That horrid hubby on `Desperate Housewives'

Actor Mark Moses is having good time as real bad man

December 29, 2004|By Maria Elena Fernandez | Maria Elena Fernandez,LOS ANGELES TIMES

HOLLYWOOD - Mark Moses seems like a regular guy. He coaches his young sons' soccer and baseball teams, he speaks adoringly of his wife of 16 years, and he sure likes to laugh.

Then why does a woman interrupt his lunch at the Aroma Cafe in Studio City to belt out, "You're a murdering S.O.B."?

Perhaps it's because Moses has quickly become Public Enemy No. 1 in the minds of some TV viewers.

To them, he's Paul Young, the Desperate Housewives husband who dug out his swimming pool in the middle of the night after his wife ceremoniously killed herself in the pilot, set a toy chest afloat with "grisly remains" in a lake and committed his adolescent son to a psychiatric ward, where he ordered doctors to "forget the Freud and stick with the drugs."

He put his house up for sale, hired a hit man and, in his final act in the Nov. 28 episode, struck a meddlesome neighbor, Martha Huber, on the head with a blender and strangled her to death.

She had it coming, Moses explains over lunch, defending his on-screen alter ego. "She should have returned what she borrowed."

Paul Young, you see, killed his nosy neighbor with the blender she had borrowed from his wife, Mary Alice, but never returned. Not only was she presumably blackmailing Mary Alice, she didn't have the decency to return the appliance after she discovered Mary Alice's dead body in the pilot episode. In fact, Martha removed the label with Mary Alice's name. The nerve!

"The writers had a good time with that one," Moses says. "As an actor, if you're doing a lot of serious stuff, you want to do something funny. If you're doing a lot of funny stuff, you want to do something serious and meaningful. In this show, at least the women get to do pretty much all of that. But depending on how you look at it, that blender could be pretty funny."

Moses, whose first Hollywood role was in Platoon in 1986 and who has guest-starred on West Wing, ER and The Practice, also has plenty of sitcom experience. He was a guest on an episode of The Golden Girls written by Marc Cherry, creator of Desperate Housewives. He played Rue McClanahan's character's illegitimate son.

He and Cherry worked together again in 1995 on two of Cherry's projects, The Crew and The Five Buchanans.

But Cherry was perplexed when Moses walked in to audition for the serious role of Paul Young, the Wisteria Lane husband who is keeper of the show's central secrets.

"He just had a gravitas and a coldness, which is not at all what Mark is in real life, so he was able to portray this in some kind of cold, distant way, and I thought it was terrific," Cherry says. "He looked so all-American and wholesome and he looked like someone you would want to have as a neighbor. I thought that was an interesting juxtaposition."

Now, as one of the only male characters with his own story line, he also is at the center of intrigue. Why did Mary Alice kill herself? Why was she being blackmailed? What "awful things" could her 16-year-old son, Zach, be remembering? Who was buried in that pool and toy chest? Who is Dana?

"The character of Paul Young is very misunderstood," Cherry says. "He's basically a nice guy who's been put in a horrible circumstance."

But would you want to have him as a father? Paul and Zach Young could easily win the award, if there was one, for television's creepiest father and son.

If you're feeling sorry for Zach, who is grieving for his mother, "You won't later!" says Cody Kasch, the 17-year-old who plays him.

Don't forget - Zach is the boy who punched his father and broke into a neighbor's house to decorate the living room for Christmas, placing the Young family stockings on the fireplace, including his mother's.

"There's a father-son-type relationship between us, but it's on a different level," says Kasch, explaining the family dynamics. "There's a lot of secrets, a lot of mystery, a lot of dark things. But there is a connection, and we'll see that later."

On this December afternoon, Moses and Kasch are reshooting a dinner scene for the Dec. 19 episode. When they shot it the first time a month ago, Paul Young revealed a big secret. Cherry has now decided to hang on to the juicy stuff for three more episodes. (And we won't tell you how the father and son are reunited.)

But, as the show's 23 million viewers have come to learn, any meal shared by father and son at the Young house is dramatic, no matter what is said at the table.

"The two of them at mealtime is very eerie," Cherry says. "It's Norman Rockwell-esque, by way of David Lynch."

Moses claims the show's mysteries are shared with him on a need-to-know basis by the writers. But he was clever enough to figure out early that Martha Huber was the blackmailer, although he had never imagined Paul would kill her with his own bare hands. After all, he had already paid a hit man $10,000. As for other mysteries, "I have a lot of theories," he says, his voice deepening.

Paul, Moses assures, is not a bad guy. He misses his wife. Really. So is it fair for someone to accost the actor and call him a murderer?

"It was a crime of passion," Moses says. "He's a desperate husband."

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