Few can bring marry comedy with major-league drama like Eva Longoria. From her time as the arrogant Gabrielle Solis on Desperate Housewives, to her new role as the star of a classic Telenovela on the new NBC hit of the same name, the talented actor has remained committed to finding new ways to make us laugh. Paste caught up with Eva Longoria to chat about breaking new ground in TV comedies, pleasing a passionate audience and reuniting with her Desperate ex.
Paste Magazine: Beyond simply being funny, what was it about the show’s premise that attracted you to the project?
Eva Longoria: I had the idea for awhile in my head, and we had a couple of writers take a stab at it to try to create this world. Cable has really influenced the way broadcast television does one-hour dramas. Everybody wants Game of Thrones. Everybody wants Homeland, but that didn’t happen in comedy. There’s no evolution in comedy happening at the moment, so I wanted to really move comedy forward. What’s a new world that we haven’t seen? What’s some new characters that we haven’t seen?
I feel like that’s what we’re really accomplishing with Telenovela. The minute I read it, I was like ”Oh my gosh, nobody’s seen this world in English-language television.” The characters are your classic sitcom characters, but in a different context. You have a villain who has a soft side and you have a gay telenovela star, which is very rare. So there were these unique things about all the characters, and the world was just so fresh and new. Everything from characters and story line to set design. Our set design and production design, we worked really hard to make it look different from anything that was on TV. You can see by the colors, by the walls, where the lights are, how we really constructed the set—four-camera choreography, flat boards that can take dollies around for a continuous shot. There was so much thought put into every aspect of the show being new and fresh and different, and I really think we did that really well.
Paste: Telenovelas are culturally iconic, and they’ve been around for so long. But what is your personal history with the genre?
Longoria: For so long! Yeah, every country has their telenovela. Telenovelas are the most popular genres all over the world. Turkey has some amazing ones. I just finished a Spanish one, and it was so good, I would dream about it. The thing about telenovelas is that they end—unlike our soap operas that go on for sixty-five years, these actually have a finality to them, so that’s so satisfying, especially a world in which we binge-watch.
I grew up with a lot of telenovelas. The great thing about them in Spanish for Latin America, is that you don’t need to speak Spanish to understand what’s happening. To me, we really wanted to honor and applaud this genre, and show it for all the great things about it: the melodrama, the great hair, the great makeup, the great wardrobe, costumes, so it’s definitely something I’ve grown up with, and then I did one. I was on Young and the Restless, so I had a lot of experience in what happens behind the scenes.
Paste: And the show has fun with the telenovela without making fun of it.
Longoria: Yeah. It’s a fine line that I think we balance really well.
Paste: How’s the feedback been? I’m sure there are a lot of passionate fans of the genre out there. Have they been on board with the portrayal so far?
Longoria: Oh, yeah. The great thing about our show is you don’t need to know what a telenovela is to understand the show, but if you do know telenovelas, you get twice as many laughs because you get the jokes. They’re like, “Oh my God, that’s so true—the wind machine, that’s such a true thing.” And, “Oh my God, that’s right, the men always do these stares, and these stare-downs.”
I’ve been telling the writers about some of the stories behind-the-scenes of actual telenovelas, like how in Latin America, there was an assistant that was slowly poisoning the star of the show. The writers were like, “Oh, in the novela,” and I’m like, “No, no, in real life.” There was a whole court trial about it. It was so funny, but they were like, “If we write that, [the audience] is going to think that’s so fake.” But it’s real. This happened.
Paste: Let’s just talk for a second about your character on the show. There are definite similarities to the character that we know so well from Desperate Housewives, so in a lot of ways, it feels like it’s in your wheelhouse. Is there a special connection with your character, to either who you are in real life, or maybe even the image that people have of you?
Longoria: We’re both actresses, so there’s that. She is opposite of Gaby, because Gaby was narcissistic, confident and egotistical and selfish, where Ana is like a team player and she’s insecure about a lot of things. She’s always codependent on everybody else, so the comedy is really taken from that insecurity and vulnerability that she has, specifically when it comes to her ex-husband. Both Gaby and Ana Sofia are characters that I am not. I’m not insecure and I’m not narcissistic, so I lie in the middle of them, I think.
Paste: As this first season rolls along, what should viewers expect to see in the future, as far as things like plot and guest stars?
Longoria: Oh my gosh, we have a lot of guest stars. We have two huge telenovela stars from that world, Kate del Castillo and Carlos Ponce, who play the characters on our rival novella. We have Ricardo Chavira, who played my husband for eight years on Desperate Housewives, so he comes on the show. He’s not my love interest, but we definitely have a lot of scenes together that are just hysterical. It was so nostalgic to be on set with him again and to be acting opposite of him in different roles. We both were Carlos and Gaby for so long that it was odd—and we shot on Wisteria Lane, so I feel like we’re cheating.