In less than two years, it took a little known TV show to turn an ex-Texan model into an iconic superstar. The show is Desperate Housewives and the actress is the petite but sexy Eva Longoria, now enjoying her first starring role on the big screen, as a gun-toting Secret Service agent in The Sentinel, opposite Michael Douglas and Kiefer Sutherland. Not one to shy away from her obvious sex appeal, actress Eva Longoria has thrived on playing seductive Latinas throughout her career.
Born in Corpus Christi, Texas--an area she has frequently returned to over the years--Longoria was the youngest of four daughters growing up on the family ranch. Though stunning in her adult years, she has described herself as the proverbial ugly duckling as a kid--her family nicknamed her prieta fea--or 'ugly dark one'--because she was the only daughter with dark hair, dark eyes and dark skin. After blossoming into a fetching young woman, Longoria attended Texas A&M University-Kingsville, where she earned her Baccalaureate in Kinesiology--the study of body movement. When she wasn't studying, Longoria appeared on stage in university theater productions.
After graduation, Longoria won an Infinity Model Search contest, which led to her discovery by a theatrical agent. She soon found herself in bit parts on television, including an episode of "Beverly Hills, 90210" and eventually was cast as Isabella Brana on the long-running daytime soap opera, "The Young and the Restless" Longoria was honored with an ALMA Award for Outstanding Actress in a Daytime Drama in 2002 for her work on the soap. Meanwhile, she hosted "The Talent Agency" (2003), a syndicated talent show that came and went without so much as a whimper. In "Hot Tamales Live", a Pay-Per-View comedy special hosted by Kiki Melendez, Longoria got the chance to display her comic talents. But despite growing exposure, Longoria failed to make herself a household name. That would soon change.
Longoria landed her first regular series role as Detective Vanessa Cruz on "L.A. Dragnet" (ABC, 2002-2004). Joining the cast after a major restructuring in 2003, Longoria enjoyed the role for only one season--the series was canceled in April 2004. But her luck changed when she signed on to "Desperate Housewives" a run-away hit that took many in Hollywood by surprise. A dark comedy about the lives of five housewives in the same cul-de-sac as told by a friend who committed suicide, "Desperate Housewives" went from an unwanted spec script written by Chuck Pratt ("Melrose Place") and Marc Cherry ("The Golden Girls") to the hottest show on television.
The show was honored when the Hollywood Foreign Press announced its Golden Globe nominations--it received five, including Best Television Series-Comedy. Four of the five lead actresses also received nominations, but Longoria's name was missing from the list. Meanwhile, she ventured into feature films with "Harsh Times" (2005), a drama starring Christian Bale as a soldier returning from Iraq, which premiered at last year's Toronto Film Festival, before her latest big screen outing in the new thriller, The Sentinel.
In a Los Angeles hotel room, Longoria is draped in a blanket, sipping a vanilla latte. Admitting she is the opposite of her Gabriela character in 'Housewives', as Paul Fischer discovered when he sat with the actress, she is quiet, smart with a dry sense of humor. The pair talked sex, housewives, guns and her boyfriend, basketballer Tony Parker of The San Antonio Spurs.
Question: So have you been asked any really banal questions today?
Longoria: I've been asked everything today.
Question: Everything? Oh, God.
Longoria: Everything from, from where I live - [laughter] - what supermarket I shop at?
Question: You've been asked those questions?
Longoria: Interesting stuff.
Question: So when the opportunity comes for you to star in your first movie, what to you were the criteria that you were looking for?
Longoria: Well I really wanted to pick something opposite of Desperate Housewives and different. And I get to play a lot of colours with Gabrielle and she's really funny and she's really dramatic and she's really big, so it was really hard to pick a script that actually challenged me in the way that Desperate Housewives didn't; because I'm really lucky with the Desperate Housewives. Then when I read The Sentinel I thought it was really clever; it keeps you on the edge of your seat, it has Michael Douglas, Keifer Sutherland and Kim Basinger and so I said that's the role that's going to be this summer. And Jill Marin is a lot closer to who I am as a person.
Question: Why is that?
Longoria: I grew up a tomboy and so the whole action and athleticism to the whole role is more me, as I've been shooting guns since I was five with my dad - we used to go target shooting all the time so for me it was easy to do. I could, really relate to Jill a lot more than I would ever relate to Gabrielle.
Question: Is this a movie where you were you required to do any kind of research or do you just rely on your imagination?
Longoria: No, no, especially a movie like this, you have to be very specific with everything because, you want it to be authentic for the audience to believe you are the Secret Service. So they sent us documentaries on the Secret Service before we started the movie, which was really fascinating - where it originated, what the purpose is. Then, we went to Secret Service training with Secret Service retirees and did tactical training, we did classroom training, and firearms training. And, Michael got the brunt of it though because he was actually on presidential detail in the movie where Keifer and I never really had to do that. We were investigative.
Question: It seems very extreme, though, when you think about it, that this is what you go through for what, 8, 9 weeks of your life. Do you ever look at yourself and say I'm doing this for a living and it's all a little bit weird and I'm sort of shooting guns and they pay me lots of money to do it all?
Longoria: Ye. I think that every day. I always think that's why I don't take anything seriously - critics, reviews, paparazzi, public, people. I'm like, you guys, we're not curing cancer, but we're acting. [Laughter]. It's a simple process, believe me. So, I always think that what we do is silly. We're playing make-believe everyday and getting paid.
Question: Is that why you wanted to be an actress?
Longoria: I think I love pretending to be something else. I think it's fun to put yourself in someone else's shoes and make up all the choices that you think this person would make in these circumstances. I find that fun and that's why we do it when we're kids. It's a game so I love the fact that I play. It's just like my boyfriend Tony. I think what Tony does is silly too. He plays basketball, as a form of entertainment so he's basically playing a game.
Question: Yean but I mean that's a very specialised kind of .....
Longoria: Talent. Just like singers. I think singers have a very special talent, you're singing. Athletes have a very special talent.
Question: But why does a kid from Texas want to be an actor?
Longoria: It just kind of happened. I didn't grow up wanting to be it didn't happen until after college. I didn't come here until I was 23 and even when I came here I was like, oh, I think I'm going to try the acting thing. So it wasn't a childhood dream and I didn't long for it. We didn't grow up with movies because we couldn't really afford it and we grew up with network television, whatever was on ABC we watched -, Three's Company, and The Jeffersons. So for me I didn't really grow up with magazines and looking at people going 'I want to be that'. The role models in my life were my mom, my aunts, my sisters - it was the actual people in my life.
Question: It's a tough business in Hollywood and you're very beautiful and all that kind of thing. Did you ever find it difficult for casting people to go beyond the exterior and look at what you have to offer as an actress?
Longoria: I think casting is hard period. I worked my butt off auditioning in this town. I've been to every casting director. I've walked many miles in those shoes of auditioning. Just the other day there was a movie I really, really liked with a great ensemble, and they said everybody's going to audition. They're not going to give it to anybody, with big stars big stars auditioning. And, it was funny because I was like, oh, my God, I remember this feeling; parking, practicing your lines, hoping you're going to get it. And I just did it last week.
Question: How was that experience going back?
Longoria: Oh, it was it was great. Obviously I have confidence now.
Question: That would kind of re-ground you in a way wouldn't it?
Longoria: Oh, yeah, you're not above anything. And it also teachers you, that you do have to fight for the roles and really, really work at your craft. It's not going to be given to you. , it's not everyday Michael Douglas is going to call you and offer you a role. So for me, everything re-grounds me everyday. . I grew up with my sister who is mentally retarded and so if I think I had a rough day I can just imagine the day she had. So for me I'm very, very centred in that.
Question: How involved are you in the Latino community? Are your roots important to you?
Longoria: Oh, yes. Absolutely. It defines everything that I am, it defines what I do, how I do it, how I present myself, the role model that I am to young Latinas - everything I do. All my charity work is Latin oriented because I think growing up I didn't have a Latin role model so I want to make sure that I expose myself to those children who can see themselves in me and aspire, dream to be successful like me. I'm hosting and producing the Alma Awards.
Question: What is that?
Longoria: They're put on by the NCLR, which is the National Council of La Raza and they are an awards show that it's basically the Grammys, the Emmys and the Oscars rolled into one, because we recognise television, music and film. And, we're honouring Andy Garcia, this year for his career achievement in acting, and Marc Anthony in music and, so they asked me to host. I'm not big on hosting and, I'm like - okay, but only if I can produce, and I was hoping that would that would make them say no
Question: And they didn't
Longoria: And they said yes. [Laughter]. But, I also wanted to put my stamp on the award show in the sense of I think I'm pretty in touch with what's happening, in the Latino culture, and sometimes when you just give an award show to award show people they just, think it's another award show and this not, it's definitely catered to the Latino community and very inclusive of other ethnicities as well. I think the media portrayal, which is often negative, of Latinos in television, but this recognises the positive images of Latinos in entertainment, and so that's why I wanted to be a part of it.
Question: Was Gabrielle also meant as a Latino character?
Longoria: Yeah. Marc Cherry grew up with a guy named Gabriel Solis, who lived down the street from him and they had the biggest house in the block and they were richer than him but he never noticed there was a difference between them because they lived on the same block, and then found out like later, wow, they were richer than we were. So he knew he wanted a Latin family that was the same as everybody else on the block and their ethnicity never is really in question.
Question: Desperate Housewives has done wonders for women in general on television. Is that one of the gratifying things about it?
Longoria: Absolutely. I think, for women in general that there's a show that there's with four women leads, is kudos itself because you're always as a woman you're always the girlfriend of or the wife of the lead or the partner of the guy that's the lead. So this shows that women can carry a show, and it's also raised the expiration date to a later time where women over 40 can be fun and sexy and entertaining.
Question: Were you surprised the show became a hit?
Longoria: Yeah, absolutely. I was probably the most surprised because I was just really naÔve. Teri and Nicolette and Felicity and Marcia had all experienced hit shows and they'd all been around. Marcia kept telling me, 'Get ready, it's going to be big, get ready.' And I'm like, 'Ready for what? What are you talking about? What do you mean?' Then it did, it hit, I'm like, 'Oh my God, this is what you're talking about.' It was great though. It was fun. Our first year, even our second year I couldn't keep up with the good news. It was just good news after good news after good news.
Question: What about the craziness that brings to your life?
Longoria: Yeah, it brings a lot of craziness. For me, I consider myself really lucky and really blessed to have the show and I'm also lucky to have a great family and great friends around me who are very grounding. Tony as well is really grounding. So for me, I think the craziness comes when you start to believe your own hype and you just kinda get caught up in all of the superficiality of our business. Felicity gave me the best advice and she's like, 'It's all about the work. Just always make it about the work and good things will come.' That's what we've been doing.
Question: How are you picking those scripts now?
Longoria: I would love to do a romantic comedy just because that's the kind of movie I love. But probably 80% of the scripts I get are dramatic.
Question: Why, because Gabrielle is so sexually comic?
Longoria: I think that's why. I think people see something else. I think I haven't been pigeonholed at all. I've gotten very little sexy offers to a point I'm getting annoys going, 'Hey, where's the sexy stuff?'
Question: Are you glad about that?
Longoria: Of course. I'm not really adamant about going against sexy though. I'm going with sexy as long as it'll take me, as long as I can do it because you know women have an expiration date in this business, so for me I'm not adamant about that. I'm really lucky that I haven't seen a pattern of any script I've gotten. I haven't seen like always the cop, always the detective, always this, always the girl. I've seen everything, a big range of things that are pretty exciting. I'm having a really difficult time picking a script this summer because there are so many good ones.
Question: Do you see Desperate Housewives going all seven years?
Longoria: Well, we haven't slowed down. Critics always go, 'Ratings slump for Desperate Housewives.' We're like, 25 million? Even if we slowed down by half it's still a highly rated show. If we were doing 14 million a week, that's better than 90 percent of the shows on television. If we ever- - I don't think we're going anywhere soon. I keep hoping we'll go seven years and that's it.
Question: Will motherhood slow Gabrielle down?
Longoria: No, I think it's a lot of opportunities for more comedic things. She's still going to be Gabrielle. She still ain't gonna change diapers. I think this Sunday's episode- - do we have an episode tonight? No? It makes me so mad, reruns. Well, the next episode, I actually forget the baby at home. So I think she'll still be Gabrielle and it'll be- - she's still going to be her.
Question: What about the show makes it such a popular sensation?
Longoria: I think it's the first show that actually exercises the voice of the modern woman. It's not Leave it to Beaver, it's not The Brady Bunch, and it's not The Cosby Show. It really reflects the current status of women in today's society. You can be married, you can be divorced, you can have children, you can not have children, you can go to work, you can stay home, you have so many choices and because of that, I think women identify with one or all of us, of the four women. So I think that's really truly the success of the show and I think that's also why it's universally successful because every country deals with those issues.
Question: But men too?
Longoria: I've talked to a lot of men too because I'm like Oh God, it's not just me. And they said because they see their wives in the women. So it's funny.
Question: Is it difficult to deal with the interest in your life?
Longoria: It's hard to protect yourself from the prying media pertaining to personal things just because if you don't give them what they want, they're still going to make it up anyway. I did a wonderful, beautiful article in Allure magazine about The Sentinel and the movie, and then they talked about personal stuff and I said, talking about Tony and me, I said, 'Well, I'm the experienced one. I'm the one that's been married, divorced, engaged, and broken up, together so I'm the experienced one in the relationship. He's been in one serious relationship.' And it just got torn apart by tabloids saying I was the teacher of sex and I'm the experienced one in sex and Tony's only been with one person sexually. I was like, 'Where do you get that from? You got that from this beautiful article?' So you can't ever win. You will never win with them and I dated somebody before Tony that I was very private about, so they were like, 'Trouble in Paradise: Eva Doesn't Speak.' With Tony I've been open about it and saying, 'We're great, we're in love.' 'Trouble in Paradise: Eva Speaks Out.' You cannot win.
Question: What's the weirdest rumor you read?
Longoria: here was one time it was in a magazine that I was like, 'I can't believe somebody just sat and wrote this.' It was: Eva Longoria was seen fleeing Frederick's of Hollywood - it was very specific - in a purple panties and bra out in the street. She yelled at the valet to pull her silver BMW around - which I don't drive a silver BMW - because her golden retriever Razzles - I don't have a golden retriever - Razzles was going to emergency surgery and she got a phone call from the vet saying she needed to come. And she ran out as the people chased her and gets in the car and throws money in the street and peels out. First of all, Frederick's doesn't have a valet nor have I ever been to Frederick's of Hollywood.
Question: So what is the fascination?
Longoria: It's getting worse. I think it's the bounty that's put upon us for pictures and gossip because of the demand with all of the new magazines. I mean, there's a new magazine every week. Every week. I don't understand how they stay afloat but then I'll see somebody reading it and then I go, 'Well, there's the demand.' And the internet is insane. If it's printed in one site, it is then factual. It's like just because it's written doesn't mean it's factual.