<EM>Desperate Housewives</EM>' Eva Longoria Desperate Housewives' Eva Longoria

When Eva Longoria arrived at ABC's winter press-tour party at the Wind Tunnel in Pasadena, Calif., TVGuide.com cozied up to the Desperate Housewives star, who was more than happy to speak on a variety of topics, including the casting of her TV mom, her romance with San Antonio Spurs star Tony Parker and, yes, that much-publicized Vanity Fair cover shoot.

First up: "I'm thrilled," the brunette beauty enthuses of Chasing Papi's Maria Conchita Alonso being hired as her Housewives mami, first appearing in the Feb. 19 episode. "We're going to learn [through Lucia] why Gaby is the way that she is."

While the popular prime-time soap had a blockbuster premiere season, some critics are claiming that the Housewives are in a bit of a sophomore slump  an assertion Longoria debates. "[Creator-executive producer] Marc Cherry is really good at moving the story along," she notes. "I would hate it if three seasons from now, we were still trying to figure out why Mary Alice committed suicide. Our season finale answered every question." As a result, Cherry spent a few episodes in Season 2 laying the groundwork for new stories. "Perhaps those first few episodes seemed slow because we were planting new story lines, and that takes time. But our ratings [are] higher than last year's."

Speaking of last year, Longoria is still being asked about the infamous Vanity Fair cover shoot and the subsequent media frenzy that followed it. Readers of that mag were led to believe that the ladies of Wisteria Lane couldn't pose for a group shot without squabbling over who got to wear red and who deserved the coveted middle position. "People try to position us against each other," Longoria shrugs. "It's amazing." Ironically, the actress says that the unique celebrity that the women share is exactly what binds them together. "Nobody  not even my dearest friends  want to hear [me] complain about how hard the life [of a celebrity is]. But I can tell Marcia [Cross, Bree]. I can call Felicity [Huffman, Lynette] and say, 'You know what really sucked today...?' And they understand. We are the only people to whom we can really talk."

Indeed, if the ladies didn't have a sense of humor about that shoot, it's likely that Longoria wouldn't have been allowed back on-set after she spoofed the incident as host of the Jan. 7 Saturday Night Live. "Being on that was so much fun," says the lifelong fan of the long-running sketch show. "It was a lot of work, but I love live theater and I am used to comedy. The girls [from Housewives] were really supportive of my doing it. They called me every day.

"Hosting [SNL] was a dream for me," she smiles. "I can die now."

Despite her love of performing live, Longoria says that she'll be concentrating on films, not theater roles, when Housewives goes on hiatus this spring. Already in the can from previous breaks: the thriller The Sentinel, with Michael Douglas and Kiefer Sutherland.

Longoria first tasted what it's like to have legions of fans when she appeared as con woman Isabella Brana on The Young and the Restless, but not even playing a knife-wielding psycho on daytime's No. 1 soap prepared her for the popularity level she now enjoys. "I don't think you can ever get used to this," she philosophizes. "It's always going to be a bit weird for me  people wanting to talk to me and knowing certain things [about me.]"

And how. Longoria often makes headlines over her love life  especially when she forgets to remove that flashy rock that Carlos bought for Gaby. "It's caused controversy," admits the actress, who has gotten tabloids' tongues wagging by accidentally going out in public with the sparkler. "I'll hear, 'Tony and Eva are engaged!' I'm like, where are they getting that? And then I'll see a picture of [me wearing Gaby's] ring." Longoria laughs. "I told Tony that he's going to have to buy me the same ring just so I can leave it on all the time!"

Hmm, has Longoria given her beau a particular time frame on that? (Hey, she brought it up!) "No," she chuckles. "I don't care if it's tomorrow or 10 years from now. I am so happy."

Although Longoria and her fellow Housewives run the risk of being overexposed, she feels it's better to be out there too much than not at all. "I've been on shows where the lead actors don't [do press] and the show doesn't [end up succeeding]," she points out. "The girls and I said from Day 1 that we would work hard to support the show."

All eyes were on Longoria when she showed up at the press-tour gala straight from work, decked out in one of Gaby's sexy ensembles. But given her druthers, the recent Golden Globe nominee prefers to leave her selfish but oh-so-lovable persona behind at the end of the day.

"Gaby's very high-maintenance," notes Longoria, who even borrowed a pair of her character's high heels for the party. "I get exhausted playing her! I'd much rather be wearing my Uggs right now."