”[It’s] a kind of nice back-to-back Brenda Strong weekend,” jokes the actress — best known on TV as Mary Alice Young — about Lifetime’s lineup for Aug. 5 and 6: The channel debuts Desperate Housewives in syndication on Saturday at 11 p.m., and the following night premieres Strong’s made-for-TV movie Family in Hiding at 8. We caught up with the woman whose serene voice oversees the most famous (and freaky) neighborhood street on television — and, soon enough, PCs across the country.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What is Family in Hiding about?
BRENDA STRONG: It’s about a single mother who is trying her best to keep her life together. She has two teenage kids, a son, and a daughter. She ends up in a very difficult situation when she witnesses a murder one day after work. There’s a drug lord who decides to kill a district attorney — I’m on my way to my car and I see [the drug lord] kill him in cold blood. I go to the police, and I don’t realize that what I’m getting into is a witness protection program. Within 24 hours, my entire life is turned upside down, including my children’s lives. We’re given new identities, stripped of our old ones, and we’re on the road and on the run. That’s within the first eight pages [of the script], so basically it’s hit the ground running.
The witness protection plot line has been somewhat popular, so I’m wondering what drew you to the story.
If you’re aware of its popularity, it’s simply because it happens every day. Ironically, one of our characters, who played a police officer, ended up in the witness protection program himself. I think it happens a lot more often than people are aware.
This appealed to me primarily because it was a woman’s story. She wasn’t looking to a man to rescue her. She was doing the best she could under [dire] circumstances. The beauty of this piece is that the family wasn’t really all that close, because she was working so hard that she was quite disconnected with her kids — the beauty of the conflict in their lives is that it brought the family together. They became very reliant on each other. She found her voice in using the system against itself, because she found out the system really doesn’t work. It doesn’t protect you, and there are certain freedoms that are taken away where you become the prisoner. I think that element of exposing the system for what it is and the difficulty that it presents was much more interesting to me.
Is that something you could do, leave everything behind like that?
I think it takes a lot of courage. I think if I had to, to protect my family, absolutely I would. But it’s not something I’m looking to experience. We’re very comfortable in our lives, particularly in America. I think there’s a certain level of disruption of home life that happens in other countries that we’re not even aware of, just on a day-to-day basis. Losing things, from a home to your family to your loved ones, is something that’s happening everywhere, whether it’s under a pretense of witness protection or under war. I think there’s a lot of stripping of identity that’s going on.
Well, given that you’re a well-known actress, you’d need to have some plastic surgery if you had to be in witness protection, don’t you think?
I don’t know that it would become that extreme. I’m sure that there are people who are hiding from the law that would be willing to go to that extreme, but I think you could probably remove yourself enough from pop culture by going to a place that didn’t have it. [Laughing] Although I don’t know if you could find it anymore. What [is Desperate Housewives] in, 170 countries? It’s crazy when people come up to you from Vietnam and they say they know your work; it’s kind of mind-boggling.
Speaking of Desperate Housewives, how has everyone reacted to the Emmy nominations? Across the board, they were strange, but everyone was surprised that you guys got pretty well snubbed.
Everyone is probably getting more press for the snub than they would have had they gotten nominations. [Laughs] I don’t think any of us do our work to be nominated. It’s always nice, I would imagine. I don’t think anyone is too upset about it. Everybody just continues to refocus on what’s important, which is the work. I know the writers are certainly working very hard to make season 3 equal, if not better, than season 1. It feels already that we’re off to a great start.
It sounds like there’s an acknowledgement there — in saying that the writers are trying to live up to the first season — that season 2 wasn’t as good as you were hoping it would be.
I think it was harder, certainly, to arrest the audience in season 2, because season 1 was so complete of a storyline, with the beginning — my suicide — and then the finale, with the solving of the mystery of why I killed myself. I think it was such a neat package that to then start season 2 with a whole new perspective, it’s difficult to keep that momentum. I think it will take a little bit of time to find that, and I think they certainly did, in my opinion, find it. I thought season 2 was terrific, particularly in some of the characters who came forward, like Richard Burgi [who played Susan’s loutish ex-husband]. There was some really fun, terrific work being done.
Well, certainly in the season finale, when we got to see how you met all of the women on Wisteria Lane. Do you think we’ll have more of those flashbacks?
I certainly hope so. I think the majority of the people I talk to found it really refreshing to come back to all of the women again and to see them before things had unraveled. I think there’s a lot of depth to be plumbed yet in our history together as friends prior to all the drama that ensued.
You’re a yoga instructor in real life, and Gabrielle is often seen on the show doing yoga. So, you know, maybe it was Mary Alice who got Gabrielle into it?
[Laughs] Right there, I’d like to draw a distinction between Mary Alice and Brenda Strong. Just because Brenda Strong does yoga doesn’t mean Mary Alice does! There are many differences between the two [characters of Mary Alice and Gaby], but, yes, it would be fun to draw more correlations between what we had in common and why we were friends. [Chuckling] Certainly yoga could be one of those. The possibilities are endless, from Mary Alice cooking with Bree, to doing yoga with Gaby, to babysitting Lynette’s kids, and on and on and on.
Looking to the future, then, what can we expect coming up on the new season?
Um, more intrigue. More mystery. More sex. More humor. [Pause] Uh, more of the same… but different. [Cackles] How evasive is that? You think I’m going to tell you the whole plot of season 3?
Well, no, but I’m wondering if, when you do your voice-over for the show, you get to see the episode itself?
Oh, I definitely get to see the whole thing put together before the audience does, and certainly before the actors do. They all know their own storylines, but they don’t have the luxury of seeing the episode put together until it actually airs. So in many respects I have an overview, just as Mary Alice does, of what’s going on on Wisteria Lane. [Laughs] But I’m still not going to tell you [anything]! Let me just say this: We’re not going to take off exactly where we left off. There’s going to be a little bit of a time jump. You’re going to have an emotional acceleration into the lives of the women on Wisteria Lane. There’s very little preamble. It’s going to go right to the heart of the drama and the comedy.
Finally, what is this about a Desperate Housewives videogame?
[Laughs] Yeah, it’s a CD-ROM game that Buena Vista Television is developing as we speak. First of all, I’m not what they call a gamer. I don’t sit at home with my XBox 360 and entertain myself. My son, on the other hand, is definitely a gamer. He’s very excited that I’m doing this.
It raises your cool factor a bit, maybe?
It definitely raises my cool factor! Why, I don’t know. But if it works, great, that’s good points for mom. But I did see some of the preliminary graphics, and I think it looks terrific. I think the way they’ve decided to structure the game is really interesting, because the player becomes one of the characters on Wisteria Lane, and the mystery is really [the player’s] own storyline. They have to figure out through interaction with the other characters who they are and what their mystery is. So it’s very intriguing. And I get to escort [the players] through their different choices. So just like on the television show, there is a guiding voice that’s going to take you through all the different phases.
You say you’re not a gamer. Perhaps I’m being unfair, but women especially don’t strike me as the core demographic for videogames. Is this game being targeted to fans of the show?
You know, if I were to buy a game, this would be the one. It appeals to me because, as far as I can tell, it’s a little bit more like The Sims. There’s an intellectual aspect to this that’s less bang bang shoot ’em up and much more intriguing and relationship-building and consequence-occurring, and all of a sudden, you start to go, ”Oh, this is kind of fun!” Being able to interact with your favorite characters is extremely appealing. Because if you’ve ever wanted to slap Gaby [Laughs] or outcook Bree — I mean, who knows what the possibilities are!