As Desperate Housewives approaches its end, Stylist bids farewell to Felicity Huffman, the Wisteria Lane resident who became an international star.
The domestic struggles of four friends seen through the eyes of a dead neighbour may sounds like a show targeting a niche audience, but in 2004 the residents of Wisteria Lane made us fall in love with them.
Neurotic Susan (Teri Hatcher), over-sexed Gabrielle (Eva Longoria), ‘Stepford Wife’ Bree (Marcia Cross), and long-suffering multi-tasker Lynette have had affairs with their gardeners, bullied their husbands, tried to steal each other’s husbands, been through tornadoes, murders, riots, and fake pregnancies… or quite simply tried to hold down a job, a marriage and raise some rowdy children – which is where the one-we-can-most-relate-to, Lynette Scavo, now played by Felicity Huffman for eight seasons, comes in.
We meet in London’s Soho Hotel to talk about the latest – and final – series of the show, currently screening on E4. And all good series do have to come to an end – Friends finished after 10 years; Cheers lasted 11, and it seems the magic number for Housewives is eight. But this season promises to go out in grand style.
Susan and Carlos grow close after the murder of Gabrielle’s stepfather in the last series, Bree falls for Chuck Vance, the detective investigating her, and, sadly, Tom and Lynette continue with their separation.
Down to earth and much less frazzled than her TV alter-ego (seemingly at least; she has commented in the past that “Motherhood [to two girls] is an exercise in guilt”), before Housewives, Huffman, 49, was always just off our radar. Guest spots in The X Files, Law & Order, Frasier and The West Wing put her on the ‘you know her face, but not her name’ category. Then Wisteria Lane beckoned and both face and name achieved household recognition almost instantly.
“Actors sort of go into acting jail for a while after a series. That’s why you get paid well”
Even though all the main stars have done well before, during and after Housewives, Huffman seems to be the one from the show taken most seriously as an actress. Perhaps it’s due to her background in theatre; she debuted on Broadway in the late Eighties. Or maybe it was her Best Actress Golden Globe and Oscar nomination for her role as pre-op man-to-woman transsexual Bree in Transamerica in 2005, or the Emmy and two Screen Actors Guild Awards she’s picked up playing Lynette.
She’s a low-key star – no blogging about Botox (Hatcher) or taking yachting holidays with basketball stars (Longoria). Apart from admitting a spell during her late teens and early 20s where she was bulimic and anorexic, Huffman has kept her private life just that. Her marriage to Fargo star William H Macy has been rock solid for 14 years. Not that we would know if it wasn’t. Their smiling red carpet appearances are few and far between; they’re simply too busy working (they appeared together in Magnolia and A Slight Case Of Murder in 1999, then Reversible Errors in 2004) and raising their daughters, Sofia Grace, 11, and Georgia Grace, 9, to do it more often.
It may be the end of an era with regards to Wisteria Lane, but the post-Housewives future for Huffman looks decidedly rosy. Although no film projects are set in stone, she may return to theatre, or just enjoy a well-earned hiatus. After eight years playing a harried housewife, she definitely deserves it…
Eight seasons is quite a feat. How does it feel to have been part of such a phenomenon?
There are only a handful of shows that have lasted this long; to be a part of one feels unreal. Everyone hopes to win the lottery and it’s a bit like I have. I’ve won eight years in a row.
As an actor you do a lot of pilots that never get made or television shows that don’t even make it a year. Does it scare you that it’s coming to an end?
It scares me dreadfully. People so identify you with the part you’ve been playing, it’s hard to find work for a long time. Actors sort of go into acting jail for a while after a series. You’ve got to save your money and plan on doing a lot of plays for the next five years. That’s one of the reasons why you get paid well because [the producers] are buying your future as well.
Are you hoping that your choice to act in films like Transamerica will give you more breadth?
I mean, I sort of see the path littered with dead bodies of old TV stars. I hope I won’t be one of them but have to assume I will be.
Lynette split from her husband Tom [Doug Savant] at the end of season seven. Was that emotional for you?
Doug and I have been suggesting it since year three. It’s exciting to cover new ground and a whole new storyline after seven years. In terms of the acting, the episodes were actually upsetting to shoot. It bleeds over into everyday life. Doug turned to me at one point and said, “I wish we were getting along so we could stop fighting and have fun off set again.”
Does it actually feel like a real husband and wife relationship in some ways?
It’s an interesting and complex relationship. Doug and I are so close and have worked together so closely for seven years. We know everything about each other; we ask each other’s advice on marriage or business. Yet off set, I’ve never been over to his house for dinner; we don’t mingle at all. He only exists in a parallel universe where he is my other husband.
Do you still love Lynette?
It’s an actor’s job to endorse their character, but aside from that I actually do love her. She’s really big hearted, impetuous, very loyal and fierce and funny. She kind of embodies the struggle of women who have career and family and a relationship and are trying to get that balance between all of them. If anything, I wish she was a little easier on Tom.
As an actress, are you constantly looking for the next project to inspire you?
No, I’m a fan of the static. I like consistency; change always scares me. I know it’s good for us and sometimes one must change, but I always want things to stay the same. Maybe it’s a combination of my nature and what I do for a living. Perhaps if I was in real estate, I’d always want to do different things.
We don’t often see you on the red carpet. How do you feel about fame?
I keep a low profile. Fame, like all things, has a light and a dark side. There are wonderful things about fame; travelling and visiting London with my family; fans who love the show coming up to me. I don’t really get the dark side, but some people get followed around or hassled. I guess the other Achilles heel is starting to believe your own press and not being aware that everyone has a shelf life.
Do you read reviews or anything that might be written about you?
Never. When I’m in a play or a movie, I don’t read any reviews. You live by the sword, you die by the sword. If you believe the good ones, you’ve got to believe the bad ones, and it’s not the North Star from which to be guided. After growing up in the theatre and having read some terrible reviews, I learnt the lesson. Of course, occasionally I’m tempted, but I’m not going to. Just like I’m tempted to eat the chocolate cake, but I’m not going to.
Was there ever a time, when you were trying to make it, that you thought about giving it up and doing something completely different?
There were so many times in life where I thought, ‘I seriously have to quit now. It’s time to wise up and get a real job’. But I really can’t do anything else. I mean, I didn’t get an agent until I was 27 but I’ve had people that have really helped me. I owe a great deal of my career to [Glengarry Glen Ross playwright] David Mamet, who believed in me and trained me and gave me shot after shot. Thanks to him, people came and saw me in his plays and then cast me later. I was lucky enough to come under his genius sphere.
Between winning awards and appearing in a hit show, you’ve had some incredible experiences in your career. Is the pressure off to achieve bigger and better things? Or is there more?
Both. For me, I sort of keep going: ‘Oh, I made some money last year, or no money the year before.’ Of course, the Oscar nomination made me feel like I really was a proper actor. I might not be a working actor in a couple of years so… I wonder if I’ve peaked in my career and it’s all downhill now. I don’t know; be that as it may, I will still continue to go forward
Desperate Housewives season eight, Sundays at 10pm on E4
Picture credit: Rex Features