Which is why, despite her talent, looks and non-stop work record, Dana Delany has never become a major star until now.
Named one of the 50 most beautiful people in the world by People magazine back in 1991, the creamy-skinned, hazel-eyed Dana does not disappoint in the flesh. Despite her low-key, slightly self-mocking manner, she looks the epitome of the sexy older woman who can fascinate men of all ages.
She has acted with everyone from Bruce Willis to Steve Martin, and numbers the actor Treat Williams and Eagles drummer Don Henley among her former lovers.
But when I mention one Internet rumour that she's bisexual, she laughs and calls it 'wishful thinking. I did an episode of The L Word [the American drama series about lesbians] so maybe that's what they were thinking of, but I'm not bisexual – although I know it's very "in" now,' she adds teasingly, not remotely offended.
This easy-going actress lives alone in Santa Monica with a view of the ocean from the bedroom window, and also in Manhattan where she has a Greenwich Village apartment (very Carrie Bradshaw) and loves the 'energy' of the city that hits her as soon as she walks out of the door.
As she says: 'I have tried hard all my life not to be a desperate housewife. I grew up with 70s feminism and I try to hold true to those principles. A job is often a better bet than many men, and more fulfilling.
'My mother is 80 years old and still works as an interior designer, so I was raised with a very strong work ethic. I didn't think that being a wife and mother made her happy, so I remember saying to her when I was 16: "I'm never going to have kids." She said, "Oh, you'll change your mind", but I never did.
'Once in a while I think about it, especially now that it's too late, but I just really like having my freedom. My sister Corey doesn't have any children either, but my brother Sean has two and I'm a good aunt to them.
'I've had proposals, but I like being single so much that somebody would have to be special to make me marry him. I would be happy to marry somebody who already has kids; I would be fine with that because I would make a great stepmom.
'But marriage never seemed that important to me, which I think was part of growing up in the 70s,' adds Dana, who then recounts the chilling story of her parents' 'ugly' separation.
She grew up in Connecticut in a well-to-do, middle-class family, but when her mother tried to assert her independence by leaving the marriage, the idyllic life ended.
'It was around that time of Helen Reddy's 1972 feminist song "I Am Woman, Hear Me Roar" when a lot of couples were splitting up,' she explains.
'My mother went through a horrible divorce from my father that was all about money.
I saw that marriage did not make people happy, that being true to yourself makes
'I was 16 at the time and my mother restarted her career while my father moved to Virginia, which was an extremely conservative state at the time. So because of that, my mother didn't get a dime – a legal technicality meant that she could be sued on grounds of desertion because she was working in Connecticut.
'My brother was at college by then but my sister and I went to live with my father, which was unusual for the time, and I sort of became the woman of the house before going to university. And that's another reason why I didn't feel the need to get married – I felt like I had already done it,' she says.
Not that the experience put her off men, because she managed to stay close to her father as well as her mother and still mourns the fact that he met a tragic end when he contracted pancreatic cancer and died in 1981 just a year after remarrying.
'I have certainly had a lot of relationships, so I feel I'm lucky because I have had every experience I've ever wanted and all sorts of men,' she says. 'But my sister is now divorcing after 30 years of marriage, and it's devastating for her.
'She's dating again now for the first time since college and it's so confusing to her. I feel badly for her, whereas I know who I am – and what the traps are.'
And just as Desperate Housewives defied ageism by giving Katherine a much younger second husband, so Dana frequently finds herself being romanced by younger men in real life. She dislike the term 'cougar', however, for a sexy older woman who dates younger men, because 'it sounds predatory, which is really not my experience,' she explains.
'I date a lot of younger men, but they are always the ones who approach me. My last boyfriend was 13 years younger and for six months I fought him off, saying, "You're too young". But he just persisted.'
Currently, however, she says she's not with anyone and is just happy to do her yoga, read her books, play with her newest iPhone like the gadget freak she is and wait to be called to the Desperate Housewives set where she works an average of three days a week.
'I feel like I've earned my contentment at living on my own,' she says. 'I don't even have any pets, and the only plants I have are orchids because they can take care of themselves. In fact, my maid looks after the orchids because I would kill them otherwise by forgetting to water them,' she adds with a giggle.
So much for the lemon-meringue pie wars and other domestic disputes between Bree and Katherine as they strive to have the best-kept house on the block. 'The joke on the set
is that neither Marcia nor I are domestic in real life,' reveals Dana with another grin. 'The domesticated one is Teri Hatcher (Susan), who really does bake.'
Although UK audiences are only just catching up with the second half of series four (delayed due to the Hollywood writers' strike), Dana already has had sight of scripts for series five. She predicts that Bree will become a housewife superstar-type like Martha Stewart and that her truce with Katherine won't last. 'We are frenemies – friends who are enemies – and I think there will always be that tension,' she laughs.
'But I've learnt a new respect for housewives from doing this show, because there are people who live lives of quiet desperation that need an outlet. Ever since high school, I have had a lot of strong female friends, and the older I get, the more I appreciate them.
'Even though women sometimes have their catfights, the great thing is that in the end they always rally behind each other.'