Despite having turned down a role on Desperate Housewives in 2004, Dana Delany was offered another part on the hit show last season. (She knew better than to say no a second time.) Now, she’s feeling right at home on Wisteria Lane.
MANY ACTORS become inseparable from the popular characters they portray, as if they have a second skin they can’t shed. Not Dana Delany, though, whose two best-known roles display her chameleon-like thespian prowess and prove that she can mine the depths of good girls and bad girls with equal aplomb. The 52-year-old actress starred as noble lieutenant nurse Colleen McMurphy on the critically acclaimed China Beach from 1988 to 1991. Now, she convincingly plays the devious, damaged Katherine Mayfair on Desperate Housewives.
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You were originally offered the part of Desperate Housewives’ Bree Van de Kamp, which went instead to Marcia Cross. What made you accept the part of Katherine Mayfair?
It was a huge hit, and I’m not stupid.
Was there any tension with Cross, since she’s playing the role you turned down?
No. Actually, Marcia Cross and I are very good friends. We live in the same neighborhood. I find that it’s easier to act with somebody you like, because you can really play. We have a lot of fun together.
Do you have any regrets about not doing the show the first time around?
I admit to a few three-in-the-morning [thoughts of,] Oh my God, what did I do? But you don’t know what a pilot is going to turn into. I had just done a series called Pasadena, which I loved doing, and I thought that the role was too similar to that. I’m not a person who thinks about career; I think about acting and whether it’s going to challenge me or not. I felt like I had already played that part.
Then, [Housewives] became a huge hit, and I really appreciate what [series creator Marc Cherry] has done. I think he has managed to find this tone between comedy and drama that a lot of people have tried to do before and have not succeeded at. I don’t know how he does it -- I really don’t. We could have one scene where it’s flat-out slapstick comedy, and by the end of the scene, it turns into serious drama. I think that’s really hard to pull off. So last year, he called me up and said, “Are you ready to come on the show now?” And I said yes. He said, “Would you like to hear about the part?” I said, “You can tell me, but [my answer] is still going to be yes.”
A big part of the show’s appeal is the manic energy the cast generates. Are there times that you feel you have to pump up your performance or pull back to create that dynamic?
It took me a while to figure out what the tone was for me. I love Marc Cherry; he comes up with the best lines -- in real life too. The big thing he said to me was that in my acting, I paint with a fine brush and that I might want to use a thicker stroke [laughs]. So I started playing with that. When I look back at the early episodes, I actually think I did okay. But in some of the episodes, I pushed it a little bit too far to see how far I could take it. Now, I fall back a little bit. It’s just a matter of finding that balance.
Katherine is famous for her lemon meringue pie. How are your domestic skills?
[Laughs] I am so not Katherine. I’m very messy and don’t really cook. I do like to cook, but I live alone, so cooking for one person is kind of a bore. The only time I cook is when I have a big dinner party. I’m very good with desserts. Oaxacan mocha cake is my specialty!
Ugly Betty stars Becki Newton and Michael Urie, on their quirky on-screen chemistry and the comparisons of them to Megan Mullally and Sean Hayes (who played Karen Walker and Jack McFarland on Will & Grace).
BECKI NEWTON: “[Mullally and Hayes] were amazing on Will & Grace and worked so well together, so any comparison is incredibly flattering. That show lasted a really long time; may we be so lucky. I think the comparison mostly pertains to our chemistry together, and it’s just a very natural thing between us.”
MICHAEL URIE: “We immediately connected. It was like we had known each other forever. I think we were probably brother and sister in another life.” -- B.R.