Larry Hagman, Patrick Duffy and Linda Gray are back in Southfork as J.R., Bobby and Sue Ellen Ewing on TNT’s return to Dallas, premiering on June 13th. With a new collection of secrets, schemes and betrayals, this time they’re joined by the next generation of Ewings, who take ambition and deception to a whole new level.
At the show’s press day, co-stars Larry Hagman, Linda Gray and Josh Henderson (playing J.R. and Sue Ellen’s son John Ross, who is determined to undermine his grandmother’s legacy by drilling for oil on Ewing land) talked about why they wanted to be a part of this series, where the characters are at now, what the show will bring to both new viewers and long-time fans, how well they’re treated when they’re in Texas, and their favorite episodes this season. Check out what they had to say after the jump:
Question: Larry, why did you decide to come out of semi-retirement to go back to Dallas?
LARRY HAGMAN: I wasn’t retired. Actors can’t retire. What would they do? Well, they called and approached me about it a year ago and I said, “I’m not sure.” And then, they said, “Patrick Duffy and Linda Gray are going to be on it,” and I said, “Oh, well, okay.” Then, Linda called me up and said, “You’re gonna do it,” and I said, “Okay.” They said, “Don’t you wanna read a script?,” and I said, “I don’t need to read a script.”
How different is doing Dallas as a cable series with TNT, then it was, back in the day of doing it every week, on a network?
HAGMAN: You’re an actor, so you’re just going to shoot it, whether you’re on television or the big screen. It’s all the same. It’s just marketed in a different way. There used to be three networks, and now there are 40 million networks. There’s a lot more competition out there, too. We would bring in 27 million people. Now, they’re lucky if they have 17. I looked at the ratings, for the first time in 25 years, just to see, and there were 130 shows on. There used to be maybe 30. So, there’s a big difference in just the demographics of who’s watching what.
Considering the current level of competition, how do you get people to watch the show now?
HAGMAN: I don’t know. I have no idea about how to market this stuff, but they’re doing a hell of a job. They’ve got all of us in a shower, and they’ve put hair on my chest. I don’t have hair on my chest.
Larry, was it difficult, at all, to get back into the world of J.R., since you hadn’t played him in a while, or was it fairly easy?
HAGMAN: Hell, I know the character. He hasn’t changed any. I’m very happy with that. They’re writing in that direction, too.
Josh, Dallas is so great at balancing relationship and family stories with the drama of business. How do you balance that with your character and his storylines?
JOSH HENDERSON: John Ross feels like he’s got a lot to live up to. As much as he and J.R. didn’t necessarily have a great father-son relationship, he definitely admires who his father was, as a business man, and he wants to live up to that. He feels like it’s his duty and his birthright to carry this Ewing name to the next generation and really attack the whole oil game, all over again. It’s very important to him. But, he also cares about family. He learned from the best, in his mind. J.R. did business a certain way, and that’s all he knows. And, if he can actually somehow do it even better, he’s going to try. If that’s possible, we don’t know yet.
Is it daunting to play the son of J.R. Ewing?
HENDERSON: It was definitely intimidating. When I got cast in the role, I was very excited. It was a very surreal moment for me. Then, it was like, “Okay, now I have to actually show up and do the work.: I knew how much expectation there was, just for the return of the show in general and the anticipation of the original fans, but I knew that there was going to be a lot of curiosity in who John Ross became, considering he had such great parents with J.R. and Sue Ellen. Who is he now? What kind of guy is he? Is he going to be like his father, or is he going to be completely opposite of his father? So, for me, I knew there was a lot of weight on my shoulders, but I was actually very, very excited for the opportunity to bring John Ross back.
HAGMAN: And, there was a lot of discovery. After all, his mother took him to Europe and educated him over there, and I hadn’t seen him in 10 years, so we’re both discovering each other. I know who I am, but he doesn’t know who I am. There’s that going on, too.
As you start working together, how will the relationship grow and change?
HAGMAN: Well, we’re both learning about each other. This is the discovery period, right now. He’s learning more than he wants to know about me.
HENDERSON: I think that John Ross knows enough to know that he might not be able to always wholly trust his father. In his own way of thinking, in the way of business, he wants to try and stay one step ahead of everybody, but with his father around, he knows that that’s going to be tough, and it’s going to be tricky. So, I think that he’s excited about the potential of working with him, but I also think he his own goals, as well as J.R. does. It makes a very interesting father-son relationship.
What do you think it would take for John Ross to actually get something over on J.R.?
HENDERSON: Well, I think that it’s going to take some very genius, conniving snake-like work, but he’s learned from the best. He watched his father do it, and he has had a lot of time to figure out his own path. I think that it might be a never-ending journey, but he’s definitely pursuing that.
Josh, how many episodes of the original Dallas did you watch, to prepare for this?
HENDERSON: Before we shot the pilot, I knew what Dallas was, but I actually was too young to remember the details of the show. I didn’t have my hands on the DVDs, so I YouTubed everything I could of J.R. Just like everyone else, when it was originally airing, I quickly became in awe of how he could walk into a room as J.R. and destroy a man’s life, in three sentences with a smile on his face and a tip of his hat, and then leave. I couldn’t believe it. That’s when I really started to understand that I had to come up with something special to play his son because what he did was so amazing that I really had to come up with something good. That’s how I studied him. And then, finally, my mother bought me all the DVDs for Christmas, and I really got to watch them. The original was very racy, too. I wasn’t expecting that.
Linda, Sue Ellen is back and stronger than ever. What was it like to return to this character?
LINDA GRAY: It was with a whole new Sue Ellen because she’d been gone for 20 years. She had taken John Ross with her to London. So, I had to do a lot of homework for Sue Ellen. I had to really find out, “Where would she be? Who would she be with? What are her values now? Why did she change? Is it solid change, or is it just surface change? What would she be doing with her new life?” I did lots and lots of homework. I took her to lunch. She and I had a lovely Sue Ellen/Linda Gray lunch. That’s how I created. And then, when I looked at the first script, there was a woman’s name on the cover, Cynthia Cidre, who was our writer/executive producer. For me to see a woman’s name on a script, unlike the original show which was all men, was very, very intriguing, so I wanted to meet her one-on-one.
Did you have freedom within your character to bring your own ideas to it?
GRAY: Yes, because they’re very open. They’re very receptive and open to our ideas. I found that very, very encouraging.
Dallas has an amazing legacy, but what do you think the show now brings to the new viewers, who haven’t seen the original series?
GRAY: I think Dallas has a very deep following globally, and I feel that those great followers, that we’re very proud that we have, will follow it and be so seamlessly engulfed with the new cast that it will be as if nothing had happened. It won’t be as if 20 years has passed.
HENDERSON: I think what’s great is that the kids were a part of the original. It’s almost like these storylines have been boiling since the original because you saw so many moments with J.R. and John Ross, and that sparkle in little John Ross’ eyes, wanting to be like his father. These storylines have been stemming from the original, and now you really get to see it come to life. Is it even going to live up to who John Ross wanted to be as a seven or eight-year-old little boy. It’s the same with Christopher (Jesse Metcalfe). There’s a lot of family stuff going on that I think people can relate to.
HAGMAN: Be careful what you wish for.
HENDERSON: That’s right. That’s very true.
Larry, what’s it like to bring back a sense of nostalgia for the people who loved your show when it was first on?
HAGMAN: Well, I hope we keep those people and gain the people who are going to look for the kids. I think we will. I hope.
Josh, as part of the new cast, what kind of pressure did you have, living up to the show’s iconic past?
HENDERSON: For me, it was intimidating, at first, because I knew the impact that the original show had. It’s like Twilight. Those fans know everything about the books, and more than even the actors do, about the characters. That’s how are fans are. I get stopped on the street. We haven’t even aired yet and they’re like, “I know what you were doing, 10 years ago.” They’re so involved. I knew that there was a lot of expectation and a lot of weight, in my mind, on my shoulders because people are going to be like, “Okay, what have you got? You’re John Ross. Do you know who your dad is? What have you got?” So, it was a little bit intimidating for me, at first, but then I just threw it all out and said, “Let’s play ball. I’m just going to step up and try to do whatever I can to give the show justice,” because it was such a great show, originally.
Which means what?
HENDERSON: I try to have a little bit of the spirit of J.R. It’s the way of business. It’s how we do business, and it’s all I know. I respect him and how he did business. For John Ross, he feels like he has something to prove, and he almost wants to one-up his dad. I think that, if that could ever happen, his dad would be fiery and a little pissed, but also be proud of John Ross.
But then, why didn’t John Ross go see his father, in all this time?
HENDERSON: At the end of the day, he doesn’t have a good relationship with him. He loves his father, deep down, but he also has a lot of built-up resentment towards him. He feels like he should be at a better place than he is, right now. He’s having to work his way around the family. He feels, in his mind, that he should already be there. He didn’t have a lot of positive things, in his favor, growing up. He had to do it a lot, on his own. In the pilot, you see that he comes to his father, finally. As you find out, he’s also playing a game, a little bit. Everybody is a chess piece, in his mind.
Are all of you treated like rock stars in Texas?
GRAY: Well, I’ve known them for so many years. I’m not from Texas, like Larry and Josh, but I’ve known them. I’ve got great, great years-long relationships with these people, so it’s a different respect. My fans are older, so they’re not treating us like rock stars, but they’re embracing us like family. They’re so happy. After the assassination of President Kennedy, they had a really bad omen attached to the whole city. We came along and it was such a hit, and everybody is a star in Dallas. They’re all very proud. They’re proud of us because they feel that we opened the doors to get rid of and erase that tragedy. They’re more than excited to have us come back again.
HAGMAN: Now that you say that, I think we ought to get 5% of the tour package. That’s food for thought.
Josh, John Ross and Christopher (Jesse Metcalfe) don’t get along, so how did you and Jesse work that out, as actors? Did you keep distance from each other?
HENDERSON: We’ve known each other for a long time. We met in 2002. We played in a charity basketball team together, so we go way back. For this particular job, I think we just really took it seriously. We knew that the original show had the clash of Bobby and J.R. That’s still there. And we need to really step up our game, to show how much weight there is to the kids now being where they’re at. So, we just took it seriously. We’re buddies. We’re friends and we hang out, but as soon as we get to work, it’s really about, “We like each other, but not here.” But, at the end of the day, we’re friends and we’ve known each other for a while.
While shows like Melrose Place, Knight Rider and Bionic Woman all failed, what do you think the secret is of Dallas actually being just as good as the original?
HAGMAN: Well, I didn’t see any of those shows, so I can’t make a comment on them, but I guarantee Dallas is going to be more interesting than they are, even though I haven’t seen them.
Is J.R. more prone to misbehaving, now that he doesn’t have Miss Ellie (Barbara Bel Geddes) and Jock (Jim Davis) to answer to?
HAGMAN: That’s a good question. He’s on his own now, isn’t he? I have no idea. We haven’t gone that far yet. We’ve only done 10 shows. Yeah, that’s a good idea. Who do I go to? Who do I turn to, to cry to?
GRAY: Not me!
HAGMAN: I think you showed me that, when you took my company away from me.
Linda, with where Sue Ellen is at now, what sort of political characters, real or fictional, helped inspire you for this?
GRAY: They didn’t. I could’ve been sucked into that really easily, and I didn’t want to do that. I really wanted her to be her own person. I wanted those other political people to look and go, “Oh, that’s a good thing. I like the way Sue Ellen is running her campaign.” So, I didn’t really want to be influenced by any of them. I wanted her to be really standing on her own. I knew there would be those comparisons, so I didn’t want to even delve into those areas because I felt that that’s the way it would be viewed. As much as I respect them all, I wanted her to stand on her own.
Within the pilot, there’s a love triangle that starts between John Ross, Elena (Jordana Brewster) and Christopher. Will that continue throughout the season? How does that evolve?
HENDERSON: It’s funny, I’ve watched these episodes and I weirdly black out when I shoot these things. I don’t really remember shooting a lot of these scenes, but I don’t really pay attention to the whole script, all the time, because I like to watch, not knowing what’s going on. I keep seeing all these scenes with Elena and Christopher, and I go, “What in the world? Wait a minute! What’s going on here?” John Ross really loves Elena. As much as people might not believe that, you’re going to find out that he really does love her. He just also has to figure out a way to make that work with everything else that he wants to work, and that’s a tough thing to do.
Do you have any episodes that you’re particularly excited about fans getting to see, out of the 10 you did this season?
HAGMAN: Episode 11. Episode 140.
HENDERSON: I am excited for them to see the pilot.
GRAY: When we got to episode 8, 9 and 10, we would call each other and be like, “I didn’t know that happened!” We were surprised.
HAGMAN: Oh, boy, wait until you see 10.
HENDERSON: It gets very, very crazy.
GRAY: It even surprised us. You think it’s going this way or that way.
HAGMAN: Or, it goes that way, and then it comes back again.
Larry, did they consult you at all, on anything that the characters may or may not do?
HAGMAN: I wouldn’t know [what to tell them]. I only know what is on the written page. So far, I’ve liked everything, except one thing, and they took it away.
Dallas will air on Wednesday nights on TNT, starting on June 13th.