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Teri HATCHER (Susan Mayer)
Stardom is sweeter the second time around, thanks to a few hard knocks and a certain 7-year-old sidekick who keeps it all in perspective

Since single mom Teri Hatcher began playing single mom Susan Mayer, people have tended to assume that she and her character are on the same page. Not so. "I guess we're similar in terms of insecurity and low self-esteem," she admits. "But we're just totally different moms." Unlike Susan (whose lapses in judgment include asking her daughter Julie to fake being bulimic and having her break into Mrs. Huber's house to retrieve evidence), Hatcher, 40, is fiercely responsible when it comes to her 7-year-old daughter Emerson. "The one thing that I never feel insecure about is the way I parent," she said recently. Even during a painful 2003 divorce from actor Jon Tenney, which accompanied a dry spell in Hatcher's career, the actress made sure that "I was able to put food on the table and pay my mortgage," she says. "I'm a very conservative person. I drive my cars for 10 years until they have 100,000 miles on them. To me, feeling comfortable means having way more than I need in the bank."

Thanks to Housewives, Hatcher is now well within her comfort zone. She's writing a book, Burnt Toast, about getting a second chance. "It's not a tell-all," she says, "but it's going to be about what's happened to me in the last year." She wants it to be a "book you can read in the bathtub and feel a little inspired by and humored by." During the summer, Hatcher packed up Emerson for a "life-changing" safari in Africa. "I don't spend my money on sports cars or new million-dollar houses," she says. "But being able to go on the trip of a lifetime is pretty special. Emerson is the greatest traveler on the planet."

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Marcia CROSS (Bree Van de Kamp)
A trained psychotherapist, she's as self-aware and easygoing as her character is repressed and primly determined

Before she began shooting the series' second season in July, Marcia Cross had hoped to get in some housekeeping. "I said I was going to clean out all my closets over the break, and that hasn't happened," she says. "I got a little done, but there are still piles everywhere." Cross's character, the tightly wound Bree Van de Kamp, would have gotten those closets organized. But the actress didn't have much free time between press trips to Europe to help promote the show and a whirlwind romance with wealth manager Tom Mahoney.

Before Housewives, the actress was at a career crossroads. She had long been interested in psychology and decided to go for a master's in the subject at Antioch University in Los Angeles. After earning her degree in 2002, she worked as a therapist. "I quite loved it," she says. "It's a rewarding profession." Still, in 2003 the Juilliard-trained Cross signed up for a half-season stint on The WB's Ever-wood, and before long she found herself shooting the pilot for Housewives.

Is she the show's on-set shrink? "Everyone isn't running to me for therapy all day long," she says. "I certainly am very aware of feelings. But I go to them too. It's not a one-way street."

Along with the show's success, Cross, 43, has been savoring her recent engagement to Mahoney, 47—she loves his "integrity and humor." During her Melrose Place years, she says, "I wasn't a very happy person. I had a lover [actor Richard Jordan] who died. This is a much happier time. It's really special to have someone wonderful to share it with."

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Eva LONGORIA (Gabrielle Solis)
Might mom-to-be Gabrielle be turning domestic? If so, the actress brings plenty of firsthand expertise

A regular at the neighborhood grocery store, Eva Longoria swipes her Ralphs Club card at checkout on a hot summer day, stocking up for company. "I'm shopping for dinner," she says. "I've had guests all week, so I've been trying to keep them fed. Everybody comes over for my Mexican food. I love to cook." She doesn't mind cleaning either, but she hired a housekeeper recently after moving into a new three-bedroom home. "I've done my own housework my entire life," she says. "I had a two-bedroom and I was like, 'If I can't handle a two-bedroom, my mom didn't raise me right.' Now my house is so much bigger and my hours are just crazy." At 30, the youngest Housewife packs a lot into her life. In July she wrapped The Sentinel with Michael Douglas and Kiefer Sutherland, then flew to China to spend time at NBA camp with her boyfriend, Tony Parker of the San Antonio Spurs. Returning to the set in August, Longoria kicked off Season 2 with an unscripted bit of drama: A falling pole gave her a nasty blow to the head that sent her to the hospital. Though she bounced back quickly, Longoria suffered another shock when she saw that Gabrielle's house "has a kitchen," she says. "So it looks like she'll attempt to cook!" As for her character's unwelcome pregnancy, Longoria says a recent wardrobe fitting didn't include maternity clothes. But, she adds, viewers should "expect the unexpected.

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Felicity HUFFMAN (Lynette Scavo)
The most serious actress of the bunch is having a blast enjoying a taste of mass popularity: "It's like lightning in a bottle"

Looking for proof that the women really do get along off-set? Recently, says Felicity Huffman, "Marcia came over for dinner, and Marcia, Eva and I hooked up for tea." Huffman has also been to "Teri's unbelievable parties. She's just so amazing at throwing them."

Huffman, 42, the mother of Sofia Grace, 5, and Georgia, 3, with husband William H. Macy, 55, is particularly pleased with her part on the show. "I never found a role in television that reflected my experience with motherhood," she says. "They didn't touch upon the madness and the loss and the craziness and the pain of motherhood. I was happy to portray that since I understood it." She admits that she was "frightened of having children because of everything I've said-it takes over your whole life. But it's the exact thing that has given me a wonderful opportunity."

Soon, moviegoers will see Huffman in a different light. She stars in Transamerica as a man in the process of becoming a woman, a role for which she won best actress at April's Tribeca Film Festival. What can't she play? When she auditioned for Housewives, she says, the show's "characters were so well-written, I thought, 'I'd like to play any of them.' Except, of course, the Latina supermodel, although I was willing to give that a shot as well!"

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Nicollette SHERIDAN (Edie Britt)
What are her turn-ons? Housework, horses and a husband-to-be

Nicollette Sheridan will soon join the ranks of housewives. Engaged to Swedish actor Niklas Soderblom since December, she says that she is looking forward to hunkering down on a "ranch so I can have my horses and my dogs and get my hands dirty every day. I love home. I cook. I have the house very clean. I'm actually much more like Bree."

In fact, Sheridan originally auditioned for the repressed Bree, not the sexpot she ended up playing. "I had this beautiful Chloe jacket over a backless vest with a plunging neckline," says the 41-year-old actress. When the director then asked her to read for Edie, "I whipped off my jacket and said, 'Let's go.' They were all laughing and falling off their chairs. Basically I left with the part." This season Edie takes up with Susan's ex, and Sheridan is ready. "It's like the two faces of Nicollette," she says. "By the time I finish with hair and makeup, I am Edie."

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Alfre WOODARD (Betty Applewhite)
Can't wait to learn what newcomer Betty Applewhite's dark side is all about? Neither can Woodard

As the newest Housewife on the block, acclaimed actress Alfre Woodard is relishing her role as a woman on the verge. "I think people might watch and say, 'Oh my God, did you see Alfre Woodard? What a bitch!' That's fun to do," says the Oscar-nominated actress (1983's Cross Creek), who also has four Emmys and a Golden Globe. A scene she shares with Bree (Marcia Cross) in this season's premiere "is one of the most outrageous moments ever on TV," Woodard, 52, adds. "I didn't know whether to giggle or be just horrified."

Unlike cold fish Betty Applewhite, who keeps people at arm's length, Woodard says that she's a warm, genial "total homemaker" who loves throwing huge dinner parties at the L.A. house she shares with writer-director husband Roderick Spencer, 47, and their two kids, Mavis, 14, and Duncan, 11. Still, for a self-described southern girl (from Oklahoma) who was "bred away from anything remotely like having my own real temperament," Woodard embraces alter ego Applewhite. "I get to act up and nobody gets hurt. Nobody says I'm ruthless or uncouth."

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