Dixie Carter, <EM>Desperate Housewives</EM> Dixie Carter, Desperate Housewives

What did she know, and when did she know it? Such questions apply not only to Desperate Housewives' devious Gloria, but also to her portrayer, Dixie Carter. TVGuide.com invited the veteran actress and stage star to take a long, hard look at her Machiavellian matriarch.

TVGuide.com: I understand they're expanding your presence on Wisteria Lane in the weeks to come?
Dixie Carter:
Yes.... My shows are going to air up to the first of April. I'm just thrilled to be doing this. This is really an extraordinary role. And, of course, we have to be very secretive about what's going to happen. Everybody grabs me in airports or shops and says things like, "Is he going to kill you?" Of course they mean, "Is your son, Orson, on  Desperate Housewives going to kill you, his mother Gloria?" — but there's never any preamble. With Desperate Housewives, there doesn't seem to be any need to say what show or character they are talking about.

TVGuide.com: No, "Hello, are you Dixie Carter? I love you on  Desperate Housewives. Can you tell me, is Orson going to kill his mother?"
And no, "Oh, Julia, I loved you on Designing Women!" No, they just come to me with great intensity and say, "Is he going to kill you?"

TVGuide.com: I would not want an intense stranger to come up to me and ask if an unnamed man is going to kill me.
I know! They also say, "Are you a maniac, or a murderer?" I say, "I don't know. The writers haven't told me for sure. But I could be both." [Laughs] And this one man came up to me in a Beverly Hills salon the other day and said, "My wife likes your show" — because it's acceptable if the wife has it on and he happens to be watching. He then said, "I really have some serious questions I'd like to ask you about what's going to happen next!"

TVGuide.com: What was the original pitch from [series creator] Marc Cherry? How did he present Gloria to you?
When I knew Marc before, when he was a kid [and working as Carter's personal assistant], I was "Mrs. [Hal] Holbrook." So for this initial call, he said, "Mrs. Holbrook, for two years I've been thinking about you, and what I could offer that would be different from how you've been seen before. And I think it's coming around. My only question would be, 'Are you willing to deglam and age?'"

TVGuide.com: A valid question in Hollywood.
Sure. And I said, "Yes, of course I'm willing to do whatever I need to do!" He told me that I would be a really frightening individual, that I would be first seen in a nursing home and my ability to do harm would be slowly revealed. As for my reasons for doing so, my backstory... I haven't known myself what this character's history is. The way [ Desperate Housewives'] writing works is that Marc and his team look at the shows on Sunday night, review their best-laid plans, and then they have the audacity and the courage to change things, if they decide it would be exciting and good. It's just a brilliant concoction, this show.

TVGuide.com: I think I read somewhere that you're relishing Gloria's streaked, almost Medusa-like hair?
It is almost Medusa-like isn't it?! Oh, for heaven's sake... I put on the wig we had originally picked out, and Marc said that the natural arch to my eyebrows was too glamorous or something, so we flattened that out. The other comment was that the wig was almost platinum blonde, and it needed to be more grim in some way. So Gabor [the hair stylist] went back to his "little shop of horrors" and, strand by strand, put in these different tones of gray. I can't wait to get in there this afternoon and tell Gabor what you said!

TVGuide.com: At the point when Gloria walked up to the car and the window rolled down, and we saw that Alma was in fact alive, did you know what the next beat would be? Why Alma had been faking her death?
No. I didn't know until that script for what we saw last Sunday rolled in.

TVGuide.com: Also last Sunday, we saw Alma injecting herself with something. I venture to say that Mother Hodge knows what she's up to?
I don't. I'm telling you the truth, I don't know.

TVGuide.com: Do you think that Gloria likes Alma, or that she despises Bree?
Neither. I think she's obsessed with her son, and it's just gotten way bad. Like, look-the-other-way bad. She really hates him, and she also loves him in all kinds of different ways that make her want to possess him. So all the women she's dealing with are tools of one kind or another to help control her son and be around him. She's like the mother in The Manchurian Candidate — originally Angela Lansbury, and then we saw Meryl [Streep] do it [in the remake]. Her motives are difficult to explain, and that's a lot of what I'm feeling. I think about [Lansbury's character] a lot, because it gives me courage to proceed with acting a part that is really deeper than I'm able to get to.

TVGuide.com: TV Guide broke a story this week about how, with Marcia Cross on bed rest, Housewives has "relocated" Bree's home to Marcia's.
I'm so floored every time I go to work on Desperate Housewives, I can easily picture that they could pick up sticks and move over to Marcia's house or wherever. I also think it's kind of wonderful that they would want to make the shoot as comfortable as possible for one of their stars. I had a scare with my father before Christmas, and I asked to have my [scenes] shot first thing in the morning so I could try to get on a plane. Instead they sent me home, saying, "Go look after your father." This is really an extraordinary production.

TVGuide.com: Having this wide variety of strong ladies on the set, do you feel any similarities to your time on Designing Women?
Yes, I do. It's wonderful to be among these beautiful girls and their wonderful talent. I love them. It's highly exciting and energizing and fun. That's the best word to describe it, "fun." And acting with Kyle MacLachlan? Please.

TVGuide.com: Are you dreading the day you have to say goodbye?
Sure, I'm dreading it! I'd hate to say goodbye to all of them. But I'm afraid that I'm going to be very naughty, and it will be necessary for me to go.

TV Guide's Mary Murphy shares Housewives scoop on this week's The 411, airing on TV Guide Channel. Click here for days and times.

Send your comments on this Q&A to online_insider@tvguide.com