By FRAZIER MOORE
NEW YORK — Marriage can be a hard job. This, Tom and Lynette Scavo have reminded us for seven years as husband and wife on “Desperate Housewives.”
On the other hand, marriage can be a great gig. That’s what it’s been for Doug Savant and Felicity Huffman, who are wed in holy matrimony as the Scavos on the ABC hit.
“It’s a good marriage,” states Huffman. “It’s got its ups and downs, but it keeps moving forward.”
“It is by no means perfect,” says Savant. “But I like what it represents on television. I like what it represents in America.”
America – or a large chunk of its TV audience, anyway – has embraced the Scavo marriage since “Desperate Housewives” premiered in fall 2004. Lynette and Tom stood out among their wacky neighbors on Wisteria Lane, TV’s go-to address for sexy suburban angst.
Lynette Makes Some Changes To What Tom Wants:
She was the former ad exec and frustrated stay-at-home mom, the most grounded member of the core sisterhood played also by Marcia Cross, Teri Hatcher and Eva Longoria. He was the laid-back, often perfunctory breadwinner. Their kids (eventually numbering five) drove them crazy, but with their childrearing, as all things, they managed to cope.
Their marriage has weathered many challenges in this melange of melodrama, whodunit and dark comedy. Now, as “Housewives” (airing Sunday at 9 p.m. EDT) builds to its season finale on May 15, Tom has bloomed into a big-shot businessman who thinks Lynette is threatened by his success, while Lynette chafes at being slighted by a man she feels she doesn’t know anymore.
“Tom’s the heavy-hitting CEO and he’s got the power in the relationship,” says Huffman. “That’s a new thing, and I find that as we act these scenes, it informs our off-screen time. Suddenly, we are a little at odds with each other, a little short with each other, in a way we didn’t used to be. You’re meaner,” she says to Savant and chuckles.
Can this marriage be saved?
Savant laughs too.
“We’ve lived together at work for seven years,” he explains as the pair shares lunch recently with a reporter, “so there’s an ease and a comfort and a familiarity.”
“We don’t socialize away from the set at all,” Huffman says. “But we have developed a connection that is loving and deep and continues to grow with each episode. If something new isn’t demanded in a scene, Doug and I will turn to each other and go, `How is this episode different, how is the relationship moving forward?’ And we’ll find something fresh to bring to it. I feel like I have to do background work so I can endorse it as a real-life wife.”
“I’m much lazier than Felicity,” Savant cuts in. “She asks the questions. But together we answer them.”
In real life, they indeed are married. Savant’s wife is Laura Leighton, best-known as a fellow “Melrose Place” alum and currently appearing on ABC Family’s “Pretty Little Liars.” Huffman’s husband is William H. Macy, whose screen credits include “Fargo” and who is now starring in the Showtime drama series “Shameless.”
A two-actor marriage brings its own challenges. For any actor, says Huffman, “it’s a black-and-white world: You’re either working or your career is over. And when you’re married to an actor, you’re living with someone else whose career is over. Or that’s what happens after every job.”
“I think we can both say this,” Savant offers – “It’s ALWAYS better when your spouse is working.”
“That’s true,” agrees Huffman. “And it’s always better when WE’RE working.”
Blond and willowy, Huffman, 48, decided to make acting her life’s work as a girl when, growing up in Woody Creek, Colo., she saw Franco Zeffirelli’s film of “Romeo and Juliet” with an older sister planted beside her, hiding her eyes during the racy parts (the only way their mother would permit her to see it).
She eventually won praise on the New York stage, especially in plays by David Mamet. In 1998, she found critical acclaim on TV in “SportsNight,” Aaron Sorkin’s brainy comedy, which lasted for two seasons.
When the “Desperate Housewives” project came along, Huffman loved its script, “but I just assumed this would be another one of my pilots that tanked – probably because I was in it.” Its smash success came “as a complete shock.”
Still boyish at 46, Savant grew up in Pasadena, Calif., where he dreamed of playing pro baseball. But an athletic injury in high school dashed those hopes.
Soon after, he was transported by Timothy Hutton’s performance in “Ordinary People,” then by John Hurt in the title role of “The Elephant Man.”
He knew acting was for him. And in 1992 it paid off with stardom when he landed the pioneering role of gay social worker Matt Fielding in the prime-time soap “Melrose Place.”
But when Savant left the series five years later, he found he was tainted as an actor few producers wanted to entrust with straight-guy roles.
“I went for a long time not getting jobs,” he recalls. For a time, he switched to selling real estate.
Then he went back to acting school and decided, “There is no job too small. If it’s on television, it’s not too good for me.”
Gradually, he got more episodic work. Then he scored “Housewives.”
But he was always mindful that the series title had the word “housewives,” not “husbands.” And these housewives were explicitly “desperate.” To him, the message was clear.
“I’m going, `Oh, God, I really want this marriage to work. My job is dependent on it being successful!’” He laughs gratefully. “I’ve worked my ass off on this marriage!”
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