MOST OF THE WORLD still knows her as the devious seductress Gabi Solis from Desperate Housewives. But since the mega-hit television series ended its eight-year run in 2012, Eva Longoria has evolved into a different sort of Hollywood phenomenon – a power broker. Not just a successful actor (with four feature films hitting theatres over the next year), but also a budding producer and director, a sharp business mind, a philanthropist and a social activist. In other words: a mover and shaker in a number of distinct fields. It's a formula that adds up to Longoria emerging as one of the most powerful and influential people in American entertainment.
Raised on a ranch near the gulf coast, Longoria was the youngest of four sisters born into a Tejano (Texas Mexican) family of modest means but no shortage of determination when it came to getting ahead in life. She flipped burgers at a fast-food joint in high school and studied kinesiology at a Texas state college. Beauty pageants were her first venture into the world of glam, but it was a talent contest that won her a trip to Los Angeles and a dream that she might be able to make a name for herself in show biz. After four years of daytime soap operas and bit parts on prime-time TV, Longoria finally got her big break – the super-sexy siren on a new comedy-drama called Desperate Housewives. The campy show was an instant hit and by the end of the first season in 2004, Longoria had gone from obscurity to household name.
That same autumn, Longoria met Tony Parker, the suave Franco-American point guard for the San Antonio Spurs basketball team. It seemed like a match made in heaven – two of the most popular (and good looking) people in Texas head-over-heels for one another. Their 2007 wedding in a French medieval church was also the stuff of fairytales. But two years later, when Parker was allegedly caught in an extramarital affair, the marriage was over. The divorce proceedings and paparazzi rush took a heavy emotional toll on Longoria. But rather than crash and burn, she channelled her energy into other pursuits that were already close to her heart – philanthropy and political activism.
“At some point she blossomed into this spokeswoman for the Latin community, as someone who was involved in political issues, meeting the president, going to the White House,” says Desperate Housewives creator Marc Cherry. “I became super impressed with her decision to lead a more meaningful life than your typical Hollywood actress.”
From Padres Contra el Cáncer to the Global Gift Gala, Longoria is closely involved with a number of charities that benefit the Hispanic community. Her own non-profit, The Eva Longoria Foundation, helps Latina women build better futures for themselves and their families through education and entrepreneurship. Another initiative, Eva's Heroes, strives to enrich the lives of adolescents with developmental challenges.
Closely allied with her philanthropy and social activism are Longoria's efforts on the political front. She served as the cochair of President Obama's 2012 re-election campaign and gave a rousing speech at the Democratic National Convention. She was the only Latino to serve on the 2013 Presidential Inauguration Committee (alongside four former US presidents). And as co-founder of FuturoFund, she helped raise more than US$30 million for Obama's re-election run.
Rather than take a break from the grind of network television when Desperate Housewives ended, Longoria got even more involved by creating UnbeliEVAble Entertainment, her own production company. With Longoria at the helm, the company quickly gave birth to two new series (Devious Maids and Mother Up!) and inked a historic first-look deal with NBCUniversal that could result in another half a dozen new shows hitting the airwaves over the next few years.
Prestige Hong Kong caught up with the energetic Longoria on a hot February afternoon in Hollywood as she was shuttling between studio meetings and a conference call with her production partners at NBC.
Last time we spoke you were deep into being a college student again.
Oh my goodness, yes. That is finally over. I got my degree last May. I completed it in three years, which is an amazing feat – an amazing accomplishment for me! I had always wanted to go back and get my master's degree. And the fact that I did it while I was on a hit show and running around the world…I look back and go, “What was I thinking?” When I started it, I didn't think it through or I probably wouldn't have done it. Everyone finds reasons not to go back to school. Once I founded my foundation about pursuing higher education, I wanted to be the example of no matter what, you can always go back to school. No matter how old, no matter how busy. I'm such an academic person anyway. I'm super curious about the world, I love learning new things, so it kind of fit in with my personality.
Like so many college graduates, did you have a problem finding a job afterwards?
[Laughs] Yeah, I'm still unemployed. It was definitely something for myself and my own growth. A personal goal of mine. Not my parents' dream. My own goal. For me to know I could do it. To educate myself and become literate on a lot of topics that are relevant today, especially social issues. When I started my degree it was because I wanted to know more about immigration history. But it evolved into something much broader and bigger, and my life's work is going to be in education. So I did my thesis on education in the Latino community – and the huge achievement gap to lay the groundwork and have the academic research for my life's work was my intention.
You're doing so many things now I hardly know where to start – movies, television, acting, directing, producing, non-profits, politics, product endorsements. How do you find the energy and the time in the day to do them?
You have more time than you think. Everyone thinks, “I don't have enough time.” There's a lot of wasted time in your day that you don't realise. I've always utilised my time in the car, I've always utilised plane rides to catch up on my reading and return emails. I've always taken advantage of every single hour of the 24-hour day.
You have four movies that are either in the can or shooting soon. The first one scheduled for release is Frontera.
Yeah, Frontera is a movie with Ed Harris and Michael Peña about border issues in Arizona. It kind of humanises the issue by telling a small story about one family crossing the border and what happens when things go wrong. It humanises what's happening with people who want to come here to work, who get mixed up with the small percentage of bad guys trying to cross the border. It's definitely a social movie, relevant to what's happening now. A deep drama.
And then right after that comes Any Day with Sean Bean.
We finished that a couple of months ago. That was really amazing to shoot. I'm a huge Sean Bean fan and I kind of freaked out about him being Ned Stark [his character in Game of Thrones]. I want to take different roles in different genres in different films with different actors and different directors. I get bored very quickly. Any Day was definitely something I hadn't done before.
And you also have a horror film coming up – Visions.
That's definitely a scary movie. I've never done a scary movie and I'm not a scary-movie fan. I couldn't even read the script. But it was a really good opportunity to work with some great people and I thought, “Why not? It'll be fun.”
Meanwhile, while you're still acting, you're managing this rapidly growing television production empire.
That's really my day job – my production company. It's a nine-to-five job. I'm in the office all day long making phone calls and in meetings and making conference calls. I enjoy it a lot. I love the business side of making movies and television. I feel right at home.
You already have one hit show – Dangerous Maids – and half a dozen other shows in development. Are you going to be acting in any of those?
Not yet. But I'm definitely going to return to television. I love the medium of television. I love going to the same place every day to work. I love diving into a character. I mean I really miss Gabi [from Desperate Housewives]. I really miss the family that we created for eight years. So I'll definitely be back. I love the idea of giving opportunities to women in the business, so most of the things I'm developing have female leads.
Another thing that you've become a lot more involved in since last time we talked is your foundation, which has also grown by leaps and bounds over the past few years.
It's a pretty niche mission because I wanted to be specific and efficient with my impact. If you go to broad you miss out. I started it because I was getting asked to help with a lot of different causes – tsunami relief in Japan and Aids in Africa. You really can't create sustainable, effective change when you're spread out so far as a philanthropist. So I wanted the foundation to focus on something specific in a very specific community. Education has played such a big part in my life and I feel that it's the one thing that can break the cycle of poverty in a very long-term way. I knew I wanted it to be in the Latino community. And within our Latino community it's really the women who need help and that's why it focuses on that.
The foundation seems especially active in Texas.
My foundation has two arms – the education programme and the entrepreneurial programme. In Texas we started a pilot programme to see what's working, and we wanted to be able to track the changes we're making. So we created this pilot programme with Howard Buffett [Warren Buffett's eldest son] and Latino women entrepreneurs, giving them the business tools and resources to open their own business, whether it's educating them on business plans or back office or profit and loss. And then the capital to help them get started.
You're seeing success from that already?
Absolutely. We've been able to track some amazing stories. These are tiny, tiny businesses we're talking about. People who get $2,500 loans. A woman who needs a little money to buy material so she can make clothing at her house. It's definitely changing the dynamic of women and how they're going to take control of their own futures.
You've also been very involved in politics over the past couple of years, in particular President Obama's re-election campaign. There's a lot of speculation about you running for office at some point in the future.
Definitely not. I‘m not a fan of politicians, I'm a fan of the political process. I'm a big believer in our system of government. I think the most powerful place in the process is the citizen. Every major civil-rights thing we've had in the last century has been by civil disobedience, by a group of people who said this isn't just and who experienced social injustice. Whether it's women's suffrage or the African American civil-rights movement or the Chicano civil-rights movement, all of that came from injustice and people rising up and saying we want change. There's never been one politician who said, “I'm going to head this up,” and this isn't right. You have to have a movement behind it. Policymaking disproportionally affects minorities and that's why I got involved in the last two campaigns, to make sure minority voices were heard and were counted.
Do you see yourself getting involved in the next US presidential campaign?
I don't know. I'm really focused on helping our current president accomplish things. Before the inauguration people were talking about the next election, but I think we need to focus on the president we have now and help him get those policies passed. We're still trying to get immigration reformed passed. We're still trying to get people signed up for the ACA [Affordable Care Act]. It's unbelievable that we can change the Voting Rights Act. I'm definitely watching that and if I feel the need to get involved, I will.
You have almost seven million followers on Twitter now, which puts you among the world leaders. Do you tweet every day yourself or do you have “ghost writers” who help out?
I obviously don't answer every tweet. But I tweet, I do it all. It's a very interesting process. Actually, the airplane pillow that Brookstone used to make – my favourite airplane pillow – I tweeted Brookstone and I said, “Pleeeeeease make this pillow again!” And they reached out to me. That's how many people retweeted my tweet to Brookstone and they reached out to me and said, “We'd love to make it again.” [laughs] It's definitely an effective tool to get messages out, specifically with my philanthropy and my activism.
Among all these things, do you also find time to relax?
Yeah! I always mix business and pleasure. I went to Paris to shoot for L'Oréal, but of course while I was there I wanted to go to the Louvre. And I was in Mexico at a conference but while I was there I found time to go to the beach. I love cooking. I just flew in yesterday from Mexico City. I ran to two meetings and a conference call in the car – and another conference call while I was grocery shopping – so that I could relax and cook dinner for my family and friends. That to me is just so relaxing.
Maxim magazine just had you on the cover again and named you Woman of the Year. You're such a serious businesswoman now – do you think of yourself as a sex symbol?
I never thought of myself as a sex symbol. I just do the cover of magazines. I think it's really unfair men or people in the world think you can't be both – you can't be a sex symbol and a serious businessperson. Who says I can't be both? Who says I can't do the cover of Maxim and run a production company? Women are complex. Women are beautiful and intellectual and spiritual and social and entrepreneurial. They're everything. And I think I'm a great example of that.
What's going on with romance in your life at the moment?
You can ask, but I won't answer. But my social life is amazing. Lots of friends and things going on all the time. [laughs] I'm at a very happy place in my life right now, both personally and professionally.
PHOTOGRAPHY / ERIC SCHNEIDER
CREATIVE DIRECTION / PARIS LIBBY
MAKE-UP / ELAN BONGIORNO AT CELESTINE AGENCY
HAIR / KEN PAVES FOR SPOTLIGHT WEST
MANICURE / KAREN GUTIERREZ FOR NAILING HOLLYWOOD
SET DESIGN / COREY BOARDMAN AND ZACH HANNA
PHOTOGRAPHY ASSISTANTS / BRADEN MORAN AND EMBRY LOPEZ
STYLING ASSISTANTS / SHEENA K AND LAURA KIECHLE