Playing the eco-conscious Christopher Ewing on "Dallas" has rubbed off on Jesse Metcalfe. Now in his second season as the forward-thinking Ewing Energies heir who endeavors to bring the company into the alternative energy future, he has "certainly become a lot more informed and a lot more aware of environmental issues, specifically some of the science behind the storyline that I'm playing. I love being at the heart of this storyline because it's a very authentic piece of social commentary and gives the show some relevance and a bit of depth," he says, noting that "Dallas" received an award from the Environmental Media Association for best TV drama. Metcalfe hasn't switched over to an electric Tesla like Christopher drives, "But If Tesla wants to give me a car, I'd be happy to drive it!" he says.

"Dallas" Season 2, returning to TNT Jan. 28 with a two-hour premiere, brings change and drama for all the characters, and not only because of the loss of a major one with the death of star Larry Hagman. "Christopher as a character has really evolved from the first season," Metcalfe reflects. "The first season was really about asserting the role he plays in the Ewing family hierarchy. He was abroad developing his alternative energy patent. There was a lot of turmoil and at the end of season one he's reunited with the love of his life, Elena.

"Season two picks up right where that leaves off," he continues. "Elena and Christopher are very much in the honeymoon phase of their relationship. They can't keep their hands off each other. And with his settled personal life he's able to focus his energy on his career. Initially, he's developing a methane gas powered stock car as a publicity stunt to attract a transportation contract with City of Dallas. He's very much focused on Ewing Energies. He's also in a serious, bitter custody battle with his ex-wife over his unborn twins. It's starting to put a bit of a strain on his rekindled relationship with Elena, but they seem to be enduring it and staying strong thus far. But there are some cracks in the foundation that start to appear around midseason."

Early on, "You see a more self-possessed, self-assured side of Christopher. He's really stepped up to be very much a leader in the family and at times he's incredibly selfless and heroic. That's never so clear as in episode eight, with J.R.'s death," Metcalfe says, noting that cousin and rival "John Ross is deeply impacted and seems to be going off the rails, and Christopher is there for him and looking out for his best interests."

Metcalfe was in St. Louis on a holiday break from "Dallas," seeing a movie with his girlfriend and her brother when he learned via text of Hagman's death, "The first person I talked to was Patrick Duffy. It was a tough conversation," he admits. "I was blindsided, I really was. We knew Larry wasn't well but we didn't know the full extent of things; unless you're a family member oftentimes you don't typically know. But I felt very lucky to have had the time I had with him and the opportunity to share the screen with him. I thought I was going to have more time with him, get to know him, but unfortunately that time was cut short."

Returning to a Hagman-less set was "strange at first, definitely sad. There were certainly a lot of questions as to how it was going to impact the show moving forward," Metcalfe says, but there was never a question of not completing the season. "Now we feel the show's going to continue even beyond the second season because we've seen how good the episodes are and we know where we're at." He praises Duffy and Linda Grey for "setting the tone for how Larry's passing would be handled. They were incredibly strong and I think that helped us all get through it."

Hagman had filmed five episodes prior to his Nov. 23 death, and deleted scenes will be used in the sixth. Without revealing details, Metcalfe confirms that "J.R.'s death sets in motion some very intriguing storylines, and a lot of these storylines are interconnected and interwoven and bring together a lot of unexpected characters. It's definitely going to carry the show into our season finale in a very big way, and I think that the viewers are really going to enjoy it. It's going to be another iconic television moment," he assures. "I don't think Larry would have wanted it any other way. The best way to honor him is for this show to be a huge success and to go on." Metcalfe believes they can do that, without Hagman's iconic J.R. "The right pieces are in place. We have a great ensemble cast that has incredible chemistry, and I think the writing is very strong. I think we have what it takes."

Metcalfe, who was previously best known as Eva Longoria's gardener boy-toy on "Desperate Housewives," got a lot of attention for that "incredible experience" but sees his current role as his first opportunity to play a leading character on a series. He hopes to parlay it into something juicy over his hiatus. "I'm just looking for the right role," he says. "It's always a difficult question to answer: 'What type of role are you looking for?' I guess I'll know it when I read it."

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Jesse Metcalfe: Under the eco-influence
Jesse Metcalfe talks about his green-minded character on 'Dallas' and the loss of Larry Hagman.