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Brandeis Graduate Stars in Hit Show "Desperate Housewives"

Steven Culp plays role of Rex Van De Kamp in ABC nighttime soap opera

(c) Brandeis University

December 31, 2004

By David Nathan

Count Brandeis graduate Steven Culp among those surprised that ABC's racy "Desperate Housewives" has become a smash hit on television.

"I thought we would be too weird for broadcast TV and not edgy enough for cable," Culp, who plays Rex Van De Kamp, said in a recent phone interview from his home in Southern California. "I thought we'd be a really well-reviewed cult hit and be out of it after a year."

The first-year series was scheduled to air through the fall of the 2004-05 TV season, but the antics of the folks on Wisteria Lane have made "Desperate Housewives" the second-most popular show on TV after "CSI." Nine new episodes are planned for the coming months.

For the 49-year-old Culp, who trained as an actor at Brandeis, graduating with a master's of fine arts in 1981 and spending a year as an artist-in-residence, the nighttime soap opera has served as a great professional challenge.

"It's a lot of fun, but it's a different animal than anything else I've ever done on camera," Culp said. "Some of the behavior is so close to the bone that you need an outside eye to review you. Sometimes when you feel it's not going well at all, it's really going well. We're all on a learning curve trying to capture the tone."

"Housewives" is already being compared to prime-time serials such as 1980s hit "Dallas" and "Melrose Place" in the '90s. Culp thinks he knows the secret to the show's success.

"As far out as we get, there are things people can relate to on the show," he said. "It's really intriguing week to week. People I talk to are really addicted to it. Marc Cherry (the show's producer and creator) has a strong vision."

Culp nearly wasn't part of the "Housewives" phenomenon. He almost turned down the chance to audition, and then left his reading early because he thought it was going so poorly.

"I hesitated about going for it because I knew it was a women's show and the husbands were subsidiary, but the writing was wonderful," Culp said.

When he finally agreed to the audition, he almost wished he hadn't. "I walked out of the first audition," he said. "I stopped in the middle and realized I was lost and left. Then the next day my manager calls me and says, 'They loved you!' "

While his wife, Barbara, enjoys "Housewives," Culp's 3-year-old twins, Joe and Katie, won't be seeing it in the near future. "They're never going to watch this show -- never," he said with a laugh.

Culp has fond memories of the three years he spent at Brandeis. After earning his degree, he accepted an invitation to stay on as an artist-in-residence. Culp taught a beginning acting class and had the title role in a play called "Butley."

"It was a great year to put together everything I'd been taught over the past couple of years," Culp recalled. "We went to the castle every day and worked into the night and came back. It was an intense time."

Culp realized how valuable his years at Brandeis were after he landed a role in the long-running daytime soap "Another World."

"I thought, national TV is nothing, I had three years of Ted Kasanoff (former Brandeis professor)," Culp joked. "He formed the basis of how I work. Ted was the guy, he was the man."

Culp gained national prominence with the 2000 release of "Thirteen Days," which co-starred Kevin Costner and Bruce Greenwood. Culp received critical acclaim for his portrayal of Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy during the two-week Cuban missile crisis in October 1962.

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