You play a cop in The Sentinel which is pretty far removed from Gabrielle on Desperate Housewives. Which character is closest to you in real life?
The cop. I grew up on a ranch in Texas and my dad was a hunter. He had me shooting target practice when I was six years old. He educated my sisters and I about guns, and we used to go target shooting all the time – we’d shoot beer cans, coffee cans, anything that exploded and made noise. So I felt totally at home as a Secret Service agent. In fact, most of my work before Desperate Housewives consisted of cop roles [in short-lived TV-series like LA Dragnet].
Still, you’re not exactly a macho girl!
No, I love being a woman. I love shopping and wearing dresses and heels and jewellery. I love being sexy and feeling sexy.
You wear some awesome lingerie on Desperate Housewives; do you enjoy trotting about in your skimpies?
It’s nerve-racking! I’m constantly going, “Are you shooting from up here or here? Where’s the camera again?” I didn’t realise how much lingerie I’d be in and how much time I’d spend in the bathtub. I actually had to talk to the director and go, “Can you please stop putting me in the bathtub?”
Really? But we like it…
It’s just a pain in the butt to shoot. You’re naked and they just fill it up with bubbles and basically they put body make-up on you so you look beautifully tanned with flawless skin and then it just comes off in the water so you’re sitting in this brown water all day. There have been times when they do all the tub scenes in one day, so I go out and in comes Ricardo, then in comes Jesse. I’m like, “Guys, can we space out the tub scenes?”
So you’re going to be in the bath less?
And no more lingerie?
That was my request. And now that my character is pregnant nobody wants to see that.
Heidi Klum does it…
Well, that’s Heidi Klum. She’s a supermodel.
Are you tired of being typecast as sexy?
No, I’m going with sexy for as long as it will take me. Women have an expiry date in this business.
Do you spend ages toning up before your Desperate Housewives lingerie scenes?
Yeah, a bit. Originally, I didn’t think that I’d be in the show that much. But after a month of working out, I was like, I just can’t worry about that. Also I was naked a lot last year which is different from wearing lingerie because lingerie covers a lot – but when you’re naked…
Last time we saw you on telly, you were having a catfight with a nun. Was that fun?
Yeah, I was excited because I’ve wanted to kick her ass for a while. Stop her nunsense… ha! But then I got scared because being Mexican Catholic, I was, like, the Latinos will be very upset that I’m kicking a nun’s ass in a Catholic church on an altar!
Crikey. Is it true you spent years competing in beauty pageants?
Yeah, and they were a lot of fun. It was really character-building for a woman to be in pageants and I had a lot of fun with it.
Why did you get involved in that?
Well, in Texas it’s a big deal. If you’re a boy you have to play football, and if you’re a girl you have to be in pageants. It’s very common.
Desperate Housewives is now a worldwide phenomenon. What do you make of the news that you’re “huge” in the likes of India and China?
I’m actually really surprised to hear that. Actually, I was just in China. I was in Beijing, and nobody knew me, no one cared. If there were tourists out there, they would go, “Oh my God! You’re from Desperate Housewives!” but that was it. I know that they have very strict television guidelines that they have to follow in China, and I was like, “We’ll never be on in China – we won’t meet any of their requirements… especially my character.” They could always air the show without my character in China, I suppose.
So do you think the Chinese will cut you out?
I think they will. I mean, they censor their internet so I think it would definitely be somewhat altered. You know, we’re on ABC in the US so it’s not like we have cussing or any nudity so maybe they could air it, but I think it’s the whole idea of divorce and the idea of adultery and the idea of killing that they’re trying to avoid.
There’s a website for the show in India and they have an interesting article about you and some of your sex toys…
Oh God. No! I did an article in a women’s magazine about sexuality and it was very funny. I just mentioned it was important for women to be in touch with their sexuality and that sex toys were a 21st century thing. So I ended up being sent a lot of them because of that article.
Now tabloids, they obviously just pull certain things out. In the tabloids it was a lot raunchier, the way that they put it, but the actual article in Self magazine was a really important issue about women’s sexuality and how so many things were taboo and the insecurities that women have with their own self-esteem. It was a beautiful article and you can leave it up to the tabloids to destroy it.
What did you do with all the sex toys?
I gave them to my friends and my publicist. I got, like, 50 boxes. A lot. I gave them out as much as I could and I think that I have a box in my garage. They make a great present because a lot of women won’t go and buy one.
Finally, who would you most love to star with in a movie?
God, I have such a wish list because I love comedy and I want to do every romantic comedy with every blockbusting leading guy like Will Ferrell and Jim Carrey and Ben Stiller and Adam Sandler. I love that genre of movie. I love romantic comedies and feel-good movies.
Original interview by Rudolph Spencer, Linley Dwight, Nina Wearing and Lee Coan in the September 2006 issue of FHM UK magazine