‘Housewives’ has strong female roles

Cast of groundbreaking show feels like family

After five seasons and 100 episodes of Wisteria Lane lunacy, heartbreak and peril, the women of “Desperate Housewives” have been through a lot, both on camera and off.

“When we all met we were such different people,” recalls Eva Longoria Parker, who plays quick-witted materialist Gabriele. “Marcia and I were single. We’ve been through engagements, babies and marriages. Then to be on a groundbreaking show that redefined what was sexy and funny, where nobody was ‘the girl.’ Women carried the show. It was like winning the lottery.”

Longoria Parker had toiled a few years in the soap world, Teri Hatcher and Marcia Cross had had primetime success in the ’90s (“The Adventures of Lois & Clark” and “Melrose Place,” respectively), and Felicity Huffman had come from the critically acclaimed but little-seen “Sports Night.” Nothing, however, had prepared them for the ratings explosiveness, acclaim and publicity hoopla surrounding their first season on “Housewives.”

“It was wild, and I know I’ll never experience anything like it again,” says Hatcher, who plays neurotic single mom Susan. “The great thing about having been around awhile, having had other career ups and downs, is that you immediately know when to be thankful, and I was from the first.”

For Longoria Parker, the greenest member of the original cast in terms of primetime experience, “Housewives” was, she says, “my first playground where I really got to expand as an actor.”

Clearly, her experience and exposure on the show also got her parts that might not have come to her, including co-starring with Michael Douglas in “The Sentinel” and a small role in the Ben Stiller comedy “The Heartbreak Kid.”

Dana Delany didn’t join the show until its fourth season as sexy, snarky single mom Katherine Mayfair, but since she initially turned down the role of Bree, she feels as fully a part of its history as anyone.

Despite first-season hoopla that spanned highs (blockbuster ratings, award nominations) and lows (catfight rumors, the notorious Vanity Fair cover shoot), Delany’s opinion is that “they all weathered it pretty well.

“By the time I came on the show, that was in the past, and everybody had figured out their issues. The bottom line, as an actor, is you’re just glad to have a job.”

Hatcher admits the tabloid craziness of that first year has made her a little tighter-lipped these days. “I don’t wear my heart on my sleeve as much as I used to, but I relate to women and their struggles and have always been forthcoming with emotions and insecurities. So I can’t turn ‘me’ off. But I’m more protective.”

Mostly, Hatcher still thrills to playing the humor in Susan’s escapades and has been excited about the creative juice the show has gotten from this season’s five-year jump in the narrative timeline. “It was an inspired risk, opened all new storylines and gave everyone a fresh start,” she says.

Creatively there may have been a reset button, but Longoria Parker notes the shared experience with her castmates has been a five-year constant.

“What I took away from season one was the bond with these girls,” she says. “We went through it together. I have other successful actor friends, but this was so unique, I could only relate to it with the women on the show.”

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