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Better Half

The Men of "Desperate Housewives" are starting to get their due.

(c) Southwest Airlines Spirit Magazine

February 16, 2005

By Joseph Guinto

Steven Culp used to be the kind of man all men want to be. A military leader in charge on an elite fighting force. A powerful politician. A passionate crusader for justice. A tough guy with a mysterious side. But those days are over. These days he's got a wife and kids, drives a sedan, wears Dockers and lives in the suburbs - just like the rest of us.

Unlike the rest of us schlubs, though, Culp gets to leave his suburban existence on a regular basis. Wisteria Lane to be exact, home of the hottest show on TV, Desperate Housewives. Culp plays the befuddled Rex Van De Kamp, one of the six men behind Marcia Cross, Teri Hatcher, Felicity Huffman and all those other desperate women. So far the ladies have enjoyed-if that's the right way to put it-nearly all the intense amount of publicity the show has garnered. But that is probably about to change.

"Right now, I wouldn't trade my situation for what the ladies have been going through, working all the time and doing all that publicity" says Culp, a TV veteran whom you might also recognize from his big screen portrayal of Robert Kennedy in Thirteen Days. "But, as the stories keep going and you get to know more about who these men are, I think our day will come."

Some 40% of Desperate Housewives' 22 million weekly viewers are men. Only Monday Night Football, CSI and The Simpsons have far more male viewers. To be sure, a lot of men are turning in just to catch a glimpse of say Eva Longoria's unmentionables. "That definitely has a lot to do with it" Culp says, "We've got six gorgeous women here" But the men on the Desperate Housewives set believe there is more to it than that.

"I think a lot of men can identify with the husbands and I guess, with the hunky next- door neighbor or what have you" says Ricardo Chavira, who plays Carlos Solis, husband of Longoria's Gabrielle.

Perhaps more than any other character, Culp's Rex van De Kamp may be tapping into certain desperation on the part of suburban men. After 18 years of marriage to obsessively organized Bree, Rex suddenly finds himself unhappy and unsure how, exactly, he ended up on Wisteria Lane in the first place.

For Culp-who last year simultaneously managed recurring roles as a gruff CIA agent on JAG, the Speaker of the House on The West Wing, a platoon Commander on Enterprise-the confusion has often seemed all too real.

"I'm used to playing people who walk into the room with an agenda and know exactly what they want". Culp says "And the only thing Rex was sure of at the beginning of the season was that he was confused. It's been kind of personally unsettling."

Kind of? That's putting it mildly. The role may have been so unsettling that it almost kept Culp from being cast in the show's pilot, despite his impressive pedigree and support of show creator Marc Cherry, Culp actually walked out of an early audition because he wasn't connecting to Rex.

"Then in another audition, we were doing this scene and it just felt so awkward and uncomfortable, like someone else's voice was coming out of my mouth" Culp says. "It was terrible. The next day my manager called me and said "What happened? They loved you".

I realized that what I was feeling was appropriate to the character. He is lonely and confused and unsettled. A lot of men are. And there's so much like that in this show that you can relate to, which is why I think it has hit a chord with a lot of people"

Still, while the men of Wisteria Lane may share some things with the rest of America, there are important differences. Most of us don't strangle the noisy neighbor as did Mark Moses' loopy Paul Young. And then there's scruffy James Denton, who pays plumber -or maybe not- Mike Delfino and the shirt-challenged Metcalfe, who plays gardener John Rowland. US Weekly named Metcalfe the sexiest man on TV and People ranked Denton on its list of the sexiest men alive. The president of your housing association was, of course, overlooked in that ranking.

"Believe me", Culp pledges, "Jamie is going to be subjected to endless ribbing for being on that list."

That is, if the other guys see Denton again. On the Desperate Housewives set, the ladies shoot regularly together, but the men are almost always stuck with their significant others. "The guys really don't get to see each other on set that often" says Chavira, a Texas native who had a co-starring role in last year's The Alamo. "In one of the first episodes, we had a big dinner party, and that was one of the first and only scenes where you had all the characters in the cast together. I think the writers are probably working on getting the guys together again, though."

Right. You can see the poker game coming. In the meantime, the men on the show are enjoying their relative quiet but are working behind the scenes to make sure their characters have their say. "The show is called Desperate Housewives, and we know that", says the affable Culp. "But you do want to make sure that your character's point of view is strongly advocated."

Sure, advocate away. But, come on. There's got to be some battling between the sexes, right? "Well, ah, I guess the girls do have bigger trailers" Culp says. "So that's something we have to fight them for. We're fighting for bigger trailers."

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