Tom Holland on Jessica Walter voicing Chucky in ‘Child’s Play’



Lucille Bluth: the Lakeside Strangler.

Fans of the late, great Jessica Walter’s work in comedies like “Arrested Development” or “Archer” may forget that she earned a Golden Globe nod early on for her first major role as a deranged woman in 1971’s “Play Misty for Me.”

But Walter’s work on that film stuck with cult 1980s horror director Tom Holland, who wanted her to lend her voice to film a soon-to-be-iconic killer doll named Chucky.

“She was terrific,” Holland told The Post of her stint as the serial killer doll.

But ultimately, it wound up on the cutting room floor.

For the unfamiliar: 1988’s “Child’s Play” centers around the aforementioned Lakeside Strangler Charles Lee Ray — memorably played by Brad Dourif — who, after being mortally wounded by police, uses voodoo to transfer his soul into a “Good Guys” doll, which then embarks on a murderous rampage.

Dourif would go on to voice Chucky for six “Child’s Play” sequels, inextricably linking him to the character. Fans of the franchise — and Walter — were stunned, then, to learn when Mental Floss’ oral history of the original film went viral in 2019 that Walter at one point took a swing at voicing the killer toy.

Prior to the Mental Floss article, mentions of Walter’s role in the film’s production were largely buried in DVD commentary tracks and discussed mostly by fans on message boards for the series, and the actress seems to have never addressed her work on the film directly in interviews.

But Poughkeepsie native Holland, now 77, explained to The Post just how Walter’s almost-role in the original “Child’s Play” happened.

“I got into the post[-production] on it, and I needed to voice Chucky for the previews,” Holland recalls. “Brad Dourif wasn’t available, he was filming ‘Spontaneous Combustion’ with Tobe Hooper, which is a terrible film. I can say that, because Tobe [who died in 2017] was my friend.

“I thought Jessica was absolutely brilliant in ‘Play Misty for Me,’ and I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be interesting to try a woman’s voice behind Chucky? Let’s see how that works.’

“So I had her in, and she voiced him, and she was terrific,” Holland continues. “But when I looked at it in a preview situation, it just didn’t work with the character, because the doll was obviously a boy.”

“Child’s Play” writer Don Mancini recalled to Mental Floss that “Tom’s logic was that the voice of the devil was done by a woman [Mercedes McCambridge] in ‘The Exorcist.’ ”

Holland concurs: “I knew it could be done. But Mercedes was a lot tougher than Jessica was; she had a more masculine, meaner presence.” (McCambridge smoked a reported three packs of cigarettes a day while working on “The Exorcist” — along with consuming whiskey and raw eggs — to achieve the character’s voice.)

Walter, Holland says, “was ultimately too feminine and too much a sweet, sweet lady to make this foul-mouthed, murderous male character believable. She was just too damn nice!”

But Holland says that fans shouldn’t be holding out hope for a “lost” cut of the film with Walter’s work in place: “If there was one at the time, it is long gone.”

Mancini, however, differs, telling Bloody Disgusting in 2004 that Walter’s audio tracks are “locked up in a vault somewhere.”

According to both Mental Floss and The Hollywood Reporter, test audiences didn’t respond well to Holland’s original cut of the film or Walter’s role. “You could feel it” at previews, Holland says, and he eventually parted with the film after battling with producer David Kirschner over the cut.

Mancini echoed Holland’s opinion to Mental Floss: “[Walter’s] voice, while being creepy, just didn’t fit.” He told Dazed Digital in 2013 Walter’s performance “was just weird. I can sort of see the logic of what [Holland] was going for, but it didn’t work at all.”

Mancini did not respond to The Post’s request for comment.

Chucky in 1988's "Child's Play."
Chucky in 1988’s “Child’s Play.”
©United Artists/Courtesy Everett Collection

Holland says he can’t remember bumping into Walter after her work on the film was replaced and shelved. But he remembers her fondly: “She was a brilliant talent. I loved spending the day with her when she recorded that part.

“She could go from playing a psychopath to the funniest stuff. I loved her work as an actress so much.”

Turns out Lucille Bluth’s horror pivot to horror icon with “Gangie” wasn’t as much a left-turn as “Arrested Development” fans would have thought. All together now: “I’m thirsty.”


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