Before Desperate Housewives, Steven Culp was famous for being one of those ''that guy'' actors. You know: ''Look, honey, there's that guy from...[fill in the blank].'' In Culp's case, that blank could be JAG, The West Wing, Star Trek: Enterprise three shows among dozens the journeyman character actor has passed through over the past decade. His résumé also contains its share of Important Roles, most notably turns as Robert Kennedy in both HBO's Norma Jean and Marilyn and the big screen's Thirteen Days in 2000. ''It's the face,'' says the 49-year-old Culp, pointing to his clean-shaven Everyman's mug. ''I'm a one-man rep company.''
But with the death of his sad-sack sex fetishist Dr. Rex Van De Kamp in the May 22 season finale of Desperate Housewives (presumably the victim of a vengeful pharmacist's pill switcheroo), Culp's fuzzy kind of fame has solidified. And so begins a new chapter there's that S&M guy from Desperate Housewives.
Culp says he wasn't shocked to learn Rex would end up making Bree (Marcia Cross) a widow. ''I had a sneaking suspicion someone was going to go,'' says the actor during a hushed-voiced interview at an L.A. coffee shop 10 days before Rex's televised demise. ''I was laying bets with the other guys in the cast it was going to be me. After I found out it was, I stopped doing that.''
Culp got the news in early April after the show's staff had decided that the arc of the Van De Kamps' tumultuous marriage had run its course. ''As we neared the end of season 1, our plan was that each woman would enter a new life chapter,'' says coexecutive producer Kevin Murphy. ''Gabrielle would learn to function without Carlos, Susan and Mike would build their relationship, Lynette would go back to work, and Bree would become a single woman. We either had to have Rex divorce her or die, and we already did the coma with Mama Solis.'' Culp says he understood. ''The show's about the housewives,'' he says. ''You got to keep them desperate.''