After more than 20 years off the air, the Ewing family is back in business as “Dallas” premieres tonight on TNT. Returning from the original 1978 series (and its incredible 13-year run) are Linda Gray as Sue Ellen, Patrick Duffy as Bobby and, of course, Larry Hagman as the iconic Texas oil tycoon J.R. Joining the mix are Josh Henderson as John Ross, Jordana Brewster as Elena Ramos, Jesse Metcalfe as Christopher, Brenda Strong as Ann and Julie Gonzalo as Rebecca Sutter.
Picking up in present day, the new take on the primetime soap opera features both generations of Ewings competing with one another for the ultimate control of wealth, oil and power.
“They called and approached me about it a year ago,” laughs Hagman about reprising his famous role, “I guess. I said, ‘I don’t know.” Then they said, “Well, Patrick Duffy and Linda Gray are doing it.’ and I said, ‘Oh, really? Well, okay!’ They said, ‘Don’t you want to read a script?’ I said, “They’re all signed up? Then no. I’m okay.'”
Hagman, clad in cowboy boots and a bolo tie, carries every bit of J.R. ‘s Texan charm and jokes that it wasn’t hard to pick up the character exactly where he left off.
“I wasn’t retired,” he says. “Actors can’t retire! What would they do?! …[and] hell, I know the character. He hasn’t changed.”
“[Except Hagman is] so old and frail!” Duffy laughs. “No, nothing’s changed. It hasn’t changed a bit. Notwithstanding that we recognize that we are older.”
Despite their characters’ tendency towards backstabbing, Hagman and Duffy were delighted to be reunited on the small screen and have kept up their friendship up for decades.
“I love working with him more than anything on the planet,” says Duffy, “and part of the reason is that we’re such good friends that 90% of the scenes we have, we’re grabbing and threatening to kill each other. That’s so much fun with your best friend.”
It’s not just reuniting with one another, however, that makes the return of “Dallas” such an important event for the original series’ cast. It’s also about reconnecting with fans who, as Gray explains, have treated the actors like family.
“I feel like we have a very deep, loyal ‘Dallas’ following globally,” she says. “Those followers — who we’re so grateful to have — will follow the new show and be so seamlessly engulfed.”
“I hope we keep those people and gain the ones that are here for the kids,” adds Hagman. “I think we will.”
The actors that play the series’ “kids” may not have been featured on the original show, but the characters certainly were. In the time that has passed, young John Roth Ewing III has become fully grown and has very much taken after his father.
“His mother took him to Europe and educated him over there,” says Hagman. “I haven’t seen him in ten years. We’re both discovering each other. I know who I am, but he doesn’t know who I am… This is the discovery period right now. He’s learning more about me than he wants to know sometimes.”
For Henderson, the challenge of the role meant living up to Hagman’s television legacy and he took to YouTube to watch as much of the series as possible during the audition process, pretty quickly becoming hooked.
“It was intimidating,” he says. “When I got cast in the role, I was very excited. It was a very surreal moment for me… I knew how high expectations were, just for the return of the show in general. I knew there was going to be a lot of curiosity about who John Roth became, knowing he had such great parents. Is he going to be like his father or is he going to wind up the complete opposite of his father?”
From the first episode, it’s clear that, when it comes to the Ewing family, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. John Ross is every bit the conniving businessman that his father is.
“I was in awe of how he could walk into a room, destroy a man’s life with a smile on his face, tip his hat and leave,” Henderson says. “…[John Ross] wants to try and stay one step ahead of everybody. With his father around, though, he knows that that’s going to be tricky. I think it’s going to take some genius, snakelike work. But he learned from the best. He watched his father do it.”
On the other side is Metcalf’s Christopher, Bobby’s adopted son. Also like his father, Christopher has bit more in the morals department.
“He’s coming back after a two or three year absence after researching alternative energy,” explains Metcalf. “He really wants to assert himself in the Ewing family hierarchy.”
You can see how it all plays out when the series premieres tonight, airing the first two episodes of it’s ten-episode first season. When asked if there’s an episode he’s really excited for fans to see, Hagman has a fast retort.
“Episode 11″, he laughs.
The “Dallas” two-hour premiere airs at 9/8c on TNT