A versatile degree in Theater, Television and Film, contributed to Martha's success in the acting industry. Most recognized for her role as "Dr. Shaw" on the hit drama "Melrose Place", she currently stars as "Bree" on ABC's acclaimed series "Desperate Housewives". Born and raised in Marlborough, Massachusetts, Cross was determined to become an actress from the moment she performed in her first school play, The Witch of Blackbird Pond, in the sixth grade. At the age of 18 she was accepted at the Juilliard School as a Drama major. On stage Cross performed in La Ronde at the Williamstown Theater Festival, in Twelfth Night at the Hartford Stage Company, and in Two Gentlemen of Verona at the Old Globe in San Diego. Her first television job was on the daytime drama The Edge of Night. Leaving New York to try her luck in Los Angeles, Cross was soon landing roles in television movies such as The Last Days of Frank and Jessie James, co-starring with Johnny Cash and Kris Kristofferson. Her memorable role on Melrose Place began when she was hired for one episode. The producers were so impressed, they kept asking her back for additional appearances, eventually bringing her character back from the dead to continue on the hit show. Cross also guest-starred on such series as Seinfeld, where she played Jerry's dermatologist girlfriend, and Cheers, where she portrayed the younger sister to Kirstie Alley's character. Cross has also appeared on the comedies Ally McBeal, Spin City, The Garry Shandling Show and King of Queens. Her dramatic roles include appearances on CSI, Profiler and Touched by an Angel. Cross' film credits include Living in Fear, Always Say Good-bye, Dancing in September and Bad Influence. Aside from her successful career as an actress, Cross has also made time to continue her education. She recently completed her clinical training to earn a Masters Degree in Psychology. Cross makes her home in Los Angeles. Her birthdate is March 25, 1962.
Desperate Housewives Star Marcia Cross Says Lesbian Rumors Not True
After a single post appeared on an ABC message board suggesting that one of the Desperate Housewives stars was gay, rumors of a planned Advocate cover, a huge public outing and encouragement from co-stars to make an announcement followed.
All fingers pointed to Marcia Cross, who plays uptight, NRA card carrying homemaker Bree Van de Kamp on the popular series.
Now representatives for Cross have issued a statement to the press saying the rumors are “completely untrue” and Cross, appearing on the talk show The View as a guest co-host today, said she’s not sure how the rumors got started.
“I guess it just comes with being on TV, 42-years-old and not married,” Cross said to the ladies of The View, laughing. “But no, I’m not a lesbian.”
Quick with a comeback, co-host Joy Behar said: “So does that mean the thing between us together is off?”
Cross, who is a supporter of gay and lesbian rights and was a special guest at Out’s Hot 100 party last year, said on The View that the rumors didn’t bother her, but that they weren’t true and she wondered if there weren’t more important things to worry about.
GayWired reported yesterday that according to gay.com.uk, Cross had decided to come out after being urged by Housewives’ openly gay creator Marc Cherry to come forward. The report also suggested that Cross was in a long term relationship with another familiar TV face.
The ladies of The View took the rumor and ran with it, frequently alluding to it throughout the show.
When asked what character she originally wanted to be on Housewives, Cross answered “I wanted to be Mary Alice. I wouldn’t be seen, I could be messy and people probably wouldn’t talk about me being a lesbian.
Later, during the show’s Hot Topics segment, co-host Joy Behar asked guest Anthony LaPaglia if he was a lesbian.
“No,” he answered, “but I’ve been considering it.”
Rumors that a character on Housewives will come out on a future episode have yet to be confirmed but, according to Cross, it seems like something that would “shake things up on Wisteria Lane.”
Maria Cross: Thank$, gang
In other news from Wisteria Lane, Teri Hatcher, Marcia Cross, Felicity Huffman and Eva Longoria are getting $250,000 "thank-you" bonuses from ABC, a source close to the show says. Housewives supporting players Nicollette Sheridan and James Denton also were given significant bonuses, with the rest of the cast receiving lesser amounts, USA Today reports.
I'm single and straight, Cross says
Marcia Cross says she's happy. But not gay, as the Desperate Housewives star said on ABC's The View Wednesday when she addressed her sexual orientation because of rumors that began on the Internet this month.
Co-host Barbara Walters first brought up the scuttlebutt.
"I just assumed this is what comes of being 42 and single," Cross said. "I don't know if they just needed to find a reason why I wasn't married."
When co-host Joy Behar asked her whether she was a lesbian, Cross responded: "I'm not."
Cross, who plays uptight homemaker Bree Van De Kamp on the smash ABC series, is puzzled by all the attention to her sexuality. (Related story: For the Youngs, family function is dysfunction)
"What a world we live in that that's so important," Cross said.
So important that Cross' publicist issued a statement the day before her TV appearance, calling the rumors "completely untrue."
Marcia Cross To Reveal She's Gay
Desperate Housewives star Marcia Cross is set to reveal she is a real-life lesbian by posing for a gay mag.
The sexy redhead - stuffy Bree Van De Kamp in the hit show - will join the likes of Cynthia Nixon and Ellen DeGeneres by coming out.
Marcia, 43, is believed to be in a long-term relationship with a brunette from another top US show.
And she will pose on the cover of US mag, The Advocate, to confirm her sexuality.
The Sun quotes a show insider as saying: "Everyone on the show is aware of Marcia's leanings, as is the rest of Hollywood.
"She hasn't made a secret of it. Some of the other housewives were worried the news might hurt the ratings. But creator Marc Cherry is gay and very supportive of her decision."
It comes just as her screen son Andrew, played by Shawn Pyfrom, is outed as gay. Bree fears her uptight nature 'contributed' to him being homosexual.
Desperately seeking Marcia Cross
She may have a Golden Globe nomination, the number one show on television and the acting chops to make even the most "Desperate" of housewives sympathetic, but Marcia Cross is still a small town girl at heart.
Christmas doesn't mean fancy Hollywood parties and shopping on Rodeo Drive. It means packing up everything and coming home -- to Marlborough, mom, and dad.
"I'm going home and I can't wait to be with my family," said Cross, 42, now a Los Angeles resident. "The other day I had someone come by...he looked around and I had Christmas presents and wrapping paper and I've been packing so there was stuff everywhere and he says 'you are NOTHING like your character.'"
That would be Bree Van De Kamp, the "perfect" wife and mother who is driving her family crazy on ABC's hit Sunday series, "Desperate Housewives." Bree's home is spotless, her cooking worthy of a four-star restaurant, and she seems on the surface to be straight out of Stepford.
But this is a Marcia Cross character, and Cross isn't known for one-note roles -- this, after all, is the woman who blew up "Melrose Place." In her years since her middle-school stage debut in "The Witch of Blackbird Pond," Cross has largely eschewed the traditional "girlfriend" roles in favor of meatier fare.
"I like complicated," Cross said. "I think I'm complicated and it's interesting to me to play such complicated characters. Bree's wonderfully complicated and I'm having a blast playing her. It's a creative challenge every time I get on the set."
Cross's efforts haven't gone unnoticed. The actress was nominated last week for her first-ever Golden Globe award for Best Actress in a Television Series (music or comedy), competing with fellow "Housewives" Teri Hatcher and Felicity Huffman as well as Sarah Jessica Parker of "Sex and the City" and Debra Messing of "Will and Grace." "Desperate Housewives" also picked up a nod for Best Television Series (Music or Comedy) and was named one of the American Film Institute's top 10 television programs of 2004.
Far from pulling out her fellow actresses' hair on the set -- never mind quaking at the competition from award veterans Parker and Messing -- Cross is taking the recognition calmly.
"I really don't care about winning at all," Cross said. "It feels like I've already won, it feels like a win to be nominated. I know everybody says that, but it's true. I don't feel especially competitive and I plan to just enjoy the next few weeks."
Driven to act
Turn the pages of Marlborough High School's 1980 yearbook and there's little to show that a future star was shining. Cross was a past president of the drama club, a runner-up for homecoming queen. There's little evidence of the drive that would take her to Julliard and, later, Hollywood.
Karen Tobin, assistant director at the Marlborough Public Library, recalled working with Cross during a production of "Oliver!" by the Hudson Players.
"She was already talking about going to Julliard," Tobin recalled. "Very sweet. Very nice, very serious about the acting -- especially considering we were in the chorus, very serious about the acting -- very cute."
Tobin isn't surprised that Cross went on to better things, although she said it can be startling to watch "Desperate Housewives" some weeks.
"It always seems strange to see someone from your hometown go that far," Tobin said. "She had the drive and she had the talent since she was a kid. She deserves it."
Cross credits her family for her success.
"They were always there for me and it can't always be easy -- or cheap -- to support a daughter when her dream is, of all things, to become an actress," she said. "And here I am, sort of a small town girl in a big world -- and I've wrestled with that."
It's part of what made her step away from acting, except for the occasional guest appearance on such shows as "Seinfeld," "Ally McBeal," and "The King of Queens," to pursue her master's degree in psychology from Antioch University. She had come off a career high after five years as the demented Dr. Kimberly Shaw on "Melrose Place" and found some satisfaction in feeding her mind instead of her filmography.
"I hadn't completely written off acting in my life, but I was trying to accept that maybe I had peaked," Cross said. She was actually starting to see clients when the call came from "Everwood," which was seeking an actress to play a half-season gig as Dr. Linda Abbott.
With Cross back on the television screen, casting directors sat up and took notice. One of the scripts sent to her agent was the pilot for "Desperate Housewives."
"Marc Cherry ("Desperate Housewives'" creator) didn't even know me from 'Melrose Place,' he remembered me from my 'One Life to Live' days," Cross said. "I had to go through the whole auditioning process. I had to earn it."
Now, Cross starts her workday by passing the large animatronic shark on the Universal Studios lot, where the real-life Wisteria Lane is located.
"Our trailers were near the 'Psycho' house for a while. We could hear the screams. It was very exciting," she said with a laugh.
'I don't want to say that!'
Don't ask Cross what the secret is behind Mary Alice's death on "Desperate Housewives." She doesn't know or, if she does, she's acting like she doesn't. Last week the crew was only working on episode 12 of the darkly comic series and the further adventures of perfect Bree, klutzy Susan, frazzled mother Lynette and sultry Gabrielle are now only in the minds of the writers.
What's certain: Some of the most shocking lines on the program will come from Cross's mouth. There was, for example, Bree's comment on her husband during a dinner party. And her shocking soliloquy on sex to the flustered couples' therapist.
"When I got the script, I said 'I don't want to say that!' I thought it was awful," Cross said with self-amusement. "Then everyone tells me 'no-no -- it's funny!' I couldn't understand that."
The character is racking up quirks that may someday even challenge Kimberly Shaw's "Melrose Place" antics. She poisoned her husband with onions in the first episode and has since followed her son to a strip joint ("That's someone's little girl," she tells him with a cheery voice as a woman gyrates in front of them. "Someone had a lot of dreams for her. Dreams that didn't involve a thong and a pole."), covered up his hit-and-run of the neighbor's mother, thrown urine on her husband and, oh yes, entered the fantasies of millions of men as she greeted her husband wearing only a fur coat and red lingerie.
"What do you do to get ready for a love scene? A lot of crunches," she said. "I was lucky that day, it wasn't my normal crew, so the only person I really knew was my co-actor (Steven Culp, the Brandeis University graduate who plays Rex Van De Kamp). It would have been awkward if it was my crew."
It's scenes like that that have upped her profile on the celebrity scene. It's starting to be hard to go out without someone recognizing her from the program, although fans are respectful (that might have something to do with Bree's proud membership in the NRA).
"Certainly there's a lot of public recognition," Cross said. "It's a nice thing. People share their love of the show."
A hit show can make a huge difference. Ten years ago, when Cross was relegated to recurring role status on "Melrose Place," her mother, Janet, would simply give out her daughter's home phone number to inquiring reporters. Now, she has an agent, Howard Green, to field her calls -- and a busy life that means any interview can be rescheduled on a moment's notice.
"You look at 'Melrose Place' now and it was so bad, but she was always so good," Green said. "I remember thinking then that I wanted to work with her someday."
What the future holds for Cross is anyone's guess. "Desperate Housewives" is a lock for renewal and there's a hiatus coming up after season 1 wraps. Cross said she may spend it "doing a movie or climbing the Himalayas -- and I'm only sort of joking."
Asked if she's coming home for her 25th high school reunion in 2005, Cross stops flat.
"Oh my goodness! Is it 25 years?" she asked. "It's not 25 years. Oh my God. Why did you have to tell me? Wow. I might have to go."
"Desperate Housewives" airs on ABC (WCVB Channel 5 in Boston) at 9 p.m. on Sundays.
'Housewives' star Marcia Cross inspires dedicated followers of fashion
For the fashion obsessed, TV just hasn't been the same since Carrie Bradshaw was mugged for her Manolo Blahniks. But that hasn't stopped us from looking for the next "Sex and the City." Channel surfing for trendsetting TV is leading many viewers to ABC's "Desperate Housewives" about stylish suburban subcultures.
On a recent episode of "Desperate Housewives," the minivan moms of Wisteria Lane walked the runway in a charity fashion show modeling gowns by Bradley Bayou for Halston. That collaboration was scripted, but in the wake of the housewife hype, costume designer Cate Adair is receiving an average of 50 unsolicited samples a week from designers hoping to get their clothes on the show. Retro aprons, gingham dishwashing gloves, Peanuts T-shirts, and more have been shipped to the Universal City set.
The show's biggest fashion moment to date came a few weeks ago when Bree (Marcia Cross) tried to seduce her straying spouse clad only in a fur coat, pearls, and a red lace La Perla bra and panty set. Bloggers on fansites went wild, and a spokeswoman from La Perla says the $265 lingerie set has since sold out.
The company does a lot of TV and film placement, she says, including the bikini Halle Berry wore in the last James Bond flick, but nothing as successful as this.
"Sex and the City" didn't take advantage of licensed apparel and products until the last couple of seasons. But Lisa Gregorian, senior vice president of TV creative services for Warner Bros. Television, isn't going to make the same mistake. She's making "The O.C." into a brand, with interactive games, soundtracks, and high-end apparel.
Stevens puts together 60 to 100 costumes per episode. She also writes a weekly column for theocinsider.com, which begins, "Hello fans and fashionistas!" A recent missive discussed accessorizing with pearls, round-toe pumps, tweed caps, and Coach clutch bags.
"Desperate Housewives" has fashion potential too, says Teen Vogue's Astley. "I think their hotness may have hit them by surprise. But the leading ladies are attractive, and they are already somewhat identified by their clothes." The influential LA boutique Kitson has decorated its windows in the campy style of Wisteria Lane and will soon sell "Desperate Housewives" T-shirts.
Adair's schedule begins on Sunday afternoon, when she shops with each character in mind.
"I try to think what they would buy if they were out shopping," says the designer, who works with a team of nine. By the end of the eight-day shooting cycle, she has shopped for, altered, and fit 50 to 100 costumes, not counting the ones for extras. "A lot of pieces I re-dye or cut up. It is design because it's how you mix and match things, and that's what women do in real life."
Bree, the consummate perfectionist, always has to match. Gabrielle is more fashion-forward.
"There's a lovely line in an upcoming episode where she complains that her shoe shopping has been curtailed by Carlos's antics," Adair says.
Master touch Marcia Cross
Marlboro homegal Marcia Cross plays the neurotically challenged Bree Van De Kamp on ABC's megahit, ``Desperate Housewives,'' but who knew she had just recently completed clinical training to earn her own master's degree in psychology from L.A.'s Antioch University?
Gracing the cover of this week's Improper Bostonian, the brainy redhead dishes about Hollywood's greatest mysteries: Botox, bad lines and that ``Bree touch.''
On Botox, Cross, 42, says: ``I'm pro anything that makes you happier. Oh yeah, I use it. But I have more muscles in my face than a normal person needs to make any kind of expression.''
On the bad lines a fledgling actress encounters, the Juilliard grad reminisces: ``Oh my God. There have been too many to count.''
And finally, on her compulsively organized alter-ego: ``I always say she's neurotic, not psychotic.''
And that would be a professional opinion!
File under: All About Bree.
Marcia Cross' recent involvement with Dr. Phil
"Desperate Housewives" star Marcia Cross may be particularly good at playing, well, crazy characters because of her educational background -- and it seems to steer some of her downtime as well, as evidenced by her recent involvement with Dr. Phil.
"I have my master's in psychology and I think I'll practice again one day or do something in that arena," Cross told us at Dr. Phil's home during a special evening in which he and his wife, Robin, invited the spouses and children of troops serving in Iraq for a Christmas party.
"I came out tonight because I've given some thought to where I want to concentrate some of my 'celebrity' time, (and it's on) kids and mental health, and this combines both."
As for her hit show, Cross says, "I love my character, (though she's) sort of scary at the same time. It's challenging and interesting. Could you imagine that I could ever live down Kimberly Shaw from 'Melrose Place'? I certainly didn't."
Also at the event: Melissa Joan Hart, Kelsey Grammer and Nickelodeon star Emma Roberts. The party will air on a three-part series on Dr. Phil's NBC show next week.
Marcia Cross nominated for Golden Globe Awards
On the TV side, Desperate Housewives dominated with five nods, including Best Musical/Comedy Show and Best Actress nominations for Marcia Cross, Teri Hatcher, Felicity Huffman and a Supporting Actress nod for Nicollette Sheridan.
Marcia Cross helps raise money for the Trevor Project
Will & Grace co-stars Debra Messing and Megan Mullally made the yuletide gay Sunday night by locking lips at the 7th annual Cracked Christmas event.
The dual honorees were helping raise money for the Trevor Project, an organization that helps prevent suicide among gay teenagers. Among the other television stars on hand hoping to get the word out on the toll-free 1-866-4-U-TREVOR hotline: Desperate Housewives' Marcia Cross and Felicity Huffman and The West Wing's Allison Janney.
"This hotline literally saves lives," said Messing, and Mullally said she and Messing have received "thousands of letters from young people who say our show helped them feel OK about being gay."
The night got a little weird during a live auction, which was facilitated by Huffman and Queer Eye for the Straight Guy's Carson Kressley. A "generous" bidder turned out to be a Kressley stalker and had to be escorted away by security. But Messing and Janney quickly restored the laughs by jokingly outbidding each other for a Will & Grace walk-on role.
"I was counting on the fact that someone would outbid me," Janney said.
In the end, former porn princess Traci Lords, 36, and out-of-the-closet Who's the Boss? tyke Danny Pintauro, 28, each shelled out $17,500 for the chance to appear on the NBC sitcom in 2005. Will & Grace co-creator Max Mutchnick said he's looking forward to writing both into the show. Asked what she hopes to perform on the sitcom, naughty Lords said, "Honey, I can do lots of things."
Messing and Mullally broke news that Jeff Goldblum will join Will & Grace at the end of the month as Karen's old nemesis and Grace's new flame. And in January: Lily Tomlin comes on board as Will's new boss.
Cross said Housewives will soon reveal the sexual proclivities of her character's husband, Rex, and hopes audiences won't overreact.
Marcia Cross plays ersatz Martha Stewart in ''Desperate Housewives''
Feeling "Desperate" these days? If so, you're certainly not alone.
The new TV season has had several big successes, but arguably the most amazing -- because of its offbeat approach and its huge out-of-the-chute audience, which made its premiere that week's top-rated show -- is "Desperate Housewives," ABC's seriocomic Sunday series about the women of suburban, deceptively tranquil Wisteria Lane. Creator-producer Marc Cherry's merger of heightened drama, mystery and overt wackiness was dormant for a while after he devised it, but it's put ABC back on the ratings radar in a major way (in tandem with the network's other new hits, "Lost" and "Wife Swap").
"Desperate Housewives" has had such an immediate impact, a repeat of the previous Sunday's episode has occupied many recent Saturdays on ABC. Many viewers can't wait for the next exploits of divorced mom Susan (Teri Hatcher), businesswoman-turned-domestic poster girl Lynette (Felicity Huffman), maritally separated perfectionist Bree (Marcia Cross), having-it-all-but-still-wanting-more Gabrielle (Eva Longoria) and much-divorced Edie (Nicollette Sheridan).
How popular is the show? Consider that it took only a couple of weeks for Oprah Winfrey to devote an episode to the actresses, and that "Dr. Phil" recently did an installment on "The Real Lives of Desperate Housewives."
Oh, there are men in the series, too ... such as frequently shirtless plumber and break-in expert Mike (James Denton) and hunky young gardener John (Jesse Metcalfe). The show is called "Desperate Housewives," though, so there's no question the women are the ones in charge. "That's really Marc Cherry's genius," Hatcher says. "It was all there in the pilot. All the female characters are very different but equally interesting and strong.
"From the standpoint of camaraderie, there's really no competitive feeling. Susan would never be Bree, Bree would never be Gabrielle, and so on. That allows us to be very complementary to each other, and I think the casting hits that sort of chemistry that usually only exists between men and women. I don't know if that's just luck, or if it was the smarts of the producers. We never read with each other. It all just sort of happened."
Despite her fame as crazy Kimberly on "Melrose Place," Cross claims she isn't used to the fanfare "Desperate Housewives" has attracted. "I'm more comfortable with being the underdog," she says, "but I guess that's not the case this time. It's so funny to have gone from (an extended guest role last season on The WB's) 'Everwood,' where everything was bare-bones soul work, to this woman who covers up everything and it only comes out through her neuroses. They couldn't be more opposite ends of the spectrum."
Bree has been labeled an ersatz Martha Stewart by many "Desperate" observers, but Cross maintains, "I don't really see much similarity. It's probably easy for people to identify the character with her because she's so identifiable. But energetically and psychologically, this woman is so much different. You can't help but identify with one or several of these women.
Marcia Cross is the hottest housewife
Here's a dirty little secret about entertainment journalism: the writing and interviewing are easy. The hard part is the photo shoot. And so it was when the ladies of ABC's "Desperate Housewives" gathered for their NEWSWEEK close-up last week. Nicollette Sheridan arrived 45 minutes late. Eva Longoria then insisted she'd stay only for a half hour. Marcia Cross bristled at the thought of wearing her hair in the trademark flip of her character, Bree Van De Kamp. The drama! It was almost as juicy as the show itself, which is saying something considering that "Housewives" is the juiciest show to hit TV in years. To be fair, the shoot took place at 8 p.m. and the women had worked all day—Sheridan and Teri Hatcher started at 5 a.m. At one point, the photographer, Nigel Parry, asked the cast to "vamp it up." Fortunately, these women vamp like most people breathe. Sheridan immediately grabbed Felicity Huffman's right breast. Then, Huffman turned to Cross and said, "I hear people are going into salons to get their hair red like yours." To which Sheridan retorted: "And their [pubic hair] to match."
Those brackets mean Sheridan said something naughty—let's just say she wasn't talking about our president. "Sorry, Nigel," said Huffman. "We're usually worse than this."
Like when they're working from a script. "Desperate Housewives" is everything you've heard—racy, funny, smart and sexy. It is also something of a miracle. Not just because, with almost 25 million viewers every week, it hit the top five faster than any new drama since "ER" in 1994. "Housewives" is what network television isn't supposed to be. It's a soap opera in an era when procedural shows like "CSI" and its clones rule. It's on ABC, a network that hasn't launched a hit show since the fall of the Berlin wall. (That's only a slight exaggeration.) Most amazingly, it's a show about housewives—in their 40s! This being Hollywood, these are naturally the hottest housewives you've ever seen—too hot, perhaps, to judge by last week's hubbub over a promo Sheridan did with NFL star Terrell Owens, where she seduces him in a locker room by dropping her towel. ABC quickly apologized for the "inappropriate" spot, though you wonder how sorry they can be. Last month's controversy—when advertisers pulled their ads because they thought the show was too risqué—only made more people desperate to see "Housewives." "Yeah, I have some women wearing some skimpy stuff and a gardener that takes off his shirt, but I also know that I'm well within my rights to do so under the heading of soap opera," says Marc Cherry, the show's creator, who is actually a somewhat conservative, gay Republican. "The stuff that goes on in daytime is far more racy."
For Marcia Cross it is so real, so unreal
Today the lane is as freshly scrubbed as Disney's Main Street an hour before opening, and the neighborhood is as busy as a yard sale. On the street/set, the camera, makeup, wardrobe and sound crews are working on the 10th episode of "Desperate Housewives," the Sunday night soap opera that has saved ABC from its mortal slumber -- just as surely as the slightly subversive dramedy has jump-started the careers of its cast of talented but desperate actresses, most of whom had reached that age in Hollywood when the casting calls slow.
Saved, too, by the show was its creator, Marc Cherry, who confessed he couldn't get an interview for a writer's job in recent years, much less real work. (His spec script, he says, "was born of sheer desperation, if I can use the word.") How fickle the fates. One day Cherry is in his Studio City condo writing a teleplay nobody wanted (the four networks initially turned it down). Now he's a certifiable genius driving his new Lexus (license plate: DSP HSWV) right to his reserved parking spot.
But that's what 22 million viewers and the No. 1 new show on network television will do for a 42-year-old writer in this town. "I was starting to think I wasn't all that talented," Cherry says. "But these days my self-esteem is much better, thank you for asking."
The show is not only a smash with viewers, it is also (mostly) the critical darling of the fall season. "A triumph," writes David Bianculli of the New York Daily News. "Whips up saucy moments with the flair of a world-class chef," says Hal Boedeker of the Orlando Sentinel. From The Washington Post's Tom Shales: "In its visual style, witty language, borderline surrealism and overall mad attitude," the show "stands on a mountaintop all its own, the best new drama of the season and perhaps the best new comedy, too."
Such praise can go to a gal's head. The show's publicists have been barraged by media wanting an inside look at ABC's secret weapon. Getting onto the set of "Desperate Housewives" was like negotiating the SALT II Treaty. But finally, here is Marcia Cross playing the irresistible Bree Van De Kamp, in a retro print apron, holding a breakfast tray with a vase of cut roses, folded linen and fine china, awaiting her cue.
"And action!" Cross enters the set, Bree's living room, to parry with husband Rex (Steven Culp), with whom she has been waging a kind of "War of the Roses." Up close, before the camera, Cross is fascinating to watch: She pours tension into Bree, creating with her clenched hands, her Marine-erect posture and the starched flip of her red coif a woman so wound, so repressed, that a viewer is just waiting for her head to explode. (In an earlier episode Rex complains, "I just can't live in this detergent commercial anymore!")
In today's scene, the couple is fighting (we can't say over what exactly; the episode won't air for another month), but it shows the off-center sensibility that the actors and Cherry have brought to the series. "The advice that Marc Cherry gave us was to play the comedy really seriously and play the drama with a twinkle in your eye," says Culp.
It looks like a daytime soap. But the colors are too sunshiny. The dialogue sounds ordinary, networky, but then Bree suddenly erupts, almost hissing her lines, "Don't confuse my anal retentiveness" -- beat -- "for actual affection." And one thinks: Is it okay to laugh? Is this "Twin Peaks" or "Days of Our Lives"? (And also this: ohmigod, my own wife/girlfriend/partner actually said the same thing just the other day.)
After a few takes, Cross sits down, wraps herself in a blanket and relaxes. Her face suddenly seems softer, less domestic Medusa; the imaginary snakes slither away. "Mmmm, Hot Tamales!" she gushes, and digs into a box of candy. "Want one?" Her character is one of the more over-the-top on Wisteria Lane. "It is so tiring to play Bree," Cross says. "The tension. After a day on the set, I have to literally straighten out the kinks." As she imagines Bree, "on the outside, she's like a sculpture, and I have to fill in the interior." Yes, she is repressed. "But we all are, only Bree more so. I think she has a huge terror of abandonment."
One of the things that makes "Desperate Housewives" unique is the fact that the show is propelled by women, by their relationships, their points of view. The women are the suns; the male characters revolve around them like planets. Since prime-time network television is driven by female audience (60 percent), this seems like an obvious choice. But flip through the TV guide: Male-led sitcoms, macho reality games and endless "procedurals" (the "CSI" clones) dominate the airwaves.
"What could be more interesting than the lives of four women?" Cross says. On TV, "there are always roles for wives, but they're never fleshed out." She understands that the shorthand description for the Bree character is a Martha Stewart type off her meds. "But you'll see. Her vulnerability seeps out." Sure, Bree is obsessive-compulsive. "But I think she is in love with her husband and terrified of losing him."