Paul Feig, director of comedy hits like Bridesmaids, The Heat and the Ghostbusters reboot, is known for his unique ability to bring some of the funniest female performances of all time to the screen. And there were few women funnier than Jessica Walter, who died on Wednesday night in her sleep at 80.
“I was devastated,” Feig tells me when I reach him on Zoom shortly after the news broke on Thursday afternoon for an upcoming episode of The Last Laugh podcast. “It really breaks my heart.”
He can’t take any credit for her comedic genius, but Feig did have the pleasure of directing Walter in seven episodes of Arrested Development over the first three seasons of that iconic show.
“I loved Jessica Walter,” Feig says. “She was so funny and so unique and just really marched to the beat of her own drummer. She just always had a different, funny way of doing something that you didn't expect. And she could just relish a line for all that it was worth in the greatest way possible and just sell a joke and sell a moment.”
When he heard that she had passed, he says, “It was a little bit of a knife in the heart, I’ve got to say.”
Before he got the chance to direct Arrested Development—one of his first TV gigs after creating Freaks and Geeks—Feig actually cast Walter in his first studio movie, Unaccompanied Minors, a less-than-successful 2006 family holiday film about a bunch of kids stuck in an airport. 15 years later, he calls Walter’s performance “the reason to watch Unaccompanied Minors.”
“She has the funniest little runner as this stewardess in it,” he says with a laugh. “We had one scene at the end where we had Donny Osmond come in to do a cameo and it was her hitting on Donny Osmond. It was so funny, but we didn’t end up getting to use it in the movie. But I got to watch Jessica Walter hit on Donny Osmond, so life’s a good thing.”
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