Political activist, self-confessed nerd, and sexy pinup girl Eva Longoria is full speed ahead with her career, but proceeding with caution on romance and motherhood.

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On "Geeking Out" and Game of Thrones

Eva Longoria has no trouble holding her own, whether on the political battleground for immigration reform or calling the shots behind the camera—as she did this January while filming the season-two premiere of Lifetime’s Devious Maids, her television directorial debut.

But the sexiest housewife in TV history (sorry, leggy ladies of Bravo!) did have a tough time controlling herself on the set of her most recent film while acting alongside Sean Bean in Any Day (due out later this year). “I am such a huge fan of Game of Thrones, I was geeking out!” Longoria says with a self-deprecating laugh. “I wanted to call him Ned Stark so many times.”

Longoria, who turns 39 this month, has long been in touch with her inner nerd—not that you’d ever guess from today’s sizzling, 80-degree Ocean Drive cover shoot, where she confidently plunged into the pool in full glamour-queen mode by the end of the day. “I’ve been a chameleon my entire life,” she says. Back in Corpus Christi, Texas, she recalls, “I was a band geek and played the clarinet, but then I was also a cheerleader and was part of the homecoming court. And I’ve carried that throughout my life.”

That early experience has helped her navigate two notorious shark tanks—Hollywood and, now, politics, where she’s a tireless fighter on behalf of Latino Americans, whether that has meant stumping for President Obama’s reelection campaign, speaking at the Clinton Global Initiative, or directing and producing the documentary Latinos Living the American Dream for the 2010 Census. “I would talk to President Obama with the same compassion and interest as I would talk to the high school janitor—it doesn’t matter your status in life, it matters who you are as people.” (As long as you’re not a Game of Thrones star, that is.)

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"I Think Being Smart Is Sexy," — Longoria on Going Back to School 

The roots of her political activism and philanthropic work started at home, as the youngest in a family of four sisters, one of whom has special needs. “Because of our sister, we were constantly volunteering, whether it was at her school, or at the church, or at the community center, or wherever, we wanted to make sure that we supported her. We didn’t come from a lot of money; we had to really utilize the services that were offered to us by the community, whether it was Boys and Girls Clubs or a Salvation Army. And because we benefited from a lot of those organizations, we gave back. That’s what started my philanthropic view of putting yourself in other people’s shoes. And there are a lot of people less fortunate than you, so you have to share and help.”

Politics was a natural path that happened through her community work and grass-roots organizing. “You need to do both to have substantial, effective, long-term, sustainable change.”

On a personal level, Longoria doesn’t shy away from making necessary career changes as well, ones that amplify more than her movie-star looks or pinup-worthy bikini body. Maxim’s current Woman of the Year also happens to be the recent recipient of a master’s degree in Chicano studies from California State University, Northridge. “Some people think it’s a contradiction to be sexy and smart, and it’s not the case,” says the woman crowned Miss Corpus Christi, USA, in 1998. “I think being smart is sexy.

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On Campaigning with Obama and the Hot Button Issue That Hits Home

She certainly ratcheted up that hotness factor, with her thesis titled “Success STEMS From Diversity: The Value of Latinas in STEM Careers” (STEM being Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math). She earned her degree in May 2013 after three years of night school, which, she admits, provided a welcome change of pace from the Desperate Housewives’ daily regimen of hair, makeup, wardrobe, and filming, in her role as Gabrielle Solis on the hit ABC show.

“I’m extremely curious about the world, and I always want to be literate on what I’m talking about,” she says. “So I decided to get my master’s in Chicano studies, because that’s what I was most curious about.” She started her coursework during the first Obama campaign, “when immigration was becoming an issue—it was on the national agenda in a more serious way. I wanted to know more about the history of immigration and understand why it was problematic.” Coming from a Mexican-American household, the issue hit especially close to home.

“I was like a sponge with my teachers and my classmates, just absorbing all of the knowledge. I found it all very energizing and exciting, and something that was outside of my everyday norm of mingling with other actors, talking about movies and box offices, and readings. It was nice to break out and talk about Oedipus theory and Marxism and the global community we live in, and how this affects everybody.”

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On Opening Doors for Other Latina Actresses

Longoria could have easily continued on as a force on screens small and large, as a SAG Award winning, Golden Globe-nominated actress. (It’s work she continues to do: In addition to Any Day, she also stars in Refugio, Demian Bichir’s forthcoming directorial debut, and voices the lead character, a career woman turned full-time mom, in Hulu’s dark comedic animated series Mother Up, which she also executive produces.) But she felt a larger calling and flipped the script to help create more stories and roles for Latinas onscreen by forming her own production company, UnbeliEVAble Entertainment.

“I’ve always been driven and ambitious,” she says. “I’ve always been proactive. Knowing that Latinas are underrepresented in television and film, I didn’t want to just sit back and wait for the next role to come along. If we want more opportunities in entertainment, we have to create them ourselves—we have to write them; we have to produce them; we have to direct them. And that’s really what has motivated me to get behind the camera, to make sure other people have the same opportunity I had.”

Next on tap from Longoria’s production company, among many projects to come, is Trust, an hour-long soap set in Miami for ABC and modeled on the hit Colombian telenovela Pura Sangre, followed by Vega v. Vega, about a mother-daughter duo of star Latina attorneys in LA.

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On Marriage, Romance, and Why Kids Aren't on the Horizon 

With so much on her plate, a daily meditation practice keeps Longoria’s mind focused, and a routine of running and yoga every other morning keeps her fit. Being in the Magic City for some downtime is the perfect location for that. “It’s so beautiful when you wake up here in Miami—you can’t help but do some sun salutations and meditate. It’s so relaxing,” she says. As her best friend lives in the heart of South Beach, Longoria considers Miami a home away from home, and when in town she’s a regular at Casa Tua (“I never get tired of it”) and Suviche (“I could go there every day for the tiradito”). “I love Miami!” she enthuses. “If I didn’t live in LA, the only other place I could live would be Miami. It’s a city that gives me energy once I land. I love the humidity; I love the heat; I love the beach.”

It all adds up to what seems to be a perfect life, with no kids just yet for Longoria. Having children of her own, she says, “is not on the horizon right now, so it’s not something I think about.” Has she ever had a desire for kids? “Oh, of course, when I was married.” After the 2010 dissolution of her high-profile second marriage, to NBA star Tony Parker, Longoria has dated on and off, and she’s keeping relatively mum about her current paramour, 45-year-old Jose Antonio Baston, president of Televisa, the largest media company in Latin America. All she’ll say about her romance is that she’s “definitely very happy.” She certainly looks it: The pair has been arm-in-arm out on the town in LA and jet-setting to fêtes in Mexico City and various Art Basel soirées over the past several months.

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On Why the Critics Were Wrong About Devious Maids

Besides, she’s focused on bigger things right now, such as the April 20 season-two premiere of Devious Maids, a show she also produces. The week of her OD shoot, she’d just arrived in Miami after a month of filming in Atlanta. “I was in the snow, in four-degree freezing weather, for a month, so as soon as I was done, I knew that I’d be coming here to warm weather.”

It wasn’t her first time behind the camera, but it was the first time she helmed an episode of a national primetime TV show. “I’ve known [these women] not only for years prior to Devious Maids as friends, but also as a producer of the show. I was very excited to be able to direct the girls. Our story lines are amazing, and being able to work even closer with Executive Producer Marc Cherry [who created Desperate Housewives] in a different capacity has just been a blessing.”

In season two, Longoria promises “more deviousness and a whole new mystery” in store for the five Latina housemaids of Beverly Hills.

As for the initial backlash to Devious Maids—that the show concept is degrading or promotes stereotypes of overly dramatic Latinas—Longoria says she wasn’t fazed. “I believed in the show. Organically, it was a groundbreaking show for Latinas, for being the first [English-language] show that cast five Latinas in the lead roles, and making sure they were the moral compasses of the show. And it was written by one of the best show writers of the last decade. I knew it was going to be magic.”

All of the hoopla only made people more curious to find out what the fuss was about—1.99 million tuned in to its season-one premiere. Once viewers saw Devious Maids, it was a hit, notes Longoria. “After the show aired, we actually got a couple of apologies from the people who were the critics, saying, ‘Oh my God, I was wrong.’ There’s no better way to silence your critics than success.”

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