updated 02/14/2005 AT 2:00 PM ET
•originally published 02/03/2005 AT 12:00 PM ET
Just over a year ago, Teri Hatcher was feeling so desperate she curled up and cried on her kitchen floor. She had split from actor Jon Tenney after nine years, was worried about the challenge of being a single mom to young daughter Emerson and, at 38, was anxious that her career options were disappearing on the horizon of middle age. She hadn’t taken a serious Hollywood acting gig since Lois & Clark ended in 1997 and, suddenly panicky over money, she was afraid of losing her home. “I was in some deeply, deeply sad places,” says Hatcher. “I wanted something to be solid for Emerson. When I was crying there, I was feeling I wouldn’t be able to pay my mortgage for much longer – there was a lot of money that I’d had that I didn’t have anymore. That was really a low point.”
Today, the 40-year-old Hatcher has the take-charge confidence of a soccer mom behind the wheel of a new diesel station wagon. Accepting a Golden Globe Jan. 16, she referred to herself as a “has-been,” but in the past tense: More than a decade after she became a star playing Lois Lane to Dean Cain’s Superman, she’s at a career pinnacle thanks to the ABC smash hit Desperate Housewives. For those who live in a complete cultural cul de sac, Housewives is about five women on a trim suburban street called Wisteria Lane, where suicide, murder, adultery, hit-and-run accidents, S&M, drug abuse and even rumors of infanticide are part of the land- scape. Yet the tone remains somehow cheerful, thanks in large part to Hatcher as Susan Mayer, a divorced mother gingerly falling in love (with a handsome but mysterious plumber) and trying, well, not to be as desperate as her neighbors. “She’s a fresh face again,” says series creator Marc Cherry, who says Hatcher “owned” the role the minute she auditioned in January 2004.
The thing is, Hatcher may have curled up in a ball and cried, but she has a determination that often prevails. “If you ask where I get my strength – I don’t meditate, I don’t go to therapy,” she says. “I’m kind of a boot-strapper person.” That attitude should get her past the annual divorcees’ hurdle, Valentine’s Day. “I don’t have a valentine,” says the actress, who made headlines recently when she told FHM magazine, “It’s been so long since I’ve had any sex that I don’t remember.” For last year’s Feb. 14, she, a pal and her daughter just went out to dinner at a local restaurant. “My girlfriend and I gave each other lottery tickets and G-strings, and my daughter got a Valentine’s Day Barbie, which she gets every year. So this year, my girlfriend has a boyfriend. Hopefully, instead of me, he’ll be giving her a G-string.”
Her marriage to actor Jon Tenney, 43, came during the first peak of her career. The only child of Owen Hatcher, an electrical engineer, and Esther, a computer programmer, the Sunnyvale, Calif., native had appeared on The Love Boat and been a Solid Gold dancer before landing a small recurring role on MacGyver. Then, after a few movie roles, came Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman in 1993. (That same year she was one of Jerry Seinfeld’s girlfriends on a memorable Seinfeld episode, the one where Elaine and Jerry obsessed over whether or not Hatcher’s breasts were real (her famous exit line: “They’re real – and they’re spectacular”).
Then Radio Shack offered her “this exorbitant amount of money … millions” to do TV commercials with former NFL star Howie Long. “A number of people came up to me,” says Long, “and told me they loved those commercials with my wife. I said, ‘Oh no.’ ”
Meanwhile, the real marriage died. “I’ll never expose the reasons for the depths of sadness from my marriage,” says Hatcher, whose previous marriage, to a physical trainer, lasted less than a year in the late 1980s. She adds, however, that she had assumed it was more important to provide Emerson with two parents than to worry about her own fulfillment. “People told me, ‘Honey, you have to be happy first, then you could be a good mom.’ I said, ‘Screw that. My daughter shouldn’t be responsible for my failures. We’re just going to work it out.’ ” When that proved impossible and she filed for divorce in 2003, it was still crucial to protect Emerson, whose parents today share joint custody (Tenney lives a few minutes away). “You can only have your meltdowns when your children are asleep,” Hatcher says. “I don’t have meltdowns in front of Emerson.”
After the divorce, she had to tunnel back into work. Movies? Dubious. “I wasn’t on the hot list, and age-wise, I really wasn’t on the hot list.” (As to the breasts that were so real and spectacular on Seinfeld, “by now,” she jokes, “they’re just real.”) But she managed to sell a pilot script to ABC about a single mom. “I, me, stupid little Teri Hatcher, sold a pilot.” Then, better still, she got hold of the script for Housewives and experienced a click of recognition with Susan Mayer. “I had to test, audition, the whole rigmarole. But I have to admit I had one of the greatest auditions I ever had. I kind of left the building knowing I had this.”
The dramatic possibilities for Susan Mayer, on the other hand, remain wide open, although Hatcher and Marc Cherry have ruled out certain dire developments for the character – no alcoholism; no skin cutting. For the most part, says Hatcher, “I’m happy to fall out of as many bushes and trees as they like.” One other activity is developing a skin-care line. “It’s about releasing your inner beauty,” she says. “It’s about not covering up and trying to change.” But the 5’6”, svelte actress is quick to discount unmeetable Hollywood beauty standards. “Let me just say that every cover of every magazine I’ve done has been airbrushed to death,” she says. “No woman in America should walk around thinking that’s what they should be. You shouldn’t be beating yourself up.”
Over Christmas, they vacationed in Cabo San Lucas and took a whale-watching cruise. When a humpback whale popped up by the boat, Hatcher, frightened but excited, scrambled into a mask and snorkel, hopped in the water and eventually touched it. “I love that my daughter was there to see me jump in,” she says. “I love that she saw me struggle with my fear and get over it. I am the woman who will be afraid and jump in anyway.”
By TOM GLIATTO. MICHAEL FLEEMAN, CYNTHIA WANG and BRENDA RODRIGUEZ in Los Angeles