Linda Gray talks Sue Ellen's return on Dallas Season Premiere
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.
For our third and last Dallas interview, we speak with Linda Gray, who created and now returns as the classic TV character Sue Ellen Ewing.
Here is our conversation, where we discuss the inappropriate length of most Dallas scripts, the importance of shooting in Texas, and the serious tone of the show.
I've been told by a couple of your cast mates that one episode of Dallas 2012 is almost like an entire season of the original series. Things are moving that fast...
Linda Gray: No. I wouldn't say that. The good thing about being on the new show, and being on the original show, is that technology has been enhanced. You are filming it at a faster pace. You used to get these long, meaningful shots. They'd slowly push in. They would hold the shot. You could pause. Now, they cut you right out. If you pause in the middle while you are speaking, they just cut you off. Now, we are all talking faster, because that's what we have to do. There is no dead air space...Actors need to pause. I thought, in these first ten shows, they were over-written. That is not a critque of it. But, it was like the page count was too long. The dialogue didn't allow for the actor to take a pause. In Dallas, a little bit of a pause is good. Because there are some very tricky, intricate, devious things going on sometimes. Sometimes, a look can be very meaningful. So...The pacing here is different. It isn't so fast that it could be a whole season. But it is fast. You have to pay attention. There are so many storylines. For me? It's just a fast pace. It just takes off. There are so many new characters, and so many things going on. Everyone on the show has their own very complicated storyline.
Do you think they underestimate the audience in thinking we no longer have patience for a meaningful pause?
Linda Gray: It's about the technology. I watch the kids now, and they are like this...(mimics head down in her iPhone, texting) All the time! I can't stand it. I had to meet my grandson last night. It was amazing. He took my laptop to the restaurant. Because he'd already eaten. My daughter and I actually had a lovely conversation, because he was playing a game, and he was on this with his friend...These kids are so fast. It's not that we are going to be attracting nine-year-olds to Dallas...But I think people are into story. I don't think they will mind the liquidity of these shows. My thing is, I think the scripts could be written a little shorter. They could be cut down just a little bit. Split the page count, so that it gives a little more time. Maybe we won't feel so rushed. So many of our scenes had to be cut out. Because it was too long. We only have 42 minutes.
How do the stories that are being told differ from the original show?
Linda Gray: I don't think they do. I think if our original producer were alive, he would be very excited, and very proud of what he began with, and how it has transferred twenty years later. It has survived. He was the guy that began the whole process. He was behind every character. He had this big board in his office. We called it the family tree. It was a nightmare. He knew it, though, because he created every character.
Having been an integral member of the original cast, are you happy that the legacy is living on here as opposed to the movie they were set to make?
Linda Gray: I think it's about timing, especially when it comes to Dallas. When we started the original in 1978, I think that was perfect timing on the planet for a show like this. It was bigger than life. Texas is bigger than life. It's like its own country. There was oil. It is what people would look at globally, and say, 'Wow, this is America!' This is big, this is oil, this is money, this is sex, this is greed, this is rivalry...There is all this stuff, and we want to know about it. We want to know that rich people are dysfunctional. I want to know that, if I win the lottery, this may happen to me. They loved the fact that rich people have problems. Maybe they have their small life, and now they can fantasize who it would be if they had all that money, all that fame, and all that power. It allowed an escape on Friday night. You could escape into a different world. That is entertainment. That is why we go to the movies. We go to sit for two hours and be entertained. That's what people want. They want to escape their world.
Is there room for humor in this new series?
Linda Gray: In the first ten shows, it's pretty serious. I think there is room for comedy. But again, I think it's about timing. We've gone through the major reality show phase. We've gone through the law procedural phase. Historically, I think its time for a new phase to begin. People want to see that. They don't want to just see a relationship show again. I think they want to see this. I think its time has come.
While technology may change, the people of Texas haven't changed much since the original show went off the air. That has to bring some much needed heart to the stories your are telling this time out.
Linda Gray: Absolutely. And they are so excited to have us there. This time, we all live there. We immerse ourselves in the city. Before, we were there for only two months. The other eight months, we were back in Los Angeles. Now, we are shooting solely in Dallas. I have joined the Dallas Museum of Art. I've been to the symphony. I have been to their opera house. The art scene in Dallas is phenomenal. It's so beautiful. All of my girlfriends are there. These CEO ladies. That didn't happen in the 80s. I have women who are managers, and CEOs of the American Heart Association. Lawyers. And they are all women. In the 80s, not so much. You still had some powerful women. But what is happening, Matriarchs are rising. Women are just rising. You see women everywhere. It just wasn't such the case in the 80s.
How does the show speak to that?
Linda Gray: The show speaks very well of that. You'll have to wait and see.
How did you rediscover this character after so much time had passed? Or was she just such a big part of you that she was always there, waiting to be released once again from within?
Linda Gray: That was a concern. It was a real concern, because I hadn't played this woman in years. I had to dig deep to find out where she would be twenty years later. Who would she be? What are her interests? What is her focus in life. Where is her relationship with her son? What is her relationship with her ex-husband. Where does she live? Does she have money? What is she? Who is she? Does she drink. So...We went for long walks, Sue Ellen and me. We'd have lunch. I had to do some really deep thinking about all aspects of her life. They were open to our ideas about these characters. I felt embraced. It wasn't just, "Do as you're told." This was huge for me. Because that didn't happen in the original series. They said, "Come to us for anything." And we do. Not much, because they have done well with the scripts. There is a comfort level, and a respect level. If it doesn't fell right, they are willing to work with us. I had a few things I would send them notes on. And they changed it. They changed them because they felt it was correct.