The Chattiest Housewife Speaks!
By Jeffrey Epstein
While Brenda Strong might not yet be the household names that Teri Hatcher, Marcia Cross, Felicity Huffman, Eva Longoria, and Nicollette Sheridan have become in the past year, it is thanks to Strong that all of them have jobs. After all, if it wasn't for her character, Mary Alice, there would have been no central mystery to Desperate Housewives, and Wisteria Lane would have been just another cul de sac with married women sleeping with their underage gardeners. Strong was familiar to TV viewers having played dead on another series, Everwood (she was the central family's mother who died in the pilot episode), and her role as Sue Ellen Mishkie, 'the braless wonder,' on Seinfeld drew much attention (and many laughs). The Oregon native took some time to chat with us about her crazy past year, teaching yoga, and life on America's new favorite street.
Were you at all nervous that once the mystery surrounding Mary Alice's suicide wrapped up, so would your place on the show?
I had entertained thoughts that that would be a possibility if the powers that be chose to eliminate the Mary Alice storyline. So I had a conversation with [series creator] Marc Cherry who said, 'At one point I entertained the idea of other characters narrating every year'a different one each year. And then I realized that the amount of continuity and emotional container that Mary Alice supplies for the audience is important to sustain. To have that one abiding viewpoint is important to have.' I was very relieved to hear that. He's so brilliant at writing my stuff. I feel like the luckiest girl in the world to be able to read his words every week.
How are they working you into the story this year? Will it be as organic?
I've wondered that as well. We're on episode three and I haven't had a flashback yet'that sounds like a terrible disease! Marc has let me know that he intends to go back even further to when all the women moved to Wisteria Lane. I'm hoping he can do that. To see the women prior to hell breaking loose would be really fascinating'and make us all more accessible to the audience. There's so much we still don't know about Mary Alice. There's so much left to discover: The fact that her son is still directly intertwined even without her presence on Wisteria Lane. She will come back in flashbacks, I'm sure, to explain why he's so bent. Zack's a troubled child.
What was your favorite moment of the past year?
There were so many! It was a pretty big ride. So many firsts for me! Certainly being awarded the Screen Actors Guild award for the ensemble of a show meant a lot to me, because it is an ensemble show. So to be honored by your peers in that way was really amazing. And I have to say, just the newness of being able to be attached to something that's so huge and well-received is life-changing. As an actor you plod along and do your work and people see different shows they really love. But there's not one singular distinct thing, at least for me, that could stand out in people's minds. And now this is it. It's a cultural phenomenon, which is mind-blowing.
Have you had a favorite moment on the show?
So many of Teri's moments stand out for me because they're so brilliantly funny and she's such a physical comedian in the line of the fabulous Lucille Ball. But the one that stood out for me'when I went 'Oh''was when Felicity Huffman was sitting in the middle of the field at the goalpost and sharing her heartbreak [with Bree and Susan] at the difficulty of being a mother. The bare honesty of that moment stands out in my mind as stunningly brilliant.
What's been the strangest place that someone has recognized you?
Lugano [Switzerland] was a strange place. It was a German family who had been watching it. We were just walking around the town. You think you're pretty incognito, and all of a sudden people are coming up to you.
Since you spend so much time alone recording tracks, have you been able to bond with any of the living Housewives?
I have developed relationships. Part of that, I think, is not just the work of making the show but the work of promoting the show. I spent two weeks with Marcia and Nicollette over the summer in Europe. I think we have a pretty fabulous team.
Gay people have had a very strong reaction to the show. Is that something you have noticed?
Absolutely. Obviously, our creator is openly gay, so the source of the humor and sensitivity of the show comes from a particular viewpoint. This is my own perception, but the gay community is exceptionally smart and hip. To be embraced by that community is quite a coup in my mind. You hate to make gross generalizations, but [many gay people have] intelligence and an artistic aesthetic. If you go back and look at the show, there are so many layers of details that were placed early on that when people see the DVDs they'll go, 'I didn't even notice that!' The blender that Martha Huber is killed with is the one she never gave back to me. There's a wonderful payback there.
Do you and your husband still run a yoga studio in LA?
Do you have time still to teach?
You know, I had to get realistic. I would love to do everything, but I have to also make sure I have time to be a mom and a wife. I had to give something up because the schedule is much more time-consuming doing what I do than people would think. I pulled back on my schedule. I teach one class a week. I couldn't abandon my students and I love teaching. It's important to me.
What did you do on your summer hiatus?
I spent a good deal of my hiatus filming a sequel to a movie I made last year [The Work and the Glory]. Literally the day after I wrapped the film, I was on a plane to Europe [to promote Housewives]. When I got back, I had a week and a half, maybe two weeks before production started. But honestly, my life is a vacation. It's not like I need a break from my work. I do what I love. My vitality comes from my work. I don't feel like I need a vacation from my life.
OK, one last question. Why do you think Mary Alice is sticking around watching her friends? Isn't there some great party in the sky she should be joining?
I think we all hope there's some big party in the sky. That's what the majority of religions have founded their philosophy on. I think Mary Alice is really sticking around because she doesn't want to abandon her friends knowing what she knows now: that life doesn't need to be taken so seriously. I think she's hoping in some way through her eliminated viewpoint that maybe she can help those that are still here. I don't just mean her friends on the street, but also the people watching. There's always a little moral to the show. It's her own pain and suffering that caused her to leave'and she wants to lighten that for others. Life's pretty simple when you think about it.