Eva Longoria is a woman of many hats.
Not just because she dons an assortment of them as Margot Beste-Chetwynde, a feminist and bourgeois widow, in the 1930s-set miniseries Decline and Fall, premiering in the U.S. Monday, May 15 on Acorn TV. But Longoria, who funded her quinceañera working at a Wendy's in her hometown of Corpus Christi, Texas, at 15 years old, is a bona fide go-getter.
That same moxie eventually landed the 42-year-old stalwart her breakout role as the amusingly self-obsessed, gardener-bedding Gabrielle Solis on ABC's juicy dramedy Desperate Housewives. Later, she worked behind the camera, producing and directing episodes of Lifetime's Devious Maids and NBC's short-lived romp Telenovela, which also cast her as a lurid soap star.
In addition to a recent Empire stint, Longoria de-glams for the gritty drama Lowriders, released this past weekend, and stars in Jamie Foxx's summer-bound directorial debut All-Star Weekend. Longoria is also a brand ambassador for L'Oréal, a clothing designer and dream maker. The Eva Longoria Foundation, yet another feather in her cap, helps fellow Latinas build better futures.
Longoria's affable charm and feminist principles were on full display during a wide-ranging interview with ET, when she talked about her many projects, maintaining her Wendy's-born strong-mindedness and why, should showrunners revive Desperate Housewives, she'd be "the first one to sign up."
ET: What do you think Margot stands for as a woman?
Eva Longoria: I mean, I think Margot… I think she's a man! [Laughs] She was very wealthy, she was very powerful and she slept with a lot of men. And she dated who she wanted and when she wanted and how she wanted. She was just a worldly woman, and that was rare for a woman in that time period. So, it really drew me to the role. Then, I just thought the themes the author dealt with [English writer Evelyn Waugh's book was published in 1928] are so contemporary. It deals with racism and classism and sexism. It's amazing how relevant this piece is even though it's a period piece.
What parts of Margot do you relate to most?
Her strength. I think I'm a pretty strong, independent woman and I got to draw upon that for her. It was so fun to play that independence and intelligence in a period piece, because it was a time when women didn't have a voice, so I was able to bring my voice to Margot and that move threw all the other characters off. They were like, "Who is this woman?" Everybody was so puzzled by her. But I think she's oblivious to the challenges in this show – that's why she can say or do whatever she wants. People are afraid to challenge her, and so she kind of rolls over people and just kind of gets her way with everything.
Is that how you got to where you are in your career -- just rolling over everybody?
[Laughs] No! I think definitely being driven and intelligent and strong and strong-minded works in your favor.
Yeah, from flipping burgers at Wendy's to your own BBC production, you've certainly come a long way, Eva.
But the woman who flipped those burgers, who went into Wendy's and got that job by herself, had the same characteristic that I have today that makes me want to go and produce. It's either in you or it's not, and either you cultivate it and nurture it or it goes away.
How do you cultivate it?
I was fortunate to be surrounded by strong, powerful, educated women, so I didn't have to look far to see what I wanted to be. I knew I was gonna be successful because everybody around me was successful. I didn't know what I was gonna do, but I knew who I wanted to be.
Who are some powerful women you admire and who empower you?
In my life, it's my mother and my sisters. My girlfriends. It's nobody famous. It's all these women I collect in the world to be by my side who I admire and try to emulate. But, for me, I absolutely love seeing a Zoe Saldana succeeding. I love seeing a Gina Rodriguez succeeding. Their success is my success. They're opening doors. Whether it's me opening doors for Gina or Zoe opening a door for me, we're all tied together. And I don't just mean by ethnicity or gender -- just as human beings, we're all connected. So, that is important to recognize. I think the people who fail in life are the people who fail to see that.
You get gritty in Lowriders and go glam in Decline and Fall. Do you like getting dressed down as much as you like getting dressed up?
Oh yeah! Oh my gosh, when I read film the script for Lowriders, I was so excited to morph into something you wouldn't recognize as Eva Longoria. And the same with Decline and Fall. People had to do a double take -- like, is that Eva Longoria? Because it's me in a period piece with a wig and fair skin. I like surprising people.
Tell me the eye candy on this new FOX pilot you're a part of, Type A, will be just as alluring.
Wellllll….. I don't think so! I don't think anybody's gonna be having their shirt off! [Laughs] This pilot that I did for FOX is super smart and elevated. It's with some of my comedy crushes: Ken Marino, who I've been dying to work with; I adore Andy Richter and his comedy; Kyle Bornheimer and I were both on Brooklyn Nine-Nine together, and I just remember turning to him going, "God, you're talented." So, I'm surrounded by amazing comedic talent in this FOX pilot. We'll see where it goes. But Telenovela was a special idea. It was a special project because it was something I hadn't seen before on television and that's what made me want to create it and do it.
Considering your sociopolitical activism -- and your new role as Margot, who's a feminist -- do you specifically look for projects that might be influential beyond mere entertainment?
It depends on the project. I think people are gonna walk out of the theater of Lowriders thinking, "Wow, I didn't know that," or "Wow, I learned something." It really, truly is a magical film. It has an indie feel but a huge movie look. So, I think that's the best of both worlds, when it looks like a huge movie, but at the heart of it it's a small story that everybody can relate to. Then there are times you do things just to entertain and just to make people laugh.
Are you interested in merging your activism with your acting?
Yeah! Sometimes I do. There's a project that I have with HBO Film called A Class Apart, and it's based on the documentary by the same name about the first Mexican-American civil rights lawyer who argued in front of the Supreme Court in 1954 -- that is an important story to be told. It's entertaining and amazing, but it's an important story for our community, and so I was so happy that HBO has developed it with me. We're close to the finish line on it.
With news of a possible Roseanne revival, and with Will & Grace set for a comeback in the fall, what would it take to get you on board to return to Desperate Housewives?
Oh, nothing. It would take nothing. I would jump at the chance to play Gaby Solis again. I miss her! I miss her skin and I miss being in her skin. The minute Marc Cherry says, "We're going back," I would be the first one to sign up. I love that show and I love the magic that we had.
Decline and Fall premieres Monday, May 15 on Acorn TV.