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Feature Stories

A Day in the Life of Ricardo Chavira

Patty A. Leos, editor of The Word, recently had an opportunity to spend a day with Ricardo Antonio Chavira, a native of San Antonio who is one of the stars of ABC's "Desparate Housewives" and who is also a 1996 graduate of the University of the Incarnate Word. On the hit show, he plays Carlos Solis, a rich successful businessman married to Gabrielle, an ex-runway model potrayed by Eva Longoria. The following is an account of their day.

Although I first met Ricardo Chavira a few months ago when he unexpectedly stopped by UIW to visit with his former professors, this was my first opportunity to say more than just hello to him. I was terribly excited and apprehensive; after all, it isn’t often that one of the stars of the year’s most talked-about television program agrees to share a precious vacation day back home with a complete stranger.

As we meet again on this hot and humid day in January, Chavira is curled up in a chair outside my office, waiting for me to lead him to the photo shoot for the magazine. It is only 9 a.m., a little early for Chavira these days; often, the hectic TV shooting schedule of “Desperate Housewives” stretches into the late night.

Unlike his TV character, there is nothing even remotely unpleasant about Chavira. He is not a controlling, domineering jerk; he is a complete gentleman. At the moment Chavira also looks nothing like the suave businessman he plays on “Desperate Housewives.” He is dressed informally in blue jeans, a t-shirt and a beanie. “I brought a change of clothes,” he assures me, catching my concerned look at his casual attire before the photo shoot.

We make our way to the Elizabeth Huth Coates Theatre as Chavira proceeds to the restroom to change his clothes. Out emerges the smooth man he portrays on TV. Appearing a little apprehensive, Chavira immediately relaxes once he sees the photographer, a chance encounter that captures the down-home, small-town atmosphere of San Antonio.

“Hey Tommy, how’s it going? It’s been a long time,” says Chavira, who has worked with photographer Tommy Hultgren in the past and respects his work. “Tommy took my headshots for graduate school,” he tells me before turning to Hultgren and saying, “It’s so good to work with you again.”

Once the photo shoot is finished, I follow Chavira out of the auditorium and into the Maureen Halligan-Ronald Ibbs Theatre & Dance Center. He plunks down in the sofa next to me; we are now in the green room, a place where actors can chill and unwind between scenes.

"I want my work to speak for itself. I like being the underdog and I like it when people expect me to fail. It's a great thrill proving them wrong."

As he relaxes, Chavira begins to chat about his college days. Incarnate Word had always been his first choice for college, but he opted to instead enroll at the University of Colorado because he felt a need to get out of San Antonio at that point in his life. Chavira returned to San Antonio after one year in Colorado when his financial aid ran out, something he now refers to as “a blessing in disguise” because deep down he knew he wanted to be home.

“I was interested in studying theatre (at UIW) and they welcomed me with open arms,” he says, adding, however, that “at first, the professors were kind of reluctant because I was a transfer student; they feared I would return back to Colorado.

“I had to prove myself to them that I was serious about studying theatre at UIW,” he says. His natural abilities soon convinced them.

“I have lots of memories of this campus. Some good, some bad and some that I can’t even mention,” he says in a slightly mischievous tone. “UIW means family, good times, eating at Bill Miller’s Bar-B-Q and drinking Shiner Bock. My days and nights as a student were consumed performing in theatre productions. UIW will always have a special place in my heart.”

We eventually leave the campus to have lunch at Rosario’s Mexican Café y Cantina. We’re in the restaurant only five minutes when a lady approaches our table, surely recognizing Chavira from the television show.

“Aren’t you Judge Juan Chavira’s son?” she asks as I look on in amazement that she has recognized Chavira for something other than “Desperate Housewives.” Then again, that’s one of the advantages of being home. “Yes I am,” he answers, his face breaking into a big smile. He stands up and gives her a bear hug; they embrace each other as if they’re old friends who haven’t seen each other in a long time.

“That’s what I love about San Antonio, everybody is so friendly,” he says afterwards, perhaps an ever-so-subtle jab at the glitz and craziness of Hollywood. It’s become clear during the day that Chavira is most comfortable when reminiscing about growing up in San Antonio, one reason he spends as much time as possible in the Alamo City.

It’s not long before other people start to recognize him. In the distance, I can see them stare, but they won’t approach us. Not yet. But as we make our way to the door, the hostess catches him. “Can you autograph this menu?” she asks, and quickly a group of women forms and begins to approach us, each asking along the way, “Is it really him?” One then turns directly to me, seeking my confirmation - “Is it Carlos Solis from “Desperate Housewives”?

Chavira happily obliges all of the autograph seekers. Later he explains that an aspect of celebrity he still hasn’t gotten used to is being recognized when he’s out in the public. “People see me on the street and they call me ‘Carlos,’” he says. “It’s funny; (acting) is a job, you go in, you do it and leave. I have to remember that people have a hard time separating the actor from the real person. But we couldn’t be more different.”

Chavira loves being in San Antonio because he can be close to his son, Tomas Antonio, and extended family. “I try to come home once a month,” he says. “This gives me the opportunity to get involved with the San Antonio community.”

After lunch, we head to a meeting of the local affiliate of the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation; he has agreed to serve as the Honorary Chair for the Foundation’s 2005 Race for the Cure in April. It was his idea to call the group and offer them his support by lending his name and voice to the event.

Chavira believes in supporting causes that are dear to his heart like this one. He shares his wrenching personal story at the group’s monthly board meeting. “My mother died of ovarian and breast cancer. I witnessed first-hand the pain and suffering at a very young age,” he explains. “This was my opportunity to educate myself on this illness, and give back to the community.”

“Desperate Housewives” won the People's Choice Award for best New Television Drama Series in January, as well as a Golden Globe award for best TV comedy. In February, the show’s cast was honored by the Screen Actor’s Guild with the award for Outstanding Ensemble in a comedy TV series. Even with the increased recognition the show has been receiving, Chavira says there haven’t been many changes in his day-to-day life.

“I’m kind of boring,” he says. “There’s nothing spectacular about my life. I come home to San Antonio once a month. I love shopping at thrift stores and hanging out with my friends. I haven’t gotten used to the celebrity status. I don’t see why people make such a big deal.”

As our day together winds down in the late afternoon, Chavira looks me in the eye and says, “What my life is, really, is the person you’re talking to here, the person who loves San Antonio and spending time with his son.”