The Emmy Awards were once Felicity Huffman and William H. Macy's bread-and-butter.
Each venerable actors, the couple of several decades have some 14 nods between them with Macy walking away a double winner in 2003 for writing and acting in the TV movie Door to Door and Huffman accepting a trophy for her debut season of Desperate Housewives in 2005.
For three straight years, from 2015 to 2017, they each walked the carpet as nominees (he for his long-running turn as the morally ambiguous patriarch of Shameless' Gallagher clan; she for three different roles in American Crime), gaining as much attention for their acting chops as their acts of adorableness in front of a step-and-repeat.
Because whether they added to their trophy case or not, the two were simply there for each other. Making their way through the press line last year, when Macy was once again up for Shameless, Huffman summarized their plan for the evening.
"Tonight if Bill wins, we're going to dance. And if Bill loses, we're going to get to go out to dinner," she revealed, speaking to People. "So it's a win-win."
This past year, the silver lining was harder to find.
Rather than mingle amongst her contemporaries, celebrating as as her based-on-a-true-story limited series When They See Us became one of the night's feel-good stories, she was present only in punch line form.
"The producers have asked me to give a special shoutout any of our previous lead actress winners who are watching tonight from prison," presenter Thomas Lennon joked while handing out the award for Outstanding Reality Series—Competition. "Hopefully those two weeks are gonna fly right by. Keep your chin up."
Frankly, just getting through the jail sentence may have been the easy part.
Not easy, per se, her 11 days spent in olive green at Federal Correction Institution Dublin in Northern California hardly feeling like a trip to the spa. Located just east of San Francisco, the all-female minimum security facility houses some 1,230 inmates who are tasked with following the strict rules (for instance, cots must be straightened by 6:30 a.m. on weekdays) and have rations that are limited to a no-frills hygiene kit and a roll of toilet paper.
So by Oct. 25, after a few visits from Macy and her youngest daughter Georgia, Huffman was probably relived to get an early release, prison policy of not discharging inmates on the weekends (plus credit for time served from her initial March arrest) meaning she has officially served the full two-week sentence she received for paying an admissions consultant to help doctor her eldest daughter's SAT test.
But her brief stint behind bars is nothing compared to re-entering an industry as cutthroat as Hollywood. (Ask Martha Stewart if she still swallows cracks about her insider trading conviction.) And while it's hard to imagine someone as talented as Huffman—who confidently told Haute Living in 2017, "I would say I'm in the best place in my career that I've ever been,"—won't be able to work her way back onto TV screens, she's more concerned with playing the part of role model, accountable citizen and just all around good person.
And that starts with helping other prison veterans get back on their feet, most women in this situation not having the same support system and sizable L.A. mansion to return to as Huffman, who's quietly marking her 57th birthday today.
While the actress was already familiar with a plethora of charitable endeavors, a do-gooder long before it was court ordered, she was looking for a new organization to dedicate her time to. Enter: A New Way of Life, an L.A. group dedicated to helping once-incarcerated women return home with jobs and work, ensuring for a smoother transition back to society.
"Felicity is a such a down to earth genuine caring person [and] she's been very helpful and supportive to the women here," founder Susan Burton, a former inmate and recovering addict, told People. "She has connected with them in a real way and you can feel it. I think that is because they know she's experienced in a small way what they have gone through being incarcerated."
In recent weeks, Burton told the outlet, the actress was helping prep for the group's Sunday gala and devoting herself to other menial tasks. "She's been cooking for the women, cleaning the homes, shopping and answering the phone," said Burton. Basically making good on the vow she had made to truly commit herself to her community service and pay her dues.
Unequivocal in her admission of guilt, Huffman devoted the statement she made at her Sept. 13 sentencing not to pleading her case, but to offering up her sincerest mea culpa. "I accept the court's decision today without reservation," she began. "I have always been prepared to accept whatever punishment Judge Talwani imposed. I broke the law. I have admitted that and I pleaded guilty to this crime. There are no excuses or justifications for my actions. Period."
Apologizing to her family, the educational community and "the students who work hard every day to get into college, and to their parents who make tremendous sacrifices," she continued, "I have learned a lot over the last six months about my flaws as a person. My goal now is to serve the sentence that the court has given me. I look forward to doing my community service hours and making a positive impact on my community. I also plan to continue making contributions wherever I can well after those service hours are completed."
"I can promise you that in the months and years to come that I will try and live a more honest life, serve as a better role model for my daughters and family and continue to contribute my time and energies wherever I am needed."
For now, she's turning much of that energy to her inner circle. In the months since her March arrest, she has attended family therapy sessions with Macy and their two daughters Sophia, 19, and Georgia, 17, working to repair a relationship that, as Macy put it in his letter to the judge "exploded" when they learned of her role in the college admissions scandal and the plans she had put in place to give them an unfair advantage.
"There is much to be done, and some of the hurt and anger will take years to work through," the actor shared in his note, "but we are making progress."
That began with the mother of all apologies, Sophia being justifiably hurt and embarrassed when she learned of Huffman's scheme. (According to the criminal complaint, Huffman made arrangements to repeat the scheme for her younger daughter, but ultimately decided not to.)
"One of the hardest things I've had to face after my arrest is when my daughter found out what I had done and she said to me, 'I don't know who you are anymore, Mom,'" she tearfully shared in court. "And then she broke down and asked, 'Why didn't you believe in me? Why didn't you think I could do it on my own?' I had no adequate answer for her then. I have no adequate answer for her now. I can only say, I am so sorry, Sophia. I was frightened, I was stupid, and I was so wrong."
In an effort to right those mistakes, she's been hunkering down at home, spending quality time with her family that largely amounts to lengthy discussions over meals and walks around their Hollywood Hills neighborhood.
Naturally Macy, whose favorite response when asked about the secret to their 22-year marriage is some form of "marry Felicity Huffman," has been supportive. As he wrote in his letter to the judge, he credits the New York native, his onetime acting student, with everything that's good in his life, so he never considered anything less than a complete follow-through of their marriage vows.
"They are there for one another," the source says of the entire Huffman-Macy clan. "They are all being very supportive of Felicity and trying to calm her anxiety and fears."
Huffman has even more fans outside of the sprawling estate she and Macy share. Among the 27 people penning letters to the judge, meant to sway her away from the prosecutors' suggested one-year sentence, was the actress' Desperate Housewives costar Eva Longoria, who credited the star with helping her endure the noxious bullying she received on set.
"Felicity was the first one to take my under her wing. From the first table read of the script, she noticed me sitting alone, scared and unsure of where to and what to do," Longoria wrote. "Her gentle character and kind heart immediately opened up to me. She approached me, introduced herself and said, 'Don't be scared, we will get through this together,' as she sat down beside me and never left my side since that day."
Not only did Huffman's friendship get Longoria through their decade of filming, the actress continued, it's endured to this day with the UNICEF supporter regularly turning out at charitable events she's held for the Latinx community. "She always leads with her heart," Longoria asserted, "and has always put others first."
Now with 250 hours of community service to complete—and her vow to go above and beyond that—she's embracing new causes.
In September she and Sophia paid a visit to an L.A. center that supports homeless teens, with Huffman eagerly taking notes on the work they accomplish. She has since fully embraced The Teen Project along with her work for A New Way of Life.
"She's been very helpful and supportive to the women here," Burton told People. "She has connected with them in a real way and you can feel it. I think that is because they know she's experienced in a small way what they have gone through being incarcerated."
Because Huffman is hoping hers will be a redemption story as well—a chance to dedicate this next chapter of her life to altruism not just because it's court-ordered, but because it's the right thing to do. As an insider told E! News, "She will focus on her community service and putting her life back together."
And that just may mean returning to a TV screen near you. Respected not only for her obvious talent but her giving spirit, Huffman has the right mix of skill and likability with a healthy scoop of humility that can set the stage for a comeback. "She hopes to work again in the future," said the insider. "Hollywood is a small town and nobody has anything bad to say about her. She feels like she is paying her dues and has shown remorse for her actions. She hopes that she will be accepted again."
(Originally published October 10, 2019, at 3 a.m. PT)