Eva Longoria Discusses Her "Vital" 'Empire' Arc, Stepping Behind the Camera

"It was something I really hadn't done," the actress tells THR about her conservative politician character.
Courtesy of Chuck Hodes/FOX

[Warning: This story contains spoilers for Wednesday's episode of Empire, "Love Is a Smoke."]

Empire got a taste of Wisteria Lane on Wednesday with the addition of Eva Longoria. Kicking off the first of a three-episode arc, the Desperate Housewives grad made her debut as Charlotte Frost, a powerful gaming commissioner from Las Vegas whom Lucious (Terrence Howard) must woo in order to break in to the Sin City market he thinks will be the next big ticket for his company.

While her appearance in Wednesday's episode was brief to say the least, Longoria will return to cool things down in the final two episodes of the hip-hop drama's third season.

Although Empire and Desperate Housewives are both shows known for their jaw-dropping soap opera-esque twists and turns, Charlotte Frost is a far cry from both Gaby Solis and the more comedic roles Longoria has been frequenting as of late.

Behind the scenes, the arc is one of two projects Longoria has at Fox and studio 20th Century Fox, the other being her half-hour comedy pilot Type-A in which Longoria, again, plays against type as an ambitious and brutally honest consultant at war with her inner nice girl.

Longoria jumped on the phone with THR to talk about Charlotte's surprising backstory, potentially stepping behind the camera on Empire and why she wanted to play an asshole.

What appealed to you about coming to Empire and this role in particular?

I've known [co-creators] Lee Daniels and Danny Strong for a while, and I'm obviously a big fan of their writing and honestly I did because of Terrence. He kept telling me, "You got to come on the show. You got to come on the show." Terrence and I have been friends for 20 years and I thought, 'Oh, that would be fun.' I said yes before even knowing what the character was and so then I got on the phone with the showrunner and we talked a little bit about the character she was going to develop, what she felt like, what she looked like and what her role was. It was super intriguing because it was something I really hadn't done – playing a conservative politician. It's definitely make-believe for me.

What were those initial discussions with showrunner Ilene Chaiken like? What was your big question or big priority about what you wanted to see with this character?

I just wanted her to have a purpose. I didn't want to be your typical guest star that comes in and is a stunt casting. To plug somebody into this Lyon family is no easy feat, so when she explained to me I would be playing Charlotte Frost and that basically the hopes and dreams of Lucious breaking into Vegas lies in her hands. It was very intriguing to me. That's what we talked about. I said, "Does she have a purpose? Is she really going to help move story forward?" And she said, "Absolutely, it's a vital character leading up to the season finale." And there's of course a big twist and a turn that you never see coming so that was even more exciting to me. I haven't been able to talk about it even though I shot it already. That was really exciting to me.

Your character only briefly appears in this episode, so what can you say about her going forward?

Yeah, tonight is like super brief. The next couple episodes are really when we get into their history. Actually, I have a history with Nia Long's character. Nia's character knew me from back in the day. The power that I have as the gaming commissioner of Las Vegas, she knows nothing comes to Vegas without going through me. You find out in the next several episodes that Charlotte's a bit of a hard-ass and Lucious' normal charm doesn't work on her because she A) doesn't drink, B) is Mormon, C) is really conservative. So his wine-and-dine usual technique has been falling on deaf ears. So he has to think of a different strategy with Charlotte.

Will we see any scenes with Charlotte and Cookie?

I did an amazing scene with Cookie that was a lot of fun. I just admire her as an actress and as a human being. She's just hilarious. Her and Terrence need a comedy show because they are very funny.

What can you say about the dynamic about those two characters?

Cookie figures out that Lucious isn't getting anywhere with me and she decides to make a play on her own for Vegas. So she kind of goes behind his back and she comes in an appeals to my conservative, motherly side.

You're obviously working on a pilot for Fox right now, but has there been any talk of you coming back in some shape or form in season four?

No, I think probably because I have my pilot. Maybe they're waiting to see how that goes first, but the one-hour drama world is tiring and exhausting. I lived it for 10 years and so I like popping in and popping out. (Laughs.) Those hours; I remember one day my call time was 1 a.m. and I said, "Oh my God, what am I doing here?!"

You've been doing a lot of comedies in recent years (Telenovela, Brooklyn Nine-Nine). What was it like flexing your dramatic muscles again on Empire?

I cross both lines, but I love doing comedy. I started my career in drama and I've done a lot of drama. Desperate Housewives was a dramedy. I've always had one foot in both arenas, so anytime I get the chance to do drama or comedy, it's really based on the role and what my purpose is. It just needs to be a really good part.

Empire is such a fast-moving show. Would you ever be interested in directing an episode?

Absolutely. I have been mostly directing this year. I did Jane [the Virgin], I did Black-ish, I did Devious Maids. Devious was a one-hour, Jane is a one-hour. Empire is interesting, because it's shot like a film so it would be so much fun to direct. I would love to get behind the camera on one of those episodes because the camera choreography really feeds into the drama and so you have to use the camera differently, and that would be a lot of fun for me.

Now that you're directing more in addition to producing, how does that impact how you go about choosing acting roles?

It affects it a lot. I love directing. I get offered guest spots all the time, and if it's not a group of people that I've been longing to work with or the character doesn't appeal to me, it has to check a lot of boxes in order for me to guest-star because I would much rather be directing.

What drew you to the Fox comedy pilot you're working on now?

The main character is an asshole, and that's what I really wanted. I keep saying I want to play a character that's not so likeable. And so when this one came along – it was based on a book called Assholes: A Theory – so it's an office comedy like you've never seen. Once we started casting it, it just came together with my dream cast of Ken Marino and Andy Richter and Steve Harris and Kyle Bornheimer, I couldn't have been surrounded by more talented people. And then Jason Winer, he's on the best directors out there right now and he's a great producer and he's really the reason why I even entertained doing this project. He's the one that sealed the deal with me to do it.

Empire airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. on Fox.