The Dallas Decoder Interview: Steve Kanaly

Dallas, J.R.'s Masterpiece, Ray Krebbs, Steve Kanaly, TNT

Steve Kanaly

Steve Kanaly will be in Texas this week to film his latest guest spot as Ray Krebbs on TNT’s “Dallas.” I spoke to him recently about what it’s been like to walk in Ray’s boots for the past 35 years — and what the future might hold for everyone’s favorite cowboy.

I’m so excited you’re going to be visiting “Dallas” again. What can you tell us about this appearance?

I’m only in a single episode at this point. I made this bad joke more than a year ago, before Larry [Hagman] passed away, that they’re going to have Ray and Lucy in whenever there’s a wedding or a funeral. And that’s pretty much been the story. This is another wedding. It’ll be a big Southfork extravaganza.

Do you have a lot of lines? Fans like me want to see more of Ray.

No, it’s not a lot of lines, but that’s heartening to hear. I’m torn. Do you say, “No, thanks”? Or do you say, “OK, thank you. I’ll continue to be part of the background”? So I end up listening to all of my friends who tell me, “Take the money! Go be part of it. Something good might come of it.” [Laughs] But it’s still a thrill to say that you’re part of this phenomenon of “Dallas.” And this is the first year they’re going to have to get along without the J.R. character, so I want to wish them luck and help where I can. If being on the show helps, then I’m happy to do it.

Would you want to become a regular on the new show?

My wife says, “Be careful what you wish for.” They’re now filming the entire series in Dallas. I love Dallas, but I also love living in Southern California. I have a whole lifestyle here that I wouldn’t want to lose. And Dallas is nice, but I’d like to just be there on occasion. I would not want to be a regular character, if they’re listening out there. I’d like to appear more often.

And Charlene Tilton will be joining you again?

Yeah. And Afton [Audrey Landers] is in this show too. I saw the script and she has a nice role. I think the producers are going to stay with the younger offsprings’ storylines and the old guys will come in from time to time. They’re not really interested in going back to what we did before. And I have a lot of people on social networks saying, “We’ve got to get Ray back. Ray’s my favorite.” It’s all very flattering. I just wish somebody at the studio would pay attention. [Laughs]

There’s also been talk about bringing back Priscilla Presley as Jenna Wade. Ray could figure into that storyline.

There’s always talk. The last time we saw Ray, he was married to Jenna and raising Bobby’s baby. So that’s what I keep telling the guys on the new show. What about Bobby’s baby? [Laughs]

Bobby’s baby is probably 25 now!

Right. I’ve got a 25-year-old that I’ve been raising over in Europe. [Laughs] If Ray Krebbs ever comes back in a big way, that would be one avenue they could pursue.

Dallas, J.R.'s Masterpiece, Ray Krebbs, Steve Kanaly, TNT

Final goodbye

Your most recent appearance on the new show was J.R.’s funeral. What was that experience like?

It was very moving. I had been to two celebrations of Larry’s life — one here at his home in Ojai, where I live, and one in Santa Monica. And they were lovely, beautiful events. But it was not a final closing for me — not like playing that scene. It was really cold that day, and something happened when we filmed that scene that never happened to me at any other time in my 44-year career. I was the first guy to speak, and we had done a couple of rehearsals, and it was real quiet because of the somber nature of the moment. And I delivered my speech and I walk off and the next person comes up, and there are eight of us that do this. Well, it’s an uncut scene that runs for eight or nine minutes. And everybody does this without a flub.

Oh, wow.

Not one. And the director came up afterwards and said, “OK, that’s great. Everybody stay where you are. We’re going to go again. We’re going to move the cameras and come in tighter.” And you know, I’ll be darned if everybody wasn’t letter perfect again. I can’t explain it. I’ve never seen this before on a film set.

Maybe Larry was smiling down on everyone.

It was my final goodbye to Larry, although I really can’t say my final goodbye. Larry was my neighbor. From my kitchen table, I can look up on this hilltop where his house was. So Larry’s on my mind every day.

That’s so nice. Let me ask you one more thing about that scene. After Sue Ellen gives her speech, she’s upset and as she returns to her seat, Ray reaches out and takes her hand. Did the director tell you to do that?

No, that was something I wanted to do. I feel so often that they don’t write these things as well as they might. There’s a lot of family interaction that should go on — like in real families — and that was just something that I wanted to add.

I noticed it when I watched the episode and thought, “Oh, that’s so sweet.” It was a small gesture, but it says so much about who Ray is.

That was it. You don’t know if they’re going to pay any attention to that or not. You want to make the most out of your moment. That’s the thing: Even when I go back and I’m doing kind of a walk-on, I want to make the most out of it.

Dallas, Ray Krebbs, Steve Kanaly

Back in the day

Let’s talk about this great character of Ray Krebbs. I’ve got to tell you: My dad loves you. You’re the reason he watched “Dallas.” He grew up loving westerns and considered Ray the last of the TV cowboys.

That’s very flattering. In my first meeting for “Dallas,” my agent told me, “Oh, there’s three male roles that you could possibly play: J.R., Bobby or this guy Ray Krebbs.” And then I saw the script. Well, here’s this cowboy that’s got a girlfriend up in the barn. He runs a ranch in Texas and flies a helicopter, and I’m thinking, “Well, hell, this is my only chance to play a western character. And what a cool one.” Because like your father and a lot of other people my age, we grew up on old westerns. It was Gene Autry and Roy Rogers and Hopalong Cassidy. And of course John Wayne and Gary Cooper and all the big film stars that played westerns. And then suddenly westerns dried up. So this was my chance to play a western character and pay homage to the blue-collar guys who work hard and try hard and don’t always get the attention.

Was that the secret of Ray’s appeal — he was someone the audience could identify with?

Yeah, very much so. And the writers and the producers always wanted to make Ray very vulnerable. Pride was his big hurdle in life. You know, he tries a lot things and he fails many times, but he kind of always bounces back. He’s always a very honest and straightforward guy. You can always trust Ray to do what he thinks is right.

Did Ray change as the show progressed?

I think there were a lot of changes in the character. The arc was over 11 years. In the beginning, Ray was pretty loose and fancy-free. In the first episode, he was J.R.’s buddy and he was up in the hayloft with this teenage girl. And then there’s the period of Ray and Donna, and then he graduates to being a Ewing. That, by the way, was a huge thing for me.

Tell me about that.

In the third year of the show, I was not happy. They were not giving Ray Krebbs anything to do, and the show was moving further away from ranch life. So I’m thinking, “Gee, I don’t need this. I have a film career I can go back to.” And Larry Hagman said, “Hey, whoa. Don’t run off here. This thing’s about to catch on. We need you.” And so we came up with some story ideas. I had one I liked, which is Ray marries a Mexican girl. They didn’t want to do that then. The other one was, Ray was an illegitimate son of Jock. So thank you, Larry, for convincing me.

Were you two good buddies?

Yeah, the whole cast was very familial. Larry, from the beginning, having had another series experience, saw that it was an ensemble show. He was looking to be at the top of the heap from the very beginning, but he also knew that we all had to work together and act as a family to promote the show and to bring out the chemistry. He was a leader in that way. And we all joined the club. We became a family. I had my life at home with my wife and children and I had my life with my “Dallas” family.

Besides Ray finding out he was Jock’s son, what are your other favorite storylines? Mine is Ray’s relationship with his cousin Mickey Trotter, and how he tries to take him under his wing the way Jock did with Ray.

The Mickey Trotter stuff was, once again, a case of: It’s Ray’s turn. When you have a big cast, it can’t always be your turn. And when it is, you can get excited about it.

Do you remember working with Timothy Patrick Murphy?

Well, sure. He was a great young guy. Always prepared. Easy to get along with. He had a nice edge to him at times. I thought he did a great job as Mickey.

I want to ask you about one of my other favorite moments, which is your performance during Bobby’s deathbed scene. There’s a shot of you just standing there, holding Susan Howard and sobbing. It never fails to move me.

For me, it really was saying goodbye to a friend [Patrick Duffy], who you love. It wasn’t hard to find that emotion. We were all pretty upset that he was not going to be on the show anymore.

Dallas, Donna Krebbs, Ray Krebbs, Steve Kanaly, Susan Howard

Ray and Donna

I mentioned Susan Howard. How did you enjoy working with her?

We got along real well. She’s a very sweet girl. She brought a lot of nice things to the show — and she’s a real Texan. Our families got along well. She was a little bossy. [Laughs] And so I would come home and I would complain to my real wife about my stage wife bossing me around. [Laughs]

Well, you know, Donna was a little bossy.

That was her character too. Ray and Donna became one unit. It was “Ray and Donna.” And you know, you sometimes wish it didn’t quite happen like that. It’s better when they’re struggling in some way.

How did you feel when they wrote her out of the show? Because as you say, you were a pair and suddenly half of you were gone.

It’s just one of those things that nobody could do anything about. There were internal issues that were going on, and from my perspective it meant that there was an opening for Ray Krebbs to branch out and do other things — other business things, a new wife, new storylines. You know, after you’ve been on a show for a long time, you’re looking for those kinds of opportunities, so it was a mixed blessing. I know she was not happy leaving. But that’s just the way it turned out.

Let me get back to one thing. We touched on this briefly, but how are you and Ray alike and how are you different?

Well, I try to be honest with everybody in my personal life. I would say that Ray was like that, a straight shooter. I’m definitely a hard worker, which Ray was. I don’t have quite the amount of pride that he did. I don’t struggle with that. Ray had kind of a violent side to him that I don’t have. But you know, Ray was a guy that I liked to be. It was fun to be Ray. I never wanted to be any of the other characters. I never wished that I was Bobby or J.R. I know Kenny Kercheval wanted to play Ray. I think he was happy to be Cliff Barnes in the end.

I think I’ve read where he auditioned for Ray. I can’t even wrap my mind around what that would have been like.

He would have been good. He’s a wonderful actor. But they let me kind of develop this character. Certainly the story had a lot to do with it, but how I wanted to play it was pretty much was what I got to do and I can thank [producer] Leonard Katzman for that. Leonard trusted me. He was the guy who kind of gave me the nod for the part to begin with. If there was a lot of Steve Kanaly in Ray or a lot of Ray in Steve Kanaly, I don’t know. They got kind of mixed up along the way.

You once did a TV Guide interview where you said people on the set would call you Ray.

Not just the set! [Laughs]

You said that that didn’t happen so much to Linda [Gray] or Larry. No one called them Sue Ellen and J.R. in real life.

Larry would call me Ray sometimes. [Laughs] This was when we were neighbors in Ojai! “Hey, Ray. Oh, I mean Steve.” So it was an enduring character, I think. And I did my homework. I went to the rodeo all the time. And I made friends with all these cowboys. I went into the cattle business. This is funny: The first week I’m on the show, this one guy, who was a Teamster captain and a cowboy, came up and said, “Well, Mr. Kanaly, you’re doing a real good job with this Ray Krebbs, but I’ve got to tell you: Around here, see, nobody wears them damn Levi’s. You got to wear Wrangler’s. You’ve got to wear boot-cut Wranglers. That’s what the real cowboys wear.” So I began to understand that there was a real fashion and you had to pay attention. The cowboys and the people who love the westerns are very critical of what they see. And if you don’t have the right jeans on, or if you wear your hat in some funny way, or if it’s an odd hat in their opinion, they’re going to notice.

Switching gears a bit: You recently filmed a guest spot for “DeVanity,” an online serial.

Yeah. The producer, Michael Caruso, sent me some material and it was a six-page scene. And I read it and said, “Hell, this is good!” And Michael told me, “Well, I wrote it for you.” So I was obligated to say yes. And it’s virtually for zero money. But all the years I ever did “Dallas,” I think the longest scene I ever had was with Barbara Bel Geddes, and it was five pages.

So besides acting, what else are you up to these days?

I’m happily married to my original wife for 38 years. We’re best buds. We’re very invested in being grandparents. We have four grandkids now and they’re all up in San Francisco, so we try to go up there once a month for at least a week or so. One of my other main things is staying healthy, so I work out every day. I do that nearby at a school where I’m a volunteer, teaching a program that has to do with sport shooting. It’s very rewarding. And I paint and play the piano. I’ve done that all of my life.

Tell me about your painting.

I do watercolor, transparent watercolors. It’s something that I’ve done for years.

It’s hard to imagine Ray Krebbs picking up a paintbrush, unless he’s whitewashing a fence maybe.

Yeah, right. I guess there’s one area where Ray and Steve are not at all alike.

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The Dallas Decoder Interview: Brenda Strong

Ann Ewing, Brenda Strong, Dallas, TNT

Brenda Strong

Brenda Strong delivered one amazing performance after another as Ann Ewing during “Dallas’s” second season. I spoke to her recently about what the future might hold for her character and the rest of the Ewings, as well as Ann’s other “family:” those wacky Rylands.

You’re about to start production on the third season of “Dallas.” Do you know what Ann’s going to be up to this year?

I’ve been given inklings of what’s to come for Ann. I actually like the idea of not knowing exactly what’s coming because it allows me to shape my performance as I go. At the same time, I think there are going to be some opportunities for other colors that we haven’t explored yet to come to the surface. You know, Ann is a very multi-dimensional woman, and we’re getting to see all sides of her.

You ain’t kidding. I’ve been thinking: What can the writers do next to this woman? She’s already been through so much.

I have a feeling they have a few good tricks up their sleeve. I don’t think they’ll ever run out of storyline. There are just so many twists and turns. Certainly with a new daughter in her life who is not necessarily predictable, I think there’s a lot that Ann’s going to have to deal with this year.

Well, if I was Emma, I wouldn’t want to mess with Ann. She’s turned out to be one tough mama.

I have been so delightfully surprised with the direction that the writers have taken my character from the very beginning. I had an anticipation that this character was going to be a particular kind of woman, and then in Season 2, we discovered Ann had some deep, dark secrets. And I was so happy that I got to explore that depth. I really attribute a lot of my joy last season to [executive producer and head writer] Cynthia Cidre. She really took me on the ride of my life.

Ann Ewing, Brenda Strong, Dallas, TNT

Ann, revealed

That’s interesting that your perception of Ann changed. What was your initial impression of her?

I really saw her as a mutual counterpart to Bobby. She was independent and strong and loyal and kind and really the matriarch to his patriarch of the Ewing family, now that Miss Ellie and Jock are gone. I saw her as one of those women who speaks only when she needs to but who sees everything. She’s extremely wise and measured. And so in Season 2, all of those qualities are still there, but there’s a whole backstory that I had no idea was working. I still think Ann and Bobby share very similar core values of family and honor and integrity. But it was hard-won for Ann. And I think she’s going to continue to be challenged.

I can hear the enthusiasm in your voice. You really enjoy playing her, don’t you?

I’m having the time of my life. I love this character. I feel like I tailor made her. I combined a bunch of people that I admire — from Ann Richards, the governor of Texas, to my own matriarchal lineage — and it was really fun to kind of pick and choose the qualities that I respect in each of those women.

I bet Ann Richards would’ve liked Ann Ewing.

They would’ve been friends. [Laughs]

So can you talk about how “Dallas” is made from an actor’s perspective? What’s the process, from the time you receive a script to the time you begin filming?

We get what’s called a “production draft,” usually anywhere between three to seven days before we start filming. And we’re in the middle of filming the previous episode when those drafts arrive, so you’re shooting one episode and starting to memorize the next episode as you go. That’s why you usually see a lot of actors sitting in their chairs doing a lot of reading and memorizing prior to their next scene.

That must be hard.

I have to be honest: I used to have a great memory. As a young actor, I could read a script three times and it would be memorized. I used to think, “Oh, isn’t that what everybody does?” [Laughs] And then I realized, it’s a muscle. And as we get more data in our brains, the muscle weakens a little bit because you have to have space for all those lines. [Laughs] Now I write down my lines, and I record them so I can hear them back and give myself cues. I also work with a coach. We sit down and talk about the underpinnings of what’s happening emotionally with my character. And I just love doing that work because it helps me to be reflective on where I am personally, and how I can interject that emotional dynamic into Ann.

Scripts

Love them lines

How what about rehearsal time?

We usually have an artist’s rehearsal first with the director. That’s where the actors get to feel out the scene from an emotional dynamic, shaping the scene. And then we do what’s called “blocking,” where we figured out our movement as actors. And then the cameras come in, and they look at where we are, and what they need to do to capture what we’re doing, and how to light it. And once all that is set up, we all go away for a little bit, and then we all come back and rehearse again.

And so the whole process takes how long?

We’re on an eight-day production schedule right now.

So let’s talk about one of my favorite scenes from last season, when Ann testifies at her trial for shooting Harris. What was it like to prepare for that?

Equal parts exciting and … I don’t want to say “trepidatious” because I wasn’t trepidatious. Exciting and scary, I guess, because the writers gave me a real gift. They gave me a tremendous responsibility with that monologue, and I always interpret that as a sign of respect and trust. And I wanted to do it justice. So I immediately started to work on it. I didn’t wait. I didn’t care if the lines were going to change. I wanted to have it so much a part of my DNA that when I walked into that room that day I didn’t want to be searching for lines, I didn’t want to be thinking about anything but what was actually happening in the room.

And what was it like, in the room, when you were filming it?

You know, courtroom scenes are not easy to shoot. They’re dull. It’s like watching paint dry. But the entire day was electric from everyone’s investment. And I think it’s really a tribute to A) the quality of actors we have, and B) the quality of writing. We also have an amazing assistant director, Phil Hardage, who made sure that the crew and the background [extras] all stayed very much with us. You know, sometimes things can get raucous between takes, but Phil held everyone together and that allowed me to do my work. And I had so much fun. Crying is not necessarily my favorite thing to do on-camera, but when it’s in the context of an emotional purging of a soul, it’s really freeing.

Ann Ewing, Brenda Strong, Dallas, TNT, Trial and Erro

Testify!

Did it require a lot of takes?

I think I only did three. And each take was actually letter perfect, which is rare when you have that much material. But I didn’t want to have to be looking for the words. I originally came from stage, and you can’t call for a line when you’re in the middle of a performance.

The monologue opens with Ann talking about how she was tall and a little awkward growing up. Did you draw on any of your own experiences?

Oh, I was called “Too-Tall Jones.” I was called “Stretch.” I was 5-foot 11 by eighth grade, so I definitely was conscious of being tall. I was also conscious of the fact that I was not only the tallest girl, but I was taller than most of the boys. So that definitely made me self-conscious as a young woman, but I never did that thing where you hunch over to hide or pretend that you’re not tall.

Good for you.

Well, the truth is I was a dancer, so if I would have done that, I would have been hit with a stick by Madam Schumacher. [Laughs] So I carried myself as if I were proud. I guess it was fake-it-till-you-make-it. Somehow by carrying myself that way, I eventually grew into loving being tall.

And tell me about one of my other favorite “Dallas” sceneswhich is the one where Ann reveals she’s secretly recorded Harris’s confession.

Well, first of all, Mitch Pileggi is one of my favorite actors to work with. He’s so incredibly present. And I love what he does to me. Literally, during that scene, the hair on the back of my neck was standing up. I could feel it. There was such a kinetic, palpable energy between us. And I loved how the writers have given Ann such backbone. You’ll notice in that scene, she says, “If you do anything to Sue Ellen or any member of my family….” She’s protecting her family. She’s not a blood Ewing, but she was telling Harris: They’re off limits to you.

Ann Ewing, Brenda Strong, Dallas, Harris Ryland, Mitch Pileggi, TNT

In sickness and in health

So was punching Mitch as much fun as it looked?

He can take a punch. He can take a bullet, he can take a punch. [Laughs] And because we love each other and trust each other so much, we got really close and at one point, I actually did punch him in the nose. And I was so embarrassed because I made contact. I said, “Oh! I’m so sorry.” He was like, “It’s OK.” It was just enough that I touched his nose and then backed off. But it was definitely real. [Laughs]

I spend a lot of time talking to my fellow fans, and many of us love you two together. We often say, wouldn’t it be cool to see Ann and Harris together again?

Wow, that’s interesting! I didn’t know the fans felt that way.

I think we see the chemistry between you two and it reminds us of the old J.R./Sue Ellen dynamic, when they were at war with each other and so much fun to watch.

Interesting. Yeah, I totally agree with you. Well, I think there’s a lot more for Ann and Harris to explore in their relationship. I don’t know what the writers have in mind, but Mitch and I love working together.

The fans also want to see a rematch between you and Judith Light.

She’s just an absolute pro. Whenever you’re in a scene with her, you have to bring your “A” game, which I love. And she and I really get along. We both have similar philosophies about life off-camera, so to be able to play adversaries on camera is such fun. In our first scene, our characters almost get into a fistfight in the police station, and Ann gets in the last word. Well, right before we left, I jokingly said to Judith, “Yeah, well who’s the boss now, bitch?” And she laughed and laughed. From that moment on, I knew she was going to be fun to play with.

Well, I hope she comes back.

Oh, I hope so too. I know the writers really enjoy writing for her.

Let me ask you about one more scene, which is the one you did on the original “Dallas” in ’87, when you played one of Cliff’s one-night stands. Do you remember filming that one?

You know, it’s so funny, I didn’t remember all of it until somebody posted it on YouTube. I pulled it up and I laughed so hard. Because once I saw it, I remembered every single beat.

Have you and Ken Kercheval talked about it?

Yeah, we did. We laughed about it. The first time he came to set, I looked at him and said, “Hi, Ken. Do you remember me?” And he said, “Oh, yeah.”

Ann Ewing, Bobby Ewing, Brenda Strong, Dallas, Patrick Duffy, TNT, Trial and Error

Third time’s the charm

Getting back to the new show: I always say you have the hardest job because you’re not just Bobby’s new wife, you’re also the new mistress of Southfork. You’ve had to step into two iconic roles. Did you have any trepidation about that?

Oh, I had tremendous trepidation. There’s a whole legacy that came before me. At the same time, I couldn’t make any choices for my character based on that. Bobby’s in a totally different place in his life than he was when he was a younger man. He needs a different kind of woman. I think Ann is perfect for him. But I also pay great homage to what’s come before. I think it was fabulous and done extremely well and it obviously lives to this day, which is a testament to the work that Victoria Principal and Patrick [Duffy] did together. I think it’s amazing that there’s so much passion for those two characters. So I think that’s only something to be celebrated.

I admire you for taking on the challenge.

I like a challenge. Like Ann, I like to think I have a bit of a backbone. I’m not afraid of things that are difficult. And I feel like the audience has embraced Ann and celebrated her for what she’s brought to the Ewing family. And I really appreciate that. That makes me so happy to feel that I’m not only loving what I do, but other people are receiving it well too.

Oh, Ann Ewing has a lot of fans. Just go on Facebook and Twitter!

Yeah, they’re very generous. I love following those feeds. It’s been fun to watch that kind of evolve and grow.

Speaking of fans, I know you’re a “Dallas” fan too.

I am a big fan of the show. If I weren’t in it, I’d be watching it.

What else do you like?

Oh, my gosh, it runs the gamut. I love everything from “Downton Abbey” to “Game of Thrones” to “Breaking Bad” to “Modern Family.” “House of Cards” is my new favorite now. It’s so nice to be able to see Robin Wright do something really wonderful. I really enjoy watching her work.

And what other performers do you admire?

I love Clive Owen. I love Kate Winslet and Cate Blanchett. Jennifer Lawrence is exceptional. Shailene Woodley from “The Descendants” is one of the most exceptional talents I’ve seen in decades. She is effortless. She’s deep. She’s so incredibly connected to herself and the work. I don’t see any acting. I’m blown away by her presence. I can’t wait to see her career blossom.

Besides acting, you also have an incredible yoga business. So tell me: Which “Dallas” character could benefit most from a little yoga?

Oh, you’re going to get me in trouble. The first person who benefitted from yoga was Patrick, because in the opening credits, he has to ride that horse. He’s such a phenomenal horseback rider, but he hurt his lower back a little bit doing that riding sequence. And so I gave him some exercises and he came back after filming the pilot and said, “I’ve been doing the exercises and I’m so much better!” I think as far as characters go, Christopher has had such a loss with Elena leaving and with the loss of his babies, so I think he could use some de-stressing. A little stillness, a little introspection, a little healing of his heart would be a good thing.

Spoken like a good stepmom.

Well, you gotta take care of your own, right?

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The Dallas Decoder Interview: Linda Gray

Dallas, Linda Gray, Sue Ellen Ewing

Linda Gray

Sue Ellen WeekI interviewed Linda Gray! It was an amazing experience — Gray was fun, insightful and extremely generous with her time. I’m so excited to share our conversation as part of Dallas Decoder’s Sue Ellen Week.

I’d like to begin with something that I’ve waited my whole life to say to you, which is this: “Hello, darlin’.”

[Laughs] I love that. Yes, I’ve heard that a couple of times before.

Well, when I was a kid, I wanted to grow up to be J.R., so to be able to say that to you now is a dream come true.

Oh, that’s so sweet. Thank you so very much.

OK, now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, you’re about to do something you’ve never done before, which is to start production on a new season of “Dallas” without Larry Hagman. How are you feeling about that?

It’s tricky because I know he’s not on the planet, but on the set, he’s very much there. He’s kind of like this big presence, looming over us and smiling. And I think what the writers may do — and underline “may” — is have something where J.R. Ewing made some oil deal 20 years ago that will come back and have reverberations on the characters today. So I think Larry will always be there — and he doesn’t even have to get into makeup.

So you’re not starting the season with a heavy heart?

No, not at all. Everybody is light about it because Larry was light about it. He always said he wasn’t afraid to die. And I think every single person who’s honest will say, “I’d like to go doing what I love to do.” Larry certainly achieved that. He passed playing the character he was meant to play. It was a life well lived. He charmed so many people and touched so many lives. He’s missed, but we just continue his memory.

Dallas, Linda Gray, Sue Ellen Ewing, TNT

What’s next?

And what about Sue Ellen? Any idea what she’s going to be up to next year?

I always smile when I get that question. People stop me on the street and say, “Please don’t drink anymore” or please don’t do this or please don’t do that. Honestly, until about a week before we start filming, we don’t know what’s going on.

The producers don’t sit down with you and explain Sue Ellen’s arc for the season?

No. But I prefer not knowing because sometimes, you could give something away without realizing it. Like when Sue Ellen started drinking again, I didn’t know that was coming up until days before we shot it.

I’m so glad you brought that up. The scene in “J.R.s Masterpiece” where she takes her first drink in 20 years is beautifully done.

When I opened the script for that episode and I saw, “She picks up that drink,” I thought, “Oh, no!” [Laughs] So I was just as surprised as anybody. But I spoke to some people who are in the program, and they said that if anything would make her take a drink, it would be J.R.’s death. So I said, “OK. Deep breath. Here we go.”

Was that scene hard to film?

I think we shot it at 10:30 at night or something. And the drinking scene wasn’t even planned for that day — another scene was, but it was a long scene and there was dialogue. And so the director, Mike Robin, who’s one of our executive producers, gave me a choice between shooting the scene with dialogue and the drinking scene. And I said, “It’s late, the crew’s tired, I’m tired. Everyone wants to go home. Let’s just do the drinking scene.” So it was kind of spur of the moment.

And I think I’ve heard you say you did it in only two takes.

Well, I asked Mike how long we had film-wise, and he said, “You’ve got 12 minutes.” And I said, “I’m not drinking for 12 minutes!” [Laughs] It may have been two takes. It felt like one.

I’ve got to tell you: Every time I watch it, I get a little emotional. How do you feel when you see it?

Cynthia Cidre, who’s our executive producer/writer, sent me the cut of the episode. And I was out, so I watched it on my phone. And I just started crying, crying, crying. So when I got home, I played it on my computer, and I just started crying again. I still tear up every time I see it because … I don’t know, it just goes to my heart. It’s hard for me to watch it.

Getting back to Season 3: I know you have a lot of respect for the writers, but do you have your own wish list for what you’d like to see Sue Ellen do?

The interesting thing is, I never had a wish list on the original show. I remember going in to the producers that one time and telling them that all I’m doing is drinking and having affairs and drinking some more and having more affairs. And they were patronizing to me, in a nice way. They said, “Yes, darling, but you do it so well.” [Laughs] So then in Year 9, they called me and said, “OK, we’re going to take you off the bottle, but we’re going to take you down.” And I said, “How far down?” [Laughs] And they said, “You’re going down.” So we went down, and I ended up in the alley drinking with the bag lady. And I loved that. As an actor, it’s like, “Bring it on!” And this was at a time when alcoholism wasn’t being dealt with a lot on film.

Dallas, Linda Gray, Sue Ellen Ewing, TNT

Don’t do it, darlin’!

I’m so glad you mentioned that, because when I think about the people who’ve contributed to society’s understanding of alcoholism as a disease, I think about you. Given the popularity of “Dallas,” I think you played an enormous role in that.

Well, that’s very kind. I’m just doing my job.

Well, you do it so well — and I’m not being patronizing!

[Laughs] No, that’s perfect. Thank you.

So let’s talk about Sue Ellen. My readers and I spend a lot of time debating this character, who is still so fascinating. How do you see her?

I have often said I found her to be the most interesting woman on television in the ’80s because she was so complex and complicated. And she’s still very interesting, but she’s different. When they brought the show back after 20 years, I told [the producers]: She’s got be strong. She has to be a changed woman. That’s the one comment I gave them. I know Dallas women. I have a lot of friends there. They’re extraordinarily talented, smart, gracious, generous women. And I wanted Sue Ellen to reflect that. She’s a former Miss Texas. She was married to that crazy J.R. Ewing. But she’s smarter now. She knows where all the bodies are buried. So who better to step in and start wheeling and dealing than Sue Ellen?

So you’re satisfied with where the character is today?

Oh, I love it. I feel like she’s a challenge for the writers. Bobby was always the good guy, J.R. was always the guy you loved to hate, but Sue Ellen is in this sort of gray area. This is supposition on my part, but my sense is that she keeps [the writers] on their toes.

Does it make a difference having Cynthia Cidre, a woman, as “Dallas’s” head writer?

As a woman, yes. I thought the original series was very sexist and chauvinistic.

I agree.

Oh, good. The thing I love about Cynthia is that she pulled together these amazing, amazing writers. We never had a writers’ room on the original show. Now, if somebody gets stuck and they don’t know what to do with a character or a scene, she has eight or nine other people who can interject their thoughts and their ideas. It’s so creative and collaborative.

Dallas, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman, Linda Gray, Sue Ellen Ewing

Big love

And what about Sue Ellen and J.R.? Why do you think they loved each other?

Oh, the most fabulous question. J.R. loved women, obviously. And he was brought up to have that trophy-wife syndrome. He wanted to marry the prettiest woman in Texas. And Sue Ellen’s mother taught her to go after the money. So with these two, it wasn’t a match made anywhere but hell. [Laughs] But — but! — through the years, I think a great, great love developed between J.R. and Sue Ellen. It was a Virginia Woolf kind of a love, kind of a dysfunctional love, but you know, marriage isn’t always wonderful and seamless and positive. I always found that idea interesting, that they didn’t begin on a high note. He was a philanderer, and she drank to anesthetize herself to the pain. But deep down — and they picked it up early on the new series — there really was love there.

I’m so glad the new show played that up. It was so sweet to see how their relationship had matured.

Cynthia told me that if Larry hadn’t passed, she had planned to end the season with a scene where J.R. and Sue Ellen go into the bedroom and shut the door. And so you would have been left with the impression that they were getting back together.

Oh, that’s so heartbreaking! That would have been wonderful.

Yeah, I just got chills when she told me that. I thought, “Oh, wouldn’t that have been just lovely?” We could’ve started all over again.

Do you think Sue Ellen loved any of the other men in her life?

I don’t think so.

Not Dusty Farlow?

He may have been the closest one, followed by Jack Scalia’s character [Nicholas Pearce]. Those are the only two that I can think of. There were so many! [Laughs]

Would you like to see Sue Ellen find someone new next season?

I don’t know. I think it could be kind of fun for her to be flirtatious with somebody, but she may not be ready for a relationship. But that’s just my take. The writers may have something else in mind. I think she’s got her hands full with that boy of hers.

Dallas, John Ross Ewing, Josh Henderson, Linda Gray, Sue Ellen Ewing, TNT

Honor thy mama

He’s a chip off the old block, isn’t he?

When we all read the final scene [of Season 2] where he goes to Emma, I thought, “You rat!” And when he had [J.R.’s] watch on, I thought, “Oh, boy. We’re in deep trouble now.” Mama has to step in.

I wonder if he’ll wear the watch next season?

I’m going to take it away from him. I’m going to ground him. He’s going to have to go to his room. No television. Nothing. [Laughs]

So how are you and Sue Ellen alike and how are you different?

Oh, boy. Let’s see. I have much more humor. My life is totally different. I’m much more … how do I even say this? It’s hard to describe yourself.

Maybe you’re not alike.

You know, I’m sitting here in my office in my home and I’m looking outside. I have an organic vegetable garden. I live on a ranch, but I don’t tell that to Texans because they would laugh. It’s only three acres. But in my mind, it’s a ranch. I’m very casual. And I have a great circle of wonderful friends and family. I have two grandsons. So my life is more … I don’t want to say normal. My life is easier than Sue Ellen’s. I do love her clothes, though. We have that in common.

Dallas, Linda Gray, Sue Ellen Ewing, TNT

Substance and style

But I bet your styles are different.

Our styles are different, yes. But I love putting on her clothes. On the set, I cannot do a scene without my high heel shoes. And even though my feet are under the desk or under the table and you don’t see them on camera, those heels make my character whole. I couldn’t wear fluffy slippers because that would not be Sue Ellen. And at the end of day, like at 10 o’clock at night, the girls will say to me, “Linda, you don’t have to wear these shoes.” And I’ll say, “I cannot do that scene without those shoes. I’m sorry.” And my feet are very sorry. But that’s how it is when I play Sue Ellen. I have to layer her. You know, when you step into the makeup chair, that’s layer number one. And then you go and have the hair done. And then you slip into the outfit. There’s a process, and for me, that’s hugely important.

I think I know the answer to this question, but I’ll ask it anyway. You’re one of the stars of “Dallas.” Are you also a fan?

I am a huge fan! I have always loved it. The original show still entertains me. I still get excited and I giggle and I laugh and I think, “Oh, I remember that scene! That was such a good scene.”

Do you watch the new show?

Oh, I watch it live!

Oh, wow. You should get on Twitter and tweet with us when we’re watching.

Somebody else told me that and I said, “What? Live tweeting?” I’m a little behind, and I know my fans get kind of upset. They’re like, “Come on, tweet more.” I don’t do it unless there’s something I can tweet about.

So what else are you a fan of? What shows and movies and actors do you like?

Well, my two favorite actors are Maggie Smith and Judi Dench. I mean, to watch them is to attend an acting class. I watch “Downton Abbey.” I watch “Homeland.” I love anything with great characters, great writing, great acting. It’s like this new Woody Allen film [“Blue Jasmine”]. I applaud him as a director so much because he keeps the camera on Cate Blanchett. And I was jealous. I was like, “Oh, man. He’s letting her go.” And she’s brilliant anyway.

That’s one of the things I loved about the old “Dallas” — those long, slow-burn reaction shots.

They’d let you play out your emotions. The new show jumps around a little more. They edit quickly. So that was new for me. Shooting in HD was new for me. But then you realize: OK, all these years have gone by. Things change. You have to change with the times.

Well, I think you and Sue Ellen are both doing a pretty terrific job changing with the times.

Oh, you sweetheart! Thank you.

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The Dallas Decoder Interview: Mitch Pileggi

Mitch Pileggi as Harris Ryland

Mitch Pileggi

Mitch Pileggi has become the man to watch on TNT’s “Dallas,” where his venomous character, Harris Ryland, loves to torment the Ewings. I spoke to Pileggi recently about working on the show.

Harris is so mean. Is it hard for you to play him?

No, I like playing him because he is such a jerk. He’s bitter. He’s angry. Ann broke his heart, and whether or not he still loves her is my secret. I think it’s pretty obvious, though. [Laughs] She crushed him — not only his heart, but his huge ego too. But I think there’s going to be some new things you’re going to find out about Harris next season.

Ooh. That sounds exciting. Anything you can tease us with?

No. [Laughs] There were a few hints dropped last season. If they go in the direction that they’re thinking about, it’s going to be pretty interesting. I’m anxious to see what they come up with.

Do you have anything in common with Harris? How are you alike? How are you different?

We’re pretty different. That’s why it’s so easy for me to play him. I can be cranky at times, but not mean-spirited. I would never hurt people the way he does. He definitely has a tender spot in his heart for his daughter, as I do with my daughter. But then again, he also uses his daughter, and that’s something that I would never do. So as far as similarities and differences, I think that’s really it. I look like him. [Laughs]

I’m glad you brought that up. I love the beard. Did you grow that especially for this role?

No, I went to the audition with the mustache and goatee, and then I grew out the whole thing. I just like it. I like the shaved head and I like the beard. I’ve had people who want me to shave it. I tell them: I think this is the way I’m going to work.

The dragon at rest

The dragon at rest

Do you get to collaborate with the writers over Harris’s direction? Or do you get the script and do what you’re told?

Pretty much [the latter] — and that’s the way I’ve always worked. I’m not a writer. I don’t have the discipline it takes to write, so I have a lot of respect for the writers because it’s brutally hard. There are times when they’ll write certain dialogue and I’ll say, “Can I say this instead because it flows out of my mouth better?” And they’re always so receptive to that. Or I’ll throw in a “Rylandism.” Harris always feels like he’s got to have the last word, whether it’s a grunt or an “Alright then.” So they started writing a lot of that.

There’s a great line in Season 2 where Harris is ending a call with Cliff and you call him a paranoid old coot. Is that something you ad-libbed?

That was definitely written. It’s his attitude toward Cliff. He kind of needs him but he hates having to deal with him. He does think he’s a paranoid old coot.

I don’t think he’s wrong about that!

I don’t either. Ken [Kercheval] did a stunning job with that character the last two seasons. When he tells his henchman to go ahead and blow the [rig] even after he knows his daughter’s on it? I thought it was such a powerful moment. You could see how he was agonizing over it, but ultimately he had to make that decision and so he just went to this dark, sick place. Ken was wonderful in that scene.

The way you’re talking, you sound like you’re a fan of the show too.

I am. I love the show and my character. But I think more than anything, I’m a fan of the people I get to work with. I adore Linda [Gray] and Patrick [Duffy] and everybody else. I really wanted to lock horns with Larry [Hagman], but it didn’t happen. The producers had big plans for that. And having had a history on the show from the first go-round, it’s like it’s come full circle.

Let’s talk about that. You did four episodes in the early ’90s as Morrissey, the bad guy J.R. tangled with in the mental institution. What do you remember about that experience?

I actually pulled up one of the scenes the other day. It was really fun to watch myself working with [Larry]. That was really early in my career and I learned so much from just being around him and working with him and watching him. He was such a wonderful actor and person. Especially now, watching myself [acting] with him back then is pretty special.

Did you get to spend much time with him on the new show?

Not really, unfortunately. One of the few conversations I had with him, I went up and introduced myself and we were talking for a bit and he looked at me and says, “Aren’t villains the best?” And I said, “Yes, sir, they are.”

You know, Harris reminds me a lot of J.R. There’s a little bit of gleefulness to your villainy, and I think that’s why so many fans love Harris.

Well, thank you. He doesn’t have quite the twinkle in his eye that Larry gave to J.R., but he’s probably a little — well, I’m not going to say meaner because J.R. did some pretty dastardly things! [Laughs]

Would you like to see Harris become … I don’t want to say softer, but maybe a little more vulnerable?

I think I tried to do that a little bit with [Harris’s daughter] Emma, to bring some humanity to him so he wasn’t just a beast. And of course his relationship with his mother is just so bizarre — and so much fun to play, especially when I’m standing across from Judith Light. She’s such a giving, wonderful actress. I don’t want to be a cardboard cutout of a mustache-twirling villain. Both [executive producers] Michael [Robin] and Cynthia [Cidre] have made an effort to not take him in that direction, and I’m trying not to do that either.

Mama’s here

Mama’s here

I’m glad you brought up Judith Light. What did you think when you found out she was going to be playing your mom?

Well, I thought, “We’re the same age!” [Laughs] And then when she came onto the set for our first scene, we immediately hugged each other. I said, “Mama?” And she gave me sort of a sideways look and said, “Mama’s here.” We just took off from there. Hopefully, the performances made the audience forget that we’re only a few years apart in age.

Well, by golly, I think it did. I was as skeptical as anyone when I read she was going to be playing your mom. But after her first scene, I thought, “OK. This works.”

I think the first scene we had, she comes in and finds me after I’ve been shot. And we were rehearsing the scene and I’m on the ground and she steps over me and says — with a little smile on her face — “Don’t you look up my dress.” [Laughs] I thought, “This is going to be fun.”

So what do you think is going on with Harris and his mom?

Judith Light has her own ideas about this, so I don’t want to speak for her. But I think they’re both just emotionally jacked up. I think he’s been controlled and dominated throughout his life and it definitely affects the person that he is now. And now you can see him doing the same thing with his daughter.

I hope they bring Judith back next year.

I do too, man. I love the fact that she’s on Broadway and doing so well. I’m jealous of that. But to be standing across from her again would be gold. I just want to watch her as a fan. At the beginning of the season, when my character was in bed in the coma and she had that long speech, it was a monumental effort for me to keep my eyes closed and to not watch her.

Let’s talk about the other women in Harris’s life: Ann and Emma, played by Brenda Strong and Emma Bell. You seem to have great chemistry with every actress you’re matched with.

I guess that’s because of who they are. I adore all of them, so we have fun. It’s like the scene where Harris goes to Southfork to take Emma home and Ann tells him to go away. We were shooting that scene and the camera was over her shoulder, filming me. Well, you know when two guys are confronting each other and one of them makes a false move toward the other one? Brenda kind of did that me, right in the middle of the scene. And after they yelled, “Cut,” I said to her, “Did you just do that?” And she says, “Yes, I did!” [Laughs] She does wonderful little things like that.

Do you think there’s any chance that Harris and Ann could ever reconcile?

I don’t know. In this world, anything could happen. But I think she would have to have a pretty good crash and burn to get the point where she’d ever go back to him.

Family court

Family court

Well, after she shot you, I thought, “How are they ever going to redeem this woman?” But I’ll be damned if they didn’t do it.

She did an amazing job with her testimony on the stand. I had to do mine right after she did hers. And when she finished, all of the background actors immediately started applauding — as did I. And they were like, “OK, Mitch, you’re up.” And I thought, “This is great. I’ve got to follow that?” [Laughs]

So what was your favorite Harris scene this season?

The Komodo dragon speech would probably be my favorite. That was written to cut away to other scenes, but after we shot it, they realized that they didn’t have enough dialogue so I had to go back and do more in [post production]. Most of that speech — or at least half of it — is stuff that I recorded later, just standing there and speaking these new lines that they added in. It became even richer than the way it was initially envisioned. The great thing is, you can still hear him crunching on the almonds.

Almonds! That was going to be my next question: What were you eating in that scene?

They were almonds. Initially, they had a bowl of them next to where he was sitting, and I said, I’d like to put some in my hand and hold them up like a Tyrannosaurus Rex shoving food into his face. When we were shooting it, the sound guys were saying, “The crunching is killing us!” I was like, you know what? I think the crunching is part of it. This is a Komodo dragon eating. [Laughs] We ended up leaving a lot of it in.

OK, last question: You’re now part of two huge franchises: “Dallas” and “The X-Files.” Do you still get recognized as Skinner?

Well, there’s this whole new generation of “X-Files” fans now. My daughter’s friends are watching the show. She had a couple of them over to the house, and they were really kind of quiet the whole time they were here. So when they left and I asked her, “Did your friends think I was weird or something?” And she said, “No, Dad! As soon as they walked out the door, they turned to me and said, ‘We didn’t know your dad was Skinner!’” [Laughs] These are 14- and 15-year-old girls. And I’m thinking, “OK, that’s really cool: a whole new generation of fans are discovering the show.” It’s really gratifying.

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The Dallas Decoder Interview: Lisa Seidman

Lisa Seidman

Lisa Seidman

Lisa Seidman was a writer on the original “Dallas” during its final two seasons and penned many of the show’s best episodes from that era. She later wrote for “Knots Landing” and now serves as associate head writer for “The Young and the Restless.” I was thrilled when she agreed to answer some of my questions about writing for three of my favorite TV series.

“Dallas” was one of the first shows you ever wrote for. How did you get the job?  Howard Lakin and I worked together on “Falcon Crest.” He moved on to “Dallas” and when CBS told Len Katzman, the executive producer, they wanted a female writer on the show, Howard recommended me. Len read and liked a spec script I had written, a murder mystery that Patrick Duffy eventually optioned, which he planned to direct and star in, but alas, he moved on to “Step by Step” so it fell through. I met with Len, he liked me, and the rest as they say….

Bobby and J.R. in “Cry Me a River of Oil,” Seidman’s first “Dallas” episode

Bobby and J.R. in “Cry Me a River of Oil,” Seidman’s first “Dallas” episode

History, indeed! What was it like to work on “Dallas” as it was nearing the end of its run? Was it a struggle to come up with new things for the characters to do?

At the time, we didn’t know the show was nearing the end of its run. We were hoping the show would be picked up for another year but knowing there was a possibility it would not be, the mood was wistful, bittersweet. While I remember days when we struggled to come up with story, I don’t think it was any more difficult than any other show I’d been on before or after — except for the final, two-hour show. Now that was a struggle. Len really wanted to go out with a bang and I remember long, frustrating story meetings where we were really trying to find that great hook.

Oh, wow. Do you remember the other ideas for the series finale that you considered but discarded? And what did you think of the final product?

Unfortunately, I don’t remember the other ideas, although I remember exactly where I was sitting in Len’s office as we plotted out the “It’s a Wonderful Life”-themed finale: on his sofa, which is a strange thing to remember as I usually sat in the chair next to him while Howard sat on the sofa and [producer] Ken Horton was in the armchair across from Len and me. As far as the final product: At the time, I thought it was a terrific idea, but in retrospect I see the flaws. J.R. learns that people led happier lives without him so he was going to kill himself in despair and Bobby had to save his life. It was an anti-J.R. story.

Cliff in “The Decline and Fall of the Ewing Empire,” Seidman’s final “Dallas”

Cliff in “The Decline and Fall of the Ewing Empire,” Seidman’s final “Dallas”

Did you have a favorite character to write for? 

Cliff Barnes. What a kick! The character would do or say anything. He had no filters. I loved it. I loved him. I also loved writing the female characters: Cally, April, Michelle, Lucy. Sadly, Linda Gray left the season before I came on so I never got to write Sue Ellen. I was always sorry about that.

Are there any scenes or episodes that you are particularly proud of? 

The scene between J.R. and Lee Ann De La Vega in “Designing Women.” First, I got to write for Larry Hagman and Barbara Eden, who had both been in “I Dream of Jeannie,” a show I loved as a kid. What a thrill! Second, Lee Ann is confronting J.R. about their shared past, and I remember how much I loved her getting back at J.R. for how he screwed up her life. I watched them shoot the scene and it was exciting to see how they both got into it.

Lee Ann and J.R. in “Designing Women”

Lee Ann and J.R. in “Designing Women”

That scene contains one of my favorite J.R. quotes. I love when he tells Lee Ann and Michelle, “You two belong together, hatching your silly little plots in your silly little heads.” I’ve been quoting that line for 22 years!

Funny you should bring that up. I have all drafts of the script in front of me. In the writer’s draft, J.R. said, “Hatching your puny little plots in that empty brain of yours.” In the first draft it became, “Hatching your puny little plots in that empty head of yours” — suggested to me by Len — where it remains in the final draft, so Larry Hagman obviously changed it on set to the line you love.

After “Dallas,” you wrote for “Knots Landing.” How were those experiences similar? How were they different? 

Writing for “Knots” and “Dallas” were similar in that both shows had strong writer-producers — Ann Marcus and Len Katzman, respectively — who respected their writers and never micro-managed us. What you saw on air was the writer’s work, not a rewrite by either Ann or Len. They were different in that Len preferred to be in charge of the production of each script while Ann let each writer attend casting, tone meetings, production meetings. If the actors had concerns about their story on “Dallas” they went to Len. If the “Knots” actors had concerns they went straight to the particular writer of the script. On both shows, stories were created and laid out with all the writers in the room. While Len and Ann had the final say, they listened to all their writers’ contributions. Both were fantastic bosses!

Gary and Val in “Knots Landing: Back to the Cul-de-sac”

Gary and Val in “Knots Landing: Back to the Cul-de-Sac”

What are your memories of co-writing the “Knots Landing” reunion miniseries?

Where do I begin? Ann Marcus taught me so much about structure, high stakes, letting character drive story. We wrote the miniseries in her home office and I remember spending a lot of the time staring at her Emmy for “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman,” feeling incredibly lucky that I was getting to write with Ann, who is still a dear friend. Ann would come in with a lot of ideas and then we would discuss each one at length, discarding what didn’t work and developing in more detail what did.

Do you watch the new “Dallas”? What’s your opinion?

Fantastic. Fun. It’s great to see how the series successfully uses J.R., Bobby, Sue Ellen and Cliff with the young ’uns. It’s a kick.

You’ve written a lot for daytime television too. How is that different from writing for prime-time television? 

Daytime TV is much harder to write than anybody thinks. You’re writing a detailed outline or a script every week while in prime time you’re writing one script a month or even less, depending on how many writers are on staff. You have two days to write an 11-page outline on daytime, whereas in primetime you have a week or a week and a half to write your script. In daytime you have many more characters to deal with — at least 10 to 15 — and you have to know all their voices, their stories. You have to know their histories from before you went on the show — and those histories are much more complicated than prime time back story because these characters have been on the air anywhere from 10 to 40 years!

In daytime, is it hard to balance giving fans what they want and trying to pursue your own artistic vision? 

Yes, absolutely, because the reality is you can’t really give the fans what they want, which is happy couples. Once a couple is happy, they’re boring. So the writers have to keep creating complications for characters that keep couples apart while at the same time keeping fans wanting to watch every day, rooting for them to get together.

You’re currently writing for “The Young and the Restless.” If J.R. Ewing had ever faced off against Victor Newman in business, who do you think would win?

Ha! Good question. Neither of them would ever have a total win. J.R. might defeat Victor in some aspect of business but then Victor would pick himself up, dust himself off and go after J.R. with a vengeance. Neither would be down for long. The battle would go on forever!

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The Dallas Decoder Interview: Akai Draco

Akai Draco

Akai Draco

“Dallas” fans love Sheriff Derrick, the loyal Ewing friend who is forever getting the family out of trouble. I spoke recently to Texas-based actor and screenwriter Akai Draco about his role as the show’s top cop.

Sheriff Derrick has the hardest job on TV: trying to make the Ewings obey the law. Is that how you see it?

Yeah, a little bit. The nice thing is Derrick is a friend of the Ewing family, so they can call on him when they need help. He does what he can to make sure the Ewings get past the bad guys who get in their way. Sometimes he gets yelled at, but hey, it’s all in a day’s work.

Draco in “No Good Deed”

Draco in “No Good Deed”

We don’t know a lot about Derrick. What do you think he does when he isn’t rescuing the Ewings?

That’s a good question. When I got the role, I didn’t know a lot about him other than he’s a friend of the Ewings – a friend of Bobby’s, specifically. So I sort of invented my own backstory. To me, he’s just one of those good guys who plays it pretty straight and narrow, except when it comes to Bobby and the rest of the Ewing clan. He’ll do them a favor here and there. Derrick seems like a nice guy, but you never know. He could have his own aspirations. I don’t think it’s an evil agenda or anything like that, but maybe we’ll find out he has aspirations beyond being sheriff. We’ll see. I’ll leave that to the writers and producers.

I definitely want to see more of Derrick in Season 3, but I hope we never find out he’s up to something nefarious!

I hope not too! The bad guys on this show tend not to last very long, especially when they get in the way of the Ewing clan. So hopefully Derrick will stay on the good side of the law.

Did you watch “Dallas” growing up?

I did. I didn’t watch every episode, but coming up in the late ’70s and early ’80s, “Dallas” was one of the big things on TV – especially when the “Who Shot J.R.?” thing came around. So you couldn’t help but get into it. It’s kind of funny to think back to those days and realize that I’m now part of the reincarnation of the show. It’s such a pleasure and a privilege to be part of something that great actors like Larry Hagman have been part of.

What’s it like to work on the show?

This is the fifth show I’ve worked on and it’s by far the most fun I’ve had as an actor. Everyone – the cast, the crew – they’re a joy to work with. They’re all very selfless, hardworking folks. Everyone involved with the show has kind of become like a family. So I’m really excited to be a part of it.

Can you talk a little bit about how much work goes into the show? How long does it take to film a typical scene?

It really depends on the scene. A lot of different factors go into it: the location, the lighting, the camera angles. I’ve done scenes that have taken as little as 30 minutes versus scenes that have lasted a day or two.

Oh, wow. Which scene was that?

There were a couple. In one of the latter episodes from Season 2, they had me looking out for some of [Harris Ryland’s] trucks. The entire thing was shot over a couple days. You can’t always tell how long these things are going to take to shoot. Sometimes unforeseen things happen, but this show is put together by really great directors and writers and producers. It’s a really well-run show.

What goes in between takes? Do you get to spend time with the rest of the cast?

Depending on what’s going on – if it’s just a matter of moving lighting and cameras and that sort of thing – we’ll sit around and chit-chat. We’ll get on the phone and text or whatever. If there’s a long break and they’re changing locations, we might go off on our own. But usually between takes we’re kind of sitting around and shooting the breeze.

Draco and Duffy in “A Call to Arms”

Draco and Duffy in “A Call to Arms”

So tell me: Is Patrick Duffy as cool in real life as he is on the show?

He is very cool. He’s extremely down to earth. He’s a veteran. He’s been around the business a long time so he doesn’t let stuff get to him. Everyone on the show is great to work with. They’re all really nice people.

You also work in the tech sector, so acting is kind of a part-time thing for you. Is it something you’d like to do regularly?

I don’t know if I’d call it part-time. It’s one of those things that I do as much as I can. Some days, it’s full-time. Other days, it’s part-time. It’s such an unpredictable business in general. Because I’m one of the supporting characters on the show, I don’t really have a set schedule for when I’m going to be shooting. I usually find that out maybe a week in advance. But whenever I book [an acting job], I drop everything I’m doing and I’m all in. I would love to be able to be a writer and actor full-time. That’s my goal eventually. I would love to start with “Dallas” and commit more time to Sheriff Derrick and anything else that comes after that.

And “Akai Draco” is your stage name. How’d you come up with it?

When I first started acting, I knew I wanted a name that stood out. So I decided I was going to pick something that had some meaning to me. “Akai” is the Japanese word for red, which is my favorite color. And I picked a Japanese name because when I was a kid, I got into martial arts, which went on to become a big influence in my life. And “Draco” is Latin for dragon. I’ve always been a fan of dragons and I wanted a Latin name because my wife is Latina and my wife and kids are the other big influence in my life.

What do your kids think when they see you on TV?

My son’s in high school so he’s a little subdued but I can tell he likes me being on TV. He tells his friends about it. My daughter is 13 and she’s perhaps my biggest fan. Anytime she knows I’m going to be on TV, she tells her friends. She’s on Instagram. She posts pictures and stuff. All of her teachers, her friends know that Daddy is Sheriff Derrick. The other day we were in the mall at a restaurant and one of the girls behind the counter said, “Hey, are you on ‘Dallas’?” And my daughter was giggling. She loved it. We walked away and my daughter was like, “That is so cool!”

Plus, it’s got to be fun to have a dad who’s a sheriff.

Exactly. Historically, I play a lot of cops, so anytime she sees a show with a lot of police officers, she says, “Dad, you could be a better cop than him!” I’m happy being Sheriff Derrick right now. If they’d give Sheriff Derrick more screen time, I’d be even happier.

Speaking of sheriffs: Have you met Barry Corbin, who played Sheriff Washburn on the original “Dallas”?

I know of him. I’ve not met him. He recently sent me a note on Facebook, which I thought was pretty cool.

And in the small world department, it turns out you and I both grew up in Prince George’s County, Maryland.

My father is retired military, so when I was born we lived on Bolling Air Force base in Washington, D.C., and later Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland. We moved a couple of other places in between, but eventually settled in Upper Marlboro, Maryland. But for the most part I grew up in Prince George’s County. My parents are still there and my brother still lives in the area. I try to get home a couple of times a year.

Well let me say this: I’m no actor, but if ever Sheriff Derrick needs a deputy, your homeboy back here in D.C. will gladly volunteer for the part.

[Laughs] I’ll let them know.

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The Dallas Decoder Interview: Kevin Page

Kevin Page

Kevin Page

Kevin Page has charmed “Dallas” fans with his portrayal of Bum, the loyal private eye who helped J.R. execute his master plan. (Spoiler alert: This included executing J.R. himself.) I recently spoke to Page about his role on the show – and his place in TV history.

How does it feel to be the last guy who’ll ever shoot J.R.?

Well, I was honored when that script came through. It was also sort of an emotional experience because we had just finished working with Larry [Hagman], and all these issues of mortality and death were kind of fresh. So I was a little shocked. I suppose as an actor, I was also kind of pleased.

I can understand that. You’re the answer to a trivia question now.

Yes, I’ve been ribbed by a number of my friends. I’ve now become a “Jeopardy!” topic.

How did you find out Bum was going to be the triggerman?

About eight weeks before we finished the season, a director pulled me aside and said, “Do you know what’s going on with your character?” And I said, “Well, no, not really.” And in order to accomplish something that was necessary in the scene we were about to shoot, he had to tell me. He took me into my little trailer and we closed the door and he gave me about a two-line indication of what was to come.

What was your reaction? Were you shocked?

Yes, but I also had to go out and shoot a scene where I’m walking in the cold and talking on a cell phone. So I was, frankly, a little distracted. At that exact moment, I was trying to think of other things.

That’s the thing about Bum: You’re always on the phone!

[Laughs]

How do those scenes work? Does the director give you the other character’s lines and you have to react to them?

Usually you have the first assistant director who holds a copy of the script off-camera and he’ll read the other party’s lines. And you just say your lines and try not to overlap. You don’t want to be talking while they’re talking. You have to kind of concentrate as an actor because you want to make that sense of communication real.

Is it harder to do a scene like that as opposed to one where you’re face to face with another actor?

I don’t know if there’s a “harder” or “easier.” Every day as an actor is another set of challenges, problems or puzzles. And what you want to do is solve those puzzles as best you can. You want to make sure you know your lines and you can hit your marks and get the job done so the crew can go home!

Page and Larry Hagman

Page and Larry Hagman

So talk to me about working with Larry Hagman.

It was sort of like working with – this kind of sounds corny – TV royalty. I’ve read your website so I know I’m not adding anything new here, but Larry just had such an energy about him, that even in his 80s, he was just a stunning presence. He could light up a room. It was very difficult to describe, but the really big stars have some kind of quality similar to that. I guess you probably call it charisma. Larry had a lot of that. You could feel that firepower every time you spent time with him.

As a viewer, I can see that. You could feel it in his presence as well?

Oh, it was palpable. Absolutely. And he was a master actor. He was constantly cracking jokes and keeping everybody on their toes. He’d just zing you and crack up everybody. Often at your expense. I mean, the guy was a true genius comedian.

I’ve heard that one of his last scenes was the one in the courthouse men’s room during Ann’s trial.

That was the last scene he ever shot.

And you were there for that.

Absolutely.

When you think about that now, what’s it like to know you were part of Larry’s last scene?

I didn’t really know that was the case until several weeks later at the memorial. I walk in and some of the camera crew is telling me, “You shot the very last scene that Larry ever had.” … So really, honestly, I was sort of floored. It kind of gave me the chills.

It seems like there was more to that scene than what we saw. In the finished product, I don’t think you had any lines.

That happens a lot. The show is 42-and-a-half-minutes long. That’s pretty much a hard number. So I think everybody in the cast has given up pieces of scenes before. That’s just what you have to have if you want to have a rocking show that moves forward like a freight train, which is what I think we have.

Are you a fan of the show?

You know, I’ve been dying for somebody to ask me this question because I’ve thought about this a lot. I think the cast are the first fans. Because each and every one of us gets these scripts, and we’re reading them, and we’re laughing and crying and howling just like everybody else does when they watch the show at home. The cast is watching them on the TVs in our minds. I read a script and I wonder how Patrick [Duffy] is going to do that, or I wonder what Brenda [Strong] is going to do with that line. And then we get a chance to watch it when it airs. And we’re loving it and wanting to find out what happens next just like everybody else.

I want to ask you about two scenes that I loved as a fan, beginning with the one where Sue Ellen asks Bum to track down Lee Majors’ character. I think that’s the first time we saw you work with Linda Gray.

The only thing I can say about Linda Gray is that she’s just a fantastically charming and gracious woman of the cinema. She’s beyond words.

And you know, there was quite a bit of chemistry between Bum and Sue Ellen in that scene.

Are you trying to lead me somewhere, Chris? Because you know they don’t tell me nothing! I’m not going to follow you there, but you go ahead. [Laughs]

I have no inside information!

Neither do I! [Laughs]

But I thought, ‘Gosh, these two have something going here!’

Well, we absolutely have something going. Linda Gray is one of my very favorite actresses of all time and somebody I just adore working with. I hope that comes out when we share a screen together because she’s just fabulous.

Yeah, she is. Let me ask you about the big scene where it’s revealed that Bum is the “Who Killed J.R.?” triggerman. What was it like to film that?

That actually makes me recant my earlier comment about there are never any hard days as an actor because everybody on the set that day was particularly pumped up to try to make that real. Not only was it a scene that was important to the character that we all loved as “first fans,” but also it was our final salute to Larry. So we were really wound up and I spent probably eight hours that day weeping.

Oh, wow. Well, you’re fantastic in that scene.

Thank you very much. I appreciate that. I was proud of that.

And Patrick was great too.

Oh, Patrick was just off the hook. He was like a man possessed. He was amazing. It was easy to cry because you’re listening to this guy and he’s just tearing your heart out.

So that took all day to film?

Oh yeah, we were probably there six or eight hours, I think. And the whole thing was very secret. None of the crew had really seen the script, so a lot of people were really shocked that it was coming out as we were going along. Usually the crew is a pretty jocular bunch. It’s one of the great Texas crews. They’ve all worked together on various things for 25, 30 years. And everybody knows each other. We’re all pretty close, I think. But on that day, everybody was putting their head down and making it happen. Boy, I think we got results.

You sure did. So will Bum be back next season?

They literally don’t tell me anything. But I say between you, me and my mom, I’m voting he does come back!

You know, I think Bum would fit in well with the TNT lineup. I think we need a Bum spinoff.

“The Bum Chronicles”! We’ve talked about it as a joke on the set.

Kevin Page with one of his creations: a re-imagined version of Georges Seurat’s “Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte”

Page with his interpretation of Georges Seurat’s “Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte”

Even if it doesn’t happen, you have a nice second career going as an artist. Tell me about that.

It’s a strange story. A couple of years ago, I was presented with this opportunity by a scientist who had a robotic platform for painting in pointillism, which is a style of painting with thousands of little tiny strokes of paint that look like dots. And I thought that was so fascinating both as a business and as an artistic thing because I’ve been a painter and sculptor for years. So I took that on and ended up being the only person in the world to own this robotic platform. I now control four patents on the technology software and to my knowledge, I’m the only painter in the entire world that’s painting in monumentally scaled pointillism. So I’ve got an art dealer and I’m selling paintings. It’s been this crazy, unique thing. So that’s what I do on my off-time. I like to say that for my day job, I’m a fine art painter.

Well, between playing Bum and painting, you’re quite the renaissance man.

Yeah, who would think? Bum, a renaissance man. I love it!

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The Dallas Decoder Interview: Rachel Sage Kunin

Rachel Sage Kunin

Rachel Sage Kunin

One of “Dallas’s” brightest stars works behind the scenes: Rachel Sage Kunin, the TNT drama’s costume designer extraordinaire. I’ve loved Kunin’s work since the series began and was excited to hear what it’s like to dress the Ewings.

Let me begin by saying this: I love your work! The cast looks gorgeous this season. Every character is stylish, but no one’s look is “over the top.” The clothes feel glamorous yet accessible. Is that your goal?

It is a conscious decision and a goal to make the clothes feel glamorous yet accessible. How great that someone can be sitting at home, enjoying the show and get inspired. Even I go into my closet and think, “What would Pamela do?” When shopping for myself I’ll go to the deep discount rack to find high-end looking pieces that Sue Ellen would wear.

I love this! Some of the Ewings’ clothes come from the discount rack. Who knew?

I also love going into secondhand shops in search for something special. I want the audience to be encouraged to do the same and know that it is possible. You don’t have to invest a million dollars to look like a million dollars.

How does the wardrobe process work? Do you receive a script and then try to decide what garments and accessories will work best for each scene?

Every costume choice I make is based on the needs of the script. I get my direction from the mood of each scene, what the characters are doing and how they relate to the story. Often times, I’ll buy a piece for a character not knowing where it might fit in. I’ll wait and wait just hoping the right moment comes along.

Dallas Decoder Interview - Rachel Sage Kunin 2How much collaboration is there between you and the cast? Do the actors help you choose their character’s clothes?

I love collaborating with the cast. My motto is that they are the ones that have to be, feel, embody the character on camera and I am part of the process to help them do that. Everything I bring into the fitting room I feel has potential to work. From there, I like to play dress up and find the character with the actor. We discuss what looks and feels right. Ultimately, it is my responsibility to make sure the costume serves the story and the actors are on board with that goal in mind.

What’s it been like to dress iconic characters like Bobby and Sue Ellen? When choosing their styles, were you influenced by the way they dressed on the old show?

I have had many “pinch me is this real?” moments dressing the original cast. It helps a great deal having the huge amount of backstory known about each of their characters. The way they dressed does inform me how they would dress now, 20 years later. We all had so much fun figuring that out.

What are your memories of working with Larry Hagman? What was it like to dress J.R. Ewing?

The first time I met Larry was an enchanting experience that I will never forget. I had no idea he was a lifelong admirer of costume. I brought in a rack of clothes that we started to try on. The first few fit well and looked great but we both knew they didn’t exude that special J.R. swagger. When he put on the tweed jacket with its suede western front yoke we got excited. He was so enthused he threw on his cowboy hat, looked in the mirror with that unique sparkle in his eyes and said, “Now… this is J.R.!” We knew we had found an important J.R. look.

I can picture that. What a great experience for you.

Every time I was with Larry was just as special and interesting as the time before. He was always so generous telling stories, showing me around his amazing collection of family pictures, always willing to share the highlights of his life.

Dallas Decoder Interview - Rachel Sage Kunin 4Who is your favorite character to dress – and why?

I genuinely enjoy dressing all of the characters for various reasons. They all give me a different creative outlet. Christopher is great for his modern but classic all-American aesthetic. I love putting together looks for John Ross because we can get away with taking some fashion risks. Elena is fun because she goes from rugged to elegant with such ease. I’m enjoying Pamela Rebecca’s transition, going from soft color and styles to being more sophisticated and sleek. Sue Ellen’s statement looks are always very exciting to produce. I could go on and on about each and every character, whether they have had one line in the show or pages and pages.

If you could raid the closet of one “Dallas” character, whose would it be? Whose clothes would you most like to wear yourself?

If I could raid one of their closets it would have to be Elena. She has the most range with lots of comfortable pieces and this season we have been building up her chic work looks. Head-to-toe, there is not a piece in her entire wardrobe that I would not wear.

I would imagine you get to see the actors when they’re not in costume, so give me some “Dallas” dish: Whose personal style is most unlike their character?

I would have to say that Patrick [Duffy] and Linda [Gray]’s styles are most unlike their characters. Patrick is more modern in his real life. He doesn’t wear Wranglers and is less conservative than Bobby. He has a light pink and white stripe shirt that I absolutely love on him but Bobby could never pull it off. Sue Ellen generally gilds the lily a bit more than Linda would.

You mentioned those “pinch me is this real” moments. Were you a fan of the original “Dallas”? Do you have a favorite look from one of the classic characters?

I am a big fan of the original series. Looking back on the show as an adult and more importantly as a research tool, I have been inspired by some of Sue Ellen’s black and white moments. I subtly incorporated that into a couple of her looks this season.

Dallas Decoder Interview - Rachel Sage Kunin 3Yes, I’ve noticed that! That’s a nice treat for longtime fans – and by the way, Sue Ellen looks amazing this season.

Thank you. Linda and I knew that we wanted to elevate Sue Ellen’s style this year. We have such a great time working together! We’ll email ideas back and forth before a fitting, throwing ideas around about our thoughts on the changes she has coming up. Or we’ll grab lunch together and chat about it. Then, we get in the fitting room and Sue Ellen appears. She is always so thankful for what I bring to the table and I am grateful to now be able to call Linda a friend.

Tell me about HSN’s new HSN’s new “Dallas” boutique. People are going to be “dressing like ‘Dallas.’” That’s such a huge compliment to you!

Being involved with the “Dallas” and HSN partnership has been wonderful. Yes, what a huge compliment that people want to dress like “Dallas.” The idea that people have a direct go-to place to shop for the “Dallas” flare is brilliant. It really has been the cherry on top of an already amazing experience.

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The Dallas Decoder Interview: Lee Majors

Lee Majors

Lee Majors (Photo by Dana Patrick)

Lee Majors is coming to “Dallas”! Majors, the iconic star of “The Six Million Dollar Man” and “The Fall Guy,” will begin a multi-episode guest stint on the TNT drama on Monday, March 25. (DVR alert: Majors will also appear on Fox’s “Raising Hope” later that week.) I was honored to speak to him recently about what it’s like to tangle with the Ewings.

Let me begin by telling you I that had two childhood obsessions growing up: The first was “Dallas,” but the second was “The Six Million Dollar Man.”

Oh, you put me in second place?

Well, actually, you came first because your show came first. So I spent a lot of my childhood running around the backyard in slow motion making the bionic sound effect.

As long as you didn’t jump off a barn or something and break anything.

No, never tried that.

I’ve heard that story before.

Oh, I’m sure you have. So tell me: How did you get the role on the new show?

I think Larry [Hagman] did it.

The Man

The Man

No kidding. How did that happen?

Well, Larry and I were friends for many, many years. We lived a couple of doors down from each other in Malibu. We used to see each other all the time on the weekends when we were both trying to recover from our week of work. And when TNT picked up “Dallas” for a second season, I was surprised because he gave me a call and said, “Lee, guess what? They picked us up and for 15 [episodes]!” He was like a little kid. He said, “You’ve got to do one.”

Oh, wow.

So I said, well, if it happens, it happens. I didn’t hear from him for awhile because we weren’t neighbors anymore, but he did text me about a month before he passed away and said, “I’m working on it.”

Wait, J.R. Ewing sent Steve Austin a text?

Yeah. All it said was, “I’m working on it.” I assumed he meant the show. So while I was at Larry’s memorial, I ran into Michael Robin, the exec producer, and he said, “Yeah, Larry mentioned you.” And I said, “That was sweet of him.” And that was about it, and then a month later, my agent got a call about availability. So I kind of point to the sky and say, “Thank you, Larry. Thank you, J.R.”

What kind of neighbor was Larry Hagman?

Larry was out there. All fun and games. You never knew what he was going to do next. He didn’t talk on Sundays because he once did a play and lost his voice. The doctor said, “Well, just don’t talk on Sunday.” So he did that, but he kept it up for years. He’d have a party at his place on the beach, but he wouldn’t talk. He would serve you champagne with a wink or write things down on a chalkboard or something. [Laughs] But he was just a great guy. Everybody loved Larry.

And you mentioned his memorial service. You went to the one at Southfork, right?

Yeah. That was the first time I’d been out there. I didn’t get to see much of the ranch, but it was wonderful. It was just happy. It was the way he wanted it. They had big screens up with all of his past endeavors. It was just all very cool.

Well, what can you tell us about your character on “Dallas”?

I can tell you a little. His name is Ken Richards and he had a past relationship with Sue Ellen. We were probably lovers or had an affection for each other. And then she calls me out of the blue for a meeting, and she needs a little help in a manner that I can’t discuss. [Laughs]

This sounds like so much fun. All I’ll say is you better be nice to Sue Ellen.

I’m very nice.

Oh, good!

If I want to survive I have to be. [Laughs]

Well, on this show, being bad is sometimes the way to get ahead.

Yeah, I know. I tuned into some back shows. I’ve been trying to keep up with who’s doing who and what for. That Josh [Henderson], he’s in and out of the bed every minute. And I was shocked when Brenda Strong’s character shot Harris. [Laughs] I saw her on the set yesterday and I said, “Are you still in jail? What’s happening?” And she says, “I don’t know! I’m trying to get bail.” I said, “You can’t get bail. You’ve been convicted already!”

The show seems very top-secret.

Well, they leave every show with a cliffhanger, so if you talk about the next episode, you get in trouble. They’re very tight-lipped. They gave a script to me and it’s got my name blazed across every page so that if they see one somewhere, they’ll know where it came from. You’re supposed to shred them.

Have you gotten to know the other cast members?

Some of the younger ones I haven’t worked with. I did do a scene with Jesse [Metcalfe] yesterday. There was a little scuffle is all I can say. [Laughs] I’ve known Patrick [Duffy] for a long time. Of course, Linda [Gray] and I hadn’t met, but when we did our first scene there was a chemistry there, which was good. And she was very happy with it and they seem to be very happy with me and the character so we’ll see what happens.

You know you’re not the first bionic secret agent to have a fling with Linda Gray.

I hope the first wasn’t Lindsay Wagner! [Laughs]

[Laughs] I was referring to Monte Markham, who was Sue Ellen’s college sweetheart and a bionic bad guy on your show.

I remember that, yeah.

And Martha Scott played your mom on “The Six Million Dollar Man” and Sue Ellen’s mom on “Dallas.”

You’re decoding everything here.

Sorry, I can’t help myself.

Do you know, though, that Lindsay Wagner is Linda Gray’s niece?

No kidding?

Yeah. My agent, who represented Lindsay for awhile, told me that when I went to do the first episode. And actually, she brought it up too. So there’s a tidbit that’s unique.

It’s very “Dallas”! Everyone is related to everyone else. Speaking of which: Were you a fan of the original show?

Yeah, but it was on during the ’80s when I was busy doing “The Fall Guy.” And of course, I’d see Larry on the weekends but we never talked business. We never talked about our shows. We just wanted to forget it for the weekend. When you’re working all that week, I never got to watch his show and he probably never watched mine.

It would’ve been great if you two could’ve done “Dallas” together. Do you feel his presence on the set?

Yeah. They still have his trailer with his name on the door and his name is still on the call sheet every day. You can certainly feel it. And I do because I thank him every day for the job.

So I’ve got to ask: Would you want to see “The Six Million Dollar Man” come back with the original cast, the way “Dallas” has?

No. [Laughs] Unless I could play Oscar Goldman.

You don’t want to be Steve again?

No. I would like to sit in an office and point my finger and talk on the phone: “Now, Steve, I want you to go here….”

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The Dallas Decoder Interview: Joan Van Ark

Joan Van Ark

Joan Van Ark

Mark your calendars: The March 18 episode of TNT’s “Dallas” will feature a guest appearance from Joan Van Ark, who immortalized the role of Valene Ewing on the original “Dallas” and its “Knots Landing” spinoff. I was honored to speak recently to Van Ark about her return to Southfork.

You just filmed your first scenes as Valene in 15 years. How did it feel to play her again?

It was so funny. My first scene was with Ted [Shackelford] and Patrick [Duffy] and Charlene [Tilton]. They say it’s like riding a bicycle. Once you get back on, it all comes back. But I felt a huge responsibility to do Valene justice. She’s Lucy’s mom and Gary’s wife, and I wanted to do her proud. I won’t flatter myself and say Valene is iconic – but she’s so established – and so I felt I owed the character that kind of care.

Oh, trust me: Valene Ewing is an icon. I know you can’t reveal any plot details, but can you at least tell me if Val has her accent back?

She doesn’t because it wouldn’t make sense. She had it when she left “Dallas,” but the continuum with Valene happened on “Knots Landing,” and so I needed to continue her where we left her off.

Well, that makes sense, although I always loved to hear Val speak.

Oh, I know! It’s very much who she is. She’s a southern steel magnolia.

Van Ark and Shackelford in “Knots Landing Reunion: Together Again”

Van Ark and Shackelford in “Knots Landing Reunion: Together Again”

You mentioned some of your costars from “Dallas” and “Knots.” What was it like to work with Ted and everyone else again?

Ted called me after we had done our scene that first day and he was so dear. He said, “You still got it. You were great every take.” Ted is brutally honest – and that’s a good thing because I want the truth. So for him to say that meant so much to me. And with Charlene – she’s such a pistol! When I see her now, I feel like she’s the parent and I’m the child because she’s got it going on! [Laughs] She calls it like she sees it, and she was so generous and beautiful to me when we were together. And Patrick Duffy and I had a really nice moment [off the set]. It was totally special, and it had to do with Larry [Hagman]. I shared something with Patrick and he returned it right back. It was maybe the most profound, connected moment I had when I was down there.

Speaking of Larry, I must tell you: I’m sad that Val won’t be at J.R.’s funeral, but I suppose it makes sense in the storyline. When he was shot in 1980, Val famously said something like, “If J.R. died, I couldn’t mourn him.”

That’s right! I forgot about that.

So I guess it’s kind of true to character that she’s not there.

Well, yes. People who are hardcore fans have reminded me that there was no love lost between J.R. and Val. And as an actress, I loved to play that because the tension and the friction made for a fun, interesting scene. It was like Abby and Val. That conflict is gold for an actor. But because I loved Larry so much, I would have loved to have been part of the [funeral] episode. But I think character-wise, it made sense that she wasn’t there.

I so wish we could’ve seen J.R. and Val go at it one more time because next to Linda Gray, I don’t think any actress had chemistry with Larry Hagman like you did.

Maybe that’s the Broadway and theater background in both of us, but I always felt – and I guess because of his death and how it hit me harder than I would’ve imagined – but there obviously was something special between us. I think so much of him. He’ll always be part of me. I will carry that as an actress, gratefully. It’s a gift.

Let’s talk about the original “Dallas.” Do you have special memories from those appearances?

Oh, thousands. Larry and Patrick were always cutting up. Always joking. With Barbara Bel Geddes, I remember her always wanting to borrow my lipstick. She’d say, “Oh, what color is that darling? Could I borrow that?” She was just hysterical. She was the most grounded, funny, warm, fabulous person. Just the way you’d imagine her.

As an actress, did you learn from her?

Maybe not “learned” but “observed” because I was also around Julie Harris [Lilimae on “Knots Landing”], who is another great, amazing Broadway actress. I got the deep, true Broadway sense about them. They were the epitome of discipline. They were always brilliant. Both of them.

I’ve always thought it would’ve been cool to put Miss Ellie and Lilimae in a scene together.

Are you right! That would have been a divine combination because they both knew exactly what they’re doing. I remember when Julie worked with Ava Gardner on “Knots Landing.” Both of them were thrilled out of their minds to work with each other.

Well, now that you’ve played Val again, would you like to see “Knots Landing” come back as a series the way “Dallas” has? Would you want to play Val again each week?

I always get asked this. I love her and loved her and yet … I don’t know. I’ve always said that “Knots Landing” was the precursor to “Desperate Housewives” and so many of the shows with fun, continuing storylines – the better soaps. Alan Ball said “Six Feet Under” was “Knots Landing” set in a funeral parlor. Even “Homeland” is a continuing story. So I don’t know that “Knots” lends itself to rebooting. But if it ever came out, you couldn’t do it without Gary and Val.

Well, count me among the people who would love to see it. I bet there’s still a lot of Gary and Val’s story to be told.

I think all of the core actors from “Dallas” and “Knots” are so blessed that David Jacobs and Michael Filerman gave us these great roles. These are great characters that the audience took to, so anytime we can bring them back and revive them, it’s fun for the audience and a gift to the actor. It’s the gift that keeps on giving.

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