For the past few weeks, Eric Mabius — who plays the resident lothario on ABC's Ugly Betty (Thursdays at 8 pm/ET) — has been, as he puts it, "rolling around on floors and pool tables" with his boss, Salma Hayek. But, of course, it's all in the name of hard work.
"Luckily, I am able to forget who she is," cracks the 35-year-old married actor about the show's curvaceous executive producer. "It would be exponentially more unnerving if I remembered that she's my boss."
So what does Hayek think about exercising her executive privileges? "It is a little embarrassing that I cast myself as his lover," she admits.
Mabius' on-screen affair with the big-screen beauty provides his character, "Mode" magazine's bed-hopping editor Daniel Meade, with some long overdue comeuppance. "She rips my heart out, crumples it up, throws it, picks it back up, dusts it off, puts it back in and rips it out again," he says cheerfully. "It's deliciously painful."
Discerning women have been swooning over Mabius since he made his feature-film debut as a suburban rock star in 1996's indie hit Welcome to the Dollhouse. Since then, he's worked steadily in everything from Cruel Intentions to The O.C. "I played the Dean of Discipline and kicked Mischa Barton and her boyfriend out of school," he recalls. "Then I slept with their adversary, the class overachiever."
It was all good training for playing a philandering magazine editor. "People on the street say, ‘Oh, you're that jerk on Ugly Betty — that cad,'" Mabius says with a laugh. "Sleeping with models is pretty much all that he brings to the table at 'Mode,' but he's really not a mean person. He's just used to having everything handed to him."
"Daniel and Betty are both fish out of water," he adds. "She teaches me how to treat people with dignity and respect, and, hopefully, I teach her how to negotiate the upper-crusty things."
Fans who might be rooting for Daniel and Betty to hook up, however, shouldn't hold their breath. In Colombia, where the series originated, "that was the death of the show," Mabius says. "The two things that the audience did not like were Betty getting a makeover and marrying her boss."
When he's not doffing Daniel Meade's skintight designer suits (made by the tailor from Ocean's Twelve) and slipping into the beds of beautiful women, Mabius hangs out with his wife and infant son at their Spanish-style hacienda near Malibu. A handy type, he's taken up carpentry and stays in shape by mixing his own cement and building serpentine retaining walls for the garden. He's known his wife — painter and interior designer Ivy Sherman — since high school back in Massachusetts. "She was one of the most beautiful girls in school, and we flirted, definitely, but we didn't date," he says. They became reacquainted a few years ago when he shot a film in New Orleans, where Ivy was living. Last February, they tied the knot in the Big Easy, where they have a second home, and Maxfield Elliot was born last summer.
With the "insane hours" of making TV's rare hourlong comedy, Mabius hasn't had time to catch any of the new season of House, one of his must-see shows. Most nights, he's content just trying to catch up on sleep. "My wife is wonderfully kind to me, and my son is a good boy," he says of daddy duties. "But I don't have to wake up, roll over and give a boob to him in the middle of the night, either."
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