By ANGELA DAWSON
SANTA MONICA, Calif.—As she arrives for an interview at the Museum of Flying, actress Teri Hatcher can’t help but stop for a moment to admire the vintage flight attendant apparel on display.
“I love that,” she squeals to her publicist pointing to a ‘50s-era salmon colored cape, a-line dress and matching cap ensemble.
The petite brunette, best known for her role as Susan Mayer, a denizen of Wisteria Lane in the award-winning TV series “Desperate Housewives,” is looking nicely put-together in her form-flattering Galina Sobolev-designed cocktail dress.
The 48-year-old actress has been busy since her series wrapped last year after eight seasons, focusing on personal growth and raising her daughter, Emerson, as a divorced mom. After the show ended last year, she signed up for cooking school simply because she wanted to improve her kitchen skills. She also took a road trip around the northeast by herself just for fun.
After working almost nonstop for two decades, Hatcher has earned a little R&R time as she contemplates her next step career-wise. Fortunately, her fans will be able to hear her as the voice of the endearing and completely capable Dottie, in Disney’s high-flying animated feature “Planes.” Dottie doesn’t have wings. She’s a down-to-earth forklift that offers sage advice and loyal friendship to a crop duster named Dusty (voiced by Dane Cook), who dreams of competing in a round-the-world air race.
The actress says the role was a joy to do, and she liked that her character is a positive and inspiring role model for little girls.
Q: Did you know going in that your character would be such a pivotal part of the film?
Hatcher: I didn’t really put that together until I saw almost the whole movie. You go in and you do your little sections. I knew what was important to the director (Klay Hall) and (co-writer/executive producer) John Lasseter. They wanted a really earnest, honest, compassionate, real person who could truly move Dusty’s character. It wasn’t until I stepped back and saw that she could have been a boy that I started to imagine little girls leaving the theater with a little plastic screwdriver and pretending to make an engine. I thought, “OK, so maybe we’ve thrown a tiny pebble into the pond of girls can be mechanics too.” It’s an animated movie so it’s not like curing brain cancer but anytime you can have these little messages where women are being seen as capable of building things, fixing things, inspiring things, I think it’s a good message.
Q: Is this an idea you try and instill in your daughter?
Hatcher: Yes, because I’ve been single for such a long time. I’m the breadwinner. I kill the spiders— actually, I don’t kill them, I put them in a plastic bag and take them outside. I take out the trash. I change the light bulbs. I lug the 50-pound suitcases down the stairs. If the garage needs to be cleaned or whatever, I’m the one who’s doing it. Probably my daughter has gotten some benefit of being inspired by a woman who is willing to take on things. When we travel to exotic places, I’m the first person to jump in the ocean with a whale. Even if I’m scared, I’ll do it anyway because I never want her to see fear. When she was younger, we went to Australia and went up in a little glider plane and went whitewater rafting. I never wanted her to have the mom that said, “Oh that’s scary. Let’s not do that.” I’d paddleboard and do anything so that she can, in an unconscious way, think, “I can probably do that too.” That said, I can’t build anything. (She chuckles.) I’m not an electronic gear head. I wish I were. I really think girls should have to learn to change a tire or change the oil in high school because I think they’d benefit from that.
Q: Dottie and you are very similar, it seems. Do you think this was her rubbing off on you or you rubbing off on her? How much freedom did they give you in building this character?
Hatcher: It was a very well written script (by Jeffrey M. Howard, Lasseter and Hall). I wouldn’t claim to have had any hand in the structure of the storytelling. That was really all there in the script and I think they did a great job.
Q: After spending so much time on the TV series, is voiceover work what you want to do for a while?
Hatcher: (She chuckles.) This is not hard work. You can’t believe you get paid to do this job. When it was availed to me that I had free time, I chose to go to cooking school every day, like six hours a day. I wanted to learn something new. I wanted to be in a different kind of structure than I’d been in for years and years. I was very grateful to have the luxury to be able to do that and it allowed me to get my daughter after school. It’s very important to me to make my child a priority so I’ve made sacrifices so that I’m around and not traveling. I’m also very slowly and very quietly creating different things. Hopefully, some of those things will turn into something at some point. Mostly, I’m grateful that I can just be slow right now.
Q: What are your specialties?
Hatcher: I have gotten very good at meat temperature, which sounds stupid but I made a 17-pound prime rib for Christmas for 30 people, which is like a $500 piece of meat. I encrusted it in a salt crust. You can’t be piercing it all over the place. You have to wait, because if you cook it too much it will rise and when you take it out it has all this resting time. There are all these mathematical things to evaluate and I’m telling you, I’ve got the meat down along with a lot of other things. It’s been really fun. I was always a good recipe follower and now I feel like I’m just at the beginning of understanding really the basis of how to pull foods together. It’s really fun. It’s just a new craft.
Q: How are you with planes? Do you consider yourself a good flier?
Hatcher: I’m a good flier. My approach to flying is that it’s a means to an end and I love travel. I think there’s nothing more beneficial to being able to travel and see different cultures and expose your children to that. It’s always an out of control feeling but it doesn’t cause me so much anxiety that I’m paralyzed by it.
Q: Have you spent lot of time away from Hollywood to decompress or do you think it’s fun to stay in town around people you know?
Hatcher: When you’re a mom, you’re driven by your child’s school schedule and I have been for the past eight years. Even when I was doing “Desperate Housewives,” it was drive to school, work and pick up my daughter from school. I’m still in that schedule, September to June, I’m in LA being a mother and during the summer, she goes off with her dad (actor Jon Tenney) or me or her own things so there’s a little more time. I took a two-week road trip by myself through Pennsylvania. I dropped her off at a college summer camp outside of Columbus, Ohio for two weeks. I wanted to see some people in New York, New Jersey and Philadelphia and then go back (to Ohio), so I basically just rented a car and had my GPS Siri and just drove. It was amazing. I got stuck behind an Amish horse and buggy for, like, ten minutes. You forget when you get out there and there’s just hundreds of miles of farmland. When I got tired, I would say to Siri, “Is there a hotel that doesn’t have bed bugs around my area?” and she would give me five options and I would find the nearest one and pull in there. I got to go to New York and see Vanessa Williams in “A Trip To Bountiful,” where she was just breathtaking and then I got to visit my friends in New Jersey and Philadelphia and then I drove back to get my daughter. It was just terrific. It was like dropping off the map, which I love.
Q: When you drove through the backcountry, did people recognize you?
Hatcher: One thing I noticed on my trip: Ohio, for all its farmland, doesn’t have a lot of food to eat. I don’t really understand how you could go so many miles without being able to find a restaurant. I did find this little gas station with one pump and a little ma and pa restaurant. It was the only restaurant in a 100-mile radius, and it had a sign that said they had good pie. So I went in. I think it was Friday night and it was pretty crowded with locals. I was really hungry so I ordered prime rib, fried okra, creamed spinach and some sort of pickled thing. The owner was looking at me because I ordered a lot of food and I said, “I’m not going to eat it all, I just want to try everything.” Inevitably, she came over with a little piece of English china that must have been 100 years old, and she says, “My parents were the owners, and this is one of the original pieces of china from the restaurant. Would you autograph it so we can put it on the wall?” She also asked me to take a picture with her and I did. People are surprised by how much I love to eat. I guess I don’t look like I eat that much but I can put it away. (She laughs.)
Q: What do you do to stay in shape?
Hatcher: I do Pilates. I run almost every day. I take cycle classes. I like to be active. I hike with my dogs. I exercise a lot.