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Eva Longoria: Desperate Housewife who's now a philanthropist

Eva Longoria tells Barry Egan how she is nothing like selfish Gaby in the hit TV show that made her a global star and how her sister with Down Syndrome has inspired her charity work.

Desperate Housewives, frowned The New York Times, turned the clock "back to pre-Betty Friedan America, lampooning four bored, frustrated, white upper-middle-class ladies who lunch." Eva Longoria, however, misses the character that made her world famous - Gabrielle Solis, the bad, bored adulteress. She says that despite the show finishing its eight-year run in 2012, strangers still come up to her in the street and say: "We miss Gaby."

So you miss the woman that they called the biggest nymphomaniac in Middle America?

"Oh, I do, definitely, yeah," Eva laughs. "She was really fun to play."

Which part of you was Gaby? Did you put any of yourself into her?

"No, none at all. She was the exact opposite of me, which made her a lot of fun to play, because she was selfish and narcissistic and a model and didn't want children, and was a horrible wife."

And do you want children one day?

"I don't know," she says. "It is not in the moment right now. So I don't really think about it."

She possibly hasn't had time. Since Desperate Housewives ended two years ago, Eva hasn't stopped. Apart from her beauty endorsements and her business interests, Eva has executive-produced the drama Devious Maids, as well as well as the dating series, Ready For Love. She also starred in the 2012 movie, A Dark Truth, with Andy Garcia and Forest Whitaker, and later this year will hit our screens in Frontera, with Ed Harris.

I met Eva once before: in 2008, in a villa in the hills above Monte Carlo, for a launch to which she was bringing her immense star power. In interview mode, she was just as funny and adorable then as she is now, saying how she was quite the ugly duckling growing up. It didn't take long for Eva to change into a beautiful swan when she became a superstar on Desperate Housewives.

According to People magazine at the time, the precise moment Eva Longoria became America's prominent water-cooler topic was in 2004, during the first series, when gobby Gabs took the virginity of her hot teen gardener, played by Jesse Metcalfe.

I remember that in the south of France Eva told me that she had a Catholic altar at her house in Los Angeles. I ask her does she still have it.

"I do! My mom went to Ireland and she brought back all these Celtic crosses. So yes, I have an altar. It's mostly Catholic. But I also have some Buddhism there," she says with a laugh. "What else do I have? I have everything on there! Some meditation beads. There's all kinds of stuff on my altar. But mostly crosses."

Eva has needed, perhaps, to turn to the Catholic crosses and healing meditation beads on her altar for some sort of comfort over the years.

In 2007, she married top basketball player Tony Parker, seven years her junior, in a fairytale chateau outside Paris. The break-up wasn't so fairytale, alas. The star divorced him in 2011, after she caught him having an affair. Happily, Eva - who was previously married to actor Tyler Christopher from 2002 to 2004 - is now spoken for with Jose Antonio Baston, the president of Televisa, Latin America's largest media company.

During an interview with Access Hollywood Live last year, Eva gave the impression she wouldn't be marrying again. "I've been married twice," she said. "Been there, done that!"

I ask her when she goes through a low period in her life, is she Catholic or is she more a Buddhist? Or is what she turns to more spiritual than an actual institution of religion?

"I always say I'm culturally Catholic," she explains. "But, no, I'm definitely identified as Catholic. I go to Mass. I listen to the Pope. But I definitely have respect for all other religions, and all other spiritual ways. I pray and I meditate. I think prayer is a form of meditation, but yeah, I grew up in a very Catholic family. So I carried that with me."

In 2012 she started the Eva Longoria Foundation to "empower Latinas through education and entrepreneurship, through which we provide Latina entrepreneurs with career training, mentorship, capital and opportunity."

No Botoxed Bel-Air bimbette, Eva has also spoken out on racial injustice, poverty, immigration reform and the huge disparities across America's educational spectrum - "split along ethnic minority and low-income lines, and this is because of institutionalised inequity."

Do you think America is less racist as a country by having a black president?

"Less racist? I thought you said less righteous!" she exclaims. "I don't think you can define the degree of racism in a country based on one person. It is a great accomplishment that we have an African-American president, just as it will be a great accomplishment when we have a female president."

She was part of the 'Obama For America' movement, travelling in the swing states during the 2012 election, to talk up Barack to Latin Americans. Would you ever run for president?

"No. No. No."

Oh, I think you'd be great.

"No. No. No. It's a very nasty sport, politics!"

Hollywood is a nastier sport in different ways, I say, and you seem to have more than survived that.

"I always say you don't have to be a politician to be political," she answers.

The fact that the superstar I'm talking to is not your average Hollywood crazy but is implacably grounded is, she explains, because of "the way I was raised."

Eva was brought up in working-class Corpus Christi, Texas, the daughter of Mexican-American parents, Enrique Longoria Jr, a tool engineer in the army, and Ella Eva Mireles, a special-education teacher. Eva told the Democratic National Convention in 2012 in a speech: "I took out loans to pay for school."

"My parents always told me never forget where you came from," she says now of her lack of La La Land airs and graces. "And it also has to do with the fact that I became famous later in life. I was about 28 or 29. So I was already pretty set in my identity and I think I didn't allow for the press or the media or the tabloids to define what I already knew. So that helped as well."

That is, perhaps, a testament to Eva, because there are some stars who appear to allow their media profile to define them rather than the other way around.

"No," says the very un-fluffy Eva Longoria. "I just don't. It's just me. I think some people are born a certain way. You know, some people see the glass half full, and that's me, and some of them see it half empty. I just don't see it that way."

Eva's earliest childhood memory is of her grandfather dressing up as Santa Claus at Christmas.

"I was three," she says. You told me in Monte Carlo that you fell off a truck when you were a kid.

"My mom told me that I rolled off! Something knocked some sense into me when I rolled off that truck," she laughs. Makes a lot of sense. Last year, another critic commented on Ms Longoria: "At some point she blossomed into this spokeswoman for the Latin community, as someone who was involved in political issues, meeting the president, going to the White House. I became super impressed with her decision to lead a more meaningful life than your typical Hollywood actress."

Eva is certainly not livin' la vida loca in LA. She is a committed philanthropist and political activist. I ask her why she made a decision not to lead the life of the so-called typical Hollywood actress.

"You know, I have always thought bigger than that. I always knew that acting wasn't going to be the end. It was the means to an end. I still feel that. I haven't really tapped into my full potential as a human being."

What did you want to when you were a kid growing up in Corpus Christi?

"Everything," she says. "Literally. One day I wanted to be a fireman and the next day be a policeman and the next day I wanted to be the president of a corporation. I would change all the time. I am incredibly curious about the world."

What informs that curiosity?

"I think that you are just born with it," she says. "I don't know why but I am, and that's what led me to get my Masters later in life, because I just wanted to keep learning. I had so many questions and I needed them answered. That's how I live my life. If I have a question about something I am the one who googles and goes and buys a book, calls the authority on that particular subject."

You're 39. What is the biggest lesson you've learned in life? Does wisdom come with age?

"Absolutely," Eva says. "I think the greatest thing I've learned is that I have so much more to learn. The greatest thing that I've learned is that I don't know anything. In the world, you just go, 'Wow!'" I say that Socrates, supposedly the wisest man that ever lived, once said: "All I know is nothing."

For you, is it all about being open to experiences, Eva?

"It's definitely staying opening to experiences," Eva says, "stay open to the moment. That's something that is a very Buddhist principle. Living in the moment and absorbing everything around you, whether that be wisdom, whether that be a feeling, whether that be a person. To be in the moment of where you are and knowing that's exactly where you should be. I have trusted that."

"Even in times where I've got fired from jobs, I've gone, 'Wow, something new is going to come around.'"

I can't imagine you getting fired from a job, I say.

"Well, not fired," she answers, "but when I was on The Young And The Restless, the soap opera (in 2003), they didn't renew my contract."

When it comes to her values, Eva inherited a rather charitable philosophy from her parents. "What I learned in my childhood was to care about things bigger than yourself," she says. "We were a very selfless family, because of my sister who was special needs."

Eva's older sister Elizabeth has Down syndrome, "and because of that I knew the word 'volunteer' very early on in my life. So my upbringing taught me how to be philanthropic and charitable."

What her adult life has taught Eva is how to make the philanthropic and the charitable sustainable. "Because I am always raising funds all over the world with my charity, and that is one of the hardest things," she explains, "having a sustainable stream of finances to where your programmes and your charities can actually make a consistent and efficient difference in the world. There are so many great charities in the world that lack the funding."

Eva has said in the past that she looked at what Bono did with Aids in Africa: "He was laser-focused". What's the biggest misconception the world has about you? "I have no idea. Just generalisations of 'Oh, she's just an actress," Barack Obama's favourite Latina says, adopting a campy, dismissive voice.

I ask Eva about what TV shows she watches. She immediately mentions Homeland and Game of Thrones. Her favourite character in the latter, she says, is Jon Snow. Do you fancy him? "Do I what?" She asks in that accent of hers. Do you find him attractive?

"Yeah. He's absolutely beautiful. It's not so much Kit Harington," Eva says of the actor who plays Snow, the 'bastard' son of the late Lord Edward Stark. "It's more than Jon Snow. It's more, like, the fur," she says, with a laugh, of the character's cloak.

So if a man wants to woo you he has to have the whole fur thing going on? "He has to have a cloak and a sword," she laughs again, before adding, "I don't think Kit Harington walks around London with the sword!"

I say that he will now! And she laughs again.

Longoria's glittering career

  • Born in March 1975 in Corpus Christi, Texas, the youngest of four daughters
  • She earned guest starring roles in shows such as Beverly Hills, 90210, General Hospital and The Young and the Restless (left), before she was cast as adulteress Gabrielle Solis in hit comedy-drama Desperate Housewives in 2003
  • Film roles include Harsh Times, The Sentinal and The Heartbreak Kid
  • She has also appeared on the cover of women's magazines such as Vogue and Marie Claire

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