Next time you’re compelled to raise your voice to your barista, remember that she may be a future TV star. Just ask Minnesota native Brianna Brown, who has landed a juicy part in “Devious Maids,” a quasi-sequel to “Desperate Housewives” that premieres Sunday on the Lifetime network.
“Customers at Starbucks would get really fussy. ‘That’s not enough foam. It’s not hot enough,’ ” said Brown, 33, by phone from Los Angeles. “C’mon. People are dying in Africa. Stop yelling at me!”
Brown’s cappuccino stint was one chapter in a 14-year adventure in Los Angeles that also included near-anonymous roles in major pictures (“Train Passenger” in “Spider-Man 2”) and guest appearances in more than 25 series, including “Monk” and “Criminal Minds.”
Her big break finally came in 2010 when she was selected by “General Hospital” producers to take over the role of Lisa Niles, a deranged woman determined to break up the beloved couple of Patrick Drake and Robin Scorpio. Soap Opera Digest named it the best story line of that year.
“It was definitely a ‘Fatal Attraction’ kind of thing,” said Brown, whose character even boiled a toy rabbit over a Bunsen burner. “Being a villain meant some people really hated me. Soap fans are so into it. They’re like sports fans.”
But it was a 2011 appearance on “Homeland” that helped persuade “Maids” executive producer Sabrina Wind to consider Brown for her new show.
Like “Housewives,” the new series was created by Marc Cherry and revolves around a mysterious death. But unlike that landmark drama, “Maids” deals with the class warfare between underappreciated Hispanic housekeepers and the Beverly Hills elite who employ them. Brown’s character, Taylor Stappord, is caught somewhere in the middle, coming from a modest financial background and marrying a man who could afford to open a Starbucks in his mansion’s broom closet.
“Having money doesn’t come naturally to her, even if she acts like it does,” Wind said. “We needed to find someone who could bring a bit of Midwestern honesty to a self-absorbed diva. Brianna mixes those qualities very well. Not surprising, though. She is, after all, a wholesome girl from Minnesota living as a successful actress in L.A. It’s probably only natural that she’d nail this part.”
Brown was born in St. Paul and grew up primarily in Apple Valley, where she participated in various musicals at Apple Valley High School. She got representation at age 14, but never really believed that acting was a realistic profession and started studying broadcast journalism at St. Olaf College. But the acting bug wouldn’t go away and at 19 she made the move to Los Angeles.
“My dad was not for it, but my mother knew I was stubborn just like him,” Brown said. “She told him that if he didn’t let me go, it wouldn’t be good.”
It took four years before Brown was getting enough gigs to commit to acting full time. “Maids” is her first prime-time series with a regular role. Even that almost didn’t happen.
“Maids” was originally developed by ABC, but the network surprisingly opted not to pick it up.
“It was a huge shock to us that they turned us down, but within two hours Marc was in negotiations with Lifetime,” Brown said.
The cable network is betting big on the new series, which counts Eva Longoria among its executive producers. In addition to getting a high-profile Sunday night platform, episodes will be available in both English and Spanish at Lifetime.com and on the Lifetime video watch app.
Brown is more than thrilled to go along for the ride.
“You compete against hundreds of girls to even get a test and then you hope and pray that it gets picked up,” she said. “This is the golden ticket. It’s awesome.”