GQ, Apr 2006
Imagine if all stay-at-homes looked this good. You’d never get past the front door. One quarter of Desperate Housewives, Eva Longoria is bringing her own brand of Tex-Mex sex appeal to the homicide and high camp of one of the most successful TV shows ever made.
Come awards season, the entertainment industry likes to squeeze into her finest frock, fill a flute with Cristal and waft about pretending to be a party girl. But she’s not. Not really. Contrary to appearances, Hollywood is a hard working town. You won’t find her trolleyed on the dance floor when the house lights come on. Not when there’s a shoot tomorrow and she needs her beauty sleep.
So on the night of the Golden Globes, the awards season’s inaugural bash, Eva Longoria played it appropriately cool. Pound for pound one of the hottest celebs du jour for her role as Gabrielle Solis, the diminutive sexpot on Desperate Housewives, she popped into the Instyle afterparty, made an appearance at her agency CAA’s bash, then onto a party at Prince’s house. But she was brisk. This was no all-nighter. Instead, she was home by 2.30am, up again at six and on set by eight to do a thirteen hour day on episode 14 of Season Two.
It’s at hour 12 on the Desperate set that I’m supposed to meet her. Her publicist Liza said to call her assistant Carla who told me to “get off the 101 at Lankersheim, go up to Universal Studios, and right at Jimmy Stewart. Show your ID at Gate 2 and he’ll give you a vehicle pass and a pass for stage 3. That’s where Eva is.”
So here I am, standing at the foot of stage 3. It’s a mysterious building, a vast sealed cube with a swarm of activity about its rim, like ants about a nest. There’s no question that entertainment is an industry here. People zip about in golf carts and march with clipboards and walkie talkies. They push rails of clothes and carts of paint and every so often a convoy of trolleys clatters through carrying trays of fried chicken and croissants and crudités and cookies and bucket upon bucket of red vines. All of it is labeled “Desperate” – the food, the chairs, the carts, the doors, even the bottles of water.
An assistant director called Frankie finds me looking somewhat bewildered and takes me to Andre who says that I need to speak to Tony who says “follow me” and together we sneak into the cube itself. Once inside, however, he disappears round a corner like the White Rabbit, and I’m left in this dark, cavernous room, quiet as a library with only a faint murmuring and footsteps. I wander through an apparent maze of hanging tarps and sheet dividers, ropes, false walls and serpentine coils of cable until finally, through a chink in the set wall I see an island of light, and at its centre is a pretty Latina girl, sitting at a kitchen table, crying.
“Even if I did,” she sniffs, “there might have been a chance that she wouldn’t believe me. And that would hurt a lot more than anything Alejandro ever did…” A tear trickles down her cheek. Her boyfriend comes over to kiss her on the head. Then someone yells “Cut!” and a bell goes off. The room exhales and a chatter wells up. “OK, two minutes people! Two minutes!”
As people scurry all around her, Eva Longoria firmly wipes away her tears and walks off the set towards me, her face easing into a smile. It’s astonishing how quickly she recovers. In the space of a few steps, she morphs from Gabrielle Solis to GQ interviewee, efficiently masking one emotion for another. It’s as though her tears were sucked back into their ducts for another take.
“Hi!” she says, brightly. “OK, let’s go over here. I’ve got a little break now I think.” She leads me to a cluster of chairs behind the monitors, surrounded by the key grip, the line producer, the director and several others. It’s not the lavish celebrity trailer I was expecting, complete with telly and fruit basket.
She laughs. “You’ve got to be kidding! You only get that stuff in big movies. In TV, it’s all work work work. I’ve been here twelve hours already. After last night, I’m so tired, you have no idea.”
I’ll bet – it’s awful going to work on a hangover.
“Oh no, I’m not hungover. I don’t drink,” she says.
“Mm-mm. I don’t like the taste. Last night, I had a sip of champagne at the table and it gave me a headache all night. Alcohol just doesn’t agree with me.”
Looking at her, it’s little wonder – she’s so petite, it wouldn’t take but a sniff to send her wobbly. She says that when she’s at home, without her makeup and in just her jeans and hooded top “I look like I’m twelve.” And I can believe it. When she turns around, I half expect to find Tinkerbell wings on her back.
“Come and meet everyone,” she says, and introduces me to the director, the key grip, the line producer and about six other people. I’m busy shaking hands all over the place when the bell goes again and it’s time for her to go again. Take six. More tears. This time in close up.
She shrugs and walks off, promising me, in her best Ahnuld: “I’ll be back.”
The first time I met Eva Longoria was two years ago in the week just before Desperate Housewives aired in America. No one really knew who she was other than fans of the daytime soap, The Young and the Restless, on which she had starred for years as one of several babes who walked in and out of rooms in various states of lust and distress.
Back then, she lived in a humble apartment and had no boyfriend to speak of. But she did have time. We spent a good hour over lunch at an Italian on Sunset Boulevard and she was funny, relaxed and occasionally risqué. She told me a dirty joke that ended with the punchline “hard liquor” and confessed that she regretted never having had a proper lesbian experience growing up.
Then Housewives happened. Money and fame came flooding into her life along with an NBA boyfriend – a Frenchman, Tony Parker of the San Antonio Spurs, who she’s been seeing now for a year. She manages to visit him in Texas twice a week, thanks to a chartered jet service. And the rest of the time, she’s either on the Housewives set, or she’s developing two new TV shows as producer. Or she’s squeezing in a movie part like the upcoming Harsh Times by David Ayer (Training Day). Or she’s attending to a host of worthy causes in the Latino community. It’s a rare day that she gets to kick back and enjoy her new three bedroom home in the Hollywood hills, a place she had her stylist entirely decorate and furnish down to the last spoon. “I didn’t want to deal with picking anything for that place,” she laughs. “I’m too busy.”
So when Eva returns from her kitchen scene, she’s strictly business. She could get called back any minute, so there’s no time for idle natter or dwelling on trivialities. She doesn’t want to discuss the time she wore a T-shirt saying “I’ll have your baby, Brad”. And she’s not interested in talking about the Jackrabbit vibrator she apparently kept by her bed, as she confessed years ago to Self Magazine in an interview about female sexuality. When I mention it, she rolls her eyes. “No. I’m not talking about vibrators. Why does every journalist I meet ask me about vibrators?”
Well, there’s the obvious answer to that one. But to be fair, she has a point. It’s hardly standard practice for Hollywood celebrities to discuss sex toys with journalists. And Eva’s case is particularly touchy, given just how prominent a personality she has become. Because she isn’t just a spectacularly successful actress, she’s a spectacularly successful Latina actress which, whether she likes it or not, makes her a kind of ambassador for her people.
“I didn’t ask for the responsibility towards my culture, but I definitely embrace it,” she says, seriously. “I’ve always been involved in Latino issues and workers rights in this country. Organisations like MALDEF – the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund – and NCLR, the National Council of La Raza. Actually I was just honoured in Washington. The National Hispanic Arts foundation gave me an award for being the most visible Latina actress in the history of television. Which is amazing really because I’ve only been on TV for 2 years.”
Fresh success in the entertainment industry has become such an instant and lucrative property that even the marginally successful become ultra-rich overnight. So by the same token, the truly successful ascend straight to the history books. And Housewives is the latter. It has become a pop cultural byword in only two years and stormed the ratings on both sides of the Atlantic. For sheer magazine covers at the supermarket checkout the Housewives outgun even Brangelina Inc.
One reason for the Desperate phenomenon is the show’s ability to win over perhaps the most treasured demographic in TV-land besides tweens – women and gay men. The only other show to glue such a lucrative audience was Sex and the City, and that’s why Housewives is such a hit – it fills a Sex and the City-sized hole. As one cultural touchstone bit the dust, mourners leapt to the skirt tails of its new, apparent incarnation. You can practically see the baton changing hands.
Like Sex, Housewives is a camp and soapy “dramedy” about four thin women and their relationship woes. And there are archetypes emerging here. Teri Hatcher is the vulnerable, goofy one like Sarah Jessica Parker. Felicity Huffman is the Cynthia Nixon – the clever, everygirl and probably the best actress of the bunch. The redhead Marcia Cross plays the prim, finickety one, obsessed with perfection like Kristin Davis. And Eva Longoria’s Gabrielle is a pseudo-Samantha – the vixen, the sex pot, the va-va-voom in lingerie and clippy stilettos.
But Housewives transcends a mere Sex in the Suburbs knock-off. Murder and intrigue run throughout the series – a blend of homicide, high camp and soap-style cliff-hangers that lends the show a postmodern, winking sophistication. Certainly the brilliantly named Wisteria Lane, where the Housewives live, owes a debt to David Lynch. Where else have we seen a pristine picket-fence suburb, manicured lawns, where homicidal darkness seethes below the surface.
“Our show is breaking every record on TV,” says Eva, who sees the show in almost epochal terms. “It’s groundbreaking in so many ways. It breaks racial boundaries, class boundaries, gender boundaries, it translates to every country, every language. It’s a real privilege to part of a show that changed TV history.”
Part of that privilege includes a gargantuan bank balance and what might be called “the pressures of fame”. She had no trouble adjusting to the money part. When the first big checks started to clear, she beefed up her savings and bought her mother a house. “I’ve always been sensible with money,” she says. “I believe that if you can’t handle $20, then you can’t handle $20,000.” Or $2 million which is what her L’Oreal deal is reported to be worth.
But the fame part of it, she’s struggling with. “I’m always reading things where I’m supposed to be getting engaged, it happens once a week,” she says. “It’s amazing. They put the whole guest list down, they describe the ring. All of it is made up.”
I ask her when she last Googled herself.
“Oh no, I don’t do whatever you said… Googled? What is that?”
You know, type your name in Google, see what comes up.
“Oh, the Internet. No, I just go to my sites, like CNN, you know. Or Yahoo news.”
You never put your name on a search engine?
“No, I really don’t care what’s out there. It’s such an abyss of information. I don’t even read the 12 tabloids that are out, why would I read four million websites about myself?”
But she’s not complaining. “Oh no, not at all. No one wants to hear celebrities whine. And anyway, the pros far outweigh the cons.”
She’s not kidding. One of those pros just happens to be a Hollywood Hills lifestyle that is begging for its own reality show. In her neighbourhood alone live Jessica Alba, Eva Mendes and Jessica Simpson. “They’ve come over to my place loads of times,” says Eva. “That’s our crew. That’s our gang. They’re my crushes. I have intense love for those women.”
“Intense love” between women is a beautiful thing. And with this four, it couldn’t really be more beautiful. I’m sure you’re way ahead of me here, but it’s possible, just possible, that those lesbian experiments she wishes she had had may have happened already. Purely conjecture of course, but they could even be happening while you read this. I’ll just give you a minute to conjure the image.
Eva’s house sounds like a marvelous place. Not only are her houseguests often to die for, but the view from her balcony of the Hollywood sprawl is particularly poignant. “I can see the apartment I used to have when I first moved to Hollywood,” she says. “It was terrible – a 2 bedroom apartment on the fifth floor with no elevator. And the laundry was in the basement. So you can imagine carrying our loads up five flights every time. I shared it with this other actress and it was only $300 a month. It was dirty. But I lived there, because when I wrote home, I wanted my address to say ‘Hollywood’.”
Her passage to Hollywood has all the makings of a TV biography one day. She was raised as one of four sisters on a cattle ranch in Corpus Christi in Texas. And of all her sisters, she insists she was the least attractive. “My three sisters are all beautiful, and I came out all dark so my mum called me Prieta Fea, which means “ugly dark one”,” she says. “And I really was ugly, I’m not just saying that. I was very skinny, so girls at school called me Skinny Minny and Skeleton. Kids can be cruel.”
It wasn’t an unhappy childhood, though. Her family unit is tight to this day. She remembers going hunting with her father, perhaps the most Texan thing about her. “We took shotguns and rifles out and hunted deer, quail, snakes, pigs. I didn’t always kill them. But I have killed pigs (havelinas) and quail and rabbit. I remember the first thing I killed was a little bunny. I cried for days and days. I think I was eight.”
She dreamt of becoming a sports trainer for the NFL, so she graduated in kinesiology – a kind of physical therapy. Acting was never the plan. But then fate intervened. She was crowned Miss Corpus Christi in 1998 and invited to a talent convention in Los Angeles at just the time that J-Lo and Ricky Martin, the so-called Latin explosion, was taking off. She was mobbed. And inevitably show business pulled her in.
She arrived in Los Angeles without a single contact, precious little money, no wheels and no job. “My first car was a Ford Festiva for $1000,” she says. “And it took me 2 years to pay off.” But there’s a flinty determination about Eva. She’s not a girl to be stopped. Determined not to become another struggling actress cliché, waiting tables by night and auditioning by day, she became a headhunter in the telecommunications industry – a high powered job in human resources. Naturally she convinced her employer that she had no actorly ambitions, though she sneaked in auditions where she could. And so she was cast for The Young and the Restless.
“I made more money in my last year as headhunter, than I did in my first year on the soap,” she says. “I’ve always been extremely ambitious. Everything I’ve ever done I’ve always been the best at. When I was a cheerleader, I was head cheerleader. When I was in band, I was the drum major. When I was a headhunter I was the best in the company. So when I tried acting, I thought if I’m not going to be successful I’ll just do something else. Because you know, I can do anything.”
It was ambition, as much as anything else that drew her to her boyfriend Tony Parker. “We’re both extremely ambitious and at the same time, family oriented. So that’s a big thing. But what attracted me to him first was that he seemed to be the only person in the world who didn’t watch Desperate Housewives. He’d never even heard of it.”
Similarly, she didn’t know anything about him. Though she has a typically Texan passion for sports, her fanhood waned somewhat when she moved to LA. Now, however, she’s back in the thick of it, palpitating at the close points. In fact, once she’s through tonight, she’ll be back on that jet to Texas, to join Tony at a big game. Texas, she says, will always be “home”.
But her future lies here in California. And there’s plenty to be getting on with. She fancies doing a “Monster’s Ball type thing like Halle Berry. I think you can stay sexy and still do really challenging roles.” And then there’s her TV ambitions. “I’m producing a sketch comedy show called Hot Tamales,” she says, “which is like a Saturday Night Live but only with women – to prove that women are just as funny as men.” Not to mention her weekly series about philanthropists. Eva is determined to be one of those celebrities who give back, particularly to her cherished Latino community.
“One thing I love about California is the politics,” she says. “I like the open-mindedness about gay marriage, war, religion, all of that. It’s not like in Texas which is definitely a blue state. Is it blue or red? Which ones are for Bush?”
The crew are gathering around her. It’s time for Eva to get her tear ducts going again.