Spotlight on Dana Delany

The Emmy-winning actress talks about her impressive credits and life on ''Desperate Housewives''

By Jennifer Armstrong / November 16, 2007
Desperate Housewives/ABC
Far, far from the coiffed glam and fake smiles of Wisteria Lane, Dana Delany is tucked into a corner of a café in downtown Manhattan with a fruit-and-cheese plate, a cappuccino, and…Andrew McCarthy.

This is apropos — not because Delany is always accompanied by a Brat Packer, but because she's usually chatting up someone in the business. That's how the 51-year-old has built her absurdly lengthy résumé which tops out at more than 60 credits on TV shows, made-for-TV movies, and feature films. Case in point: She just wrapped an indie thriller with McCarthy called Camp Hope, which she got because he'd recently directed her in an Off Broadway Neil LaBute play, Things We Said Today. Similarly, her pal James Spader helped her nab a guest spot on Boston Legal three years ago. And the role as a terrorist on Battlestar Galactica? Exec producer David Eick is a friend. "It's such a tiny little world," she marvels after McCarthy has said his goodbyes. "That's how I get my jobs. I really like people. And I like to work. That's all I want to do."

It's one thing to be continuously employed; it's another to have a good eye for entertainment. In the past two decades, Delany has had cult-spawning turns on the beloved Vietnam nurse drama China Beach (for which she earned two Emmys) and the short-lived dark soap Pasadena. She's also shown a knack for picking, let's say, forward-thinking projects: Grey's Anatomy precursor Presidio Med, the Sex and the City-like indie movie Live Nude Girls, and, of course, Desperate Housewives forerunner Pasadena. (True Dana buffs may have noticed that her Pasadena lover is now Housewives hubby Nathan Fillion.) "I do tend to do things that are ahead of their time," the actress sighs.

Now she's enjoying her highest-profile gig yet as prickly, prodigal neighbor Katherine Mayfair on Desperate Housewives. She famously passed on the part of Bree in the pilot because she felt the character was too close to the unhappy suburbanite she'd played on Pasadena. Turned out to be a fortuitous move. Joining the ABC comedy in its fourth season instead, she's proved to be just the fizzy presence needed to help creatively revive the show. "I compare her to J.R. [from Dallas]," Delany says of her character. "The antagonater, I like to call her." The "antagonater" is familiar territory for Delany, who grew up in a suburban part of Connecticut not unlike Wisteria Lane. Credit goes to her great-grandfather, inventor of a toilet valve, for the privileged upbringing. But credit goes elsewhere for her tightly wound alter ego. "My poor mother has taken such a beating, but, I mean, I know Katherine."

Playing Katherine has also allowed Delany to employ some different acting chops. "I'd just finished the [LaBute] play, which was really dark, and I thought it was time to lighten up," she says. "When [Housewives exec producer] Marc Cherry called, I said I wanted to do it no matter what he told me about the character. When he said he saw Katherine as the housewife who would out-Bree Bree, I thought it would be even more fun." So much fun, in fact, that she's hoping to stick around for her entire six-year contract, unlike other flash-in-the-pan cast additions. "Marc is very protective of the original Housewives," she says, "but hopefully there's room for five."

Delany has ulterior motives for wanting to stay on the show as well. After years of relationships helping her get work, the longtime bachelorette is ready for work to give a little back: "Everybody comes on Housewives and gets a [real-life] husband," Delany says, referring to costars Marcia Cross, Eva Longoria Parker, and Nicollette Sheridan (who's engaged to Michael Bolton). "It's my turn now. I don't know who it's going to be, but I'm ready."

The actress looks back on 26 years of the good, the bad, and the poorly marketed

Appearing On Moonlighting
"I got to play my first femme fatale role as a murderer. I'd been the good girl up until then."
Kissing Tom Selleck on Magnum P.I.
"I had a huge crush on him, madly in love. When we finished shooting, I was bereft."
Toughing Out Tombstone
"The director was fired. We went through at least five ADs. But Kurt Russell pulled it together."
Costarring In Exit to Eden
"[The idea of] Rosie O'Donnell in leather threw some people. But I stand by my work in it."