In the topsy-turvy year that has been 2020, Felicity Huffman's plans for her Dec. 9 birthday are hardly novel.
"She'll be spending a quiet birthday with her family," a source told E! News of the 58-year-old. Which, relatable, the understated, at-home gathering featuring just a few key VIPs (in this case, we'd assume her husband of 23 years, William H. Macy, and their daughters Sophia, 20, and Georgia, 18) having become the celebration du jour for all since the arrival of COVID this past spring.
And yet, despite the pared-down nature of the get-together, Huffman has every reason to feel festive as she ushers in her next year.
Because at this time 12 months ago, the venerable actress, a perennial Emmy favorite, was just six weeks removed from completing her 11-day prison sentence, having pleaded guilty to fraud charges for her part in the college admissions scandal. And she was hoping against hope that she'd get to pick up where she left off in the career she loved.
This year? She's celebrating a wish come true.
A literal punchline at the 2019 Emmys, three weeks before she'd enter Federal Correction Institution Dublin in Northern California, she now has a shot at returning to glory thanks to a starring role in a still-untitled comedy series inspired by the life of Susan Savage, owner of the Sacramento River Cats minor league baseball team.
And whether or not the ABC project, which also counts Huffman as executive producer, proves to be a trophy-worthy vehicle for the six-time Emmy nominated star, just being up for consideration feels like a win.
As Lori Loughlin completes her own two-month prison sentence—she and Huffman's names forever linked thanks to their parallel roles in the so-called Varsity Blues scandal—the Desperate Housewives star's time served at the all-female, minimum security facility is firmly in the rearview.
"She is back to work and moving on with her life," the source told E! News of Huffman, who's also wrapped her 250 hours of mandated philanthropy. "She's very happy to have completed her community service and to be able to put that chapter behind her. She is looking forward to turning the page and new projects in 2021."
That's not to say she didn't find value in her year of service. "She learned a great deal from it," the source said of Huffman's time spent giving back, "and there were many eye-opening experiences."
A do-gooder long before it was court-ordered, the actress was already familiar with a plethora of charitable endeavors, but she was looking for a new organization to dedicate her considerable time. And she found it in A New Way of Life, an L.A. group working to help once-incarcerated women return home with employment, 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 last year. "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."
Burton told the outlet, the actress spent her time helping prep for the group's annual 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, 2019, 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."
She also dedicated considerable time and energy to her inner circle. In the months since her March 2019 arrest, she has attended family therapy sessions with Macy and their two daughters, 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 her mom had paid to adjust her SAT scores. (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,'" Huffman 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, Huffman spent a lot of time hunkering down at home, spending quality time with her family that largely amounted to lengthy discussions over meals and walks around their Hollywood Hills neighborhood.
Naturally Macy, whose favorite response when asked about the secret to their decades-long 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," a source said 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."
And now she's taking up some new causes.
Last 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."
That now includes 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 to set the stage for this comeback. "Hollywood is a small town and nobody has anything bad to say about her," said the insider. "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)