October 26, 2005 12:00 PM

The Sexy Plumber

JAMES DENTON (Mike Delfino)

James Denton didn’t realize just how high his profile had become until fans actually began showing up in his house. “We didn’t have a gate or a fence,” he says. “We needed a place where they couldn’t walk up to the front door and walk right in.” So earlier this year, Denton, 42, packed up his wife, Erin O’Brien, son Sheppard, 2, and daughter Malin, 6 months, and moved to a more secure address. “We like this house a lot better anyway,” he says. A practiced handyman (and onetime landlord), Denton says, “I do all the carpentry and basic plumbing and stuff like that. I’ve built a deck at every house I bought in California.”

Now that he’s playing the neighborhood stud, though, he has to be careful around power tools. A favorite pastime, shooting baskets, can be just as risky. “I haven’t been able to play lately,” he says, “because there’s the fear of getting injured or scratched right before I have to work. Last time, I got elbowed in the face, and that can really screw up a day’s work.” His character’s trademark facial scruff is meticulously safeguarded. “I was resistant to it because it had that Don Johnson/George Michael feel of being a little too kept up,” he says. “All it is four days’ worth of growth. So if I’m working on Tuesday, I don’t shave after Friday.” After “a career of playing bad guys” on shows like The Pretender, Denton takes no credit for his sex-symbol status, attributing it all to Mike Delfino. “If you convince America that Teri Hatcher thinks somebody’s hot, they look at him differently,” he says. “If I were playing Paul Young, I don’t believe the reaction would’ve been the same.”

The Jealous Husband

RICARDO ANTONIO CHAVIRA (Carlos Solis)

“I get a lot of guys who say, ‘Dude, thank you for being a guy,’ ” says Ricardo Chavira. “I guess to some degree my character is the only one that really acts like a guy on the show.” He does not mean that as a compliment. “Here you have someone who’s very macho, who thinks of himself as being very powerful, very passionate, yet those same things are his downfalls,” says Chavira, 34, who admits he carries the macho gene himself. “I can be that guy, and I have been when I was younger, but my son has really toned me down.” Son Tomas, 2, lives with his mother near Chavira’s family in Texas, where the actor’s frequent visits include trips to the beach. It’s a marked contrast to the hot-tempered Carlos Solis, who, as a father, “wouldn’t be yelling at his kid at soccer games; he’d be trying to beat the crap out of the coach.” But the biggest difference between Ricardo and Carlos? “I’d never put up with someone like Gabrielle,” he says. “I wouldn’t even be attracted to her.”

The Hot Gardener

JESSE METCALFE (John Rowland)

It’s no picnic being a lust object. Just ask Jesse Metcalfe, who has been shedding his shirt on TV for as long as he can remember. “I’ve gotten used to it,” he says of his bare-chested scenes, which he perfected on Passions for five years before Housewives. “People love the sexy stuff. It’s par for the course.”

Seems the indignities of being typecast as eye candy are nothing, however, compared with the fallout from sudden fame. “When the first negative pictures came out of me in the tabloids, I took it kind of hard,” Metcalfe, 26, admits. “They printed some picture of me picking my nose. It’s not like there’s any human being on the planet that has never picked their nose. But you don’t want it blown up in a magazine.” There were also reports that he and actress Tara Reid were an item, which were “completely blown out of proportion,” he says, adding he’s currently unattached and spends most of his downtime playing guitar with his band RPM (Raw Power Moves). “It’s a challenge getting to know someone when you might be photographed on the first date.”

That said, Metcalfe is quick to note that media exposure also helped him score his first feature, John Tucker Must Die, shot this summer. “They wanted someone in the role that people are going to be excited to see,” he says. So is a movie career in his future? Word is, yardman John departs Wisteria Lane in the third episode. Stay tuned.

The Hunky Househusband

DOUGSAVANT (Tom Scavo)

Amidst the swirl of infidelity and treachery on Wisteria Lane, Doug Savant has a unique function: normal guy. “The most consistent thing I hear from fans is, ‘Oh my God, you’re playing my husband!’ ” he says. “Felicity Huffman [his TV wife, Lynette] and I are the couple that most resembles what real people go through-struggling to maintain a marriage and support four kids. I’m not digging up the baby in the backyard.”

Like his character, Savant, 41, is the father of four (ages 13,12, 4 and 3 months) but is a “much more strict parent in real life,” he says. “My wife [former Melrose Place costar Laura Leighton] is always the levelheaded, easygoing one. I’m the one who stresses out.” Having logged his days on house-husband duty during Leighton’s acting jobs, Savant gives Tom’s domestic skills a thumbs-down so far. “He doesn’t value the same tidiness as Lynette,” he says. “He sets the bar a lot lower for himself than she did.”

Over 22 years as an actor, Savant has sometimes had to scrape to support his family, working as a pizza delivery-man and in real estate during career slumps. Even his high-profile stint on Melrose Place as a gay social worker left him typecast for several years. That problem is gone now, thanks to scenes like Tom surprising Lynette wearing a leopard-print thong. “I tried to embrace Will Ferrell and go for the comedy, but you can never escape the vanity of wondering, ‘Oh God, how bad do I look?’ For me, being an actor has been nothing but an exercise in humility. It’s all about finding new ways to humiliate Doug Savant.”

The Evil Pharmacist

ROGER BART (George Williams)

“It’s so savory to play the unsavory,” says Roger Bart. “It’s so delicious to play somebody so creepy and unctuous.” Better known for Broadway roles like his Tony Award-winning Snoopy in You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown and his Tony-nominated Carmen Ghia in The Producers, he says his daughter Eller, 4, is unfazed by his newfound fame. “She thinks everybody’s dad is on TV,” he says. “I’m not sure when it dawns on them that it’s special.”

Bart, 42, who splits his time between New York City and LA, does know how special it is, and tunes in like any fan. “I was with my kid reading Dr. Seuss,” he says, “and I was watching Rex die and Bree cry and I’m reading Hop on Pop and I’m thinking, Who could do that to him?” Well, George springs to mind. “Oh, pray for poor George!” he says, laughing. “I know I am!”

The Creepy Widower

MARK MOSES (Paul Young)

“The craziest thing that’s happened recently,” says Moses, “was at a restaurant in New Orleans. I was walking past a table of eight middle-aged guys drinking beer and eating lobster, and they all go, ‘Hey, Paul Young. Come on over!’ And they get on their phones and say, ‘Here, talk to my wife!’ What do you say? ‘Hi, your husbands are here kicking up their heels and I’m Paul Young on Desperate Housewives?’ ” The father of two, Moses, 47, coaches Little League and spends his Housewives salary on practical things like a new minivan for actress wife Annie LaRussa and uniforms for his kids’ baseball teams. “Paul Young is completely deviant,” he says. “Every time I yell at my sons, I throw a dollar in a pot for therapy later on.”

The Slimy Ex-Husband

RICHARD BURGI (Karl Mayer)

He appeared in only three episodes last year as Susan’s adulterous husband, dropping by to twist the knife in her already-broken heart. This season, expect to see a lot more of Burgi as Karl takes up with Susan’s nemesis Edie-and remains as cluelessly Neanderthal as ever. “He realizes he’s a bit of a buffoon,” he says, “but yet goes through life blindly anyway and having a good time. I think they’re getting a new car for me that is just as racy and just as screaming-a-midlife-crisis as before. “Burgi, 47, married for 10 years to Lori Kahn with sons Jack, 8, and Samuel, 5, has his own secret for avoiding those pitfalls. “Find some support system,” he says. “I’m a big proponent of therapy-group therapy, single therapy-to get a sense of the big picture.”

As for any steamy encounters with Edie, Burgi says he’s ready for the extra exposure. “A little buttage?” he says, laughing. “If ifs for the sake of the scene, sure, I’ve got buns in the oven. They just need to be taken out and cooled down.”

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