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On a recent Saturday afternoon, Cheryl Hines was in the lobby of the Palace Hotel in Midtown Manhattan on the verge of going whole housewife.
“I think this next weekend, I’m going to say ‘OK, put the extensions in [for good],’” the actress says as she breaks into a laugh. “Because I think it would add an hour to my day by not getting my hair extensions put in and out.”
Hines, petite and toned, is wearing Prada heels and a black cocktail dress by Diane von Furstenberg. She pronounces the designer’s name with a smiley zeal that betrays her background as an improv comic. Her hair is blond and, for the time being at least, shoulder length. The midday Manhattan sophisticate look is a far — and from the sounds of it, far more comfortable — cry from Dallas Royce, the character Hines has lately spent her working weeks inhabiting on ABC’s “Suburgatory.”
“Every outfit is a tiny torture chamber,” she explains of the new role with more laughs. “My dresses are so tight, so high, so short, I’m wearing a giant pushup bra with cutlets stuck inside too. So my bra alone is hot and sweaty. Then all of my heels are at least four inches high and then I have, like I said, all the hair extensions and lots of jewelry....I don’t know why I waited until I’m 46 to wear the shortest, tightest dresses in my life, but that’s what I’ve done.”
In short, Dallas is the alpha Real Housewife. Yet during the course of a noontime coffee, Hines seems generally incapable of the arrogance required of the part. She often flashes a very easy smile and presents a “the whole world’s a stage” attitude that befits a former member of The Groundlings sketch comedy group. Seeing an older hotel guest in black tie with his back to her, she fakes an elbow in his direction and leans in and whispers: “This is my fallback for tonight, if my man misbehaves.”
A new entry into the Wednesday night comedy wars, “Suburgatory” plops a city-raised teenager and her single dad, played by Jeremy Sisto of “Law & Order” fame, into the farcical Metro North commuter stop town of Chatswin, where Hines’ character plays foil to both. The show, which owes a debt of inspiration to films like “Mean Girls” and “Clueless,” has shown an impressive audience share for its first two episodes, and despite decidedly mixed reviews overall, Hines has won high praise for managing to make Dallas both ridiculous and a little lovable. The role is a tiny revelation for anyone who squirmed through the actress’ seven seasons playing a very different kind of housewife as the perpetually harangued straight woman to Larry David on “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” Until now the actress’ signature role, “Curb” and its tendency to mix fact and fiction earned a special, if sometimes confusing, place in fans’ hearts.
“People were very disappointed when they learned we weren’t really together,” the divorced-in-real-life Hines says of playing David’s wife. “I mean, this one woman, I thought she was going to cry. She said, ‘Oh, I thought you were really married.’ And I said, ‘No.’ And she said, ‘That just…that just makes me so sad. I’m just going to pretend like you are.’”
If the hair extensions are any indication, it looks like the art-imitating-life switch may be flipped for Hines with this latest role. Raised in middle class Tallahassee, Fla., the actress says she found a homegrown inspiration for Dallas in her mother, a real, as she puts it, Southern Lady.
“It’s about time I get to look good on a show,” she says, approximating her mom’s drawl. “Instead of always trying to make me look so frumpy.”
Hines laughs it off, but later in the conversation she mentions that a friend recently told her she’s looking better since she took the role.
“I think there’s something about playing Dallas that makes me feel like, ‘I don’t know why all of my dresses have to be loose and flowy,’” she says reflecting on the compliment and building into a giggle. “Like once in a while wear a tight dress and let the door man look you up and down.”