TNT's highly anticipated, juicy resurrection of the classic primetime oil biz soap "Dallas" returns to TV two decades after its long initial run on CBS (1978-91) with a green sensibility that informs the plot and some of the characters. The family dysfunction and rivalry that were the hallmark of the original continues between oil baron J.R. Ewing (Larry Hagman) and his brother Bobby (Patrick Duffy) and perpetuates in the new generation represented by J.R.'s hotheaded, money-driven son John Ross (Josh Henderson) and his cousin Christopher (Jesse Metcalfe), Bobby's adopted son who's established Ewing Alternative, an effort to promote sustainable fuel sources.
"Both sides are equally represented," says executive producer and show runner Cynthia Cidre, who has done "an awful lot of research" about the energy business. You'll also see Christopher driving an electric Tesla Roadster (executive producer Michael Robin's car, shipped in because one couldn't be sourced locally in Dallas) and his fiancée Rebecca (Julie Gonzalo) behind the wheel of a plug-in Chevy Volt.
The actors are similarly eco-conscious. Hagman, a long-time solar energy advocate who has campaigned for more electric vehicle charging stations, adopted a vegan lifestyle after his diagnosis and treatment for throat cancer last year at the urging of co-star Linda Gray (his character's ex-wife SueEllen, now a politician with her eye on the governor's office). "She said, 'It'll get you off all those steroids in turkey, chicken and beef, and it'll cleanse your body.' I drink these kale, spinach and cucumber things and it makes me feel great," says the 80-year-old, thrilled to be working, especially with his closest friends, and reprising his iconic role. He likens returning to it to "stepping into an old pair of slippers," and has a theory about why the old rascal is so eternally appealing. "Everybody's got a jerk like that in their family. They can hate him, but they know who he is."
Metcalfe ("Desperate Housewives") shares his character's concerns about the environment. "I'm a liberal Democrat and I'm very concerned why we don't put more time, energy and money into alternative energy sources, and why we're so dependent on foreign oil," says the actor, who was drawn to the character's idealism and family values as well as the show's themes of greed, power, desire and love — the latter represented in the triangle involving his ex (Jordana Brewster), who's now with John Ross, providing another source of conflict between them.
Henderson's oil drilling character may not be eco-conscious, "but in my day-to-day life I try to do everything that I can — recycling, turning off the lights," says the actor, an actual Dallas native who remembers his grandma watching the original series when he was very young, and as he grew up, "I completely understood the impact that it had on the city, Texas and the world." He's finding the scheming character fun to play. "He's always trying to stay a couple of steps ahead of everybody, his wheels are always turning and I like, as an actor, not to know exactly what you're going to get when you go in to a scene. He's a bit hotheaded," Henderson agrees, "but he's very passionate about what he's doing."
"I'm a vegetarian. I recycle, I do everything that I can do," says Gonzalo, who has vague memories of her mother watching "Dallas" in Spanish — she was born and raised in Argentina. She feels "honored to be part of such an iconic show," and describes her character as "kind of a mystery. With each episode she unravels a little bit more and that's going to be interesting to watch. She comes into it as an outsider, you don't know who she is."
New to Southfork if not the world of primetime melodrama, Brenda Strong — the mostly off-screen narrator of "Desparate Housewives" — plays Bobby's second wife, Ann. "I've certainly had a lot of time to be invisible. And now it's my turn to be more visible," she says, describing Ann as "an equal to Bobby Ewing. She comes from a moneyed family. She's smart. She's accomplished. She's just as nice and she's tough as nails. And she's in some respects the new Miss Ellie. She doesn't waste her words,but when she does speak she speaks with a lot of weight. She loves her family. And there's a sense that you don't want to mess with her. She not only knows how to ride but she knows how to shoot. She takes J.R. on, out of protection of Bobby. She also has a much darker past than anyone knows, and it will start to come out. You'll find this is a woman who has a lot of complexity and is much more dimensional than she appears on the surface."
An avid vintage shopper, Strong bought an old record player and some vinyl records by Sarah Vaughan and Ella Fitzgerald while shooting in Dallas, and haunts secondhand clothing shops, although the statuesque actress finds that "Unfortunately, vintage clothes are sometimes a little small and the fabrics don't have the give they do now. "Whenever I can find anything that fits me, I'm thrilled."
"Dallas" has its two-hour premiere June 13 on TNT.
Also on MNN: 'Dallas' star returns in solar energy ad
Photos: Zade Rosenthal, Erik Heinila (Metcalfe and Gonzalo)