Whether it’s to see Linda Gray return as Sue Ellen or for hunks Josh Henderson and Jesse Metcalfe, expect the gays to tune into the new “Dallas” Wednesday night. But according to its stars, don’t expect a remake.
The long-running CBS night time soap opera gets a modern day facelift. It continues the story of those feuding Ewing boys by doing a nimble job of intertwining familiar faces with new (hot) ones. But it does so by updating the first show’s decades-gone retro formula.
The gays’ old flame Bobby (Patrick Duffy) has been running Southfork with his wife Ann (Brenda Strong) for the last seven years. Things get messy when his nephew John Ross (Henderson)—the son of bad, bad J.R. Ewing (Larry Hagman)—decides to drill for oil there, something Bobby has promised his late mother Miss Ellie he would never do. Bobby’s own son Christopher (Metcalfe) – on the eve of his wedding – locks horns with John Ross and the family feuding heats up again. J.R. and Sue Ellen (Gray) are also in the picture, although they are no longer married.
During an Atlanta stop for a special premiere the first episode, Gray (top photo, left) and Henderson (second from left) answered all our juicy questions for gay fans who can’t wait to sink their teeth into “Dallas.”
Returning to the role that made her famous has been a great experience for Gray. But before she agreed to revisit the part, Gray wanted to know where the producers and writers were planning to take her. They gave her the green light to share her ideas for the character.
“It’s fantastic, we are excited” she says. “Sue Ellen was a big part of that show. I think in 20 years Sue Ellen has grown in leaps and bounds. She is still interesting, complex, but fascinating. I want to remind people of what she had done but brand Sue Ellen for the new show. What has her plight been? Has she addressed the demons? The answer is ‘yes.’”
When hunky Henderson found out about the role of John Ross, he knew he wanted to play it. He also knew that every actor of a certain age in Hollywood wanted the role, too. The actor approached the creative team early and said he wanted to audition.
“I knew they were going to see a lot of people,” Henderson says. “After the audition, I felt good. I wanted it so bad. They called back and said they wanted to test me with other guys.”
Shortly after, the show had its John Ross, who was a little kid when the original show ended. He’s a big boy now, and Henderson sees him as a fully developed, complex character.
“It’s a big deal. It’s J.R.‘s son,” the actor says. “He is the son of J.R. and Sue Ellen, and I think when you start watching that you see it. He’s a mixture of both. He is passionate about oil and has goals. John Ross wants to do what J.R. did in his day. He seeks the respect of his mother and father. He doesn’t have a good relationship with (them).”
Henderson and equally sexy Metcalfe (photo, front right) are veterans of night time soaps. Both appeared in “Desperate Housewives” – Henderson as Edie’s nephew Austin and Metcalfe as the gardener who banged, er romanced, Gaby. “Dallas” even features another “Desperate Housewives” alum – Strong (the deceased “Houswives” narrator Mary Alice) as Bobby’s wife. (Victoria Principal, aka Pam Ewing, is not involved in the project.)
Henderson says that he has a lot of gay friends in Los Angeles and realizes that he has a “pretty large gay fan base” from “Desperate Housewives.” He knows the show has lots of gay fans too, and he and Metcalfe both have their shirts off once in the first episode and have not been shy about showing some skin in the promos for the series.
“I think at the end of the day they love a juicy drama, like everyone else,” Henderson says. “I hear it more from my gay fans – ‘you with your shirt off on ‘Desperate Housewives.’”
Gray is also certainly aware of her gay fans and thinks they can relate to Sue Ellen.
“I love my gay fans and love hearing the stories, like people having Sue Ellen parties,” she says. “I have so many gay friends who are part of my life. Sue Ellen was an underdog, and I think my followers felt a camaraderie, a rapport with (her). I am forever grateful.”
Gray adds that her son participated in the recent AIDS/Life Cycle bike ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles. “I fundraise for him, and we are very supportive of the community,” she says.
“Dallas” premieres Wednesday, June 13 at 9 p.m. on TNT.
Jim Farmer is an Atlanta-based freelance entertainment writer and public relations professional. He has been a theater and pop-culture critic for more than a dozen years and is the director of Atlanta’s annual Out On Film LGBT film festival.