Highly doubtful that James Denton will be asked to repair toilets at St. Paul’s Park Square Theatre during his run in “Good People,” when ends Oct. 6.
He could handle it. Denton told me that his time as hunky plumber Mike Delfino on ABC’s “Desperate Housewives” was a full circle moment in his acting career.
“One of my jobs in Chicago when I was in a theater company — you have do everything in the building — I was the guy who handled plumbing problems,” Denton said. “That was the funniest thing. I was 30 years old and working for nothing, cleaning toilets and urinals to get on stage in Chicago, and 10 years later was on the Number 1 TV show in the world playing a plumber.”
Denton is one of the nicest actors I’ve met, perhaps because he seems to be allergic to taking credit. We were talking about his “Good People” co-star Virginia Burke. He said, “She’s had so many shows and everybody loves her. The Park Square audience is used to seeing Virginia, so it’s fun to be working with her because it helps me out. I can kind of glom onto her popularity and she’s fantastic.”
Denton was equally self-effacing when talking about the success of wildly popular “Desperate Housewives,” which kind of became a soap opera within a prime-time soap. He’s such a straight-shooter it’s difficult to imagine him tap dancing around questions, but there might have been some verbal dance moves when asked why co-stars seemed to hate Teri Hatcher.
In “Good People,” with the help of “this fantastic voice and dialect coach, Lucinda Holshue,” Denton said he was reminded to project the Boston accent of his character and not speak for a TV sound stage.
Denton is enjoying his Twin Cities stage debut. Of the stage, he says, “If you’re good you can be proud, and if you’re lousy it’s your fault. You can’t blame it on editors and producers. Another frustrating thing about being on camera is you’re at everyone else’s mercy. [The stage is] much more rewarding as an actor than any other venue.”
Offstage, Denton, who describes himself as “almost semi-retired,” seems eternally affable, and not the least bit put off when he meets a fan on the street, as you can see on my startribune.com/video. Denton and his Minnesota-raised actor-and-fitness expert-wife Erin O’Brien moved back here to raise their kids close to relatives.
They’ve opened a suburban fitness center. True to Denton’s low-key style, he’s not on Facebook or Twitter, and he forgot to tell me the name of the “gym,” as he calls CrossFit Chanhassen/Bring It Studios.
Q You just flushed the toilet and the water is rising. You can’t tell whether it’s going to stop or overflow. What is the remedy to the situation?
A Bail fast. Find a bucket you can throw out later.
Q Aren’t you supposed to turn off the water?
A Oh, at the bottom. Oh, look at that! [Hitting himself in the head.] What a plumber I am. Turn the water off.
Q Everybody talks about how nice you are. What’s the problem with people in Hollywood being nice?
A Must be that everybody in Hollywood is a jerk, if I seem so nice. I think the problem with the business, if you don’t come at it late in life, like I did, is there’s a tendency to feel like it’s about you. I was always hopefully old and wise enough to realize my sudden [appearances on] magazines and TV Guide covers [were related to] “Desperate Housewives.” The show was huge. I’ve been on a bunch of shows, but I was never on TV Guide before. It was all about that hip show and the right role. Some people don’t realize that and they think it’s some kind of entitlement and they’re the reason everything is popular. I’m smart enough to know better.
Q Why didn’t I ever hear about you having run-ins with the paparazzi?
A [Laugh] Somehow I stayed out of trouble and avoided the paparazzi. Some of my best friends weren’t so lucky. I just am too boring. You’re not going to see me at the Viper Club at 3 a.m., not with an 8- and 10-year-old.
Q Nicole Kidman was walking into a NYC hotel when she is mowed down by a bicycling paparazzi. I didn’t know they were on bikes. What should be that papster’s punishment?
A The paparazzi thing is a tough job. They have to make a living, and it’s completely legal and legitimate. And then you have the people who run over Nicole Kidman with bicycle. I think they need to have some kind of a structure. From Princess Diana until recently, I think they can structure it and maybe define the law better. They do put you in some tough situations. I always just keep walking. If I just ignore them for two seconds they go away. The big stars don’t get left alone. But I can understand how if you’re a big star it can be tough.
Q I was not a Desperate Housewives watcher, but I’ve always been a huge Nicollette Sheridan fan. What did you make of her problems with show producer Marc Cherry?
A The whole Nicollette Sheridan thing was tough, because we’re such good friends, and Marc was my boss and we’re friends as well. I was the only actor testifying in that deal, which was not any fun. I was there the day it happened. I think it was some hurt feelings. When Nicollette was let go [there] was a story-point reason, and I think she took it personally, which is completely understandable, and then it just snowballed from a lack of communication. I think so much of both of them; it was a horrible spot to be in, being on the witness stand. I think it turned out OK. I hope it doesn’t haunt her. She went after them pretty hard, but she felt like she was wronged. Great girl, really fun to have a beer with, Nicollette Sheridan.
Q What’s the real reason all the other women seemed to hate Teri Hatcher?
A [Sustained laughter] Why didn’t the women get along? I honestly believe from the very beginning, the Vanity Fair story, the big blow up at the photo shoot, Season 1, that all the women, speaking from an objective perspective, felt this was their big shot. Their one opportunity to make the most of this monster TV show. We were all in our 40s. Hollywood’s tough on women. I think it was a scramble for the spotlight between their publicists and managers. It kind of became an elbowing contest to get to the middle of the photo. I don’t think it was anything personal, all business, but kind of understandable, because you want to capitalize on a show like that. Then it gets personal, feelings get hurt. They were all kind of jostling over the same lens. How’s that? [I provided some tap dancing music] Exactly, tap dancing there.
Q Play a game with me. What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear the name Eva Longoria?
A Funny, funny, funny. And respect. Eva got her master’s degree during the show. Went to class, sat in a classroom, when L’Oreal was paying her eight figures to do these ads. I thought that was cool.
Q Felicity Huffman?
A Fascinating. She can do everything. She’s not exactly who you think she is. She always surprises you. Very, very smart. A fantastic husband in Bill [William H. Macy]; fun couple.
Q Marcia Cross?
A Complicated. Marcia got her degree in psychology right before “Housewives,” so she’s very interested in how people think and why they think the way they do. She’s also very hard to pin down, which is fun for me as a friend, as person.
Q You and your wife opened a fitness center. What’s the most unhealthy food you put in your mouth?
A We lost our minds and opened a gym. I do pretty well because my wife shops. That way we don’t have junk in the house. Out in the car, I’m a loose cannon and it’s just McDonald’s, McDonald’s drive-thru. I try not to, and I limit it, but I can’t stop it. Two cheeseburgers and fries.
Q If you could have a super power what would it be?
A Flight, as boring as it is. I was always a Superman fan. I just need to be able to take off and go; wouldn’t have to be on a plane again, which would be great. Not very exciting. If you say X-ray vision, it sounds creepy.
Interviews are edited. C.J. can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org and seen on Fox 9.