It’s no secret your Dallas Decoder is a big fan of Julie Gonzalo — a.k.a. Pamela Rebecca Barnes Ewing Ewing on TNT’s “Dallas” — so I was hugely excited to speak to her recently. Gonzalo was gracious, insightful, down-to-earth and generally awesome. She discussed Pamela’s many ups and downs — and offered a hint of what we’ll see when “Dallas” resumes its third season on Monday, August 18.
Pamela has probably evolved more than any other “Dallas” character during the past two-and-a-half seasons. Do you agree?
Yeah, I think so. It’s definitely one of those roles where every season, we see a different side of her. It’s very exciting as an actor to be able to rediscover her every year and to find something new to play around with.
That’s what’s so impressive about you: You do it all so well! You can be really sweet, but you can also be a bitch on wheels.
Well, thank you! [Laughs]
I mean that as a compliment, I hope you know.
I’m taking it as a huge compliment! [Laughs] That’s the idea, especially on a show like this, where you need to sell vengeance and you need to sell sweetness, sometimes in the same scene.
So which side do you like to play best?
Oh, the naughty side. There’s something so fun about doing things you don’t do in your normal life. And on “Dallas,” the villains are usually the most memorable characters — everybody wants to see what they’ll be doing next. When we were working on Season 2 [when Pamela was out for revenge], I was having a blast. I really loved being conniving and backstabbing.
What’s really striking to me is just how popular Pamela is. I hear it all the time from my fellow fans. They love her.
To hear that makes me so, so happy.
Oh, my goodness. I hope you’re aware of how devoted people are to Pamela. It doesn’t matter what she does, the fans root for her.
That’s amazing, because sometimes I feel like, “Which Pamela are they talking about?” The fans love the original Pamela [Victoria Principal’s character], so sometimes I’m not sure if they’re talking about my character or hers.
Well, she has a loyal and passionate following, but you do too.
That’s just incredible. I have so much fun playing Pamela and I hope that translates [on screen]. I think there are so many beautiful, fully formed characters on the show, so I’m very flattered to hear fans like her.
I think a real turning point in the character’s evolution came last season, when Pamela lost her babies.
Yeah, absolutely. I think everything changed for her in that moment. That probably was one of my most challenging episodes. The grieving period was so difficult. I’m not a parent — and I never want to know what it feels like to lose a child — so it’s hard to go into an emotion like that. And it was really tough to maintain yourself in a really sad moment. You go home and you’re asking yourself, “Why am I so sad?” You never want to bring your work home, but there are points where it overtakes your life a little bit, and that was one of those times.
It was a courageous performance for a lot reasons, and one of them is that Pamela didn’t look her best in that episode — and you’re very beautiful.
Well, thank you. But no, I loved that. I sometimes have problems when we’re doing a morning scene and everyone’s hair and makeup are perfect. I think, “No, this isn’t how it happens in real life!” [Laughs] Even if you have all the money in the world, you don’t wake up looking amazing. You just don’t. But in that episode, I wanted her to look bad because it was a bad moment.
Let’s shift gears and talk about another one of Pamela’s memorable moments: the threesome scene from the midseason cliffhanger. What can you tell me about that?
Well, what do you want to know? [Laughs]
I want to know it all!
I’m sure you do! The funny part is how I found out about it. Cynthia [Cidre, the co-executive producer] said it so nonchalantly: “Yeah, you’re going to come into the room, and you’re going to catch [John Ross and Emma] together, and then you’re going to join them.” She said it like it was no big deal. So I thought, “Oh, OK. It’s no big deal.” But I also thought, “Why not? Let’s push the envelope a little.” I mean, “Dallas” is known for that.
I didn’t realize people were going to see it and say, “What the. … ” [Laughs] But I still don’t see it as a big deal. There are things out there that are much more explicit.
Still, it’s got to be weird to have the crew around while you’re making out with two other people.
Totally, but it’s also a very respectful atmosphere and a very respectful crew. And we’re all so comfortable with each other. By that point, Josh [Henderson] and I had become really good friends and Emma [Bell] and I had been hanging out a lot, so it was one of those things that was like, “OK, it’s another day at work.” [Laughs]
So what do you think was going through Pamela’s mind when she walked into that hotel room and saw John Ross and Emma?
At that moment, she had already downed a bottle of pills. [Joining them] wasn’t the approach that people expected from her, being the strong woman that she is. But I also like the fact that nobody could predict that. I like the idea that even strong characters have weak moments, especially when they’re being hurt. She really believed John Ross was made for her. They’re very similar creatures. So once she realized he wasn’t the man she thought he was, she went a little crazy. Anybody would, I think.
And tell me about the famous green corsets you and Emma wore this season. How did you feel about having to spend so much time in that thing?
It’s one of those things that you can’t really take deep breaths in. [Laughs] As any actress will tell you, when you’ve got to wear a costume like that, you’re thinking, “Oh, God. I can’t eat this or I can’t eat that. I have to drink a lot of water and I have to go to the gym.” Because you’re not just putting it on for the people in front of you — you’re putting it on for a TV show that will be watched over and over again for years to come. But to me, it was a beautiful costume. I thought both characters looked great.
I agree, although my favorite outfit of the season was Pamela’s black-and-white dress.
Wasn’t it beautiful? The moment I put it on with Rachel [Sage Kunin, the costume designer], I said, “Yep, this is it.” And the tag said it was a Stella McCartney and I said, “Of course, it’s a Stella McCartney.” I’m a huge fan of hers. Huge fan of her dad too.
Is it fun to have an episode like that, where you get to kick it up a notch?
Yeah, you look forward to those episodes. Rachel’s so great at picking out beautiful clothing. I always say, “Ooh, I want to wear this!” And Rachel will say, “No, it’s not appropriate for this scene,” and I’m like, “Dammit!” So when your character gets to go to Vegas and do the hair and wardrobe differently, that’s always very exciting.
I think that outfit is going to be remembered as one of the iconic “Dallas” looks.
Oh, absolutely. It was kind of a tribute to Sue Ellen, who had so many memorable black-and-white costumes.
Yeah, and I think we played up a lot of similarities between Pamela and Sue Ellen — and I love that. During the second half of the season, there are a lot of moments between our characters. I really enjoy working with [Linda Gray]. I’m always telling her, “You know, it would be my honor to be half the woman you are.”
She’s so cool, and I’m thrilled to hear you two are going to have more scenes together. Pamela was pretty mean to her in the midseason cliffhanger.
Well, she had her reasons. [Laughs]
Overall, it seems like the cast is a pretty tight-knit group.
Totally. Josh has become one of my closest buddies at work. He’s the one I work with most, and we really have a great time working together. And I was just on the phone with Jordana [Brewster] the other day. We’re trying to see each other [during the hiatus]. I really appreciate these people, and I really like these people. I mean, if the show were to end tomorrow, I know I’ll still have a friendship with most of them.
That’s not unlike what happened on the original show.
Right. You look at Linda and Larry and Patrick [Duffy]. You see the love they have for one another and how beautiful their friendship is, and it’s all because of the show. I hope that can be us one day.
You touched on this a few moments ago, but how do you prepare for your scenes? How do you “become” Pamela? Linda told me she doesn’t feel like her character unless she has Sue Ellen’s heels on.
It definitely helps me to be in costume. I don’t think I look anything like Pamela unless I’m in her wardrobe. Energy-wise, I don’t feel like her. When I’m working with my coach, I’m Pamela, but I don’t fully become her until my hair is done and my makeup is done. I look in the mirror and I say, “Oh, there she is.”
Working with a coach — that’s a part of the process I think a lot of fans aren’t aware of or tend to overlook.
A lot of us have coaches. I always work with a coach because I never want to feel like I know everything. As an actor, I never want to stop learning. The more I work, the more I want to learn. If I ever start to think, “No, it’s cool, I got this, I can wing it,” then I don’t want to be an actor anymore. I just did an acting workshop last weekend that focused on voice and movement and all these different things. You just never want to stop learning.
I have such admiration for people like you, who can get up and perform in front of an audience or a camera.
I was just in New York and I was lucky enough to see “All the Way” with Bryan Cranston and my mouth was on the floor. He’s phenomenal. And I bet he doesn’t feel like he knows everything, although to me he’s perfect. It’s like, “You’re cooked. You’re done. You’re good.” [Laughs] But again, you just want to keep advancing yourself and surrounding yourself with people you know you can learn from.
Well, speaking of great actors, tell me about working with Mr. Hagman.
Ah, what a class act. He was divine. He really was such a beautiful energy to be around, as he would say. He said we’re all energies. I did one scene with him, and it’s funny because I don’t really keep any of my scripts, but I did save those pages. It’s the scene where Pamela is talking to Frank in her office, and J.R. walks in. And Larry was wonderful, absolutely wonderful. He was such a flirt too. [Imitating him] “You should keep those pants. Those pants belong to you.” And I’m like, “Well, thank you. I can only wonder what you’re checking out.” I was very lucky to have that scene with him.
It’s one of my favorite scenes from the new series.
Oh, absolutely. It’s another scene that honors the past. It evokes all the great confrontations he had with Victoria Principal. And it’s great because you really held your own against him.
I tried, I tried! You know, when we were rehearsing the scene, I just wanted to do it with a smile. I thought, she’s so giddy because J.R. Ewing is in her office. He’s here to talk to her. I remember the director saying, “I didn’t see it with a smile, but it works.”
And how do you enjoy working with your TV parents, Ken Kercheval and Audrey Landers?
Oh, Daddy and Mommy. He’s such a trip. He’s great, and she’s so sweet. Pamela and Afton don’t really get along, so it’s hard to roll your eyes at your mother. I tell her, “Oh, you’re so nice.” It was really lovely to have her at the wedding.
The wedding! That was a fun episode too.
It was! I’m just so bummed they had to cut a lot of it out.
My mom was furious we never got to see the vows.
The vows were really cute. They were really meaningful. There was so much subtext. And then there was a scene of them dancing, and John Ross is singing to her.
I know. I really hope they put it on DVD because it’s really beautiful. And Josh sings really well. I was laying my head on his shoulder and he’s singing a Blake Shelton song. There’s a cute little interaction between them, and then you kind of start to see a little doubt in her. It was a tiny little hint in there. When they cut it, I was like, “Dammit, no!” [Laughs]
So what can you tell us about the second half of Season 3?
The second half, in my opinion, is even better than the first, at least for my character. There’s a lot more Pamela that we’ll get to discover. There’s so much that, I think, is going to take people by surprise. There’s definitely a stronger Pamela coming.
That makes us fans happy. We love the strong Pamela best.
Me too. She’s so much fun. I love when she has the upper hand. She walks into a room and owns it. It’s funny because playing someone so confident — so comfortable with who they are — has made me more confident. So I definitely owe that to her.
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