Whether you’re a fan of Dallas past or present, tonight is the episode you won’t want to miss, as one of TV's greatest icons, JR Ewing, is laid to rest.
However, in true soap fashion, the demise of the character is shrouded in mystery, propelling numerous stories forward in between mourning periods.
I was on the legendary Southfork Ranch set recently to chat with the cast about their memories of Larry Hagman and how their characters will deal with the passing of JR. (And be sure to check back here tomorrow morning when you can find out how Executive Producers Cynthia Cidre and Michael Robin crafted tonight’s episode, along with what we can expect moving forward).
As the offspring of J.R. and Sue Ellen, John Ross can be as diabolical and conniving as his dad, so how does JR’s death affect John Ross?
“It makes him feel and brings up emotions that he has put away and decided not to feel because he’s just always had kind of this resentment towards his father,” Henderson said between shooting scenes. “The fact that he leaves me, in my mind, too early, there’s a pain, an anger and a resentment that ‘you left. You left me too early. I’m not ready for this s**t. As much as I believe that I can do this, I was always lying to myself because you’re JR. I’m your son and I’m still learning and he can’t anymore.’ He definitely goes to a dark place and to a place of determination to figure this out.”
Adopted son of Bobby, J.R.’s brother, Christopher is the good guy who battles John Ross’s not-so-good guy. But he also had a lot of run-ins with his uncle, as Metcalfe explained of his character: “I think he’s conflicted. Obviously everyone speaks at J.R.’s funeral. And, yeah, Christopher has his own story to tell. They had a moment that Christopher lets the audience in on. That’s a bit of new information.”
And even though cousins Christopher and John Ross have been at odds over the family business, they’ll be on the same side tonight during J.R.’s memorial.
Best friends with Hagman and Linda Gray, Duffy told me he said everything he needed to say to Hagman before he passed. But Bobby is another story: “Bobby has so many unclosed doors, unrequited things that he would have liked to say and that’s the drama of it,” Duffy explained on an open field on Southfork. “There was a scene [in TNT’s season 1] where Bobby had a brain aneurysm and they don’t know if he’s going to live and JR comes to his bedside and says ‘You can’t die. I haven’t done everything with you yet.’ That’s what it’s all about.
Duffy also said don’t expect J.R.’s body to be buried along with his bigger-than-life presence: “The show was predicated on the conflict of two brothers vying for predominance in the affections of their parents. The funny thing is that Jim Davis [who played Jock, father to JR and Bobby, in the original CBS series] died at the end of the second year and yet we spent 11 more years trying to measure up to him. That is the theme of the show and will always be the theme of the show, the conflict of the two brothers.”
Strong’s Ann Ewing had her share of tussles with J.R., but the actress shared what she believed Hagman would’ve thought of how the show is going to handle his character's passing: “God, I love that man. Larry loved to be the center of attention. I think he would have been so pleased to know that even in his passing, he is still the center of attention. And all of the plotlines are being worked around to work with him. And he is still the driving force of Dallas, even in his absence. We still talk about him, we still feel him. He has left a presence. I just love that he’s still running the show.”
Along with Bobby and John Ross, Sue Ellen, who Gray played from that first 1978 episode, shared her thoughts with me about those early days: “Larry and I had this immediate chemistry. It was like we were plopped into these roles from some other planet and we dropped into these roles and we were at each other from day one.”
The fact that they became best friends in real life helped their many battles on-screen, she said: “The thing that I loved about Larry is we would lock eyes and it would be like, ‘Okay, what’s he going to do?’ So I was always on edge, so was he because he never knew what I was going to do, and it wasn’t like I’m going to one-up showmanship you, it wasn’t that at all. It was just two actors going bam with a ping-pong ball, and we trusted each other. It was trust and respect, two important things if you’re working together like that in very dysfunctional roles. So, that I miss. I miss having a sparring partner.”