In Atlanta on June 6th, I was very lucky to sit down with the iconic Linda Gray and the talented Josh Henderson (who I think is brilliant as the devious John Ross III), the stars of the highly anticipated new Dallas. We discussed the original Dallas, the new Dallas, the fans and everything in between. Linda started out by getting us up to speed about how it all got started, and how it was for her to work with the original cast members again (Larry Hagman and Patrick Duffy).
Linda: We were stunned when we got that call because we had gotten a call two years prior to the actual script, and they (Warner Bros.) said, “Are you interested?” and we all (Linda Gray, Patrick Duffy and Larry Hagman) said yes. And then we heard nothing for two years and I was like Oh no! So when we got this call I was skeptical, I said we got another call, are we going to wait another two years to hear this? Following the call was a lovely script which was also very exciting for us. We called each other again and we said, “Ok we read the script what do you think?” We liked the script. We liked it very much. So we said yes we would be interested, and when do we get to shoot this thing? It was great. That’s how it happened.
Moderator: So getting back in the saddle so to speak, was that a little bit edgy at first or did you just snap back into once you got in the working situation?
Linda: Well I like to work from the inside out and I knew Sue Ellen but I didn’t know who she was 20 years later. I didn’t want to just come back to Dallas and say ok I know how to play her. I wanted to know who she was as a woman 20 years later. Where has she been? You know she dragged John Ross to London, what is this woman like? Has she addressed her demons? Or has she put them under a rug? You know I wanted to be the best Sue Ellen I could be this time around, not that she wasn’t before, but she was rather a victim, a reactor to things that JR was doing. And I felt that right now she would be a much different Sue Ellen. I felt that she would have addressed the demons and wrestled them to the ground. Still with her guilt but I felt she would be a different kind of woman.
I wanted her to be independent, powerful, and I wanted her try to be the best mother she could be now that she wasn’t before. So I researched and found that there are more women CEO’s in the state of Texas than there are in any other state and I wanted her to be representing those women in Texas in a very powerful way. So she has money, she has power, she is back in Texas, she is going to have to run into JR along the lines somewhere, and she’s going to have to deal with her feisty, wonderfully aggressive son. So I met with the writers, and shared some ideas about Sue Ellen and I was very respectful that they were open to my ideas, and open to what we might have in common to have Sue Ellen come out smelling like a rose this time.
Nice Girl Lisa: Josh can you tell us a little bit about your audition process and what it was like for you to be cast on such an iconic show?
Josh: Sure, I heard it was coming back and I heard that it was really going to focus a lot on JR’s son and Bobby’s son, so as a young actor I was like, I have to audition for this. I’m from Dallas, I get the Texas thing, it was a big deal to my family so I have to get in and audition for this. I also knew that they were going to see people from all over the country. Every young guy wanted this role, they really did. So I went in and read for Cynthia Cidre, our executive producer and writer, and Patrick Rush our casting director and Cynthia didn’t tell me this until obviously after we were shooting, but she said by the second line out of my mouth she knew that I was the guy. As soon as I left the audition I got in my car, shut the door and screamed because I felt like I did a good job but you never really know in the room. A half an hour later my phone rang and they said we’re going to test you for the role.
So I called my mom, and I said listen mom, don’t start telling the world, she actually is on Facebook and Twitter, she is nuts with that stuff so I said “keep it to yourself but they are bringing Dallas back and I’m testing to play JR and Sue Ellen’s son John Ross” and she freaked out! Then it took a couple of weeks for the test process to happen. I went in to test at Warner Bros and there was like 4 guys, one guy had his cowboy hat and he looked real Texas, but I didn’t, I had a suit on and I wanted to play the young business oil guy and I came in, and the president of the network was humming the Dallas Theme song as I walked in. He was like “tell them where you’re from!” There were 20 people in the room!
Linda: (laughing) Oh God!
Josh: I was like, “I’m from Dallas” and he was like “He’s from Dallas.” He’s the biggest Dallas Fan in the world.
Linda: Yes, Peter Roth (President of Warner Bros.) is a big fan.
Josh: He is a fan of TV, but Dallas is his show and as soon as he hummed the theme song I felt really good about just letting it all go and having fun in the room, and just test and hopefully do the best job I can. My manager called and said “Hey you need to pick up your phone tomorrow morning because the president of TNT is going to call you.” I was like “Oh my gosh, if he calls me and tells me bad news I’m just going to be heartbroken.” So he calls me, and I said “Hello?” And he goes “I’m sorry is this John Ross?” And I said “I’m sorry what?” and he said “Congratulations your John Ross on Dallas.” And I screamed again. So it was a really big deal for me, I got to come home and shoot the show that put my birth city on the map, and it’s just a very surreal thing.
Moderator: It’s been 20 years now, how much of the new Dallas is the old Dallas tweaked, and how much of it is brand new ground?
Linda: I keep quoting Patrick Duffy. He says it feels like year 14 and that’s how it feels. There wasn’t a glitch, there wasn’t an awkward moment and there still isn’t and we have shot 10 episodes it was never an awkward moment. It flowed seamlessly as if 20 years had just been condensed. That’s a lovely feeling, that’s kind of a solid feeling of confidence that you feel that it is right. It always felt right. In the original show and now it feels the same. It feels very right.
Moderator: Will fans of the old show embrace the new show?
Linda: I think so. In Dallas last week we had a screening and showed the first two episodes and the audience was so responsive and receptive and they were with it. I mean you could hear them gasp when JR would do something or a surprise would happen. So the audience was engaged and we had never seen it, we saw it in Los Angeles but everyone had their agents and managers there, but this was real people, real responses, real emotion attached.
Josh: They were laughing out loud.
Linda: Yeah, they were laughing and gasping, so for us, we don’t get to go in people’s living rooms and hear what their responses are, but for us, especially the original cast, for us to feel that response in an audience of thousands was fantastic. We want to see every episode that way because you really are engaged and there is an infusion of energy in that room. So I feel the older people will not be disappointed, not at all.
Josh: Yeah, it was almost as if people were coming in to go “Oh let’s see if this is even going to be close to the original” or you know be skeptical which we understand. It was almost as if really quickly they threw that out the window and just enjoyed the show. We had a screening in Houston and it was a packed house and I snuck in, they didn’t know we were there, so I snuck in as they were watching just to gauge a reaction, and man they were just gasping and laughing out loud and cheering and it was really cool to see these people enjoying it. I think that as long as they give us a shot and tune in, the original fans are going to be like this is Dallas again. They’re back. I think at the end of the day, what made the old Dallas so received and loved around the world, we have all of that with the new one. We have the three originals, the legends as I call them, we couldn’t have done Dallas without them and we have them so we are lucky. And I think as long as people tune in they are going to be completely satisfied.
Nice Girl Lisa: I recently saw a clip where Larry Hagman said that your portrayal of John Ross is even more devious than his portrayal of JR. Would you agree with that statement? What do you think about that?
Josh: That makes me feel incredible. I would say thank you to Larry, that makes me feel really good but I don’t think anyone could ever outdo JR. I really don’t. I think that he is the most infamous villain, if not the best television character of all time, that’s why I was so excited to play his son. I’m never going to try to outdo him, I just want to hopefully do as well of a job as I can at John Ross, so that people can believe that he is JR’s son. And that was my goal and the fact that Larry said that, that’s the craziest thing to ever hear…
Linda: I know that’s wild. I haven’t heard that either.
Josh: But I think that he’s the man and I can only hope to do one tenth of what he did.
Moderator: What is it like to work with Larry Hagman? Is he fun? Like you said he is so devious on the show. Is he light-hearted in real life?
Linda: He loves to have fun. And you know he really sets the tone, oh he’s going to kill me but I’ve said it a million times (laughing), to me he is the most consummate actor I have ever worked with. When they say action, man he is on it and you better be on the same playing field as he is because he will bury you in a scene so fast, not mean he is just that good and that qualified to play that particular role. He is just there, and you better be there to be in the scene with him because the scene will go like that (she snaps her finger) and you will be down here (points to the floor). He is just amazing!
I think that one of things that made the original so good was that we were playful. We played off camera and these new directors would come in and they thought, how are we going to round up these crazy people and get them to perform? They would see us running around the set and the minute they would say action, they would get a performance that would be staggering because we are professionals. And to work with Larry has just been a joy of my career.
Josh: I found out real quick, scene one working with him to step your game up, and I knew it would be like that working with him. In the pilot, I’ve got a scene with him when we first meet and I’m like, Hey dad I got this issue, you’re all I got I need some help. And he doesn’t talk to me. Then finally he speaks and he opens his eyes, and I knew right then and there here is JR and now we are in it and there is no stopping now, and for me it was just very surreal and really made me realize just to have this energy inside you, because he is so good his wheels are always turning, his eyes are always dancing, you never know what he is going to do. Another goal of mine was, hopefully John Ross can keep the audience guessing, that’s what’s fun about playing this role, and being with the legends like Linda and Larry and of course Patrick. Patrick is unbelievable as well. I admire that guy so much. He is such a professional.
So they set the tone for us coming in, and welcomed us and it made us feel so comfortable, so we can really just break down the walls and have fun and get really deep with each other emotionally to where it bleeds through the screen and the audience will be like, I really believe this. I believe Mom and son and Dad and son are having issues. We are having a ton of fun and we can’t wait for people to see it!
Nice Girl Lisa: It’s so exciting!
Linda: We are so excited! What we feel, we hope you feel as well. So that’s our hope.
Nice Girl Lisa: I saw the first 2 episodes and I am hooked already! The gasp moments that you spoke of earlier, when JR opened his eyes in the pilot episode that was definitely one of them. I was like Oh my God!
Josh: Of course!
Nice Girl Lisa: It was great! I’m so excited to see the rest of the season.
Linda: Well there are 10 fast episodes and they sent you the first seven.
Nice Girl Lisa: Yes! I plan on having a marathon.
Linda: Well you know, thank God they didn’t send you the rest because you would be on your seat like Oh my God! You would be up from your seat. So that’s why they didn’t send you everything.
Nice Girl Lisa: Ooh I cannot wait! Congrats on everything.
Josh: Well, thanks for your time today.
Nice Girl Lisa: Oh, thank you both so much for taking time to speak with us today.
Linda: It was lovely to talk to you.