Brenda Strong Talks Ann Ewing in Season Premiere of Dallas
The long running hit series Dallas returns on TNT this Wednesday, June 13th, for ten all-new episodes of thrilling drama and intrigue, starting with Episode 1.01: Changing of the Guard. We're celebrating the re-launch of this iconic and groundbreaking Prime Time soap with a series of interviews featuring the cast.
First up, we speak with Desperate Housewives' Brenda Strong, who plays Ann Ewing, wife to Bobby Ewing (Patrick Duffy, returning to the role that made him famous more than twenty years after the original ended its run on CBS in 1991).
Here is our conversation, where we discuss 'Who Shot J.R.', the allure of being a Ewing, and the horrible reality of most reality based TV series.
You are playing Bobby's wife...
Brenda Strong: Yes!
I have to imagine you watched the original when it was on way back in the day. Is this a little bit surreal for you to come in and play the iconic Bobby Ewing's wife?
Brenda Strong: Absolutely. Bobby has had more than one wife, and I like to say I'm his last. That's my hope, anyway. He has had very iconic partnerships that have been quite beloved by audiences. It's hard to step into those shoes. At the same time, this is a new Dallas. It's a familiar Dallas, but it's a new day and age. People do move on and have different lives as they evolve. Luckily we are not just meeting Ann. She is new, but she's been in Bobby's life for the past seven years. So they very much feel like an old pair of slippers, in my mind. Hopefully the audience will go, "Yeah, this is the new couple." And that will be the last of that conversation.
This show pulled off some of TV's most classic twists and cliffhangers of all time...Of any series ever made, to this day. We know how Dallas influenced everything that came after it. How do you feel those shows, that came in its wake, have turned the tide to influenced this new version of Dallas?
Brenda Strong: I think TV is in its Golden Age in a lot of ways. And I think the original Dallas set the tone, in a lot of ways, for all of the nighttime dramas to follow. It set the bar. It was, in the 70s and 80s, some of the most appointment TV watching there was to be had. I think the shows that have come since then...From Lost to even Desperate Housewives...Those cliffhangers are now so hard...You can feel the writers are sweating...They know that the audience expects a cliffhanger, because they want them back the next season. They want the anticipation of knowing what happened to these favorite characters. The good news for us, now that we are a little more seasoned with this family...We are in a day and age of television where, back in the old Dallas...Patrick Duffy said this best...What happened in one season...That is what is happening in one episode of the new Dallas. This is like Dallas on octane. Its Dallas on jet fuel. It feels familiar, but it moves much faster.
Do you think, in the past thirty years, any show has every matched 'Who Shot J.R.?' Or even come close to the intensity of the situation and the chaos it created amongst its fanbase?
Brenda Strong: No. I have no idea how you could sustain that, especially with the internet. Information always gets leaked. Even on my show Desperate Housewives, we can't keep a secret. I shot myself to keep a secret, yet we can't keep that from leaking out of the writer's room. It's hard to surprise the audience anymore. These are big shoes to fill, and I don't think anyone has done it as well as they did it. Part of that is because we are in an information age now. Everything is too accessible.
I remember where I was when J.R.'s shooter was revealed. Do you remember where you were?
Brenda Strong: I don't. And now, I'm wondering why I don't. Do you remember the day it happened?
Yes. It had to be a Friday, because it was payday in my house...
Brenda Strong: It was a Friday! Do you remember what year it was?
79? 80? My Dallas trivia is a little rusty...
Brenda Strong: I was probably in college. I was probably studying for finals...No! You know what? I was on stage! I couldn't stay home and watch. And we didn't have a VCR. We couldn't tape it then. So I missed it. That's why I don't remember.
But you were doing what you loved. Not watching it paid off. Now you are here, playing Bobby Ewing's wife, as opposed to watching her on TV.
Brenda Strong: Exactly!
When you say that each episode moves at the speed of a whole season, how is that going to effect the overall weight of the show? Do we get a cliffhanger at the end of every episode?
Brenda Strong: How many episodes of this new version have you seen?
Are you kidding me? It's not on yet! I haven't seen it!
Brenda Strong: Oh, my gosh! You are in for a treat. There is a bit of a cliffhanger in every show. It happens to one character or the other. Its one of those things were they say, "Good writing, you'll always have a turn in a scene." If a scene starts positive, it will turn negative. That's a sign of good writing. Those turns happen rapidly and often on our show. Each character is constantly going through those flips and turns as new information is forthcoming. There are so many double standards and double-dealings going on. Sometime, you think you know what is happening...And then its an even bigger twist than what you thought was happening. It's very complex. It's not overly difficult to follow...But I was always surprised. I couldn't stop turning the pages fast enough when I would get a new script. The thing I wanted to do the most was read it all the way through without stopping.
Do you feel you learn something new about your character with every new script, or did you have a complete overview of who she was before ever stepping onto the set?
Brenda Strong: They gave me a thumbnail sketch of who Ann is. But they didn't give me the entire backstory. So as each script came in, just like the audience, I am getting to know her better. I love this woman. I love this character. I am so happy to be playing someone who has so much richness to draw from. I feel like, in the first four episodes, we don't know Ann at all. She is just a part of this family that we already kind of know. There is so much going on with this family, we don't really get to know her. But as the next episodes started to unfold, we realized how much we really didn't know her. Because the things we do start to realize are happening, are so much more in-depth than what we could have ever covered in this first season. I am just excited to see where we go from here, if we get a second season.
How many episodes did you do?
Brenda Strong: We did ten.
A movie was in the works before the show announced its small screen return. Were you at all involved with the development of that?
Brenda Strong: No, I was never a part of the movie. My character is brand new. I didn't have anything to do with the movie. Though, I have heard from Patrick Duffy and some of the other actors with the original show, that it didn't quite make the mark. That's why it never got made. It wasn't until this script that everyone decided to move forward on this. They felt that this really worked.
The feeling I got was that fans were happy the movie disappeared, and that they are getting a continuation of the show in its purest form instead. Did you feel the same way? From what I understand, the movie was going to be a goofy comedy...
Brenda Strong: Yeah, absolutely. In true form, as anyone would hope, you want to take the best part of something and move forward. You don't want to be a caricature. Or for it to be a superficial tribute. You want to make it richer. This has a complex script, and I think it does that. Sue Ellen is in a much different place than she was when the original series ended. These characters have evolved. Twenty years have passed. Their lives are different, but they are very much themselves. It's exciting to see where they are in this day and age.
Did you at all look to Big Rich Texas for an idea about where your character might be?
Brenda Strong: No! That is nothing like what we're doing. The comparative would be...Have you seen The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills?
I've never seen them, no...But I of course know of them...
Brenda Strong: If you think that is what Desperate Housewives is, you are sorely mistaken. If you think Dallas is like Big Rich Texas, you are sorely mistaken! They are not even close. I think Big Rich Texas is a slice of life that is way bigger than what we are portraying. Life is dramatic enough. Being a human being is not an easy thing. William Shakespeare played it best. He played the tragedy and the comedy, and the betrayal, and the lust, and the power...All of those themes are interesting enough without having cat fights and pulling hair. Being superficial. Which, some of these reality shows are. That is why people love them. They are bigger than life. They are sideshows. Life is interesting enough without making it bigger than it is.
It seems like Dallas has the opportunity to have more heart than some of these reality shows.
Brenda Strong: I absolutely agree with you! We want to create something that is entertaining, yet, it's also something that people care about. If you lose your audience's plausibility, and you lose that connection, and that heart...I think you've lost them. The heart of the Ewing family is the Bobby character. He anchors the show so beautifully. I am so happy to be orbiting his character. He really is the heart of the show.
What one moment do you want to turn viewers to as an indication of who your character Ann is at heart?
Brenda Strong: Hmm? There are a couple of scenes that I think will cement Ann into the audience's heart. They are usually when she is defending Bobby. There is a moment fairly late into the season where you find out something about Bobby that really disassembles who you know her to be. Her vulnerability. Ann comes across as very strong. But you see a vulnerable side that I think will make the audience love her even more.