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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, June 8, 2012 - Volume 40 Issue 23
Dallas returns
Desperate Housewives alums Jesse Metcalfe and Brenda Strong talk about their new roles
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Dallas returns
Desperate Housewives alums Jesse Metcalfe and Brenda Strong talk about their new roles

by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

It's not your imagination. J.R. Ewing, his wife Sue Ellen, and his brother Bobby are indeed back, the Texas clan reigniting their oil-rich feud this Tuesday night on cable's TNT network. That's right, after a 21-year hiatus, Dallas is returning with a new generation of colorful characters and with timely subplots galore, hoping to stir the same type of interest the classic original series did from 1978 to 1991.

The new series doesn't just bring Larry Hagman, Patrick Duffy, and Linda Gray back into the fold, but also throws former Desperate Housewives regulars Jesse Metcalfe, Josh Henderson, and Brenda Strong into the mix, along with The Fast and the Furious heartbreaker Jordana Brewster. Set in the present, the story's main thrust involves the battle of wills between J.R.'s son John Ross (Henderson) and Bobby's adopted boy Christopher (Metcalfe), both young men looking to take control of the Ewing legacy. Strong joins the cast as Bobby's wife and Christopher's independent-minded mother Ann, while Brewster adds more fuel to the fire as Christopher's fiancée - and John Ross' former flame - Elena Ramos.

I had the chance to speak with both Metcalfe and Strong about the new show, their characters, and some of the more interesting plot elements during their recent visit to Seattle. Here are some highlights from that conversation.

Sara Michelle Fetters: So, silly question to start with, but I just have to ask, was it some sort of prerequisite that you be a part of Desperate Housewives to join the cast of Dallas?

Strong Brenda: Certainly! We beat out all those other desperate housewives to join Dallas. Beat them down!

Seriously, no, not at all. It was just one of those random coincidences. [The producers] just chose the best actors for the respective roles, and it just so happened that three of us were from the same show. Whenever you have a long-running series you're going to employ a lot of really good actors. Chances are new projects are going to overlap. That's what happened here.

Fetters: Honestly, though, when you get approached to be in a new Dallas, a version that isn't really a remake but also isn't really a strict by-the-numbers continuation of what came before, but something sort of in the middle, what goes through your mind? What do you think about that? Jesse

Metcalfe: We weren't sure, really. At the very beginning, we didn't know if it was a remake or a continuation - it was still evolving at that point. I think we were all a little skeptical at first. We'd have been remiss if we weren't.

Strong: And rightfully so. You're dealing with an iconic piece of television history with Dallas. A little skepticism is healthy.

Metcalfe: But I think after we read the pilot episode we all felt a lot more confident. It was good. It was really good. Well-written. Great storytelling. The characters are extremely well-defined. In many ways it was an actor's dream.

Strong: And what we discovered is that it is a continuation of the original series, a modernization of the same family picking up where they left off here in 2012 instead of in 1991.

Fetters: But is there a place in the here-and-now for a show like Dallas?

Metcalfe: We hope so. I hope so. We're looking to make Dallas 'appointment' television once again. We feel like TNT is spearheading this movement to bring scripted drama back to television and we're so thankful to now be a part of that.

Strong: I also think Larry [Hagman] brought up a really salient point. He said that economically and politically we're very much at the same point we were back in the 1970s when Dallas first aired. We're dealing with an oil crisis of sorts. We're in the midst of a recession. We're having these complex political discussions about where we want the country to go. So it's extremely topical.

Fetters: I'm glad you brought that up because the juxtaposition of when this show started in 1978 and where we are at now is not at all dissimilar. It's just the potential for the material to go in new directions that's intriguing as far as I'm concerned - the idea that it can take on topics now that showrunners never could have dreamed of back during the 1980s. I imagine, as actors, that potential was very exciting on some level.

Strong: Most definitely. I love the fact that Christopher, Jesse's character, is a proponent of alternative energy, and is the one who brings that conversation to the forefront. My hope in being a green-centric consumer myself is that this conversation will have the potential to wake people up to asking themselves a litany of questions - asking themselves if we're being good stewards of the planet. Are we heading to a point of no return? Can we cultivate these other energies safely, and before it is too late?

Metcalfe: That plot point and a few others in the new series are what make it current. This is a contemporary series featuring a few characters a lot of people already know and love. I think there are so many different places you can go story-wise because of that. I'm very excited.

Fetters: With that in mind, what do people need to know about your respective characters going in?

Metcalfe: I'm not sure I want them to know anything. Why spoil it? Watch the show. Discover Christopher for yourself. I honestly think that the pilot episode is so brilliantly written and shifts so seamlessly from the original series, it's almost as if the cameras are still there but just weren't running for 20 years.

I guess what they should know is that Christopher Ewing is sort of the anti-Ewing, the black sheep of the family. He's adopted. Not a Ewing by blood. Spent the last few years abroad studying his ideas for alternative energy. Most of all, he's coming back to the family after having run away from something. That's maybe all people need to know.

Strong: I actually don't think people need to know a lot about my character [Ann Ewing] going in. When writer Cynthia Cidre conceived this character she wanted a contemporary for Bobby - she wanted a marriage that actually worked. This was not a marriage of convenience or a woman who married for money. This was a woman who had her own life, had her own history and her own money, and fell in love with somebody who happened to be both a Ewing and her equal.

This is a modern-day couple of equals, which I think is something new for Dallas. Women didn't have power in the original Dallas. Now my [character], and Sue Ellen, and Elena Ramos, we're all educated women who have rightful lives [of our] own. It's exciting for me to play a partnership that's actually emblematic of a modern working marriage. Marriage is hard, and I think Bobby and Ann represent the moral center of the Ewing family and they're very much the anchor or the hub of all the machinations that go on around them. They're the ones who hold the ground when everything else is spinning out of control, and let me tell you that's a tough job.

Fetters: At the same time, it had to be pretty great to be there that first day when Larry Hagman, Patrick Duffy, and Linda Gray all strolled onto the set in character.

Strong: It carries weight, let me tell you. Larry really set the tone. He set the tone at the table read before we even walked onto the set. He let us all know we were going to work hard and we were going to have fun. It was exciting. He's a really complex and interesting man, and I don't think we could do it without him. He, Patrick, and Linda anchor the show. That's just the way it is.

Before we even walked in, that first day on the set Patrick told me he just knew who [Bobby] was. He hadn't missed a beat. He put on those boots and he was him. It's exciting to be a part of that sort of television history.

Metcalfe: Larry, Linda, and Patrick were just so gracious. They're gracious people and they're gracious actors. Meeting them, working with them, it hasn't been an awkward or nerve-wracking experience. It's been incredibly positive, and I think they're responsible for creating the atmosphere we have on the new series. And I definitely look up to them, just as much as I look up to Brenda. We really are working with some accomplished, seasoned actors; they're all just incredible.

Fetters: What's the challenge in regards to attracting new viewers to the show? Not the ones who grew up watching the original Dallas - they're going to tune in no matter what, just to see what you've accomplished - but younger viewers who may not be familiar with the show. What do you have to do to get them to watch?

Metcalfe: Compelling storytelling. We feel like we have a quality product. We feel like word of mouth is going to help us out a lot. Obviously, TNT is behind us and has given the show this massive advertising campaign that should at least bring a lot of eyeballs to the premiere. Hopefully my fan base and Jordana's fan base will also help in that regard. But I think the bottom line is that this is just good television. It speaks for itself.

Strong: I think the biggest obstacle is that [viewers] are going to assume they know what this show is. But I have great confidence that once people do watch [the premiere] they're going to want to see more. They're going to see that the subjects we're talking about and the dramas we've created are all rooted in the here-and-now. More than that, it's just plain good TV. Nothing matters more than that.

Fetters: With that in mind, what would be your thoughts if, 13 years from now, we're back here in a room like this one, still talking about the show?

Strong: Wouldn't that just be incredible? My goodness. I hope I can hold out that long.

Metcalfe: Wow. Yeah. Incredible. Seriously, I'm just hoping for a fraction of the success that the original series had. I haven't set my sights that far ahead or that high, but at the same time who's to say what could happen? I truly believe we are going to have a nice little run here. The show is too good not to.

Strong: I'm just going to hang on to Patrick Duffy's coattails. He's the king of the long-running series, after all. I'm married to that one. But in all honesty, Jesse is right. Dallas is a good show, and there's plenty of fertile ground for all of us involved to play upon.

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