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Jesse Metcalfe, Jordana Brewster, Josh Henderson and Julie Gonzalo – Kicking Back With the Ewi

Jesse Metcalfe, Julie Gonzalo, Josh Henderson and Jordana Brewster star in "Dallas."

Jesse Metcalfe, Julie Gonzalo, Josh Henderson and Jordana Brewster star in “Dallas.”

Jesse Metcalfe, Jordana Brewster, Josh Henderson and Julie Gonzalo – Kicking Back With the Ewing Young’uns

by Jay S. Jacobs

TNT’s reboot of the iconic nighttime soap Dallas became one of the surprise smashes of this past television season.  The new series was a savvy mix of alumni from the original 1980s series – including Larry Hagman, Patrick Duffy, Linda Gray in regular roles and recurring appearances by Ken Kercheval, Charlene Tilton and Steve Kanaly – with a new generation of Ewings set to do anything to wrest command of the family energy business.

That striking new generation was made up of the Ewing sons John Ross (Josh Henderson) and Christopher (Jesse Metcalfe) and the women who were vying for their hearts and beds Elana Ramos (Jordana Brewster) and Rebecca Sutter (Julie Gonzalo).  These young and beautiful new oil prospectors brought the series a whole new audience, on top of the series’ built in following.  After a season of posturing, backstabbing and subterfuge, Dallas became one of the biggest hits of the new cable series.

Unfortunately, in the middle of the filming of the triumphant second season, tragedy struck Southfork Ranch.  Larry Hagman, who had played the iconic role of super-baddie JR Ewing succumbed to a long battle with cancer in the middle of filming episodes for season two.  This led to an on-the-fly rethink of the second half of the season.

The second season is about to kick off and we were able to sit in on conference calls with all four members of Southfork’s next generation: Jesse Metcalfe, Jordana Brewster, Josh Henderson and Julie Gonzalo.  Here is what they had to say about the experience.

Everyone was very saddened to hear about that Larry Hagman’s passing away. With him being such a huge part of the Dallas legacy, what has it been like to move forward with the show without him there? What are you guys doing to make sure that he’s proud of the legacy that you guys continue with?

Josh Henderson:  JR was a magical character and he was a huge reason why the world really was captivated by Dallas originally. We were so blessed to have him back in this new Dallas. We never know, you don’t have a glass ball to ever foresee what is coming and this was something that was very surprising to us. There were some really cool things happening. You’ll see. Larry is in the first seven episodes of the season two. So you’re going to see a lot of what was happening leading up to [his death]. It’s tough because he was such an amazing person and I had so much fun working with him. But this has happened and we’re in a situation so the writers have geniusly went back into the lab over the holidays and they had to really rewrite the entire second half of the season. We don’t even know really except day by day what is happening. They don’t want us as characters to know the future, so they’re not even telling us. We want to make sure at the end of the day that they respect Larry and hopefully the fans will really accept the way that Larry exits. That’s a really big deal for us. We’re going to continue on because I know that’s what he would have wanted. Dallas was a huge part of his life. He really loved us and loved the show and loved being a part of it. I was just fortunate enough to be able to work with this amazing man. So it’s going to be tough but we’re going to keep on trucking.

Jesse Metcalfe:  Our writers had to urgently get together over the Christmas hiatus and basically rewrite the entire second half of the season. So definitely some changes certainly transpired. I think in a lot of ways for the better. The passing of JR within the story really sets in motion some very exciting storylines. That affects a lot of different characters and brings a lot of different characters from the past and present together. It might have even changed the trajectory of my character of Christopher a little bit as well in that he has to step up even more and assume the Bobby role. Really selflessly serve his family and protect his family because his father’s grieving and John Ross is also grieving as well and acting increasingly more erratic. So Christopher has to assume that role even more so. It’s been a really wild ride. An unexpected tragedy for all of us and it’s been an unexpected turn with the storyline on Dallas.

Julie Gonzalo:  Well, you know, it’s sad. It’s still sad. We still talk about him on a daily basis. The first few weeks, months of his passing, it was very somber on set. But I think in a strange way it really united us and it really made us all close. By us I mean the crew, the cast and everybody involved in the production. It just made everybody more eager to work. There’s this level of wanting to do the best we possibly can for him. Our motto became “let’s do it for Larry.” It’s a beautiful thing that we get to unite and really honor such a legendary icon on and off screen. I was blessed to be in his presence. To have spoken to him. To have had so many encounters with him. To have traveled with him. We cherish those moments. It’s still sad. It’s still a little weird at times. But, he would have wanted to continue. He would have wanted us to have a smile on our faces and to continue on and to make the show what he made the show. I mean obviously not anywhere near what he had done with the show but at least to just put our best job, our best efforts forward. He always spoke about doing the show for another 14 years. We should only be as lucky.

Jesse Metcalfe:  I think the best way to honor Larry would be to make this show a huge success and to keep this show going for at least a few more years to come. Anything less than that I think Larry would see as a failure. This tragedy has really kind of set up another monumental television event. Our writers, our producers and obviously us as actors have all come together to try to honor Larry and honor the character of JR Ewing in the best way that we know how. It’s going to make for some very compelling television. There’s no doubt about that. I mean episode eight is really the episode where the mystery of JR’s death begins to unravel. It’s entitled “JR’s Masterpiece.” A lot of very intriguing storylines have set in motion because of his death. I think they’re really going to fuel the second half of the season and possibly seasons to come.

Josh Henderson:  Larry was such a fun person to be around. He said he believed that the reason Dallas was so successful was that he, Linda and Patrick not only were best friends but they just enjoyed what they did. If the actors are having fun and just [are] personable and enjoying work every day, that trickles through to the crew, to the writers, to the directors, everyone on set. It makes it an enjoyable work environment. Not only that but you can settle into the season, into your character, and really just get deep and create a lot of layers because there’s no walls. It’s just relax and enjoy it and have fun. That’s really what he had told me season one was, “As JR Ewing I just have a blast whether I’m blackmailing someone, whether I’m destroying a man’s life.” He did it with a smile on his face and he enjoyed it. That always bled through. I think that’s why people loved JR or loved to hate JR. It was just kind of inevitable. So I took that and he also appreciated work and loved work. He was 81 and continuing to get to go to work every day and just have a smile on his face and really be a positive part of someone else’s day. For me, I just took that as I have a big responsibility playing his son in general but now that he’s gone hopefully I can really exude that spirit of Larry and JR through my character John Ross and keep it living. At the end of the day whether it’s this season, season three, or down the road however far we go, I’m always going to hear JR’s voice in the back of my head telling me I’m doing it right or I’m doing it wrong or I’m proud of you or fix this. So I’m really going to never let him go. And it was a blessing for me to be able to learn from a man like that.

There is such great chemistry between the cast. How do you all continue to maintain it?

Jordana Brewster:  We are all just having a lot of fun. In the cast, everything is kept fresh by the fact that there are new members coming in which is really fun. Every time someone new comes in we are all like “oh wow, I hope this person is not a diva” or “I hope this guy is really easy to deal with.” And we have been really, really lucky because we just have a really good group of people. I think Linda, Larry and Patrick really set the bar last season because they are so close to each other. They have such a great rapport with each other and I think that is something we all aspire to.

Are you surprised how well the public has received this? What do you think about the second season for you? Do you see even bigger things for yourself and the show?

Josh Henderson:  Well, bringing a show back that was so well loved originally worldwide, it can be a little nerve wracking. In the cast all of our main goals was that the fans of the original were satisfied with how the show is 20 years later. So there was a big weight on our shoulders but I think that the writing and everyone on the cast… we just take the show so seriously and know how important it is. We’re just really lucky to of have the writers. I was really proud of the show so I’m so glad that for the most part I’ve seen nothing but positive feedback from the fans. This new season, obviously we’re going through a lot. It’s going to be a big year for the show. Everything the first season had this season I feel like is on steroids compared to the first season. Everything is just hardcore. One thing happens and then another thing happens and then all of the sudden it literally… it keeps you guessing which is a good thing.

Jesse Metcalfe:  This is an incredible opportunity for me, my first ever lead part on a series where I really feel a responsibility to make sure that every episode is everything it can be. It’s interesting. I bring a lot of myself to the characters I play. But I think that playing any character serve a cathartic experience too. It’s almost like you learn things from your character or you become more like you character the longer that you play him. Christopher’s a very noble character. He’s really at the moral center of the show. He’s incredibly ethical and oftentimes heroic. He’s really the guy that selflessly tries to serve and protect his family. It’s been a great acting turn for me. It’s really stretched me as an actor because there’s a lot of high drama, a lot of really emotional scenes.

Jordana Brewster:  On the one hand I feel that with just the ambience on set because I think season one we felt like we had something to prove. We were a little bit nervous. We didn’t all know each other. But now the crew and the cast we all know each other really well. We are like a big family and I think that relaxed atmosphere also really just helps us do better work. The writing has just gotten more… I mean the stakes are raised, there is more drama. There are more crazy relationships and really fun characters that are coming out of the woodwork. So it is a really exciting show to be a part of.

We last left off Rebecca… or we thought it was Rebecca… was in quite a sticky situation. Can you tell us or tease us a little bit about what to expect this season for your character?

Julie Gonzalo:  Yeah. Well you can expect the truth from her this time around. It’s revealed that her name is Pamela Rebecca Barnes. She is Cliff Barnes’ daughter. So I think that right off the bat – right off the gate on season two she’s coming clean. She’s coming clean to everyone. This is who she’s going to be. So you finally get to really get to know this character for who she truly is and not the mystery that it was last season. There’s a lot of things happening. I think that the beauty of her being honest and the audience seeing the honesty in the character is that there’s many different levels to her, There’s vulnerability, there’s revenge. There’s a lot of things that I get to play with this year.

At the end of last season John Ross was pretty angry and he had given up on taking the high road. He asked JR to help him take the low road. Where does John Ross stand as the season opens?

Josh Henderson:  Season two takes place about a month after we last saw the Ewings at the end of season one. John Ross went to this very angry vengeful place right after Elena’s mother brings him the ring back. Now he’s all alone and if anybody gets in his way he’s going to take them down. That was his attitude at the end of season one. Season two picks up a month later. He has chilled out a little bit and he has a different approach. I think that he still wants to take over Ewing Energies, that’s his goal, but he knows that he can’t just be guns blazing angry all the time.    So he has a different tactic. He has chilled out a little bit. He wants to kind of fly under the radar a little more. But he’s definitely working on a big plan.

The first couple of episodes you see Elena really want to make her spot in the company. Is that a sign of things to come this whole season? Is Elena going to kind of step up and want to kind of make her own little spot in this world?

Jordana Brewster:  I think so. Elena is very ambitious. She definitely wants to prove herself. Last season a lot of her time was spent being torn between two guys and not knowing exactly what to do. Now that everything is okay on the home front for a little while at least she now can focus on her business career. What is really fun about playing Elena is she is one of the only characters on Southfork that has a moral code and isn’t willing to sacrifice it to get ahead. It is really fun to play her navigating, wanting to succeed and wanting to thrive and wanting to make money and yet not wanting to sacrifice her values to do it.

So much about the show is with the strife between Christopher and John Ross. I’m curious in the second season if we’re going to see any complications with Christopher and Bobby because they always seem to be on the same side. I’d be curious where their relationship is going.

Jesse Metcalfe:  Well their relationship… they were a bit at odds in the first season. But they’re pretty much on the same side here in the second season, at least thus far. It becomes a very tricky situation with the running of Ewing Energies because some other players become involved. Also Sue Ellen becomes more involved with Ewing Energies. We also end up bringing Jordana — Elena — on in a bigger capacity. We need to stay on the same page and stay a tight knit group more than ever.

How has your life has changed both professionally and with the fans since you’ve been starring onDallas?

Julie Gonzalo:  Oh well, I definitely have a lot more fans. (laughs) It’s really great. It’s just nice. It’s just really nice when you put your work out there and people really respond to it. You get the Twitter followers or the Facebook people or just emails and fan letters. It’s really nice when it’s very positive and wanting to see more of your work. To be honest with you, it doesn’t really change my personal life. I’m still the same person I was, you know, 20 years ago, 10 years ago. I don’t really change whether I’m on a hit movie or a hit show or a hit something. But, even in industry world my peers get to see my work on a weekly basis. As an actor the goal is to just keep working. As long as I have a job, I feel blessed. It’s been a really great run to have such an amazing show to work on.

Josh Henderson:  Well, Dallas has definitely changed my life. So many people around the world obviously knew Dallas before we even brought it back. Being a part of it has really I guess put me and my name out there worldwide, which is great. I was born in Dallas so I just feel so lucky to be a part of the Dallas television show and getting to come home and shoot the show here. It has definitely changed my life, my outreach to people. They’re very passionate. Fans of the show are very passionate, especially the fans of the original. So it kind of puts you in almost more of like an intimate place with these people that you have never met because they’re so attached and there is such a nostalgic aspect to Dallas for them. What was always great about Dallas is it has brought it to a new generation with the four younger members of the cast reaching into our fan bases.

Jesse Metcalfe:  Honestly life hasn’t changed that much. It’s just nice to be on a show that people are watching and to be working with such an exceptional group of people. I feel very lucky. This is my first opportunity to be a true lead on a series and in part carry a series. I take this job very seriously. I consider it one of the biggest jobs I’ve ever had. I’ve been enjoying every minute of it. But not a whole lot has changed for me personally.

It sounds like you guys all have a really great rapport. What is going on behind the scenes? Who is hanging out? Are we listening to music? Is there anything that you guys do to chill?

Jordana Brewster:  Well we are kind of forced to hang out because we all live in Dallas so it is like our little family home away from home. Julie and I hang out a lot and I go shopping with the costume designer who I adore. I have lunch with Linda at her favorite restaurants and shops in Dallas. Jesse loves going… he is a really great music guy and he knows exactly what shows are playing all the time and like what cool bands to go see. So I do that with him. When my husband is in town and his girlfriend is in town we will go out to dinner. And we also kind of dorky. We will all get together and watch shows like the Golden Globes together. So it is really nice being able to be on location because you just end up relying on each other.

Okay so when you are all there do you all stay in the same place around each other? Or I mean do you take an apartment for six months a year?

Jordana Brewster:  Yes well that is one of the challenges of being on a TV show is you have to find a lease for only six months and that is really, really tough to find. I have lived in different place for each season and that kind of keeps it fresh and it is fun because you get to discover a different part of Dallas. We are all spread out. We are not all living under one… it is not like Melrose Place, Dallas on Melrose Place. It is not like that at all.

You get to butt heads with Christopher this season. That must be fun. But you also get to have a different kind of a connection with John Ross, a more passionate connection obviously. How fun was that?

Julie Gonzalo:  Well without revealing too much… I love Josh. Josh and I get along really well. It’s fun to work with him. I do butt heads with Christopher. Obviously this year we’re in the middle of a custody battle and all this stuff that’s being revealed this year that he didn’t necessarily know last. What’s fun about working with Josh and his character is the fact that they very much operate on the same level. They do see eye to eye in a lot of the goals that they want to reach. So it’s been fun as a character to play with somebody that’s your same level. As an actor, I love both. I think Jesse and Josh are really great talents and they’re just fun to be around on set. We’re all very, very lucky. So we all really genuinely really enjoy each other’s company.

The original Dallas was one of the original water cooler shows where everyone made sure to see it every week. I was wondering just growing up what series did you follow religiously?

Jordana Brewster:  When I was a teenager it was still appointment television. There was no DVR or TiVo so I had to be home on I think it was Wednesdays night to watch 90210 and Melrose Place. I loved My So Called Life. That was always one of the shows I really loved. When I was younger, when I was like ten, I remember watching TGIF every Friday night. It was Step by Step, which oddly enough is Patrick, so I know Patrick more from Step by Step than Dallas. And I think Boy Meets World was also part of TGIF. That was definitely appointment television as well.

Do you have any fan stories different from other projects you’ve done? Dallas fans, how are they different?

Josh Henderson:  Leading up to this I always played a teenager for the most part. I had a film called The Jerk Theory and Step Up and 90210 and Desperate. I was always playing a teenager, so my fan base was very young. Now it has broadened to this kind of monster that is the Dallas fan base. So it has definitely changed my life. No matter where I go I’ve got to be ready for a picture. And you know what, I think it’s great. At the end of the day people are really happy with the show and I’m having a blast. It has changed my life for the better and I hope I can continue to do this for a long time.

You were really young when the original series was on. Were you familiar with the original series when you were cast for the role? And now what is it like as an actress to be part of such an iconic series?

Jordana Brewster:  I was definitely aware of it. I was excited when my manager called and said they are rebooting Dallas and it is a continuation. I was very excited because of just the built-in anticipation. I knew it was a really fun show and tonally it was really fun. So I was very excited to be a part of it. Even now, I watched about three or four seasons on DVD [of the original series] and it is really fun to be watching. I have to be really vague about this because this is plot point I absolutely cannot give away. I am watching a character do something that alludes to the original Dallas. I get really excited in the role of participant. I am an actor on the series but I am also watching as a fan. And I get really excited about the fact that they can call back certain characters and call back certain storylines from the past. I think that is a really fun thing to be a part of.

You alluded briefly to Christopher feeling abandoned by his mother. Will we learn any more this season about what happened with Pam in the last 20 years, where she’s been and what happened with her and Christopher?

Jesse Metcalfe:  Yes. Yes we will. Unfortunately I can’t tell you much more than that. I’m sorry.

How important is it for you to live tweet during the episodes and interact with fans based on this new season?

Jesse Metcalfe:  We’ve all made a very concerted effort to be part of social networking in supporting this show. I wasn’t even on Twitter before the first season or maybe I had one established but I had never used it. I really love it. I really love getting that instant feedback from the fans letting us know what they like and what they didn’t like. It really plays a large part in the publicity strategy for our show. A lot of tweeting during episodes has been great. I think the fans really enjoy it.

How will JR’s death affect John Ross’s plans for Ewing Energies?

Josh Henderson:  John Ross and JR, [when] they left off season one John Ross was  threatening him saying “if you screw me over, I’ll put you back in that retirement home where you belong” because he was so angry. Now, he realizes that he’s not ready to do it on his own. He still needs his father. His father JR is still the man and John Ross is still learning really. As John Ross wants to take over everything on his own, he is still smart enough to be able to utilize people around him whether it’s JR or it’s Sue Ellen. Like season one, he likes to try and use everybody as chess pieces. He keeps them in his pocket for when he needs them. With JR, they were really kind of ready to lock hands and go at Ewing Energies together. So obviously John Ross as well as JR, he always had something in the back of his mind, a plan ahead of this plan. But everything is brought to a halt. I think he’s going to feel very, very lost and unprepared with JR’s early exit. It’s something that is painful for him. He was not expecting this. It’s going to cause some unbelievable emotions and actions and stuff to come out of John Ross.

Your character went through a lot of changes, a lot of events last season. I’ve seen the first two episodes this season and she’s very different. Can you speak to the changes she went through and how it affects her?

Julie Gonzalo:  Yeah. Absolutely. Rebecca, the character last season, was playing parts. She’s a con artist. I think that she was just trying to make her father proud in many ways. This year that change is that is now herself. She is now her true self. She is Cliff Barnes’ daughter. Her name is Pamela Barnes. She walks into a room and is now who she needs to be. There’s a lot of honesty behind the role this year. That’s the beauty of scenes such as the honesty in a role. There’s going to be a lot of revelations this season that are going explain why things happened the way they did for her and why she did the things she did last season.

How will Elena’s decision to rekindle her romance with Christopher affect her business deal with Sue Ellen?

Jordana Brewster:  It will definitely affect it. I don’t know how much I can give away but as we know, Sue Ellen is very territorial and she is definitely a mama bear. She puts John Ross first. So the relationship between Sue Ellen and Elena definitely changes. That was something I was a little bummed about because I love Linda and I love working with her. It is very difficult to have to be in scenes where we are not [getting along]. I mean it is physical but it is fun at the same time. It definitely changes the dynamic.

In terms of the relationship with John Ross and JR, is John Ross going to be elevated to become more of a threat, more of a villain in JR’s absence? Or are they going to bring in other heavies to fill that void?

Josh Henderson:  Season one started John Ross on this path of really wanting to be just like his father. Wanting to follow in his father’s footsteps, make his father proud and hopefully – if he could – outdo his father. But he was really starting to develop a relationship which he never really had growing up with JR. His reaction to when JR leaves, it’s such a painful and vengeful moment. It’s going to take him probably to a very dark place. When it comes to villains on the show, Harris Ryland is still around and obviously Cliff Barnes is still around. We’ve got these guys that are kind of coming after the Ewings. But really once JR is gone John Ross is really on a dark mission. What that mission is I don’t even know yet because we’re still shooting that part of the season. We’re basically in the middle of shooting right now like episode 8. So I don’t know where he’s going but I know that he’s going to be in a dark place. He’s definitely going to be vengeful and coming after you. He’s going to be ready to take some heads. So we’ll see when it comes to in general the next big villain but he’s definitely following in his father’s footsteps. He wanted to continue learning from his father but now his father is gone so he’s going to take what he has learned and grow.

As an actress it must be really tough for you to play that character because you’re pulling off a con that everyone believed. I certainly believed as a viewer that she was indeed in love with Christopher. And I would think in some strange way she still is. But as an actress how do you reconcile all that stuff in your own head? And then how do you relate to it?

Julie Gonzalo:  I can relate into part of that, in the first season she really was in love with Christopher. She really did fall for him. I think that as a character, her true character’s being revealed. You can sense that there’s a childlike behavior in her. I think that that, you know, she really did fall in love. As an actor, I can relate to that. I can relate to falling in love. I can relate to a lot of things. Truly I don’t have anything in common with Pamela this year to be honest with you. I think that you get to find out a lot of why she does what she does. She’s coming from a very strange place. I don’t find her to be a mean-spirited