• Image about Boston

Desperate Housewives' Marcia Cross is thankful for many things in life, including return trips to Boston. Photograph by Robert Ascroft.

WHO CAN FORGET the moment Marcia Cross, as Bree Van De Kamp, burst onto the screen of Desperate Housewives? There she was, a seemingly perfect Stepford wife, toting a basket of muffins and her just as seemingly perfect family to a wake for a suicidal neighbor on Wisteria­ Lane. But, as they say, "Who knows what secrets are hiding in the dark?" And Bree's secrets always come to light. By the end of the first episode alone, she'd (accidentally?) tried to poison her first husband, Rex, with onions - to which he was allergic - from a salad bar after he told her that he wanted a divorce. Since then, it's been a slow and steady downward spiral for Bree, whose kids hate her, whose relationships are usually fatal (at least two corpses in her path thus far), and who's passed out drunk on her perfectly manicured front lawn, all from the pressures of trying to be perfect. The more Bree flames out, though, the more Marcia Cross rises.

Cross grew up in Marlborough, Massachusetts, a town 45 minutes outside of Boston, far from the affairs, psychoses, back stabbings, and municipal meltdowns of Wisteria Lane. "I really lived in an incredible neighborhood, with tons of kids of friends of my parents who have known each other for 46 years," Cross says. "I had a really incredible time as a kid there." She left this idyllic glen for the less tranquil world of acting, first in New York, where, after graduating from Juilliard, she went from the stage to soaps (The Edge of Night, One Life to Live). Then it was on to Los Angeles, where she worked in episodic television (as Kirstie Alley's sultry sister on Cheers and an obsessive former girlfriend on Knots Landing,­ among other parts) before winning a role on Melrose Place as Dr. Kimberly Shaw, whose psychotic résumé included forays into kidnapping and wanton destruction. When Melrose Place went off the air, Cross earned her master's degree in psychology at Antioch College before returning to acting and landing a steady stream of TV and film roles that culminated in 2004, when she was tapped for Desperate Housewives.

Today, she lives in L.A. with her husband, stockbroker Tom Mahoney, and they are expecting twins. But here Cross takes us back to Boston, the big, diverse, and historic city where she first saw her future, and where Marcia Cross and Bree Van De Kamp can both feel quite at home.

Where would Bree Van De Kamp go in ­Boston?
She would go to Filene's Basement. She would be more in the upscale parts of the town. Maybe she would live on Beacon Hill, a beautiful street that runs along the Back Bay. It has gorgeous brownstones and is a very coveted place to live. I'm thinking that would be a good place for her, yes. She could afford to shop on Newbury Street, where, when I was younger, I couldn't. She'd also be at Copley Place, which has Neiman Marcus and very high-end shops. There is a Restoration Hardware, which she would be crazy about. If you're into antiques, you have to walk along both sides of Charles Street and over to River Street. That's the antiques district, and you'll find everything. Bree would buy things for her home there. She would meet her girlfriends for tea at the Bristol, just off the lobby of the Four Seasons. If she were drinking, she would go to the Ritz Bar, which has great martinis.

You grew up in Marlborough. When did you first see Boston, and what were your ­impressions?
When I was a kid, Boston might as well have been New York. We just really weren't the kind of family that - on a moment's notice - drove to the city. So it was like the big city, but it was really not that far away from Marlborough. On field trips, we would go to the New England Aquarium, which was fantastic, and the Boston Museum of ­Science. Then, as I got older and became interested in theater, our drama teacher took us to see A Chorus Line. That was probably one of the greatest highlights of my life. Actually, I should talk about my mother taking us to Fenway Park; that's better.

Okay, tell me about Fenway Park.
My mother and father are huge sports fans: baseball, football, hockey - just all of it. My mother took us to Fenway Park to see a baseball game, and that was fantastic. I mean, what a great stadium! That's a huge Boston highlight. I don't think my dad was there; he was probably working or something. Faneuil Hall is the market there, which is actually even more of a highlight than the aquarium. I feel like I went there when it was brand-new. I mean, you come from running around in the woods and having a quiet life, and you go in there, and there are three huge aisles of food from everywhere you can imagine and, of course, tons of things that you want to buy. Just off the market is Durgin-Park, which is a must-visit restaurant that goes back to Revolutionary days. It's famous for New England cooking: chowder, Boston baked beans, and Indian pudding.

I guess Bree, being perfect, would take her kids on the Freedom Trail, right?

Oh, absolutely. Especially now, if you're in California, you realize that L.A. does not have that kind of history, and you realize how important Massachusetts was and the historic value of the state. That's a fantastic thing to do - to take that tour and then wind your way over to Faneuil Hall. Don't miss the Old State House - lots of treasures inside, including tea from the Boston Tea Party. And the Old North Church is where Robert Newman climbed the steeple and hung two lanterns, as arranged by Paul Revere, to signal the start of the Revolutionary War. The Paul Revere House is where Paul Revere was living when he set out for Lexington in 1775. It's on the Freedom Trail, and it's the oldest house in downtown Boston, built around 1680. I really do think if you are going to Boston, that's the stuff to see. You know, shopping and whatever is great, but the historic stuff is really fantastic. For example, you have to see the Gibson House Museum, a totally intact ­nineteenth-century town house, one of the first houses built in Back Bay. It tells the story of ­nineteenth-century Boston and how people really lived.