Dana Delany: Sex & Sensibility

"I wouldn’t mind being the female version of George Clooney," she says.

By Amy Wallace
Photograph: Photo by: Peggy Sirota

Is she willing to be more explicit about younger versus older libido? Just try to stop her. In her younger days, she says, “I had times with people where it was ego-driven or where you just wanted to have an orgasm. It was like, ‘Let’s get to the endgame.’ ” Now, however, “great sex means it could go on for hours—and I’m not talking like Sting,” she says, referring to the rock star’s alleged interest in tantric sex. “Poor Sting has been so misquoted. But, you know, you take a break. You eat something. You talk, you laugh, you hang out. It’s ongoing and it’s sexy, and your whole life can be like that. Of course, you end up having a lot of orgasms, which is a bonus.”

Ever the girl who can hang with the boys, Delany has repeatedly dared to make choices and say things that you’d more likely expect to see or hear from a man. Apart from her remarks about sex (she once told an interviewer that she buys Playboy not for the articles but for the pictures), there has been her evolving attitude toward marriage. Sometimes she has spoken almost glibly about being single, gaily telling one reporter: “No pets, no plants, no children.” Once, analyzing what ended her 1980s romance with actor Treat Williams, she said, “I realized that I didn’t want to be with Treat, I wanted to be Treat. I wanted to have his confidence and power.” In other words, subsuming herself into a love relationship might cost her.

At other times, though, she has made marriage sound like an extreme sport she’d love to get the chance to master. Shortly after she turned 50, she told MORE she thought she was finally ready to get married. But now Delany, who is dating a movie producer, says marriage is no longer something she thinks about. “I feel so fulfilled in my life, and I’m so content being by myself that if it were to happen, that would be great, but it’s not a priority,” she says. So what changed in the last couple of years? “I think I was still reacting to the outside world and society. I sort of feel like I’ve found myself, that child, again—the one who was so happy to be out on a rock pretending it was a horse.”

Given the realities of her job, Delany’s serenity is impressive. Meryl Streep aside, Hollywood metes out tough punishment to actresses over a certain age. Delany, for all her talent, hasn’t ever truly broken through on the big screen. And as she’s gotten older, she’s watched herself be professionally eclipsed by younger women. Her friend Annabeth Gish alludes to this in recalling True Women, the 1997 TV movie on which they met. “Dana was the headliner, then me, and then there was another actress, named Angelina Jolie,” Gish remarks wryly. Enough said.

DELANY’S FRIEND James Ellroy, the novelist, thinks he knows what protects her from bitterness. He calls the actress, a longtime devoted yogi, “the eastern swami type. She cares about people in a non-sappy way. I think what Dana understands is that living solely in the material world is unacceptable. And a big fat drag besides.”

Take, for example, her house. It’s lovely, but simple. She bought it in 1990, and until she added the New York apartment, it was the only home she owned. It has made sense to her to live within her means (she rents out the guesthouse to this day) in order to have money to travel and to pass up acting jobs unless she really wants them.

Right now, Desperate Housewives occupies only about three days of Delany’s week, which is good, because she has other things going on. She is actively involved with six charitable organizations—“two diseases, two political, two arts” (those would be Stand Up to Cancer, the Scleroderma Research Foundation, the Creative Coalition, NARAL Pro-Choice America, New York Stage and Film and the Ojai Playwrights Conference). “And then,” she adds, “there’s all the New Age stuff.”

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