"Dallas’" new dynamic duo :: Josh Henderson & Jesse Metcalfe
Old school "Dallas" fans will be happy to see Larry Hagman and Patrick Duffy back as J.R. and Bobby Ewing on the new "Dallas," 21 years later. But those for whom the hit CBS series offers a glimpse (in reruns) of power plays amongst the big haired, big rich of the oil capital may want to take a look at the popular series that returns on TNT this week featuring the sons of J.R. and Bobby Ewing (played by child actors through the series finale in 1991) taking charge and picking up where their dads left off. That they’re being played by two of Hollywood’s hottest young actors - Josh Henderson and Jesse Metcalfe - is reason enough to tune in.
Henderson was born in 1991, the same year that the popular series completed its 13-year run, which made it one of the longest running series in television history. (A spin-off, "Knots Landing," also ran equally as long on CBS.) Metcalfe, some three years older, is, like his co-star, from a generation that would likely only know the expression "Who Killed J.R.?" as a query on "Jeopardy." But both actors have ties to another long running series - "Desperate Housewives." Metcalfe made quite a splash when he appeared in the show’s first season as the teenage gardner that had a hot affair with Eva Longoria; Henderson appeared a few seasons later as the troubled teenage son of Nicollette Sheridan.
More dirty tricks?
On the new "Dallas," Henderson plays John Ross, the son of the ultimate oil man J.R. Ewing. J.R. was TV’s ultimate villain, so John Ross isn’t quite up to his father’s level of manipulative dirty tricks quite yet. When the new series starts they haven’t even seen each other for 10 years. John Ross visits J.R. in the hospital where J.R. has been convalescing in silence.
"John Ross feels like he’s got a lot to live up to because as much as he and J.R. didn’t necessarily have a great father-son relationship, he definitely admires who his father was as a business man, and he wants to live up to that," Henderson said. "He feels like it’s his duty and his birthright to carry this Ewing name to the next generation and really attack the whole oil game, all over again. It’s very important to him but he also cares about family. He learned from the best, in his mind. J.R. did business a certain way, and that’s all he knows. And, if he can actually somehow do it even better, he’s going to try. If that’s possible, we don’t know yet."
Boy becomes a man
Jesse Metcalfe plays Christopher, Bobby Ewing’s adopted son. If you watched the original series you know all the drama of his childhood. Christopher is investing in alternative fuels, pitting him against John Ross’ plans to drill for oil on the Ewing ranch called Southfork.
"He very much wants to prove himself to his father but also prove himself as a capable man that has the ability to care for and run Southfork when his father is absent," Metcalfe said. "I think Christopher’s really making that transition that I truly believe happens to a man in his late 20s coming onto 30 and early 30s. I think that’s really when a boy become a man."
Fathers will be an important theme of "Dallas." Christopher is very much craving Bobby’s approval. "Really throughout the whole first season, he’s kind of teetering on the edge of emotional sanity," Metcalfe said. "Bobby is that support system but at the same time, I think there’s some conflict there because Bobby doesn’t really tell Christopher, ’I believe in you’ and that’s what he really needs to hear. He really needs to hear, ’I believe that you’re strong enough to deal with the drama that comes from this crazy dysfunctional family.’ So it’s just a process of proving himself. We had some blow-ups where we’re at odds and then we come back together. For me personally it’s a great working relationship and I love that relationship on the show. It feels very authentic and real."
Not in the cards
For John Ross, an open father/son relationship may not be in the cards. At least it may not be a good idea for John Ross. "I think that John Ross knows enough to know that he might not be able to always wholly trust his father," Henderson said. ’In his own way of thinking, in the way of business, he wants to try and stay one step ahead of everybody, but with his father around, he knows that that’s going to be tough, and it’s going to be tricky. So, I think that he’s excited about the potential of working with him, but I also think he also his own goals, as well as J.R. does. It makes a very interesting father-son relationship. He’s learned from the best. He watched his father do it, and he has had a lot of time to figure out his own path. I think that it might be a never-ending journey, but he’s definitely pursuing that."
Both Christopher and John Ross have spent significant time away from Southfork. They each come home to a lot of drama.
"[Christopher] comes back from a 2-3 year absence where he’s studying abroad, he’s developing this alternative energies patent in China," Metcalfe said. "He really just comes back to assert himself in the Ewing family hierarchy. His relationship with his adopted father informs that whole thing. He wants to live up to the person that Bobby is, who’s this incredibly respected and ethical man, but at the same time he’s conflicted because he has all these other stressors he has to deal with. He has to deal with his abandonment issues and his insecurities and his romantic misgivings and possibly being with the wrong woman, and seeing the love of his life with his cousin and his nemesis John Ross."
Elena (Jordana Brewster) was Christopher’s true love, but now she is engaged to John Ross. This heartbreak is not just orchestrated out of spite by John Ross.
"John Ross really loves Elena," Henderson said. "As much as people might not believe that, you’re going to find out that he really does love her. He just also has to figure out a way to make that work with everything else that he wants to work, and that’s a tough thing to do."
He has decidedly less warmth towards J.R. "At the end of the day, he doesn’t have a good relationship with him," Henderson said. "He loves his father, deep down, but he also has a lot of built-up resentment towards him. He feels like he should be at a better place than he is right now. So he’s having to work his way around the family. He should already be there I think he feels in his mind. He didn’t have a lot of positive things, in his favor, growing up so he had to do a lot of them on his own. In the pilot, you see that he comes to his father, finally. It’s also a part of his, as you find out, he’s also playing a game, a little bit. Everybody is a chess piece, in his mind."
The new multigenerational take on "Dallas" has viewers both looking forward and looking back. The new cast certainly knows what is expected of them.
"It’s like ’Twilight,’" Henderson said. "Those fans know everything about the books, and more than even the actors about the characters. That’s how are fans are. I get stopped on the street. We haven’t even aired yet and they’re like, ’Do you know what you were doing, 10 years ago?’ I was like, ’Wow, thanks, I’m going to use that in Season Two.’ They’re so involved."
The pressure got to Metcalfe at first. "God, there were so many different emotions coming into the project," he said. "I think the first one was nervousness and hesitation of is remaking such an iconic and successful show a good idea in the first place? Those fears were kind of quelled after reading the script because I thought the script was substantial. I though it was good. I thought the characters were really well defined and I thought it moved well so I was like okay, yeah, I could see myself being a part of this project and I could see myself being able to give a good performance with what’s on the page.’"
It makes it a little easier for Henderson to know he is not playing an entirely new character. He is new to "Dallas," but John Ross was already there. "I think what’s great is that the kids were a part of the original.," Henderson said "It’s almost like these storylines have been boiling since the original because you saw so many moments with J.R. and John Ross, about that sparkle in little John Ross’ eyes, wanting to be like his father. So these things have been stemming from the original, and now you really get to see it come to life. Is he going to live up to who John Ross wanted to be as a seven or eight-year-old little boy? It’s the same with Christopher. There’s a lot of family stuff going on that I think people can relate to."
The young cast also relies on their legendary co-stars and pays them respect. Ultimately that is what gave Metcalfe the confidence to join "Dallas." "It all starts with the script and the script, the pilot script was really a very seamless transition 20-21 years later from the original series to the new series," Metcalfe said.
"All the major themes of the original series are strongly in place and I think it was our job as the new cast to come in and really breathe life into these characters and meet what was already created by Larry, Linda and Patrick. So I think we all came wanting to do the show justice, wanting to impress Larry, Linda and Patrick and say, ’Hey, we’re value added.’ I think that marriage has been amazing. I think we all have great chemistry and I think that the expectations of the original fans of the show are going to be met if not exceeded."
Just like the original "Dallas," the new show is filled with sexy scandals, and lots of footage of the sexy stars in compromising situations. The very first scene of the premiere has John Ross striking oil, getting sprayed with shiny crude. How’s that for an intro?
"It was really cool for us because they were going to show us what it was going to look like before we shot the scene," Henderson said. "I actually said I’d rather be surprised. I want to have a genuine reaction to this thing exploding and what is this stuff? Is it going to make my hair fall out? I don’t [know] but it tasted weird. I think they told us it was water with food coloring maybe. I was a good moment. We knew that it was the show opener and we just had fun with it. We go through a lot in this first season and at the end of the day, we have a lot of fun on set and we laugh a ton, almost too much sometimes because our stuff is very intense and very serious but that was a day where we could just let go and have fun. It was a beautiful day and we got amazing shots so I think it worked."
"Dallas" premieres June 13 on TNT.