how much they liked her in the role.

The wicked characters seem to make the deepest impression - on audiences and actors.

"Those are always the fun parts to play," she said. "It puts a little vinegar into things."

And it's highly cathartic.

"You can act out all of your rageful, angry, crazed feelings," said Walter. "Everybody has these feelings and they like to see them acted out."


(c) 2005, New York Daily News. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service.

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