Beneath this Desperate Housewives star’s so-called “hunky” exterior lies the perfect wingman and drinking buddy. James Denton loves beer, shares his Dodgers season tickets, plays in a rock band and has women throwing themselves at him (which certainly benefits his single friends). All that, and he earns a Hollywood-size paycheck–so at the end of the night, he can always be persuaded to pick up the tab.
By Patty Adams
Whether they know his name or not, every man in America wants to trade places with James Denton. He’s the lucky guy who’s paid to watch beautiful half-naked women like Eva Longoria and Nicollette Sheridan walk around all day long. And as Teri Hatcher’s mysterious on-again, off-again TV boyfriend with a criminal past, he also gets to lock lips with the brunette bombshell–without getting scolded by his wife. “I always tell people, ‘You see a script titled ‘Desperate Housewives,’ and you want to play the single guy, because you know you’ll get lucky.’ Well, I play the single guy, Mike Delfino, resident plumber,” says James, 43, who’s happily married to actress-turned-fitness trainer, Erin O’Brien Denton.
James wasn’t exactly prepared to become a “heartthrob” in his 40s. “When I got that first script and saw, ‘Mike glistens bare-chested in the front yard,’ I almost did a spit take,” he says. “I was literally sitting on my couch eating pizza and drinking beer at the time. I thought, ‘Man, I better do some sit-ups–fast.'” After 10 days of a heavy workout regimen and a diet of Red Man chewing tobacco and Jack Daniel’s, he was able to disguise his beer gut and go on to be named one of People Magazine’s sexiest men alive in 2004. “You just have to keep your sense of humor about it,” James says. “No one ever accused me of being hunky before.
James certainly can’t complain about his role on the show, though. After all, he has gotten some unexpected perks out of the deal—aside from seeing Teri Hatcher in a thong. “Forty percent of the show’s viewers are men, and a lot of big leaguers watch the show,” explains James, a huge baseball junkie. “So Cal Ripken Jr., Sean Casey and J.D. Drew have all come to the set. But I don’t kid myself. I know why they’re coming to visit—and it’s not to see me!”
However, James, who was a four-sport letterman at Goodlettsville High School in Nashville, Tenn., and currently plays on the Primetime Softball League and a Burbank basketball team, used his celebrity to his advantage and was able to throw out the first pitch at more than eight major league baseball games last season. “That’s been a dream come true,” says the Dodgers season ticket holder.
He hits Dodger Stadium regularly with actor Eric Zudak and writer Mike Petty, two old friends from his theater days in Chicago, years before he ended up on the big screen in Face/Off (1997) and Primary Colors (1998) or as a TV regular on The Pretender (2000), Philly (2002), or Threat Matrix (2003). At games, James is usually barraged by fans, mostly of the female persuasion. “Sure, it’s fun to get the attention, but I’m married with two kids at home, so it’s my friends who–I don’t want to say get lucky–because that sounds bad,” says James, “but my single buddies score numbers and all that. I guess a guy from Desperate Housewives isn’t a bad guy to go to a ball game with. Eric certainly enjoys it.”
Then there are the occasional fans who take things a little too far–like the guy at the game who whipped out his camera phone and took a photo of James standing at the urinal. “I don’t mind posing for pictures, but he crossed the line,” says James. “At the urinal—that’s insane!”
Of course, like any red-blooded American, beer is a huge part of James’ ballgame experience. “For better or worse,” says James with a laugh, “I’m a responsible, but avid beer drinker. But I’m not a beer snob, which I don’t know if I should be saying to DRAFT. I’m pretty basic. It’s always domestic, and it’s usually Bud Light or Coors Light.”
Next to baseball, what goes best with beer? Good ol’ rock ‘n’ roll. James has played guitar for 30 years and is in a band with House’s Hugh Laurie, Alias’ Greg Grunberg and The Bachelor’s Bob Guiney. They’ve jokingly dubbed themselves The Battle of the Network Stars. “We used to be called 16:9, which is the aspect ratio of a TV set,” explains James. “But it was a little too obtuse, I think.”
Right now they’re mostly playing charity gigs, doing covers of classics like “Mustang Sally,” “Another Little Piece of My Heart” and some Garth Brooks tunes. “There’s no point in subjecting people to our original music,” quips James, who wishes he could be one-tenth as talented as Bruce Springsteen or Dave Matthews. “At the end of the day, I’m an actor, not a musician. I’m a good enough guitar player to know that I’m not that good–let’s put it that way.”
So, James won’t be quitting his day job to chase his rock star fantasies anytime soon. Instead, he’s gearing up for his third season of Desperate Housewives. He can also be seen in 2007’s Nat Turner slavery drama, 3/5 of a Man, playing John Brown, and Wanted: Undead or Alive, a zombie western opposite Saturday Night Live alum Chris Kattan.
But with all of this recent success, James is still driving his ‘66 pickup and doing his own plumbing and carpentry work around the house. Now that’s a guy we can hang with.
[photo: Ian Logan]