The original show was on air from 1978 to 1991. Gray and fellow actor Josh Henderson talked about the new show during a press junket at the Four Seasons in Midtown.
“It was instant excitement,” said Gray, who plays Sue Ellen, the ex-wife of J.R. Ewing. “Time has come yet again. Timing couldn’t be better to work with my two boys again.”
This time around, the drama over money and the oil business continues with a new generation of Ewings. Bobby is still on Southfork with a new wife, Alice (Brenda Strong). His adopted son, Christopher (Jesse Metcalfe), is getting married. His ex-fiancée, Elena (Jordanna Brewster), is now in a relationship with his cousin, John Ross, portrayed by Henderson.
The actor is no stranger to drama, having had a role on “Desperate Housewives.” Two of his “Dallas” co-stars – Metcalfe and Strong — were also featured on the hit ABC series.
Henderson, a Dallas native, said he screamed, then cried, upon learning he got the part. “Now it’s real,” he said, recalling his excitement. “I had to really bear down and get serious. This was very important to me to bring this back and be a part of the show.” Portraying the son of J.R. Ewing has its challenges. Henderson said he never wanted John Ross to always come from a negative place.
“He has issues from childhood. He comes from somewhat of a broken home,” Henderson said. “He is looking up to his dad, and he has big shoes to fill. I wanted to play him as a guy who was a little troubled, determined and passionate about the Ewing legacy and oil. He wants to be just as good, if not better, than his father.”
However, portraying a villain also has its fun moments. “He tries to use everyone, even his enemies, as chess pieces. What I try to do is always keeps my wheels turning in every scene,” Henderson said. “I just enjoy being able to keep people guessing.”
When it comes to her Sue Ellen, Gray said she has some say in her character’s development this time around. She worked with writer and executive producer Cynthia Cidre to transform Sue Ellen from an abused wife to a strong, confident businesswoman.
“For me, to see a woman’s name on a script was like ‘Yes!’” Gray said. “I wanted to meet her. The original ‘Dallas’ was very male – produced, written and directed by men. The women were bookends – victims, the reactors. I wanted to see what Cynthia had in mind for Sue Ellen. It was really lovely. She was receptive to my ideas, and she was open.”
When it came to embracing the new cast members, Gray said the returning cast members didn’t offer advice.
“None of us ever felt it was necessary. They are gorgeous, talented and a joy to work with,” she said. “They knew what they were doing. They fell into their proper place instantly.”
Henderson said, “They trusted us as the new generation. However, he recalls Hagman telling him, “Get ready for one hell of a ride.”
“Dallas” was the originator of the “cliffhanger.” In 1979-80 season, “Who Shot J.R.” kept readers guessing until the next season. Gray said the concept changed television and, like the new series, was perfect timing.
However, she said, “This is a fasten-your-seatbelt ending that you have not seen that will rock you. Just hang on.”
Henderson said, “There are cliffhangers within the episode. I call our show ‘a ride.’ It’s so entertaining that you have to literally stay on your toes and pay attention.”
Gray said energy is important to her when it comes to a new project. For “Dallas,” she said, “There is no ho-hum energy. It feels like Fourth of July energy.”
Having a show with a built-in fan base is an advantage, but actors said there is something for the longtime admirers and a new generation.
Henderson said fans of the original show will enjoy themselves again and encourages younger viewers to give it a chance. He said parents will tell their children about how “Dallas” defined their childhood, so the intrigue will be felt from both sides.
“At the end of the day, we have a really good show, and what makes good TV is the real characters,” he said. “This is different. It’s a show with a nostalgic aspect and real emotions.”
“Just have faith,” Gray said. “Sit down and enjoy the ride — and have fun!”