Who's behind the cold, conniving matriarch on ABC's hit show Revenge? A down-to-earth mom...and cattle rustler!

By Patty Adams Martinez

Q. Everyone's hailing you—or rather, the evil socialite Victoria—as the new Queen of Mean.A. People do get confused. They stare, do double takes and are genuinely startled when they see me. There's a lot of whispering, and sometimes they'll start shaking because they're so afraid. Not the kind of experience I had before, which was, "I really like your work. Can I take your picture?"

Q. So you're nothing alike?A. Victoria is glamorous and always perfectly put together. Because of her, I feel the need to kick my style up a notch. I clean up nice for the red carpet, but I'm really more of a blue jeans and T-shirt kind of gal.

Q. Actually, we've heard you're a cowgirl at heart.A. Yes! I've always loved riding horses. Right before our 16-year-old, May, was born, my husband [Private Practice actor Brian Benben] and I took a break from Hollywood and moved to a 400-acre cattle ranch in Texas. We were very hands-on, fixing fences and tending the herd.

Q. Wow. Can you ride a mechanical bull?A. Never done it. Still, I'd like to think I could hold on for a respectable amount of time. I'm a bit of a daredevil. As a kid I used to jump off rooftops and ride on the top of a speeding car. But since becoming a mom, I've tried to be more careful.

Q. Can you describe your parenting style?A. Atypical, at least when it comes to education. I dropped out of college, and I'm not pressuring May to go. Everyone needs to find her own path in life, and she's not sure if higher education is right for her. I'm okay with that.

Q. What do you hope to pass down to May?A. It's important to me that she has a strong moral compass. Since 2008 I've visited Haiti several times a year with the organization Artists for Peace and Justice, helping to build schools and hospitals. It's incredible, fulfilling work, and I hope I'm setting a good example.

Q. Any maternal words of advice?A. Follow your heart. That's worked for Brian and me for more than 30 years. Love is a wonderful thing, so embrace it.

Originally published in the May 2013 issue of Family Circle magazine.