The Dallas Decoder Interview: Kristina Hagman

Dallas, Eternal Party, Kristina Hagman

Kristina Hagman

“The Eternal Party,” a biography of Larry Hagman written by his daughter Kristina Hagman, was published last month. I interviewed her recently about the book and her memories of her famous father.

Let me start by expressing my condolences on the recent death of your mom, Maj Hagman. I enjoyed learning more about her in your book. She was a pretty resourceful woman.

She was a doer. Resilient, handy, innovative. She came up with all sorts of things.

For those who haven’t read “The Eternal Party,” can you talk about why you decided to write it?

I was hoping [the book] would instigate larger communication about my father — that other people would then share their stories, and lo and behold, that is just what’s happening. I’m hearing so much. It’s making the whole picture of my father so much more complete. As I put out my stories, people are coming back to me with their stories, and I’m getting a much more rounded knowledge of who my father was.

What sorts of things are you hearing?

My father used his celebrity to reach out to people, and when people contacted him, he often formed long-term bonds with his fans. He would communicate with people over decades. And then there is a story in the book about a little boy who was missing his dad during the Vietnam War and met Dad, who realized that this little boy needed a male father figure — someone to pay attention to him, to hold his hand. I think that may have been one of the very first times that Dad really understood that there was a healing power to celebrity.

I love that story because I suspect that’s how a lot of us saw your dad — like a father figure who came into our living rooms every week.

Yeah, and that’s how he said it. I was with him — I think I was about 8 at the time — and he took me aside and said, “I am in this boy’s living room once a week, but he can’t see his dad. How would you feel if you couldn’t see your dad?” He made it real for me.

Something I struggled with when I read your book is, I always feel like people of notoriety deserve their privacy too, and yet you reveal some personal information about your dad.

And about myself. I figured if I was going to be forthcoming with him, I was going to put myself out there too.

Kristina Hagman, Larry Hagman

Don’t worry

Did you struggle to decide what to disclose and what not to disclose?

You know, I read your commentary and your concerns that my father had never really talked publicly about his infidelities — that was a struggle for me to decide [to disclose]. But when I looked at telling the story of our family’s life, covering up that lie created such a big hole in the fabric of our reality that I had to not leave it out. It was part of the character of J.R. People who are famous often need a whole lot of love, and people who are famous don’t become famous alone. There’s a lot of people propping them up and helping them and giving them all that energy that they need. And my mom, as much as she wanted to, couldn’t give him everything.

You mention J.R. How much did your dad have in common with him?

Obviously, number one, they’re both Texans. Dad had incredible role models to draw off of, real Texans that were in his life, in his childhood. I think to be that good — because he was really good as J.R. — you have to bring a piece of yourself to it.

Something that struck me is J.R. struggled with his relationship with his father, and in real life, your dad had an interesting relationship with his mom [Broadway star Mary Martin]. Do you think he drew upon that when he was playing J.R.?

Certainly there were similarities in the competition of … wanting to be as good as your parents, or better. J.R. wanted to show the world that, “Yeah, I respect my dad, he was so great, but I’m going to be even better than he is. I’m going to take this to the next level.” And Dad loved and respected and admired his mother, but he was determined to take it to the next level.

The other thing that I find interesting is your dad had this reputation as a very carefree person, but he must have been a really hard worker too.

Oh, he was. Dad was incredibly disciplined. He used to use a reel-to-reel tape recorder to tape all of his lines. It was like a suitcase — that’s how big it was. And he developed a special technique where he would read the entire script — his lines, everybody else’s lines — and he’d go [makes a clicking sound], and then he would leave a blank spot. He would sort of say it in his head, and then he would read the line.


He spent hours and hours, every single day, no matter what state he was in, recording his lines, going over his lines, playing with them. When I was a young actress, he said, “Learn your lines backwards and forward. Laugh it. Sing it. Say that line with marbles in your mouth. Turn it into a joke. Say that line — even if it’s a funny line — as if you were going to kill somebody with those words.” And he would say, “You play with it until it becomes really comfortable and malleable.” He was incredibly disciplined.

Did he rehearse a lot?

All the time. He rehearsed over and over and over.

Did you ever rehearse with him? Did you ever read Sue Ellen or Bobby’s lines for him?

No, no, no. He worked with Linda [Gray] and Patrick [Duffy], right there on the set.

Speaking of the set: You made a few appearances on “Dallas” over the years. What are your memories of being on the show?

Some of Dad’s best memories were working with his mother. He was in “South Pacific” in London with his mom. And he thought it would be fun for us [to work together] — that we would relate to one another more. Even after I pretty much gave up acting, I would still come back to L.A. and do a day or two on the show with him, and so I got more of that intimacy of being his co-worker as well. That was a wonderful way of bonding.

Your final episode was the first segment that Linda Gray directed. Do you remember being directed by her?

Was that the masquerade party?

It was the episode after the masquerade party.

You know, frankly, the reason I’m not an actress is when I was doing that stuff, I was so nervous, I had stage fright. You know how everything goes blank?

Oh, sure.

I don’t remember too much except that Dad was there saying, “Breathe. Relax.” [Laughs]

Is that why you didn’t pursue acting full-time?

I was so terrified. I got a gig doing “Sound of Music.” I played Liesl. My mouth would get so dry that I’d have to put Vaseline on my teeth because when I smiled, my lips would stick to my gums. And at a certain point, after about three years, I realized that I didn’t have to do something that made me terrified.

Kristina Hagman, Larry Hagman

Be happy

Was your dad okay with that?

More than okay. I think that he really wanted me to have a family. He felt that family was the most important thing there is. He really wanted me to be a mom and he didn’t want me to have a career that kept me away from my children. So when I started full-time painting and making art, he really, really encouraged that.

He displayed your art in his homes.

Oh, always. Part of the reason that I became a painter, when I was a very young kid, my parents framed things I made and put them on the wall. I really encourage anybody with a kid who has some interest in making art that … taking the time to put it in a frame and show your friends — you can’t replace that kind of encouragement with any kind of class or grade that a teacher can give.

One of the sweetest pictures in the book is the shot of you and your dad in front of a garage-door mural you painted.

Yeah, I love that picture too.

So I have to ask: Your dad had so many great roles over the years. Did he have a favorite?

J.R., definitely. He loved playing that role and he loved the opportunity to do it for so many years, to hone it. Bar none. I think he also quite liked his role in “Harry and Tonto.” I think that that was possibly his most vulnerable, raw piece of acting that he ever did in his career.

What about you? Do you have a favorite performance?

I think it’s the “Harry and Tonto” one. My dad didn’t cry very often, and he pulled out the stoppers on that one.

So what is it like now, when you see your dad in a movie or a TV show?

Oh, golly, it does make me miss him. There are so many things I love about him. I love his voice. When his voice would be dubbed in other languages, they’d often put a very deep voice, but he had a barrel-like, funny, giggly — for a man, a somewhat high-pitched voice. Perhaps it’s the sound of his voice that gets me more than anything.

What do you see as your dad’s legacy? I feel like he helped invent modern television — we wouldn’t have shows like “The Sopranos” and “Breaking Bad” if there had been no “Dallas.”

Absolutely. I feel like the ensemble work with his other cast members is now something you see in so many shows. He was a great fan of “The Sopranos.” And he was very excited about the direction that television has taken since “Dallas.”

Did he see J.R. Ewing as a precursor to Tony Soprano or Walter White?

Yeah, I think he’d see these young guys and go, “Hmm, probably couldn’t have done it if I hadn’t done it first.”

And he always took credit for the “Friends” actors getting those huge salary increases too.

He really did think that everybody should have his due. If somebody’s going to make money off of his work, he wanted it to be him. [Laughs]

Kristina Hagman, Larry Hagman

Feel good

For an old hippie, he was a pretty shrewd businessman, wasn’t he?

Oh, yeah, he was, and it was a bit of a game for him. That was better than chess, better than poker, for him.

More parallels with J.R.

Probably. Oh, he loved the nuance, how to get the right publicity. He loved how to work with the public. He loved the attention.

Getting back to his legacy: I feel like your dad has never received the recognition that he deserved for “Dallas.” How he never won an Emmy, I’ll never understand.

Here’s an insider story about Dad and the Emmys. Like you said, he made it possible for other actors after him to get good money for their work. Dad had this idea that these awards shows make a lot of money and the actors don’t get paid for it, and he frequently complained about that. And maybe that’s why the Emmys never gave him an award.

Interesting. I wasn’t aware of that.

I think he didn’t attend them often because he said, “I don’t want to attend something and have somebody else make money off of me and my attendance.”

What a shame if that’s the reason he never received the recognition.

Who knows what the reason is? I’m certainly not on the Emmy committee.

The other thing that I really appreciate about your dad is that he had a concern for the planet. He was an environmentalist.

Definitely. And that was a reason to write the book, frankly. I really wanted people to know that J.R. was not just J.R., that Larry Hagman was an environmentalist.

So where, ultimately, do you feel your book fits into your dad’s legacy?

It’s called “The Eternal Party” because Dad wanted every day to be a celebration. Yes, there are difficult parts in my book, but there’s difficult parts in everybody’s lives. To me, the takeaway is: Living a good life is the greatest cure. Enjoying life, celebrating each day, no matter what kind of difficult things happen, that is the thing that I’d like people to walk away with most.

And that’s a great lesson.

Like he said: Don’t worry, be happy, feel good.

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The Dallas Decoder Interview: Linda Gray

Linda Gray, Road to Happiness is Always Under Construction, Ryder Sloan

Linda Gray (Photo by Ryder Sloane)

Linda Gray’s eagerly awaited memoir, “The Road to Happiness is Always Under Construction,” includes her reflections on life, her memories of “Dallas,” and lots of fun anecdotes — like the time Elizabeth Taylor jokingly referred to her as “the bitch with the long legs.” I spoke with Gray recently about the book, which will be released Tuesday, September 8.

Am I speaking to the “b” with the long legs?

[Laughs] You’re so funny. I think so, the last time I looked. Yep, that’s me.

I can’t bring myself to use the actual “b” word to describe you, but I guess Elizabeth Taylor could get away with it.

Yeah, she could. I just thought it was so funny because when she said that, everybody in the room fell down and laughed.

Well, before we get into that, let me just say: I love this book.

You sweetheart.

No, seriously. This book makes me want to be a better person.

Oh, bless you. I really spoke from my heart, and I wanted people not to become better people. I wanted to sort of put them on a little leash and yank them a bit and say, “Come on, people. You got a short life here. Instead of whining and complaining about everything, you could be doing something else, and here’s what helped me over my speed bumps.”

That’s what I took away from your book: You have to choose to be happy yourself. It’s such a simple thing, but I think we sometimes need to have someone else point it out for us.

We forget. All this stuff [in the book] is not earth shattering. It’s not new. This is just a loving reminder that we all have speed bumps. We all have things in our lives that aren’t perfect, but we get over them, and it’s the way we choose to get over them that makes a difference.

One of the things that struck me is that you have a few things in common with Sue Ellen. You both struggled in your marriages, for example.

We had things in our lives that were parallel, but J.R. and Sue Ellen were much more volatile. My marriage was just kind of — I should never have married him. He should have been the funny, great guy that everybody loves — the life of the party — but I shouldn’t have married him.

I think that comes through in the book. Your marriage wasn’t the happiest, but it wasn’t as dramatic as Sue Ellen’s.

My ex-husband was just like, “Oh, she’s off working.” He didn’t quite get it. It was like he was trying really hard to understand what was happening, but he didn’t like it. He wanted me to stay home, and then when this whole “Dallas” thing came about, it threw him. But he wasn’t a bad guy. It just wasn’t meant to be, and I knew it early on.

It seems to me as if you and Sue Ellen had similar experiences, but you came out of them as very different people.

Oh, brilliant. Yeah, absolutely.

Dallas, Linda Gray, Sue Ellen Ewing

Playing Sue Ellen, 1978

And in a way, Sue Ellen helped you deal with your mother’s alcoholism.

Sue Ellen on many levels was a huge gift to me. “Dallas” allowed me to confront my mother in a lovely way.

When you were cast on the show, you showed her your scripts so she could see how drinking affects families.

That’s what I mean. That’s my gift. I was able to physically hand them to her and say to her, “Please read these. This is TV, everything is over the top, but I want you to see that the issue is still here.”

And that wasn’t easy for you.

It was the put-everything-under-the-rug, never-talk-about-anything generation that I grew up in. Alcoholism was never mentioned because “everybody drank.” So that’s something Sue Ellen really gave me — the healing I got with my mom.

In a way, Sue Ellen also paved the way for you to meet your idol, Bette Davis.

She was like my acting coach in my head because I thought she was the most authentic. I thought, “Wow! This is who I would like to emulate.” And when I was doing “Dallas,” they approached me about playing her role in a remake of “Now, Voyager.” I thought, “Oh, come on. No. I’m not doing that.”

And then she called you.

I will never forget it. I was feeding the cats in the kitchen, and they were crying, and I had the can opener in my hand, and then this voice says, “Miss Gray? Miss Davis here.”

You do a good impression of her!

She said, “My assistant will call you, and we’ll have a meeting,” and I said, “Fine.”

So what was it like when you finally met her?

Oh, my God. This was my idol. I’m sure I was incoherent. But she was wonderful, and she took me over to the window to look out at the water, and that’s when she said, “I’ve been watching [‘Dallas’].” And I thought, “Oh, no. Bette Davis is watching me act?” But she was a huge fan of the show.

In the book, you write that she proceeded to give you her opinion of the entire cast — but I noticed you left out what she said.

It wasn’t anything shocking. She was just so astute — so aware — that she could tell who people were just by watching them act.

That’s one of the fun stories in the book. You also write about hard things, like missing your son’s high school graduation because you had to work.

That was just so awful. My son is this angel. He’s very forgiving. And I had to call him to tell him that I wouldn’t be able to be there. And I kept telling him how sorry I was, and he’d pause and say, “That’s okay.” It made it worse. I mean, it was just one of those horrendous, horrendous moments.

“Dallas” fans are going to want to know what episode this was. You write that it was a scene that involved the whole cast.

I remember we were shooting it in the Southfork driveway, but I don’t know exactly what show it was or which scene it was.

Dallas, Just Desserts, Linda Gray

Directing “Dallas,” 1986

I also love the chapter where you write about directing your first “Dallas” episode. You really had to fight [executive producer] Leonard Katzman for that.

It had nothing to do with him as a person. That’s just how it was at the time. It’s like, “Well, a woman directing? How can this even be?”

How do you feel about Mr. Katzman today?

I feel I know him much better now in retrospect.

That’s interesting.

I think he was genius at the time. He was totally responsible for every single character on “Dallas” and how they were interwoven in the whole scheme of things. He could write an episode over a weekend and turn it in Monday, and it was brilliant. You have to marvel at that.

Oh, definitely.

Did I get along with him? No. Did I respect him? Yes, because of what he did. But it was a very chauvinistic show. The women were the bookends, as far as I was concerned. But still, underlying that, I think he was a genius.

You also have a fun story about one of the other geniuses in your life — Mr. Hagman.

The Bora Bora story.

Yes. You and Mr. Hagman and his wife get stranded on the side of the road, and when you go to a house to get help, the family is watching “Dallas.”

That’s one of my favorite Larry Hagman adventures. Funniest thing ever.

And then you received a marriage proposal from a handsome young man on that trip.

He was just such a cute little flirt. But Larry and Maj [Hagman, Larry’s wife] were watching me like I was their teenage daughter. Larry was very protective. It’s like, “Who is this guy? What’s he doing?”

Your appreciation for young men is something else you have in common with Sue Ellen. As soon as I read that, I thought, “This is going to fuel the fantasies of many ‘Dallas’ fans.”

Oh good. [Laughs]

And I love the chapter on the Larry Flynt letter.

Isn’t that hysterical?

He wrote to you in 1983, offering you $1 million to pose for Hustler, and you respond in your book, saying you’ll do it if he donates $25 million to charity.

I said the only way I’ll do it is if he gives $25 million to end senior hunger, which is an issue I’ve worked on for years.

So what are you going to do if he says yes?

That’s what I said that to [my publicist]. He said, “Oh, yes, darling. We will have photo approval.” I said, “Photo approval?” No. I’ll have to be wrapped in gauze or something!

Author, 2015

On “The Road,” 2015

Speaking of photos: We should point out that no animals were harmed in the making of the book’s cover. That’s faux fur you’re wearing.

That’s a shot from People magazine. My grandson [Ryder Sloane] took another photo of me with L.A. in the background, holding a yellow hardhat. I was in a really short, cute black dress. It was fun, flirty, fabulous, and it went with the title.

I love that shot. It appears inside the book.

At one point, that was supposed to be the cover. My husband shot the back cover at the beach when I was 23, and so I thought, how fabulous: My grandson gets the front cover; my ex-husband gets the back.

That would have been cool.

The people in New York really like the shot with the fur, but I love the shot my grandson took.

I know you’ve got to get to your next interview. We never did get to the Elizabeth Taylor story. I guess everyone is just going to have to buy the book.

You’re so sweet. Yes, buy the book!

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The Dallas Decoder Interview: Patrick Duffy

Bobby Ewing, Dallas, Patrick Duffy, TNT

Patrick Duffy as Bobby Ewing

Patrick Duffy is everything you would expect him to be: smart, thoughtful, funny and above all, kind. I was honored to interview him recently, and I’m excited to share our conversation with my fellow “Dallas” fans.

It’s been eight months since “Dallas” was canceled. How’s life treating you?

Well, it’s been more than a year since the show ended because we were canceled long after we finished filming the third season. It’s been a year of catching up with your own private life, which you never put totally on hold when you’re working, and spending time in the place that you really love to be. I do miss the day-to-day experience of being with those close friends of mine from the show.

Let’s talk about the cancellation. Why do you think TNT dropped the show?

I think it’s not even a secret as to why it was canceled: the regime change at TNT. We had two very strong advocates in [executives] Steve Koonin and Michael Wright. They both left, and in that vacuum, other people wanted to make their mark. They thought “Dallas” harkened back instead of leaning forward. They wanted to clean house, and we happened to be one of the victims.

Bobby Ewing, Dallas, Linda Gray, Sue Ellen Ewing, TNT

The unexpected

It’s still heartbreaking for fans. How about you?

As Linda [Gray] will tell you, this isn’t our first day at the picnic. We’ve both had shows canceled before. It was a bit of a shock because it was more unexpected than in previous cancellations, where you know the ratings are dying and it’s just a matter of time. This one caught most of us by surprise.

The ratings did drop in the third season, though. What do you attribute that to?

I think everyone would assume part of it was Larry [Hagman] dying. I would not even assume that. I would take that as a definite. [TNT] also split the third season, and we were doing very well under the old method of airing a full season at a time. I don’t really know what to think. I feel the quality of the shows — oddly enough — improved in the third year. Larry’s passing made everybody up their game, which is why I was more than a little surprised and disappointed that we weren’t picked up.

I agree that in a lot of ways, the show was only getting better.

I really thought we had the potential to prove to the world that the show is not about one person. Larry said that year after year. The show is “Dallas,” and “Dallas” can be anything if it’s done correctly. He said that when I left the show, he said it when other people left the show, and he would have said it when he left the show. It would have been harder for him to say it. … [Laughs]

Some fans cite the drug cartel storyline as an example of the new “Dallas” straying too far from its origins. What’s your take?

I don’t know if I agree with that. We see a lot of news about the influence of the drug trade in mid- to southern Texas. So I didn’t object to it. I thought it was a viable subject line. I think it might have been overemphasized. It might have been better as a tangential story instead of an absolute focus, and I think we expanded our cast a bit precipitously. I loved every regular cast member we added, but “Dallas” has always been about the Ewing family, and when you expand it too much and too soon, I don’t think the show stayed as “pure” as it might have been. But those are little things.

Bobby Ewing, Dallas, Patrick Duffy, TNT

Fired up

You inspired a lot of fans during the #SaveDallas campaign. What was it like to see so many people rallying behind the show?

I had a double feeling about it. I was so encouraged that so many viewers saw value in our show. At the same time, it was bittersweet because I was more than 75 percent sure nothing was going to happen at TNT. I knew that they weren’t going to say, “Oops” [and reverse the cancellation]. And I knew just enough of the financial complexities of making “Dallas” that it would be next-to-impossible for a new network or entity to take it over. So I felt it was wonderful [that #SaveDallas] was so wishful and positive and hopeful, and yet the Titanic is going down. You can bail as much as you want — and God love everybody who had a bucket — but it’s still going down.

A lot of fans haven’t given up.

I know. I go on Twitter and see how many people are still hashtagging #SaveDallas. And I don’t want to deter anybody from fulfilling every conceivable idea they might have. I live my life that way. I encourage everybody to do their best. I’ve had both my boys in competitions of various sorts over the years, and as a parent you sometimes think, “Oh my God, they’re going to lose so bad.” But what do you do? You don’t say to your kid, “You know, you’re going to lose son, but. …” So you just say, “You can do it. Come on!”

You weren’t involved in the behind-the-scenes discussions, but as far as you know, was there ever a point where the show came close to finding a new home?

I know that [showrunners] Cynthia [Cidre] and Mike [Robin] were desperately meeting with people — bona fide executive meetings all over the place. And Peter Roth at Warner Bros. was devastated when the show was canceled. He wanted to do everything conceivable to see if there was a place where it could reside. But when I would talk to them and they would report with ever-increasing regularity how this conversation fell through, and how that deal couldn’t happen, I started to just think, “Well, I have a feeling we’re putting this one to bed.”

It sounded as if the CW was a real possibility at one point.

Yeah. I think the reason is because of the CBS and Warner Bros. affiliation and the connection to Les Moonves [the CBS president and chief executive officer who once worked for Lorimar, producer of the original “Dallas.”] There were a lot of historical lines there. If a family member was going to bail you out, maybe that would be the one. But again, I think the financial complexity just doomed us.

Ann Ewing, Bobby Ewing, Brenda Strong, Dallas, Linda Gray, Patrick Duffy, Sue Ellen Ewing, TNT

The end?

So you think “Dallas” is over for good?

I’ve learned to never say never. I died once and came back, but I don’t see the situation resolving itself. You would have to gather together the same group of people who’ve been spending the past year moving forward with their careers. But if it happened and I were available, I’d be the first person in line for wardrobe.

Bobby was the steward of Southfork. Would you be interested in taking a creative role behind the scenes — becoming the steward of “Dallas”?

I don’t know if I’m the type of creative person who can do that. “Dallas” is unique. If I understood it and if Larry understood it, the final reunion movie [1998’s “War of the Ewings”] would not have been the turkey it was. We were in charge of that one and it was terrible. I’ll be the first to admit that. So no, I don’t believe I could pick up the reins and produce a continuation of “Dallas.” Cynthia could, and I think she would do it in a heartbeat if she were available and somebody asked her to pick it up again. But I don’t think I know anybody else that could do it.

Do you have any idea what was in store for Bobby? There were a few scripts written for the fourth season. Everyone is dying to know what was in those storylines.

[Laughs] Nothing ever crossed my desk to read for the fourth season, but Cynthia and I were very close and hopefully will remain so for the rest of our lives. And she was telling me what would happen and a lot of it had to do with Christopher’s death. What does it do to Bobby to lose his adopted son, and then what’s in the history of “Dallas” that would eventually bring him out of that? And there are a lot of characters invented in the first incarnation of “Dallas” that could be brought in to play on the new show in a very appropriate way.

Ooh. Can you give an example?

I know Steve [Kanaly] was going to be brought in for a lot of episodes in Season 4. Cynthia knew that he was a definite positive for the show.

So maybe we would finally have seen Bobby’s other son, Lucas, who was raised by Ray Krebbs?

Well, I think that’s got to be the elephant in the room whenever you talk about Bobby losing one son — who is an adopted son. Family was the most important thing to Bobby. So where is the handoff in his mind of who takes over when Bobby dies? That’s his mission, to find that person. So I can’t imagine that they would leave that stone unturned.

I’m also curious about this half-sister of John Ross’s. Any idea who J.R.’s daughter was going to be?

I don’t know at all what they had in mind in terms of casting. I can’t imagine. It’s not uncommon for Texas oil billionaires to have dual families. H.L. Hunt had two families simultaneously for years. And Larry talked about the idea when he was alive. What if J.R. had an entire second life?

Bobby Ewing, Dallas, Patrick Duffy, TNT

Simmer down now

So when you look back on the new “Dallas,” what are the highlights?

For me, personally, I loved the maturation of the character of Bobby. I thought Cynthia hit the right note with his aging process, who he was after we saw him after that length of time. She maintained Bobby’s essence, but she gave him that sort of calm outlook. “I’ve lived long enough now. I’m not quite as fiery as I used to be. I know the drill.” I really liked that. I felt very comfortable in his shoes at that time. And speaking of shoes, when the new show was starting production, I went back and thought, “Well, maybe Bobby’s not so cowboy anymore.” And I told wardrobe, find me a really nice pair of Italian slip-on shoes for Bobby to wear. And I put them on the first day of work and went back to Rachel [Sage Kunin, the show’s costume designer] and said, “Dear God, get me the boots. I cannot be Bobby Ewing in these shoes!”


Really! It didn’t feel right. Linda told me years ago that she can’t be Sue Ellen in flats. She’s got to wear high heels. Sue Ellen wears heels. Bobby has to have boots, and once I came to that realization, then I was okay. [Laughs] But I agreed with everything that Cynthia put him through in the course of those three years. Certain things I objected to, but I know they were right.

Can you give an example of something you objected to?

Well, the thing that I thought was devastating to the character of Bobby was in the reading of [J.R.’s] will when we find out Mama gave half of Southfork to John Ross.

Bobby Ewing, Dallas, John Ross Ewing, Josh Henderson, TNT

Enemy mine

Yeah, what’s up with that?

Yeah, well, that’s exactly what I said when I read it in the script! First, I called Cynthia and said, “What the hell?” [Laughs] I thought, “Nooo.” First of all, how did that stay hidden for 30 years? But it added such a tension in the storyline. It made me as an actor find different things to do. But I never would have entertained that if I had been in charge and somebody would’ve suggested it. I would have said, “No, that can’t be. That wouldn’t happen. Mama wouldn’t do that. I’m sorry.” But it was the right thing to do.

It really helped elevate Josh Henderson’s character to be Bobby’s new adversary.

And he had one of the hardest parts. How do you be the new J.R. Ewing? But Josh’s growth pattern as an actor playing that part for three years was probably the largest bell curve. And he really filled that responsibility. Brenda Strong had the other hardest part. How do you replace Pamela?

She also had to replace Miss Ellie, in a sense.

She had to replace everybody! [Laughs] She had to replace Sheree [J. Wilson], she had to replace Pamela, she had to replace Mama. My favorite horse, my dog. She had a thankless job and she did it. She was the perfect choice and the perfect rendition of who could fill those responsibilities on “Dallas.”

You’ve mentioned Larry. Do you miss him?

No, I don’t. I’ve said that from the day after he died. I don’t think I’ll ever miss him in the sense that — right now, I’m looking at a picture of the two of us. I’m sitting at my desk and there’s a picture of him and me here, holding a big fish between us that we caught in the river that runs through my ranch.

Bobby Ewing, Dallas, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman, Patrick Duffy, TNT


I think we saw that picture on the show.

Probably. We donated a lot of pictures for the show. But I think until the day I die, I will be so satiated with my relationship with Larry. There are no empty spots. There is a sense of longing for the day-to-day connection. That I miss. I miss the phone ringing and he’d go, “Hi-ditty-ditty.” He would always do a little Irish tune before he would say, “Hey.” Those are the moments I miss. But just as I was telling you that, I hear it in my ear. I hear it as clear as if the phone had just rung and he had done it.

I know you remain close to Linda, who’s getting ready to publish her book. Will you write one?

Nope. I admire Linda for writing her book. Larry wrote his. I am too private a person. My private life and my private feelings are exactly that, and if you write a book, it should make you want to be honest. I’ve always had the title of my autobiography, which is “What I Choose to Recall.” I stole the lyrics from Merle Haggard song.

I love that song.

Yeah, and to me it’s the perfect title for an autobiography that’s not totally honest.

That song played during “J.R.’s Masterpiece” during the memorial sequence.

Really? [Singing] “Everything does change, except what you choose to recall.” [Laughs] Had I written it, that would have been the title of my autobiography.

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The Dallas Decoder Interview: Linda Gray

#SaveDallas, Dallas, Linda Gray, Save Dallas, Sue Ellen Ewing, TNT

Forever Sue Ellen

TNT has canceled “Dallas,” but don’t tell Linda Gray the show is over. I was honored to speak to her today about the #SaveDallas campaign.

Fans are so upset that “Dallas” has been cancelled. What happened?

It’s challenging to even describe what happened. We lost our two biggest cheerleaders when Steve Koonin and Michael Wright [the top executives in charge of TNT’s programming] left their positions. Meanwhile, we were left wondering if we were going to get picked up or not. We were kept waiting for someone to come in, and then when that person or persons were put into place, we were kept waiting to find out if they liked us or not. [Laughs] And then they decided, “Nope, we don’t want ‘Dallas.’”

How did you hear the news?

Our producers, Cynthia [Cidre] and Mike [Robin], called us on Friday afternoon. When you look at your phone and you see that both of your producers are on the line, it’s either good news or not so good news. [Laughs] This was not such good news.

What did they tell you?

Cynthia and Mike both said, “We haven’t given up. We’re going to see if another network wants us.” But the beauty of this has been the fans. The whole #SaveDallas campaign has been a huge revelation to me. It’s been so lovely. I’m very, very grateful for that. There’s been such an outpouring of love.

#SaveDallas, Dallas, Linda Gray, Sue Ellen Ewing, Save Dallas, TNT

Never give up

I was saddened when I heard about the cancellation on Friday, but then I saw your tweets on Saturday and I thought, “There’s hope!”

Always, Chris. Always! There’s always hope. [Laughs] I flashed back to the original series. In the beginning, CBS had us on Saturday night. We didn’t do so well there. And then they put us on Sunday night. We didn’t do so well there either. But then they put us on Friday night and we took off! CBS loved us. They nurtured us. [The new series] hasn’t been nurtured. We were on opposite “The Voice,” the Emmys, “Monday Night Football.”

You had one of the toughest time slots in television.

Yes, but this isn’t bah humbug. I’m not bashing TNT — not at all. I just feel like what happens with corporate executives is they see numbers — and that’s it. That’s what they do, and God bless them. But there are also a lot of people who want to be entertained, and this cast loved entertaining the audience.

“Dallas” is a special show. I loved the original series, and I love this one too. They’re different, but I love them both.

They should be different. Times are different.

So what do you think are the chances of saving “Dallas”?

Personally, I think they’re great. It’s a built-in brand. It comes with publicity you can’t buy, and it’s lasted a long time. And we want to be with people who care about us and don’t just look at the bottom line. This show deserves a fair shot. We need another shot. And if TNT doesn’t do it, we hope another network will pick us up. Other shows have done that. It does happen. And if it’s meant to happen here, it will.

#SaveDallas, Bobby Ewing, Dallas, Linda Gray, Patrick Duffy, Save Dallas, Sue Ellen Ewing, TNT

Team Ewing

The fans really appreciate the encouragement you and Patrick [Duffy] have given us.

Patrick said over the weekend he’s not done with Bobby Ewing. And amen to that, I say. I ain’t done with Sue Ellen Ewing either! [Laughs] When we spoke to Cynthia, she’s got the first script for Season 4 written — and I think a lot of good stuff is going to happen. The cast doesn’t know what it will be, but we want to get our little fingers on it and find out.

Is it official that Warner Bros. [the studio that produces “Dallas”] is going to shop the show around to other outlets?

I don’t know, but at least there’s buzz out there. I was at a function last night and [CBS chief executive] Les Moonves was there and he told me he’s been inundated with emails from fans who want him to pick it up. He was just smiling and said, “You wouldn’t believe the emails I’ve gotten.” I smiled right back and said, “Great!” [Laughs] The fans are not afraid at all. It’s not, “Oh, how do I get in touch with the head of CBS?” They just do it! They slammed the switchboards at TNT. They shut them down!

Maybe TNT will reverse its decision. I’ve been encouraging fans to be positive when they tweet at the studio and the network.

Exactly. TNT may say, “Oh, we made a mistake. We weren’t thinking. We’ve now come to our senses.” I encourage the fans to be positive too.

So what would Larry Hagman think of all this?

Oh God, he’d be furious. I’ve seen him mad. [Laughs] He’d hit them hard and it would be with humor, but he would be very honest and forthright. He’d probably say something similar to what Patrick said: “J.R.’s not finished yet.” That’s how we all feel.

He’d be right too. J.R. will never be finished! I love how the show honors him.

I think that’s why Season 3 has been so special. We were all kind of fumbling around after he died, but this season, everybody thought, “Pull up the boot straps. Get back on that horse and do it.” Patrick and I have discussed this. Everyone was shining this season — the cast, the writers, everyone. The original show had a small cast, and you got to know every character intimately. Sometimes when shows are brand new, they’re long and shallow, but they don’t go deep. In Season 3, I think, we went deep.

You were pleased with Sue Ellen’s direction this year?

I was very happy with what they did with Sue Ellen this season. You know, I cringed when she started drinking again. I thought, “My gosh, here we go again. Haven’t I done that before? Didn’t I do it well?” [Laughs] But I felt this time, it was handled very well. And I thought the scenes with Josh [Henderson] were wonderful. He really hit his stride this season.

#SaveDallas, Dallas, Linda Gray, Sue Ellen Ewing, TNT

Scene of the season

The scene where John Ross screams, “I am not my father!” is my favorite moment of the season.

Here’s the backstory on that: It was shot at night. It was the end of the day. So Josh and I were in a back bedroom in Sue Ellen’s home while they were doing the lighting and setting up. And we were like two caged animals. We didn’t speak. We didn’t talk.


He’s usually tweeting and carrying on. “Hey, Mama. How you doing?” But this time, I sat in my chair and went over my lines in my head and we never spoke. I mean, we didn’t plan it that way. It wasn’t like, “Oh, we’re not talking.” And then when we came out [to shoot the scene], man, you could feel it. The crew was very quiet. They knew it was an emotional scene. It was hard, and it was intense. It was something else. It was just amazing. That’s why it was so good. You went deep with Josh’s character. You went deep with Sue Ellen. She was blaming everybody and never looking at herself. It was such an intense, intense scene — because it was real.

That’s why this cancellation breaks my heart! How do you cancel a show that delivers amazing moments like that one?

Absolutely. To be canceled after that was like, “Oh, rats!” We’re all in the groove now, and then we get canceled.

So what’s your final message to the fans?

I would love to thank the fans for their love and their support and their outcry. I hope we get to continue making the show because I don’t think we’re finished.

So keep fighting?

Keep fighting! Yes, at all times. Keep fighting.

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The Dallas Decoder Interview: Cynthia Cidre

Cynthia Cidre, Dallas, TNT, Which Ewing Dies?

Cynthia Cidre

Spoiler alert! “Dallas” fans are still reeling from this week’s season finale, in which Christopher (Jesse Metcalfe) was killed when his car blew up and John Ross (Josh Henderson) learned J.R. has a secret daughter. I spoke with executive producer Cynthia Cidre about the cliffhangers — and what fans will see if “Dallas” returns next year.

Is Christopher really dead?

Yes. Believe me, we thought about teasing that: Did he die? Did he not die? And then, because I knew he was going to be dead for sure, I just felt dirty about doing that. It didn’t feel honest. So I thought the explosion was pretty big, and pretty definite — although I’m told all the blogs are saying he’s not really dead.

Yeah, the readers on my site are filling up the comments section with all kinds of theories.

That’s fun. I’ve got to read that.

But why kill a Ewing?

Well, we aim to surprise everybody — always. We like doing what you don’t see coming at the end of every season. I thought we did that well in Season 1, when we found out Rebecca was Pamela Barnes, and then we had Season 2 end with Elena finding out J.R. cheated her father. We always want to do the unexpected. And what would people expect less than if you actually killed off one of your main characters?

Christopher Ewing, Dallas, Endgame, Jesse Metcalfe, TNT, Which Ewing Dies?

Swan song

Why Christopher?

If you really think about it, there were really only two options. I couldn’t kill Sue Ellen or Bobby because somebody might kill me. I couldn’t kill John Ross because the show is really on Josh’s shoulders since Larry [Hagman] died. That left Ann and Christopher. Whose death would have the bigger impact? It would be Christopher’s.

Was there a lot of debate in the writers’ room?

We pitched it back and forth for months and months: “Are we doing it? Can we do it? Are we insane? This will drive the fan nuts. They’ll want to watch the next season to see what happens. No, we can’t do it. Yes, we can. No, we can’t.” And by the way, it costs a lot of money, so we had to get permission from the studio and the network. Finally, when the money came through, Mike [Robin, a “Dallas” executive producer and director] and I looked at each other and said, “Oh, my God. I guess we’re really doing it.”

When was the scene filmed?

Only about three weeks ago. That we kept it secret is more incredible. At a certain point, only the writers and Mike knew, and then it became the studio, and then it became the network. Every time it went to someone else, I would freak and think, “How are you going to keep this secret?” Then we had to budget it and schedule it, and that involved a whole other film crew because our crew was not working. So we used the crew for “Major Crimes.”

You kept it in the TNT family.

They didn’t know what they were shooting. They knew there was going to be an explosion, but they had no idea what show, what character. And then when Jordana [Brewster] showed up on set, they realized, “Oh my God, we’re shooting the finale for ‘Dallas.’” We talked to them afterwards and said, “Guys, you’re so great to do this. You showed up on a Saturday. Thank you for your time. Please, please, please keep this to yourselves.”

Jesse Metcalfe gave a nice statement to Entertainment Weekly. What was Jordana’s reaction to the news?

I only told her the night before we shot it. She was shocked. At first she thought we were killing her because we wouldn’t tell her what we were shooting. So I finally told her, “Just rest easy. We’re not killing you, okay?”

It was a big twist, which is why I’m sorry it aired on such a tough night. What’s your reaction to the ratings?

Well, we held our own, which is insane since seven other shows premiered that day. There was “The Blacklist,” there was “The Voice,” there was “Monday Night Football.” Literally, I’m stunned. But we’re a DVR darling. Every episode this summer has gone up [significantly in viewers through DVR playback]. All I can do is make a show we’re proud of and hope the diehard fans show up.

Dallas, Bobby Ewing, Brave New World, Linda Gray, Patrick Duffy, Sue Ellen Ewing, TNT, Which Ewing Dies?

Brave new world

You’re still waiting to hear whether you’ll be renewed for a fourth year, but as you said the other day, you’ve already started writing next season’s storylines. So how’s Bobby going to cope with his son’s death?

I just finished the first [episode] outline and it’s all about him. How’s he dealing with this? He has a pretty good idea who did it, even though there’s absolutely no proof. And Nicolas is in Mexico, so he can’t get to him. So you’re going to see a slightly different Bobby than you’ve seen before. He’s extraordinarily angry and vengeful, he’s extraordinarily hurt — and he’s refusing to express his hurt.

What about the rest of the family?

It affects everybody. Elena’s guilt goes without saying. She feels like her hands are dirty. There’s going to be a tortured relationship between her and Bobby. Believe me, this will be the emotional core of the show. The other thing that will be at the core of it is John Ross’s sister.

Yes, let’s talk about her. What can you say?

I can tell you that although J.R. has many spawns around town — if not around the world — this girl is different and special, and there’s a reason for that. That’s going to be the surprise that I hope will make your head spin.

You’re killing me here.

We had originally filmed the scene of John Ross finding her as an alternate ending because we didn’t know if we were going to get the money to blow up the car. But because we hadn’t cast the actress, all you were going to see was [the character’s] hand, and it was a great hand. It had bitten cuticles and some chipped nails and a bunch of bracelets. It was in a very exotic location. And we shot it, and it worked, but we thought because we’re going to move forward six months [when the new season opens], it would be better if John Ross finds her then. Because what the heck is he doing with her for six months?

So who’s this character’s mother?

It was a woman. [Laughs]

That’s good to know!

She’s passed away, so we’re not going to meet her. If I tell you that, then I would be spoiling something that I think would be a lot of fun — which, by the way, has been a pitch in our writers’ room for three years. We have something called the “duck pond,” where we throw up crazy ideas. And finally, that one looked good to us this year, so we’re employing it.

Will we see more old favorites from the original show?

Yes. There will be one who is a very, very, very popular old character. We’re excited to bring him or her back.

Wait, what? You’re not going to tell me if it’s a him or a her?

[Laughs] Okay, it’s a her. We’re looking forward to that storyline. It’ll be a lot of fun.

What about Cliff Barnes? Will Ken Kercheval be back?

Maybe. We’ve used him extensively for three seasons, but he’s in jail. We decided to leave him in jail, and so that kind of hurt us a little bit. There’s not a lot he can do from there. But there are some pitches about that also.

What about this business of adding a wing onto Southfork?

We’re doing it!


It burned! We have to add a wing. [Laughs] It’s a two-bedroom house with 15 people living in it.

But what about fans like me who consider Southfork sacred ground?

That’s why we’re going to put [the addition] in the back of the house. You won’t get to see it from the front, so the silhouette of the house will remain the same. We did not want to upset anybody. But we’ve made fun of [Southfork’s size] from the beginning.

I think that’s part of the show’s charm.

Yeah, definitely. We talk about it all the time. I mean, if you’ve ever visited that house, it’s probably 2,000 square feet, but somehow there are eight bedrooms. [Laughs]

Speaking of fans: Do you pay attention to the fan sites?

Not that much because I hate to get sucked into it. I mean, I want to hear all the good ones, and I want to hear the bad ones too. Mike Robin always leads with the good news. I lead with the bad news. That’s how I want notes from the studio. That’s how I want notes from the network. Just give me the bad news and I’ll fix it.

Brave New World, Dallas, John Ross Ewing, Josh Henderson, TNT, Which Ewing Dies?

Listen up

Fans talk a lot about the show on social media. Do you do that?


Why is that?

I don’t know. I feel like it’s passed me by — like I didn’t catch on at the beginning — and now my brain is so overloaded, unless I dump some “Gilligan’s Island” from my hard drive, I can’t learn anything new. But I know it’s very important, and thank goodness, all of our actors do it. They’re really into it, and they have a lot of followers. I also know the younger members of our writing staff do it. I just haven’t. Every time somebody tries to introduce me to it, I’m like, “No, I have so many emails I have to answer!”

But you hear what fans say. Is it hard to balance giving them what they want with pursuing your own creative vision for the show?

Maybe, because I’m not sure I always give the fans what they want. Maybe they’d like it to be more soapier than it is. I come from very dark writing. I wrote violent movies for Michael Mann and many other dark directors. That’s a place where I’m comfortable, and so I’ll often go to that place. Sometimes it works, and sometimes I have to remind myself that it’s probably not the best choice.

Can you give an example?

I just did it in something we were [discussing] for Season 4 about Pamela. I said, “How about she does this and this and this,” and then Robert Rovner [a “Dallas” executive producer and writer] said, “But that’s not empowering for her.” And I said, “You know what? You’re absolutely right.” I was going to a dark place for her. But I just want to work to the best of my ability, and I do want to make it delicious, and so I try never to steal that from the show.

You mentioned the “duck pond” in the writers’ room. Do I dare ask what other ideas are up there?

Most of them are goofy — and then one day they’re not goofy any more.

What I’d give to be a fly on the wall when you guys are discussing this stuff.

You have no idea. There are four comedy writers [on staff] and the things that get said inside that room — you can’t repeat them on the outside. Seriously, it’s insane. Every other day, I’m crying. We have fun. And at the end of the day, somehow the work gets done.

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The Dallas Decoder Interview: Juan Pablo Di Pace

Dallas, Juan Pablo Di Pace, Nicolas Trevino, TNT

Juan Pablo Di Pace

Spoiler alert! “Dallas” surprised viewers this week when Juan Pablo Di Pace’s character, Nicolas Treviño, stood by and watched his partners in crime execute his lifelong friend, Drew Ramos (Kuno Becker). I spoke to Di Pace last week about Nicolas’s dark turn and what will happen next on the TNT drama.

Dude, you killed Drew!

I know, I know. I’m so happy I did. [Laughs]

How’d you find out your character was going to become a killer?

There was sense among the cast that someone was going to die. Then it became clear it was Drew, and then when I read the script, I thought, “Oh, it’s me! I’m the killer!” [Laughs] But it’s a horrible thing. He’s like Nicolas’s half-brother.

What was it like to film the big scene where Drew takes the bullet?

It was hard. The producers really wanted to show that Nicolas is this badass, cold guy. So I went there and I was really cold. I went in thinking, “OK, I’m not going to feel anything. I’m not going to cry.” And all of a sudden, in the last take, my eyes were bawling. It just felt so wrong. It’s inevitable that Nicolas would feel something because Drew’s family.

How long did that scene take to film?

Steve Robin, the director of that episode, wanted me to do it many times because he really wanted different sizes of the shot. It was a very intense half-day, but I absolutely love Kuno Becker. He’s wonderful to work with. So it was a great day, all in all. But it certainly gives Nicolas a twist. Everyone was wondering, “Is this guy a complete monster?” Yes, he is a monster.

Dallas, Juan Pablo Di Pace, Nicolas Trevino, TNT

Introducing Mr. Trevino

So when you joined the “Dallas” cast, did you know this was the direction Nicolas was going in?

Well, when I joined the show, it was very, very fast. I had just arrived in L.A. I was just breezily going through my first week [there], and then I get the call: “Put yourself on tape for ‘Dallas.’” I did that, and two days later, I’m talking to Cynthia [Cidre, the show’s executive producer]. And then a day after that, I’m in Dallas shooting. So I had no time to think about the enormity of it all. But what Cynthia did — which was great — was on that flight from L.A. to Dallas, she explained to me the whole two seasons prior, and she explained the arc of the character in Season 3.

What did she tell you about Nicolas?

She mentioned that he’s not what he seems, but I did not predict he was going to be a killer. That was definitely a big surprise for me.

Would you have preferred knowing that from the start?

In this profession, you always have to readjust. I don’t know if you remember the first season of “24,” but Nina Meyers was Jack’s sidekick, and at the end of the season, they told the actress, “Oh, by the way, you’re the mole.” So as an actor, you always want to know, but sometimes the producers don’t tell you so you don’t play what’s coming.

Dallas, Juan Pablo Di Pace, Nicolas Trevino, TNT

Boardroom debut

I have to tell you: I liked Nicolas so much as the charming rapscallion. I loved his first scene, where he breezes into the boardroom and upsets the Ewings’ apple cart.

That’s what’s fun about playing him. He has these different colors. He’s a guy with a secret, and he’s always hiding stuff. You know, in the beginning, we thought, “Elena is the one person he can tell everything to.” Not anymore. Now he has to hide the death of Drew, and that really affects Nicolas a lot. It’s stirring inside of him the rest of the season.

Well, let’s talk about his relationship with Elena. What’s up with the whole diaphragm-puncturing business?

Elena is the love of his life. I mean, that is one true thing about him. He adores her and doesn’t want to lose her, but he also knows he won’t be able to keep everything from her for very long. And when she finds out, it’s not going to be pretty. So I think the puncturing of the diaphragm is his way of securing a place in her life. Having a child together means having a connection to her that is beyond all the bad stuff that he’s doing for the cartel. It’s a twisted plan, of course. It’s very Nicolas. [Laughs]

So he’s killing people and he’s sabotaging people’s birth control. What else are we going to see him do this year?

I’d tell you but I’d have to kill you. [Laughs]

Oh, no. Nicolas is coming after me now!

I’m just going to say, toward the end of the season, it gets very exciting. The “Dallas” writers have this talent for giving you the cliffhanger, and I can tell you there’s another “Oh my God” moment before the season ends.

Dallas, Juan Pablo Di Pace, Nicolas Trevino, TNT

Connected forever?

Oh, good. So how are you enjoying working with the cast?

I love it. Jordana [Brewster] was the first person I did a scene with when I arrived, fresh off the boat. She’s just a dream to work with. And the rest of the cast is just a hoot. Julie Gonzalo is so funny. Linda Gray is the greatest woman on the planet. So beautiful and gracious. She gave me this huge hug when I finished my boardroom scene and said, “I’m so excited you’re here.” And you know, to have that hug from Sue Ellen was spectacular.

There are a lot of people who’d like to get a hug from Sue Ellen.

And then there’s Patrick Duffy. The boardroom scene was on my second day, and I was pretty nervous. It was a big speech, so I was kind of walking backwards and forwards, going through my lines, and the rest of the cast was — I won’t say distant, but giving me my space. And so Patrick comes up to me and says, “By the way, Juan, we know how freaked out you are and how difficult this is, because we’ve all been there, so we will talk to you properly in about two weeks’ time.” [Laughs] And that was so nice because when you first join a show, it’s so nerve-wracking, and you want to do the best you can. That was really sweet of him to say that.

And he directed one of the upcoming episodes. What was that like?

That man is so talented. You’ll see that. That episode is an actors’ episode. There’s a lot of confrontation and dialogue. He did an incredible job of jumping out of the director’s chair and then [acting in] these really intense scenes. It’s the kind of episode where you say, “So this is the season finale, right?” And it’s not. There are three or four more after that.

It sounds like you’re enjoying being part of this ensemble.

We’ve had so many laughs. I watched all the Oscar-nominated movies this year with Emma Bell and Brenda Strong. We went to the cinema a lot when we weren’t shooting. It’s a really chill team, and very tight as well. We’re like a family.

Dallas, Juan Pablo Di Pace, Nicolas Trevino, TNT

Suit up for more!

And what are you hearing about the show returning for a fourth year?

Well, we’re just thinking positively. It’s difficult for a lot of shows to make it to season 2 or 3, so we’re really blessed the show’s gone this far. But we’re just looking forward to going back to Dallas.

Good. Are you hopeful you’ll be part of the fourth season?

Yep, I’m hopeful. Because Nicolas’s character … I can’t tell you anything.

Well, I’m worried about the guy because once you start killing people….

Yeah, I know. He’s treading a very fine line.

Besides “Dallas,” you just completed a movie with Matthew Morrison from “Glee.” What was that like?

It was great. Matthew’s a really cool, talented guy. It’s an independent film about this guy who loses his father to cancer and can’t really deal with that, so he decides to go onto a reality show like “The Bachelorette.” So I play this guy who’s called Dunkin, and he’s his nemesis on the show. I’m playing a manipulative character, someone who’s using his charms to get what he wants, and manipulating people’s feelings to win the show.

Sounds like a fun movie. When will that come out?

It’s being prepared for the Sundance festival, so sometime early next year.

You also write and direct.

Right. I’m finishing a script that I’ve been writing for five years with a friend from Argentina. I’ve directed five or six short films and couple of music videos when I was living in the U.K. I love it. I still have to do my first feature, but right now, I’m just excited to be Nicolas. I cannot wait for people to see more of him because he’s a twisted, twisted guy.

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The Dallas Decoder Interview: Rodney Charters

Rodney Charters (Photo: Douglas Kirland)

Rodney Charters (Photo: Douglas Kirland)

Rodney Charters is the director of photography — a.k.a. cinematographer — for TNT’s “Dallas,” which resumes its third season on Monday, August 18. The New Zealand native previously worked on “24,” where he earned two Emmy nominations, as well as series such as “Shameless” and “Nashville.” I spoke to Charters in the spring, as he was wrapping up production on “Dallas’s” third-season finale, and then caught up with him again last week.

You have one of the coolest jobs on “Dallas.” For readers who may not know, can you explain what you do?

The director of photography is really responsible for “imaging” the script. It places me in sort of an interesting position of being on the right hand of the director and, along with the production designer, one of two people who help the director realize his or her vision. The director is the captain of the ship, but the director of photography and the production designer are the lieutenants.

So you help determine what viewers see on their screens — how the actors appear in a given shot, how they’re lit, the overall look of the scene, et cetera.

We’re shooting a scene today where the director wants to look through a window into a darkened bar and see a character, and then pull [the camera] out through the window — without seeing himself in the reflection — to find another character doing something to the first person’s car. So we’ll try to achieve that by putting up a dark false wall to hide the camera, or we’ll use filters to take away the reflection.

That sounds like a lot of work for a single shot.

You have to be ahead of the game because we never have an enormous amount of time to shoot an episode. Yesterday, we had two locations that required quite a bit of work. We were in a restaurant that had a certain style of lamp, but the production designer and the set decorator wanted to bring in more lamps, and they all needed to be hung 20 feet from a very tall ceiling. And they worked very carefully to do that before we arrived, so that once we showed up, we were ready to shoot.

Dallas, Michael M. Robin, Rodney Charters, TNT

Director Michael M. Robin and Charters

There’s a lot of teamwork involved, isn’t it?

Every time a cinematographer touches a camera, he needs to think of half a dozen other people he needs to work with in order to bring about what happens in the frame.

And that includes your own team. Talk a little bit about how the work is divvied up.

My right hand man is my gaffer. He’s responsible for physically placing all of the lights for me. There’s a team of grips who are responsible for mounting and putting up the equipment that supports the cameras. And then, of course, there are the camera operators. So roughly there’s a team of 15 to 20 people who work directly for me on set, and then I liaise with several others.

Like Rachel Sage Kunin, the costume designer.

She’ll consult with me about whether the material in a costume is going to work. On the Ewing Global set, there’s a green screen hanging outside the window, and we project the Dallas skyline onto that screen [in post-production]. If an actor wore green in one of those scenes, the exterior of Dallas might show up on their clothing. So all of that comes into play.

Dallas, Linda Gray, Rodney Charters, TNT

Linda Gray and Charters (David Strick/The Hollywood Reporter)

That raises an interesting point. Most of “Dallas’s” interior shots — including all the rooms inside Southfork — are filmed on a soundstage, while the exterior shots are shot outdoors. Which environment do you prefer?

I think a balance is worthy. There are some efficiencies on a stage because lights have been pre-hung and actors feel comfortable in certain areas, so you can leave some lights up to save time. But I’m a firm believer that what we put before the camera should feel as real as possible. When we’re shooting on the Southfork stage and you see through the window to the trees outside, that’s actually a giant photo mural. That presents challenges because when we shoot exteriors at Southfork in the winter, the trees are just woody nobs, and then when we go back to the stage, the trees outside look like they’re flowering.

Could you do green screens on the Southfork sets?

Green screen has its own problems. Backings reflect onto any reflective material on the set, so if you have glass tables or other glass surfaces as we do at Southfork, you run into problems. In the large apartment that Pamela occupied for so long, any lights we put up are then reflected in the windows. We drop the blinds down one section because we are on the 19th floor and we cannot rotate the windows, which is our trick on the Ewing Global set, where all the glass is on a gimbal. In Pamela’s apartment, we struggle to avoid seeing ourselves [so] we put up walls of black material and then wear black to avoid seeing the camera and the operators.

Hollywood magic!

There are always multiple solutions to any challenge. You’re always looking for the decisions that will allow you to get 200 people on and off a set within a 12-hour day. Today we’re starting at 1 o’clock and we’ll shoot right through the night. We’ll probably end up finishing at 3 a.m. We’re going to be in and out of four different locations, and only one of those is a stage. That’s a huge amount of loading and unloading of 15 tractor-trailer units full of equipment.

It sounds like every day is like making a movie.

The difference is you’re on a television schedule. A feature [film crew] can say, “Look, we’re going to be on this street corner, right at sunset, and we want to photograph it just as the dying rays of the sun are visible.” And everything works around that one moment. You prepare for it, you arrive at that spot and then you shoot that. And that may be all you do that day. [On “Dallas”], we may shoot 12 pages of script in order to have a lighter page count for a complex stunt day — a page being roughly a minute of finished screen time. A feature film crew will shoot only two pages of script, so they can do one scene a day and they can appropriately arrive and execute the whole scene just at the magic moment when the light is hitting its perfection.

Christopher Ewing, Dallas, Jesse Metcalfe, Rodney Charters, TNT

On set with Jesse Metcalfe

So what do you like best about your job?

I love working with the actors to make them feel comfortable in the space we provide them. There’s a process to how you light a show and the mood and tone you set — the actors pick up on that and it helps them with their performance. Sometimes a director will say, “I don’t see enough of the eyes. Can you do something here?” Because ultimately, all of the true emotion in a scene is expressed by the eyes. And if the eyes aren’t there, you don’t telegraph what’s going on with the actor.

You must enjoy working with Linda Gray, who has such amazing eyes.

Oh, she’s fantastic. The whole cast is extraordinary. We’re really blessed. Great actors, all of them. We just try to make them feel at home. And it rapidly becomes a team. It’s like professional sports. Everybody’s being trained at a high level and they easily fit together. They do the job they’ve trained to do, and they do it well.

You’ve also directed some episodes. You must enjoy that.

Directing is the ultimate. It’s like playing a Stradivarius. [Laughs] The big picture becomes very, very complex when you’re not only responsible for positioning and framing the images, but also working closely with the actors. Because the director will walk away from the monitors at the “video village” and go right past the camera and talk very quietly with an actor. It’s you and the actor, trying to motivate a performance. Only the director can do that, and ultimately, there’s nothing better.

You directed last season’s racecar episode, which is one of my favorites.

Well, that was up my alley because it moved fast and had a lot of action. We’re usually much more of a language kind of show, with most of the action in the bedroom. [Laughs]

Dallas, D.T.R., Emma Bell, Emma Ryland, Judith Light, Judith Ryland, TNT

Emma Bell and Judith Light in “D.T.R.”

You also directed “D.T.R.,” the episode where Sue Ellen blackmails the governor and Emma and Judith have that tense showdown in the restaurant.

That scene was particularly cool. I was thrilled to be able to elicit those kind of performances. Both of those actors — Emma Bell and Judith Light — are superb. I loved the physicality of [Light’s] hand grabbing the documents and both hands sliding across the table. Little touches like that — if you don’t photograph them, they’re not going to be in the scene.

So what’s your proudest accomplishment on “Dallas”?

Well, that scene is pretty high on the list, [along with] one dangerously dramatic scene in [the third season’s 13th episode, airing September 15]. I also had fun with the pilot, because it helped set the tone and look of the show. But overall, there’s a sense of satisfaction about the whole series. You can see the city of Dallas [on “Dallas”]. That’s important to me because I try to make it feel as real as possible. But it’s a soap, let’s face it.

How do you feel about doing the big close-ups, which are a “Dallas” staple?

Well, a lot of people are watching on television on tablets and smartphones, so the big close-ups are helpful in those instances. We’re facing a big change in the way people watch television. It’s all on-demand now. And “demand” may be the shopping queue or the bank queue. There’s a myriad of different places where people can choose to watch their favorite episodes. I was in Singapore [recently] and watched a young woman commuting while she watched her favorite soap — a hospital drama made in Korea and translated into her local dialect but under her bigger screen was an iPhone and a stream of chat which she would respond to as she watched. I was fascinated [because] I believe this is the future of success, delivering to the world on demand. But we have got to get her to fall in love with “Dallas”!

Dallas, "Changing of the Guard," John Ross Ewing, Josh Henderson, TNT

Josh Henderson in “Changing of the Guard”

How do you like to watch television?

I don’t have a television, to be honest. I use Apple TV to watch what I want on demand. Appointment TV is gradually taking over fans’ viewing habits.

Really, no TV?

No. I have a 60-inch screen, and in the process of finishing off the shows, I receive an online master. It doesn’t get any better than the way I watch it. It’s a pristine, 50-gigabyte file of digital data. But generally, I’m an on-demand person. I’d rather buy an online stream and watch it on my 60-inch screen.

Well, maybe we’ll all just come over to your house and watch “Dallas” on your big screen!

Yeah, OK. [Laughs]

But seriously: You’ve spoken before about how much you appreciate the fans.

I really do thank them for continuing to watch us. It’s the most vital part of what we do. I’m on Twitter — I’m @rodneykiwi — and it’s very satisfying to see what the fans are saying. It’s a tremendous worldwide community. It’s very exciting to think that our product is being seen in Arabian villages in the darkest part of the Sahara in Africa. It’s just a fantastic business to be in.

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The Dallas Decoder Interview: Margaret Michaels

Dallas, Margaret Michaels, Pam Ewing

Margaret Michaels

Margaret Michaels occupies a unique place in “Dallas” history. In 1988, one year after Victoria Principal left the original series, Michaels played Pam Ewing in two scenes designed to give the character closure after her fiery car crash and disappearance from Southfork. The following season, Michaels returned for a few episodes as Jeanne O’Brien, a Pam lookalike. I spoke to her recently about her “Dallas” experiences.

Let’s start at the beginning. How did you get the role of Pam?

I have a very dear friend who was a stuntwoman and happened to be the driver who ran over Bobby in the episode where he supposedly died. She and I were visiting the set of one of Patrick Duffy’s TV movies, and when my friend introduced me to him, he asked if I was an actress. The next thing I knew, I was reading for [“Dallas” producer] Leonard Katzman.

No kidding? So Katherine Wentworth’s stunt double is friends with the other Pam Ewing?

Isn’t that funny? My friend, Linda, is such a kick. I used to go with her when she was doing stunts with [stuntman] Hal Needham. We’d watch them blow up cars in San Pedro. She’s a fun friend, let me tell you. [Laughs]

So when you met Patrick, did he remark on your resemblance to Victoria?

I don’t remember him making that comment, but he must have felt that way, otherwise I would not have met with Leonard.

Let’s talk about that. You spent a year on the daytime soap “Santa Barbara” before “Dallas.” Had anyone commented on your resemblance to Victoria before?

First of all, I think we all look like someone. And several people had said they thought we looked alike. I think if we were standing next to one another, people might not make that distinction. Yet photographically, it certainly works. And please keep in mind: I’ve never met Victoria Principal. I do have a couple of friends who know both of us, and they say we have a strong resemblance. I’ve always taken that as a compliment.

Dallas, Margaret Michaels, Pam Ewing

Once a heroine

So you read for Mr. Katzman, and then you got the part. Was it intimidating to step into the role of Pam, even if it was for just one episode?

I think it’s difficult for any actor to fill the role of a beloved character like Pam. She was established by Victoria, who was loved both as Victoria and as Pam. And so as an actor, you want to get it right. And as a fan who watched the show, you really, really want to be believable. So I understood the importance of that scene.

Ah, so you were a fan of the show?

Absolutely! I think everyone I knew was a fan of “Dallas.”

That’s very cool! Your familiarity with the show must have been helpful to you in preparing for the role.

It was, certainly. I already knew that Bobby was the love of Pam’s life. I knew that stepping away from your child in order to save them from more heartbreak had to be probably one of the most difficult decisions she would ever make. And I also knew that her love for and bond with her brother Cliff would make seeing him again almost impossible. That’s a tremendous amount of information for an actor to go into a scene with. So for me, I think having created the raspy voice, in addition to the scars on my neck and face, probably made it easier for me to slide into that role.

Oh, interesting. You changed your voice for the scene?

I did. I tried to mimic that of a burn victim because, of course, Pam’s crash was an absolute explosion of fire. I’ve always found it amazing that anyone could have survived it.

Yes. She’s a miracle woman!

But that kind of intense fire, it doesn’t just disfigure a person’s face, it damages their vocal cords. So I tried to make [my voice] a little raspy, so there wasn’t clarity to each sentence. I’ve had family members who were with the fire department, and my husband had a very good friend who ran a burn center. And when someone has had a tremendous insult to their vocal cords, it alters the sound of their voice.

You also mentioned the makeup you wore. Was that very involved?

Very involved, and that’s why I applaud the makeup department. It takes a long time to build that kind of scar tissue on the neck and face. Actually, that may have taken as long as doing the scene.

So what was it like to actually film the scene? It’s a heartbreaking moment — Pam telling Cliff she never wants to see him again.

The thing that pops into my mind first is walking onto that set and how quiet and respectful it was. That’s not always the case when you walk onto a set, until they start rolling. Michael Preece was directing that episode — and wow, Michael is truly an actor’s director. And Ken Kercheval is really a wonderful actor. He was so real. It was difficult to hold in all those emotions as Pam while watching Cliff plead for his sister to come back home.

And then Cliff walks away, and Pam is left alone with her doctor — and that’s when the audience learns she’s dying and sent Cliff away to protect him from the truth.

The wonderful part of that was it allowed me to take all this pinned up emotion from my scene with Ken and take it into the next scene with the doctor.

It sounds like you really enjoyed working with him.

The whole experience was wonderful — solemn, but wonderful. I have to tell you: On the day we shot this and I walked onto that set, I had to wonder how it was for the crew. For years, they worked with one actress as Pamela Ewing, and then suddenly they’re presented with a scene where both the character and the storyline have closure, and an entirely different person steps into the role. But the crew was lovely.

So what kind of reaction did you receive after that episode aired? Did you hear from fans?

I did. It was odd because I already had a fan base from “Santa Barbara,” and there were people who wrote and were very positive. I was thankful for that. Yet I also think this was really difficult for people who were true fans of Victoria and Pam to accept me in this role, and I think that’s completely understandable.

Dallas, Margaret Michaels, Pam Ewing

Repeat performance

Well, the producers must have liked what they saw because they invited you to return the following season as Pam’s double, Jeanne.

I was completely surprised when that happened. It was an out of the blue phone call. They asked, “Would you want to come back and do this character, Jeanne O’Brien?” And I thought, “Of course.” No one even questions that. It was a wonderful set to work on.

How did playing Jeanne compare to playing Pam?

It’s totally different than coming in and taking over a role that someone else created. Now you get to create all the nuances of Jeanne O’Brien. Each time I got a script, there was another layer of her personality. In my mind, I think she was trying so desperately to climb that ladder of success without really knowing who she was. I think she was very ambitious, and I do not think she was prepared for a guy like Bobby Ewing. It’s sort of like having your knight in shining armor arrive, only to realize the knight belongs to someone else, and there’s nothing you can do about it. [Laughs]

Jeanne was quite a bit different from Pam, wasn’t she?

There was that one scene in her house where she attempts to transform herself into Pam and seduces Bobby. When I got that script and read that scene, it was the first time I thought she had a darker, more manipulative, almost desperate side to herself. Because initially, she was all over the place. She was a smart real estate woman, and then all of a sudden she was the cute, sweet little date, and now I’ve got a scene where she tries to look exactly like his ex-wife. You have to wonder: What type of personality makes that choice?

Bobby Ewing, Dallas, Jeanne O'Brien, Margaret Michaels

Seeing double

And when you played Jeanne, you finally got to work with Patrick.

I absolutely loved him. He is just a wonderful human being. He’s kind and nurturing, and as an actor, he’s talented and giving. Every single time I worked with him was just pure joy.

He and Larry Hagman were famous for their practical jokes on the set. Were you ever a victim of their pranks?

Was I a victim? [Laughs] Let me tell you, it wasn’t just Larry and Patrick. It was also Ken Kercheval.

Oh, really? I haven’t heard about him before.

I don’t think Ken orchestrated anything, but he wasn’t adverse to being the quiet participant who didn’t give me a heads up. There were actually a few times where I felt like I was in the Abbott and Costello routine, “Who’s on First?” And trust me: When you’re the new kid on the show, you are not on first.

Ken also directed one of the Jeanne O’Brien episodes.

He did. He directed that darker scene where Jeanne seduces Bobby. And Larry of course directed one [of the other episodes], and as directors, both Ken and Larry were exceptional. They knew exactly what they wanted. Because they played key characters on “Dallas,” their insight into the show worked very well for them behind the lens.

Dallas, Larry Hagman, Margaret Michaels, Patrick Duffy

Who’s on first?

Do you stay in touch with any of the cast members?

I have friends who have run into Patrick and I think, “Why don’t I ever run into Patrick?” [Laughs] But I have to tell you: My husband and I were once boarding a flight from New York, and Larry and his wife were on the same flight with us. So I had an opportunity to fly from New York to L.A. and chat with him. This was years ago, and I’m always grateful now that he’s gone that I had an opportunity to spend a little bit of time with him.

So on the new “Dallas,” Pam is supposed to be dead, but a lot of fans are hoping she’ll come back — and many of them would be very happy to see you in the role.

First, I’m flattered to hear that. I was a fan of the old “Dallas” and I’m a fan of the new “Dallas.” I just love Josh Henderson and Jesse Metcalfe. They are so wonderful. I love Elena and Pamela. I adore Sue Ellen. I like her so much now because she has come into her own. And of course, like all the fans, I was hoping for that J.R./Sue Ellen reunion. Oh, and I have to tell you this, because I love this so much: I think having Cliff Barnes return as the mega-wealthy villain is pure genius.

Isn’t he great on the new show?

He’s fabulous. And Patrick’s character has layers upon layers. Bobby’s really grown into his own. I love how strong he is, and I love how he has a little bit of bad boy in him now. I think that’s a good thing for him. And you talk about Pam, but I have to tell you: I really like Bobby and Ann. I think she’s wonderful.

Oh, how nice!

So as for Pam returning? This is the only way I know how to put this: In life, we miss our family members that we lose. And art imitates life, and fans miss the characters that they lose — yet it doesn’t always mean we get them back. I think Cynthia Cidre knows exactly what she’s doing.

Nicely stated, but what about Jeanne? Would you ever be interested in playing that role again?

Oh, yeah. Sure. She’s a fun gal.

Dallas, Margaret Michaels, Pam Ewing

Never settle

What do you think became of Jeanne? Where do you suppose she is today?

[Laughs] Well, I don’t think Jeanne would have settled for the mundane. Knowing her, I think she probably married an older, wealthy businessman who probably taught her everything she needed to know about the corporate world. And by now, I would think she’s either divorced, maybe widowed. Regardless, I think she’s certainly doing well on her own.

And what about Margaret Michaels? Can you tell us what you’re up to these days?

Oh, sure. I actually changed my focus and started putting my creative energy in writing. I had so many stories and ideas pinned up in my brain for so long, so I decided to put them on paper. So I have a couple of production companies. I have two partners, and we have a feature that’s ready to go. I also wrote a television movie for the holiday season, and I created a series. I’ve already written the pilot, and three episodes are finished. I know all the little twists and turns and where the characters are going. I just wish all the ideas would float out of my head and download themselves onto my USB without my having to type anything. [Laughs]

Are these projects “Dallas” fans can see soon?

I’m talking to people. This is an interesting business. My feeling is this: When you’re shooting it, then you know it’s a done deal. Until then, it’s all conversation and negotiation.

Spoken like a smart businesswoman. Jeanne would be proud!

[Laughs] Well, I just truly love doing this. I enjoy every moment of the process.

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The Dallas Decoder Interview: Julie Gonzalo

Julie Gonzalo (Courtesy Regard Magazine)

Julie Gonzalo (Courtesy Regard Magazine)

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.

Dallas, Julie Gonzalo, Pamela Rebecca Barnes Ewing, TNT

Good girl gone bad

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.

Dallas, Julie Gonzalo, Pamela Rebecca Barnes Ewing, TNT

Pushing the envelope

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.

Dallas, John Ross Ewing, Josh Henderson, Julie Gonzalo, Pamela Rebecca Barnes Ewing, TNT

Dressed to thrill

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]

Dallas, John Ross Ewing, Josh Henderson, Julie Gonzalo, Pamela Rebecca Barnes Ewing, TNT


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.

Dallas, Julie Gonzalo, Pamela Rebecca Barnes Ewing, TNT

Always a bride

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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The Dallas Decoder Interview: Charles Yusko

Charles Yusko, Dallas, TNT

Charles Yusko

Charles Yusko is the hottest hairdresser in showbiz, but you won’t find him in Hollywood. Yusko, a native Texan, works his magic with the cast of TNT’s “Dallas,” which is filmed in its namesake city and will begin its third season on Monday, February 24. Yusko recently took time from his busy schedule to answer our questions.

Let’s start with the basics. Tell us what you do.

I’m the department head. I maintain “the look.” That artistic vision is created by a team — including myself, the actors, writers, producers and directors. And depending on how elaborate the scene is, the hair department can include two or three more team members. To get ahold of my vision, I read the script and break down the scenes. I also articulate my vision to each actor. For really dramatic transformations, I convey my concepts to the director, producers and writers. To set the tone of “the look,” I closely collaborate with our wardrobe whiz, the timelessly impeccable Rachel Kunin.

Interesting. Can you give an example of how you and Rachel collaborate?

In Season 2, Rachel came to me and wanted to talk about the emerald earrings for a scene with Pamela. [She said,] “Hey, I have these fabulous earrings. Can you show them off? I’d really love her hair up.” But I don’t really like to do hair up. I like natural-looking hair. So I said, “I’ll give you those earrings shown off, but with her hair down.”

Now that I think about it, you did manage to show off Pamela’s famous emerald earrings — even though her hair was down.

That was an instance where the hair was a big deal, at least for me. We didn’t want to make it all about the earrings. But it was all about the earrings. So we gave just a hint of them, and then all of a sudden it was — bam! — the big reveal of the earrings.

Dallas, Emma Bell, Emma Ryland, Julie Gonzalo, Pamela Barnes Ewing, TNTA lot of fans probably don’t realize how important a character’s hair is. Hair tells us a lot about someone’s personality, doesn’t it?

I think we showed that last year with Julie [Gonzalo] and Emma [Bell]. Emma started off with the braid. That was a symbol of her innocence. And Julie’s look changes dramatically depending on if she has a side part or a middle part.

So what’s a typical day for you like?

Well, I usually start around 4:45 in the morning. When an actor comes in, they’ll come to me first because they’re going to have wet hair. And I’ll start [working on] them while another actor is in makeup. And then the department head makeup artist, Frieda Valenzuela, and I will flip flop: I’ll take the actor in her chair and she’ll take mine. And then I’ll go to the set, and then I’ll come back and do more actors. It ends up being a 65- to 70-hour week.

That includes weekends?

Yes. I spent part of last Saturday buying wigs for the show.

So for Season 3, has anyone’s look changed?

The show’s look was established by Melissa Yonkey [the department head from 2012 to 2013], who did a beautiful job. When we worked together on the first two seasons, Melissa shared her expertise. I gained as much as possible from her — like how to keep a swoop bang from falling in someone’s face. This season, I’m making some dynamic changes. To viewers, the changes might be subtle, which — for the most part — is how it should be. But the creative process has been extraordinary. However, you’ll just have to watch to see what happens.

So the actors give a lot of input?

All the time. It’s their hair. Their feedback — even if they tell me something ain’t working — is priceless. Oftentimes, we’re on the exact same page. Trust and communication are huge. They have a lot on their plate when they step out of the hair trailer. And when they do, I want them to feel like I’ve invested all of my talents into their performances.

Christopher Ewing, Dallas, Jesse Metcalfe, TNTHow about Jesse Metcalfe’s new beard? Are you responsible for that?

No, that’s makeup. That’s considered the face, so that’s all makeup.

Do you have an opinion about the beard?

I love it.

Me too. I know it’s going to go away midseason. I’m already sad about it.

He looks great with it. But with the character, it was definitely the perfect time for that change to have a beard and not to have one.

Well, I know you can’t give away plot secrets, so let me ask you this: What happens when Mitch Pileggi sits in your chair?

He comes to my station and gives me a hug and then he walks back to makeup. [Laughs] But he’s so wonderful because he gives every single person in the trailer a hug, every day.

Hey, that’s not a bad deal at all.

He is the sweetest man. That’s the thing about the actors on “Dallas” — they play the most horrible, ruthless characters, but in real life, they’re the sweetest, most amazing people.

Dallas, Linda Gray, Sue Ellen Ewing, TNTThat brings me to Linda Gray. She’s such an icon; I would imagine it’s a thrill to do her hair.

Ever since my first day on “Dallas,” I would watch Linda on set. I was craving an opportunity to do her hair. And now that I’m the department head, I do Linda’s hair and she’s wonderful. On Halloween, she gave me this fake fur coat. She had done a photo shoot with fur coats and while she was doing it, she said she thought of me. So I said, “What do I do with this?” And she said, “You need to wear it for Halloween.” Well, I’m in Texas. It’s hot on Halloween. But it snowed last week and so I finally wore that thing. They kept calling me Cruella de Vil on set.

And did you get to work with Larry Hagman?

I did. I wasn’t his hairstylist but I did get to do his hair before he passed. The last scene he filmed was the one where he meets with John Ross and Bum in the courthouse restroom. I was the hairstylist for that scene.

What was that like?

Well, first of all, I’m a gay man with John Ross and a bunch of camera boys in a bathroom. So Larry made a joke. He said, “Aren’t you in heaven?” [Laughs] But working with Larry was incredible. I didn’t grow up with him — my family was Baptist, so we didn’t watch a lot of “Dallas” — but meeting him and knowing how much he did for the environment and how wonderful he was…. I mean, he didn’t have to be the person that he was. I was in awe of Larry.

Well, the way I hear it, a lot of people are in awe of you. Everyone speaks highly of you.

I’ve been on the show for three seasons, but this is the first season that I’m the department head. I was a key [a junior stylist] for a long time. And early on [on “Dallas”], they demoted me.

Oh, no.

No, it’s fine because Jesse swooped in and said, “Nobody cuts my hair but Charles.” [Laughs] He pretty much was the reason for me keeping my job. And in the second season, they asked me to be the key and I said, “OK, this is my chance.” And I went back and I worked really hard. I feel like I proved myself.

You’ve had an interesting road to success.

I was going to school to become a teacher to work with autistic children, and it was just hard on me. So I ended up working in the opera for a while, doing theatrical makeup, and then some friends and I took a “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” trip across the United States in an RV. We did crazy, fun drag in the Grand Canyon, and that really brought out my creative side. I ended up in hair school, and then I wound up working on movies like “The Alamo.” And every time I thought about getting out of film, something pulled me back in like “Temple Grandin.”

You were nominated for an Emmy for that one.

It was a great honor. I got to go to the ceremony and everything.

And now you’re a department head on “Dallas.”

It’s been a crazy, fun journey. The network and the producers have told me, “Thank you. You’re doing a great job.” And I just freeze up. All I can say is, “I’m so happy.” Because I love what I’m doing.

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