The Dallas Decoder Interview: Ted Shackelford

Ted Shackelford

Ted Shackelford

Ted Shackelford logged more than 340 hours of prime-time television playing Gary Ewing on the original “Dallas” and “Knots Landing.” Next month, he’ll revive the character for a three-week guest stint on TNT’s “Dallas.” I was thrilled to speak to Shackelford recently about Gary’s return to Southfork.

Did you ever dream you’d be playing Gary Ewing again?

No. I did it for 14 years and that’s a long, long time for anybody to do one character. I thought that would be it.

What was your process to get back into character?

There’s no magic here, man. I just learned the lines and showed up on time. It wasn’t that hard. It came back pretty fast.

Kind of like getting on a bicycle?

Yeah, that’s a pretty good description of it. A little wobbly at first but then it takes off.

I know you can’t give away any plot secrets, but what’s Gary up to these days?

I don’t think this is a plot point: He and Valene are having marital problems, and Bobby wants him to come down [to Texas] because Gary owns a third of Ewing –

The Southfork mineral rights.

Right. Whatever that is. [Laughs] You know, I’m not real clear on that. And Bobby needs me to form a voting bloc, which is why I’m there.

And you sort of get back into the thick of things, I guess.

A little bit. I don’t want to give away anything there.

Well, can you talk about what Gary’s like now? He changed a lot over the course of “Knots Landing’s” run.

Did he? How? Tell me. I’m curious. Because I never saw much change.

Shackelford in “Knots Landing Reunion: Together Again”

Shackelford in “Knots Landing Reunion: Together Again”

Really? [“Dallas” and “Knots Landing” creator] David Jacobs called him a clenched fist in the beginning, but he seemed to mellow out towards the end of the show’s run.

Eh. Here’s the terrible truth about that: When you do a show for 14 years, after a few years, they run out of things for you to do! You’ve just about done them all! I mean, you’ve bedded everybody, you’ve gotten drunk twice and you’re an alcoholic –

Been arrested for murder a few times –

Yeah. You’ve gotten involved with mobsters. I mean, after that there’s not a whole lot they can do with you! So yeah, he does kind of mellow out because he’s just kind of there. They just kind of ran out things for him to do.

Did you like the character?

No, I never liked him.

[Laughs] You never liked Gary?

No, I didn’t.

Why is that?

Oh, I thought he was weak. I thought he never thought anything through. I didn’t see any strength of character. I mean, just once I wanted him to have some courage. And I never saw that.

He certainly attracted beautiful women.

Well, you know, there are women who like weak men they can manipulate. [Laughs] But having said all that, had he been stronger, I’m not sure I would’ve been able to play some of the things I played. I had great material. It was great stuff. There were the drunk things, and then the mobster things, and I don’t know what else. Because he was the way he was, as an actor I got to play a lot of different colors, as they say.

Well, let me share with you my theory of the Ewing brothers: Bobby is the brother you think you’re supposed to be, J.R. is the brother you’d secretly like to be and Gary is the brother you probably are.

[Laughs]

So I’ve always identified with Gary, but maybe that’s not a good thing.

Well, you know, that’s my take on it. And listen, no actor is objective. We’re all very subjective about what we do. So your take on that character is going to be far better than mine.

What was it like to be reunited with your TV wife Joan Van Ark and daughter Charlene Tilton?

Well, I didn’t have much to do with Charlene. I think we had one scene together, maybe. And [our characters] didn’t really speak. Charlene and I spoke, of course. And then they brought in Joanie for one episode for a very real reason – and a good reason. I can’t tell you that, either. But I only had one scene with Joanie. … It was crucial to both her character and my character and how they interact in Dallas.

It must have been great to perform with her again. She’s called you her acting soul mate.

That’s the beauty of it. Working with Joanie, you just learn the words and you show up. There’s already a connection there. There’s nothing to worry about. It’s so simple. I’m one of the lucky men in the business in that I had her to work with for, I guess, 13-and-a-half year because she left during the final season [of “Knots Landing”] for awhile and then came back. But you know, there was always a connection with her.

You two really do have something special.

We’re separated by three years in age but we’re a week apart in birthdays. We’re both kind of from the same part of the country. She’s from Colorado, I’m from Oklahoma. And I knew about her before I even met her. She’d done work at the Helen Bonfils Theatre in Denver. … And I remember being there in the late ’60s, looking at pictures from their past productions, and there was a picture of Joanie. So I knew who she was. And I met her – here’s the real funny part – we did a “Wonder Woman” episode –

Oh, yes. I’ve seen it!

You’ve seen it?

Absolutely.

I recently watched it, just as a giggle. I think it was on YouTube. I don’t know why I ever got work again after that. But that’s the first thing we ever did together. We did that before we did “Knots Landing.” It’s just a funny thing with her. It’s so easy. I just had lunch with her yesterday. There’s a shorthand with us. You know, it’s like a married couple. When we talk, we don’t have to finish the sentence because we know what the other person is going to say.

So let me tell you this: A certain segment of my audience is going to want to know if Gary and Bobby are going to take another dip in the Southfork swimming pool.

No, thank God. I don’t have to worry about holding my stomach in. No swimming pool for this actor!

Some of my readers are going to be disappointed.

Oh, I’m sorry to hear that. You know what, I’m 66 so. … [Laughs]

Well, I know you didn’t do a lot of “Dallas” episodes, but do you have any special memories of working on the show?

Not really. Because when I did the “Dallas” episodes I was in between the “Knots Landing” episodes, so it was pretty fast and furious. It was: Get in there, say the words and then go back to the other soundstage where “Knots” was. It was stuff you do when you’re young because you can. [Laughs]

How about your relationship with Larry Hagman?

We never hung out. I did run into him a couple of years ago at one of those autograph shows. The man was a delight. Just a delight. You could talk to him and you’d walk away feeling a little better about yourself. It was wonderful. He was a great guy.

Well, now that J.R.’s gone, there’s a void on the show for another Ewing brother. Is that something you’d be interested in?

Oh, in a New York minute. In a heartbeat. Of course.

And what about the idea of “Knots Landing” being revived as a weekly series?

I don’t know. I’d be delighted to do it. Nobody’s talking about it, though. I mean, nobody. I don’t really see that happening. But sure, I’d do it.

Even though you weren’t crazy about Gary as a person?

I mean, come on, man. I made a very good living for 14 years. Very few actors get to say that. I’m forever, forever grateful that I got to play this guy.

Share your comments below and read more interviews from Dallas Decoder.

Comments

  1. Very nice interview. I really liked your question about the possibility of Gary’s character coming back to Dallas on a regular basis now that J.R. is gone. I think it could be really interesting for Season 3 and that could reunite Dallas and Knot Landings fans.

    • Thank you! Mr. Shackelford was really kind to speak to me. I was thrilled to hear him say he’d be willing to join “Dallas” as a regular. Make it happen, TNT!

  2. Lloyd Ferrigon says:

    Good interview. As for Gary coming back to Dallas, that would be nice but Gary and Bobby are pretty much alike there would be no sense unless they make Gary like JR. Not sure if the audience would buy that but then look what they did with Cliff Barnes.

    • Thanks Lloyd. I think there could be a place for Gary on “Dallas,” even if the show didn’t turn him into a villain. Then again, Mr. Shackelford might appreciate the opportunity to a new dimension to Gary’s persona.

      • Good interview! I think it would be cool to have Gary back on Dallas, too. I think his character is different from Bobby. I have always seen his character as being grey. I think that Cidre is great with exploring the good/bad parts of a characters. It might be quite interesting.

      • I agree, Hel. I’d love to see Gary come back — this time for good.

  3. Marc Berman says:

    This is outstanding!

  4. I think it is great Shackelford is going to make an appearance. I liked reading about what he had to say about Joan Van Ark. Gary’s appearances on Dallas may be as rare as an eclipse, they are always great to watch and seem to be a crucial aspect to the story. It is like every couple years someone declares “We need Gary for this!” I do not think he can replace JR. I do not think anyone can replace JR. I do feel that there is a place for Gary, Valene, and Lucy on the show.

    • Beautifully stated, Jumpsteady. You’re right: No one can replace J.R., but there’s definitely a regular place for Gary (and Val and Lucy!) in the storyline. I’d love to see it happen.

  5. Lloyd Ferrigon says:

    Please don’t misunderstand, I would love to see Gary be Dallas regular. I have always thought that near the end of the series, they should have had Gary coming to and maybe moving to Dallas.

    • I understand what you mean, Lloyd, and I agree. It isn’t outside the realm of possibility within the “Dallas” universe, either. At the beginning of the show’s 12th season, Gary and Val considered moving back to Texas. I’d love to see it actually happen on TNT’s “Dallas.”

  6. Dave Shults says:

    Nice interview – well done. Excellent and surprisingly candid responses from Mr. Shackleford. One of the best, if brief celebrity interviews I’ve read in quite some time.

  7. Great interview, as usual, Chris B.! I’m very happy to hear him say he’d be willing to join the show as a regular. Joan Van Ark has said she would like that, too, so this seems like a real possibility. The only hang up, I guess, is Ted’s role on Young & The Restless, and what the status of his contract with them is. But I would like to see them back full-time IF they get good stories. As others have said, Gary can’t replace J.R. as he’s not that type of character, but there’s still room for family conflict. Although I initially wasn’t thrilled about the rumor of Gary and Sue Ellen, if Bobby brings him to counter the influence of Sue Ellen @ Ewing Energies, then a romantic entanglement could complicate things and create divided loyalties, which would make for good character moments which, I’m sorry to say, this new series is desperately lacking. Likewise, if Gary and Val return, we need Lucy too. Even if the show can’t use Bobby and Betsy, due to rights issues, seeing Lucy interact with her parents, who basically abandoned her all those years ago, could create some drama, too.

    Bottom line, this show needs more EWINGS (not Harris’ and Ramos’), so get to it, TNT!

    • Thank you, J.R.! I didn’t get a chance to ask Ted about his role on “The Young and the Restless,” but hopefully if TNT wants him to do more episodes of “Dallas” he’ll be able to appear. Like you said, this show needs more Ewings!

  8. I will certainly wait and see but was quite disappointed Ted only had but 1 scene with both Charlene and Joan, was hoping for more closure to that part of the Ewing Family.

  9. This was a great interview!

  10. i fully agree that Gary should be back full-time especially if theres to be a 3rd season.Gary could add more to the family drama as he has quite a bit of baggage..if he & Sue Ellen end up together,id be willing to bet that their relationship would be fiery and Lucy’s reaction would be priceless. she was always more of a mama’s girl. i also agree that more Ewings are needed and less Ramos..why are they figured into this series so heavily? Jordanna Brewster is a good actress but her character isnt interesting. id like to see more of the Barnes family,maybe Cliff shouldve had a son after his daughter…anyways, I love Joan Van Ark and if theyd bring her back for more than one episode thatd be great, When she showed up in the original Dallas she was always a scenestealer!

    • Todd, I like the way you think. Can you imagine Lucy’s reaction to Gary and Sue Ellen having a fling? Oh man, that alone would be worth the price of admission. And yes: We absolutely need Joan Van Ark back full-time too!

  11. I’m very much in favor of the idea of Gary joining the cast of Dallas permanently because as mentioned, there’s a void there with Bobby as the sole Ewing brother. And I don’t think Bobby and Gary are too much alike or can’t have conflict just because they’re both essentially good people. It doesn’t have to be the exact same struggle that J.R. and Bobby had, and it shouldn’t be. But Gary’s got his own unique flaws and character traits that pure-of-driven snow Bobby did not. J.R. was the black hat, Bobby was the white hat, but Gary’s hat is grey. And that’s interesting.

    It’s well established that Gary loves Southfork and the only thing that kept him away for all these years was Jock and J.R. and now they’re both gone. With him as the new eldest Ewing, Gary (now in his twilight years and rethinking how he’s lived his life) could decide now’s the time to stake his claim on his birth-right. And the conflict there could be that even though Bobby knows Gary wouldn’t do the kinds of things J.R. would do, like drill on the land, he might not believe he’s responsible enough to play any sort of role in the business either. So there’s the conflict right there. And Gary’s character arc could be him proving himself and becoming the true Ewing no one (even him) ever thought he could be. It’s not enough to make him the new antagonist of the show, of course, but we’ve got John Ross, Cliff and Ryland for that.

  12. By the way, with regards to The Young and the Restless, that shouldn’t be a problem. Ted’s on recurring there, not contract. Recurring players on soaps can come and go as they please.

  13. This interview just proves that even Ted thinks that the ‘mineral rights’ storyline is a crock, as anyone who watched the original series knows that Miss Ellie deeded Southfork to Bobby via Clayton during the last season! Just hope they don’t butcher up Gary’s history like they have others on this show!

  14. Jaime Ewing says:

    Great interview! Ted (and Gary) has always been one of my favorites. I too think he should be added to the show, especially now with J.R. gone. The Ewing family dynamic is sorely missing from this new series, so the more original Ewings they can add around the family dinner table, the better. It also would not seem out of place for Gary to move back in to Southfork as Bobby would most likely love to have him there after spending years apart, and Gary, ever the rancher, would fit right in at home, almost taking up the Ray Krebbs role. It would also open up the possibility to explore his relationship with Lucy deeper, something we never had a chance to see on the original because of his commitment to Knots Landing. The only part I don’t like is the marital problems with Valene. Gary and Val are soul mates. They’ve been through it all and come out the other side in tact when Knots ended and again in the Knots “Return to the Cul-de Sac” TV movie a few years later. I would hate to see them broken up at this point. It wouldn’t ring true to me. If Gary comes back, so should Val. If Bobby and Pam could not end up happily ever after, then at least Gary and Val should. And an extra special thanks for the question about “will Bobby and Gary end up in the pool”. I know Ted and Patrick both think they’re to old to play the “hunk” roles they played in the original, but this viewer thinks they’ve both only become sexier with age and would love to see the Ewing brothers sporting their beef-cake filled swim trunks by the pool once again!

    • Re: Gary & Val, let’s not forget that the two series split-off into separate timelines, when Dallas v1 restarted Season 9 by declaring all of season 8 to be a dream. But Knots continued on as if the events in Dallas v1 season 8 still happened, leading up to the end of their series and the “Back To The Cul-de-Sac” movie. We’ll call that Timeline A (where Bobby Ewing died in 1985).

      But Dallas v1 continued in what I’ll call Timeline B (where Bobby Ewing never died, it was just part of a weird dream Pam had), and since we never saw the Knots characters again in that timeline, we don’t know what’s happened to them. As far as Timeline B is concerned, where we last off with Gary and Val, they were divorced, Gary was still married to Abby, and Val had just found out that the twins she and Gary conceived after a one stand and had been told died in childbirth were in fact still alive, and had been kidnapped and given to some other couple. That’s it. And that was like 29 years ago.

      So, as far as the status of Gary and Val in Dallas v2 is concerned, all we currently know, thanks to this interview, is that @ some point Gary and Val remarried (&, really, even “soulmates”, it’s not @ all unrealistic to accept that a couple who have been together since they were teenagers would have some problems over the years) . But everything else they’ve been up to during all this time is a mystery. Did they regain custody of their twins and, if so, what did they name them? Did they have any other kids? The possibilities are virtually endless.

      Of course, speaking of timeless, I guess it’s worth it to point out that Dallas v2 seems to exist in what I’ll call Timeline C, which shares most of the history of Timeline B (ie Bobby never died), although it omits the events of “J.R. Returns” and “War of The Ewings”, and has added some events to Ewing history, such as the notion that Miss Ellie spent some time in a sanitarium to after Jock died, and that Carmen Ramos is the longtime Southfork cook whose children, Elena and Drew, grew up on the ranch and were childhood friends with John Ross and Christopher. So that also gives them leeway to rewrite the history of Gary and Val.

      Now my head hurts…

    • Thanks Jamie! I like what you wrote and fully agree: If Bobby and Pam can’t have a happy ending, at least allow Gary and Val to have one. I’m also glad to hear I’m not the only one who like see those Ewing brothers in their swim trunks.

      I appreciate your comments. Thanks again!

      CB

  15. the_lost_son says:

    Great and interesting answers from TS and very good questions from you Chris make a great interview. Thanks for your time and effort. I haven’t heard anything from him in years. A really great read and right in time for his upcoming appearances. Thank you!

    • Thanks so much, t_l_s. I appreciate your compliment. I really enjoyed speaking to Mr. Shackelford. It’s always cool to chat with your childhood heroes.

  16. barbara fan says:

    Congrats on another great interview….. keep them coming – Thanks, BF x

Trackbacks

  1. […] middle brother. Each man controls one-third of the Southfork mineral rights, and in my recent interview with Shackelford, he revealed Bobby summons Gary to Dallas to form a voting bloc against J.R.’s […]

  2. […] remarkable how two actors who look nothing alike can seem so believable as brothers? In my recent interview with Shackelford, he expressed his willingness to reprise his role beyond the three-episode stint […]

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