LOS ANGELES – Mehcad Brooks (search) likes being Wisteria Lane's latest hunk. Just don't ask him what's in the basement.
"It changes you as much as you let it," he says of his newfound fame as Matthew Applewhite on ABC's "Desperate Housewives (search)." "You kind of need to keep the same people around you."
But that means his "bills are higher," he jokes, because he's picking up the restaurant tab for his pals more often.
Matthew and mother Betty (Alfre Woodard (search)) are objects of curiosity and suspicion in the neighborhood because of what they seem to be hiding in their home.
And such interest isn't limited to the script. In recent weeks Brooks has been approached by strangers demanding to know more about the mysterious cellar dweller, who on the last episode managed to escape captivity and had to be subdued by Matthew and mom with a pistol butt to the back of the head.
But Brooks will only say many surprises are in store for the popular soap opera (9 p.m. Eastern on Sundays).
"It's like those little Russian dolls. Open them up and there's more inside. The stories are very layered," he says.
Before moving to Wisteria Lane, Brooks was a relatively unknown actor, usually cast in athletic roles — most recently as a basketball player in the upcoming movie "Glory Road," about the 1966 team with the first all black starting lineup that won the NCAA national championship.
"My favorite thing about `Housewives' is that I don't have to dribble a basketball," says the 6-foot-3-inch actor, who turned down basketball scholarships to attend the University of Southern California's school of cinema-television.
Now to address the TV season's other watercooler question: Yes, Brooks is single.
"I'm really a kind of casualty of romance," he says, self-mockingly comparing his situation to the romantically challenged "Housewives." "I either ruin the relationship myself or I get hurt a lot."
Brooks, who turns 25 on Oct. 25, was born in Austin, Texas, the son of a professional football player and a journalist. He recalls his passion for acting began at age 4 on a trip to Universal Studios with his grandmother.
"I said, `Grandma, this is what I want to do with my life,' because I looked around and figured out that people made a living there."
"Desperate Housewives" shoots at Universal.
Brooks has worked as a model, but to help pay his tuition he also took less glamorous jobs, including window washer and theater usher.
"Desperate Housewives" creator Marc Cherry says 100 to 150 young men were considered before sending about 25, including Brooks and brother Billy, to meet the producers.
Cherry had not originally written the Applewhites to be black. But after two other actresses turned down the role of Betty, Woodard was suggested. As a "huge fan," Cherry immediately felt she was ideal.
"I'm not one of those guys who says, `Oh, we have to have diversity,'" he explains. "I just want great actors — that's all I care about. Then when it came time to look for a son for her we just wanted someone who was sexy, but wholesome. Mehcad (pronounced Muh-CAD) had just a fine upstanding look about him, but he has a slightly dangerous sexy quality too, and we thought it was an intriguing combination."
Brooks agrees with Cherry's colorblind casting.
"The way I look at it, dysfunction has no color. It's equal opportunity, it invades every family no matter what economic level, no matter what race," he says. "It just so happens the Applewhites have a darker pigment of the skin."