We Sat Down With the ‘Arrested Development’ Cast. It Got Raw.
Posted May 25, 2018 6:40 p.m. EDT
Perhaps no moment better defines “Arrested Development” than a recent attempt by Tony Hale, who plays the high-strung, blissfully immature (and one-handed) Buster Bluth, to set up a promotional clip on “Conan.”
“I don’t even know how to explain this,” Hale said.
The show, created by Mitchell Hurwitz, has always been difficult to characterize. The zany, self-referential sitcom tracking a narcissistic family as they dodge the claws (or hook!) of justice was critically adored when it debuted in 2003 but failed to build an audience over three seasons on Fox. It remained a cult favorite, its disciples ever clamoring for more banana stands, stair cars, cousins in love and $5,000 suits (Come on!). But Netflix’s convoluted revival in 2013 left many fans cold. (Hurwitz recently re-edited those episodes.)
Now it’s back for a fifth season — debuting May 29 — and there’s a cloud hanging over the Bluths’ model home. One of the show’s stars, Jeffrey Tambor (George Sr.), was accused of sexual misconduct on the set of “Transparent,” allegations he denied but that still resulted in his being fired from the show. When the accusations emerged, “Arrested Development” had nearly finished production; Hurwitz and the cast members expressed support for Tambor.
This week many of the actors got together for a group interview about the new season, including Tambor, Hale, Jason Bateman (Michael), Alia Shawkat (Maeby Fünke), Jessica Walter (Lucille), Will Arnett (Gob) and David Cross (Tobias Fünke).
In a freewheeling, at times emotional conversation that had the air of a family Thanksgiving dinner, the group candidly discussed Tambor’s behavior on set, reflecting in particular on the time he blew up at Walter, his onscreen wife. Walter spoke publicly for the first time about the incident, which Tambor first mentioned in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter.
“I have to let go of being angry at him,” Walter said through tears, as Tambor sat a few feet away. In “almost 60 years of working, I’ve never had anybody yell at me like that on a set, and it’s hard to deal with, but I’m over it now.”
When Bateman painted Tambor’s behavior as typical of certain performers, Shawkat interjected: “But that doesn’t mean it’s acceptable.”
It was a notably raw interlude for a cast better known for absurd antics, and it reflected the emotional complexities of Hollywood’s ongoing reckoning with toxic male behavior. It was also just part of a wide-ranging interview that touched on awkward fans, the comedic limitations of the Trump family and how long these actors can keep playing the Bluths. These are edited excerpts from the conversation.
Fan devotion to this show is legendary. Who has a good story about an interaction in the street?
DAVID CROSS: Oh, Will does.
TONY HALE: He’s got the best.
WILL ARNETT: I’ve had so many bizarre interactions. Of course, you’re always happy to meet somebody who’s a fan of the show, and our fans tend to be particularly enthusiastic. And then you’ll be on the subway and someone will come up and go, “C’mon!” Very jarring. Or they’ll ask you to do the chicken dance at Penn Station. And you don’t want to because you’re at Penn Station.
JESSICA WALTER: I get a lot of — especially on the subway and buses here in New York — “You know, you look a lot like that woman that plays Lucille Bluth.” I say, “You know, I’ve heard that.”
ARNETT: Because they don’t expect her to be driving the subway.
You have played these characters off and on for 15 years. When it came time to return for the Netflix seasons, did it come right back? Did you rewatch old seasons?
WALTER: You know Lucille is in my DNA now.
ARNETT: [Sarcastic] No!
WALTER: I want you to say in the article, there’s so much testosterone in this room.
ARNETT: But there’s a lot of love.
WALTER: Of course, there is some of me in the character. Only some. I just so have it in my system.
ARNETT: And I think also, when we get together, the chemistry brings it all to the surface.
JEFFREY TAMBOR: It’s chemistry and also confidence. Because you see the others, and it just brings up your confidence level. Acting is not only what you send, but what you receive.
ARNETT: What I always enjoy about this show, and it’s never waned, is the feeling that nobody’s worried about falling on their face. Everybody takes chances.
Alia, you were 14 when the pilot shot. How do you view your experience?
ALIA SHAWKAT: It’s very surreal doing a job for 15 years. Especially transitioning from a child into an adult. When we finished, I was 18, and I didn’t work for a little while because I was reading [expletive], I was like, “This is just a bad version of an angsty teen.” I was like, “I can’t do this.” Tony, there’s no learning curve for you in dealing with Buster’s gigantic hand, or hook, or jeweled hook?
CROSS: His hand is fake. He’s wearing it.
HALE: It’s very good, it’s very expensive. In all honesty, when we came back for the fourth season, I did have some anxiety about if we could match expectations. But to Will’s point of being around the cast, there was something about Jessica’s voice, which is a lovely voice, when she says, “Buster.” It’s a very degrading, passive-aggressive tone. It was kind of Pavlovian. Gob and Buster are such opposites, so being around that energy definitely helps.
Is there much improv on the set?
TAMBOR: I get that question a lot. “Did you guys just make it up?” It is a credit to the writing because Mitch Hurwitz and company, they are really whips, and there are so many layers to this. It’s very word-specific.
ARNETT: There’s certain things that you have to hit.
JASON BATEMAN: And want to hit.
ARNETT: One of the hallmarks of this show is that, for the most part, all the jokes continue to move story forward. And so they’re not just disposable jokes that are zeitgeisty. CROSS: You know what I wish we had, now that you’re saying that? I wish we had had a bottle episode. Where we’re all, the entire cast is just stuck, trapped, something.
TAMBOR: Oh, that would be wonderful.
CROSS: How much fun would that be?
WALTER: Stuck in an elevator!
TAKING ON TRUMP
Whatever criticisms there were of Season 4, it was remarkably prescient. You guys had the border wall before Trump did, and there was a subplot about “Fake Block” and privacy.
CROSS: I think it may turn out to be slightly burdensome, in that people who don’t realize that was five years ago are going to mistakenly think, “Oh they’re jumping on and trying to shoehorn in —”
WALTER: Oh, but we actually filmed it six years ago.
CROSS: I think most people will get that. But I think some people, no fault of their own, are just sort of lazy when they’re consuming entertainment and won’t make that connection. I tried to help it by aging dramatically between seasons.
You take on Trump a lot more directly in this season. How does the show navigate that?
ARNETT: There’s not a lot that’s actually really all that funny about the Trumps. They’re not particularly funny in any way.
BATEMAN: Well, they were. Now it’s just straight depressing.
Were there jokes in the new season that were either scaled back or dropped because it was just too real?
ARNETT: Too real and also too boring.
BATEMAN: And too easy. It’s such a big fat target.
WALTER: I think Mitch had said he had to scale back on it a little. It’s too obvious now. And you know, it’s almost as if our family, just by themselves, are the Trumps. You’ve got the two dysfunctional sons. You’ve got Portia as Ivanka. George and Lucille. Although Melania, no, I don’t think we could compare Melania — Melania is the only one who is sort of likable.
BATEMAN: Lazy, morally bankrupt people.
WALTER: The Bluths are fun, though.
CROSS: The Bluths have no fans. The Trumps are where they are and we’re where we are because they spoke to a lot of people out there that wanted to hear the [expletive] they were selling. And it’s weird, too, because personally, I’m speaking as me, I’m the only Trump supporter in this group.[Note: This was sarcasm.]
‘I HURT PEOPLE’S FEELINGS’
I have to address the elephant in the room, which is the allegations from the “Transparent” set. The “Arrested Development” cast has been publicly supportive. Jeffrey, if there’s another season, do you expect to be a part of it?
TAMBOR: I surely hope so.
BATEMAN: Well, I won’t do it without you. I can tell you that.
TAMBOR: Well thank you, that’s very, very, very sweet. I hope so. I love these people, and Netflix has been so supportive, and Mitch has been so supportive. I sent out an email to these guys and I just said, “I’m so thankful and sorry for the distraction and you have to be asked these questions and such.” And I went much further into it with The Hollywood Reporter, and I’ve denied the allegations but the upshot is I won’t be playing Maura anymore. I’m going to miss that cast. I love that cast, and the answer is I would love to do “Arrested.” I love these people. I love George Sr. I love Oscar [George Sr.'s twin brother]. I’m such a fan of this.
BATEMAN: And there’s no reason he shouldn’t.
TAMBOR: This is their best season. They knock it out of the park. These are home run hitters. These guys in this room, and they are just walking acting lessons and inspirers.
From the Hollywood Reporter interview, you talked about how you yelled at directors, assistant directors, the “Transparent” creator Jill Soloway. You even said at one point you lashed out at —
WALTER: Jessica Walter.
BATEMAN: Which we’ve all done, by the way.
WALTER: Oh! You’ve never yelled at me.
BATEMAN: Not to belittle what happened.
WALTER: You’ve never yelled at me like that.
BATEMAN: But this is a family and families, you know, have love, laughter, arguments — again, not to belittle it, but a lot of stuff happens in 15 years. I know nothing about “Transparent” but I do know a lot about “Arrested Development.” And I can say that no matter what anybody in this room has ever done — and we’ve all done a lot, with each other, for each other, against each other — I wouldn’t trade it for the world and I have zero complaints.
ARNETT: I can say that I keyed Bateman’s car. I never admitted that. Because I was like, look at this guy, taking up a spot and a half.
CROSS: You know, one thing that Jeffrey has said a number of times that I think is important, that you don’t often hear from somebody in his position, is that he learned from the experience and he’s listening and learning and growing. That’s important to remember.
WALTER [to The Times]:What was your point about that, though?
If someone approached you and said, “OK, here’s an actor that admits he routinely yells at directors, at assistant directors, at co-workers, assistants,” would you hire that person?
TAMBOR: I would hire that person if that person said, you know, “I’ve reckoned with this.”
And you feel like you have?
TAMBOR: And I have, and am continuing to do. And I profusely have apologized. Ms. Walter is indeed a walking acting lesson. And on “Transparent,” you know, I had a temper and I yelled at people and I hurt people’s feelings. And that’s unconscionable, and I’m working on it and I’m going to put that behind me, and I love acting.
BATEMAN: Again, not to belittle it or excuse it or anything, but in the entertainment industry it is incredibly common to have people who are, in quotes, “difficult.” And when you’re in a privileged position to hire people, or have an influence in who does get hired, you make phone calls. And you say, “Hey, so I’ve heard X about person Y, tell me about that.” And what you learn is context. And you learn about character and you learn about work habits, work ethics, and you start to understand. Because it’s a very amorphous process, this sort of [expletive] that we do, you know, making up fake life. It’s a weird thing, and it is a breeding ground for atypical behavior and certain people have certain processes.
SHAWKAT: But that doesn’t mean it’s acceptable. And the point is that things are changing, and people need to respect each other differently.
WALTER [through tears]: Let me just say one thing that I just realized in this conversation. I have to let go of being angry at him. He never crossed the line on our show, with any, you know, sexual whatever. Verbally, yes, he harassed me, but he did apologize. I have to let it go. [Turns to Tambor.] And I have to give you a chance to, you know, for us to be friends again.
WALTER: But it’s hard because honestly — Jason says this happens all the time. In like almost 60 years of working, I’ve never had anybody yell at me like that on a set. And it’s hard to deal with, but I’m over it now. I just let it go right here, for The New York Times. BATEMAN: She didn’t give it up for anybody else.
HALE: But I will say, to Jason’s point, we can be honest about the fact that — and not to build a thing — we’ve all had moments.
WALTER: But not like that, not like that. That was bad.
HALE: Not like that. But I’m saying we’ve worked together 15 years, there has been other points of anger coming out.
BATEMAN: Exactly. Again, there is context. What we do for a living is not normal, and therefore the process is not normal sometimes, and to expect it to be normal is to not understand what happens on set. Again, not to excuse it, Alia, but to be surprised by people having a wobbly route to their goal, their process — it’s very rarely predictable. All I can say, personally, is I have never learned more from an actor that I’ve worked with than Jeffrey Tambor. And I consider him one of my favorite, most valued people in my life.
CROSS: I agree with everybody. And I think it’s important to note — and it hasn’t been noted — that this kind of behavior that’s being described, it didn’t just come out of the blue. It wasn’t zero to 60. There is a cumulative effect sometimes.
BATEMAN: You have different people’s processes that converge and collide at times. So Jeffrey is not just popping off, coming out of his car and some unhinged guy.
CROSS: That’s what I’m trying to say.
BATEMAN: Not to say that you know, you [Walter] had it coming. But this is not in a vacuum — families come together and certain dynamics collide and clash every once in a while. And there’s all kinds of things that go into the stew so it’s a little narrow to single that one particular thing that is getting attention from our show.
WALTER: Only because you brought it up, Jeffrey, in that article! I never would have brought it up.
BATEMAN: I didn’t mean to speak for you. That was part of his process of being as contrite and as transparent as he felt like he could and should be, and wanted to at the time.
I’ll be the first to admit that I have no idea what it’s like to be on a set. I’ve never been on one. But it seems like Jason is saying that this is part of the process. But that’s not what you’re saying, Jessica.
WALTER: That’s correct.
I realize this is an awkward question to ask with Jeffrey in the room. But do you have reservations about working with him again?
WALTER: Of course not. No. I’ve just given it up. And you know, there’s something really, really freeing about that now. I realize that. I don’t want to walk around with anger. I respect him as an actor. We’ve known each other for years and years and years. No, no, no, no. Of course, I would work with him again in a heartbeat.
ON 15 YEARS OF BLUTHDOM
These roles defined you in many ways. Are you ever ready to just move on?
HALE: What helps me is I love the show so much. I’m such a big fan, so when people come up to us and they talk about the show, there’s a lot of stuff I’ve forgotten. So it’s fun to see the jokes that I missed.
ARNETT: From the first moment that we all worked together, we got a sense that there was a chemistry and that there was something about this group of people that worked. Through the good, and the bad, and the difficult, and the highs of winning the Emmy, when we all stood on that stage in 2004, there is something that drives us together. And I can tell you from my own personal experience being with these people, even through moments that are seemingly difficult in this room, whatever it is, it’s a process that I enjoy. These are people that I enjoy being with and creating with.
WALTER: You can sort of tell we’re like the Bluths, can’t you? The thing I wanted to say was 15 years ago, writers weren’t writing juicy Lucille Bluth roles. It was very hard for a woman of a certain age, which was 62, to get a wonderful role like this. And it really put me back sort of on the shorter list. It really, for a lot of us, upped our careers.
WALTER: Everybody. The kids started out, look at them now. And all of us, what it’s done for us. It has so much meaning for me. I’ll play this until I die, with my wheelchair and my cane, if they ask me.