Dallas Q&A: Linda Gray On How Sue Ellen Was Wooed Back To SouthFork

Primetime diva Linda Gray returns to SouthFork and the role of Sue Ellen Ewing on the reboot of “Dallas,” airing this Wednesday on TNT, but it wasn’t an easy road back to the ranch.

After an early call to the actress about a reboot brought out her excitement (and the enthusiasm of her original co-stars Patrick Duffy and Larry Hagman), but went nowhere, Linda exercised more caution when the call came around the second time.

Instead of leaping immediately, she took some time to get to know the people behind the reboot, and used her own history with the show to imagine how Sue Ellen could rise again in “Dallas,” alongside the new generation – Christopher Ewing (Jesse Metcalfe) and John Ross Ewing (Josh Henderson).

Although Sue Ellen’s return in the premiere episode is brief, Linda told AccessHollywood.com, there’s plenty of twists and turns to come with the sassy, scheming former beauty queen, who had one of the rockiest romances on television ever – with Larry’s J.R. Ewing.

AccessHollywood.com: When did somebody first call you and say, ‘We’d like you to come back’?

Linda: Two years ago we got a call – Larry [Hagman], Patrick [Duffy] and I. We got a call from Warner Bros. and I was in my car and it came in on my Bluetooth cell phone.

Access: Look at you, you’re like Oprah. Handsfree.

Linda: Oh yeah… I’m there, but this was two years ago. We all have Prius’ and we all have Bluetooth. We’re cool. So, we get a call two years ago and this lady says to us – from Warner Bros. – ‘Would you and Patrick and Larry and be interested in redoing the show if we do it?’ I said, ‘Of course I’d be interested.’ Called Patrick. Patrick said, ‘Did you get the call?’ I said, ‘Yes.’ Called Larry, ‘Did you get the call?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Yes, we’re interested.’… We never heard another word and we were so disappointed… And then they had the Travolta movie coming up and John was gonna play Larry and J.Lo was gonna play me and it was like, ‘Ok.’ So we kind of forgot about it. But we’ve been friends for 35 years, so we still saw each other. We were bummed because we wanted to do it, and we love working together, but we can’t work together – ever – unless it’s on this show.

Access: Because people will associate…

Linda: Because we’re too recognizable and so anyway… we got this call [a second time]… I was skeptical, Patrick was like, ‘I want to see a script.’ And Larry will do what I tell him to do. He even admits it… He’ll go, ‘What should I do?’ I said, ‘You’re doing it.’ That’s our relationship (laughs). So we said, ‘Well, we’ll look at a script.’ I was still skeptical. Patrick was all about, if it continues with the quality… And then they said that young people were going to come in, and we thought, well if it’s a kind of a T&A kind of a show, and if they take it sleazy or tacky or it doesn’t [have] the quality and the respect of the original show, we’re not interested, so we have to see a script. So, we saw a script and I was like, ‘Oh.’ Patrick and Larry loved it, but Sue Ellen had [just a small bit]… I called Patrick and I said, ‘Patrick, Sue Ellen doesn’t have anything to do. You guys have a lot to do.’ He said, ‘You’ve gotta do the show, we can’t do it without you.’ I said, ‘Of course you can do it without me, but I’m not really excited about this.’ Intellectually, I knew the kids had to be introduced, five new people, new plots, nobody knew who they were… It had all done in 41 minutes and I thought, ‘OK. I got it.’ And then I flashed back to 1978 when Sue Ellen said, immortal lines, ‘More coffee, J.R.?’ and that was all I had to do in the show, [Episode] No. 1 in 1978, January 1978, in Dallas, Texas, and those were my lines. And I thought, ‘OK Sue Ellen. Yep, you gotta take a big breath, knowing that the character’s gonna go somewhere and in the pilot you’re not going to have much to do, but that’s OK.’

Access: When do we get more of Sue Ellen? You’re in the first episode of the new season briefly?

Linda: I had lunch with [new ‘Dallas’ showrunner] Cynthia [Cidre], because I was so excited there was a woman – I was excited to see a woman’s name on the script, and plus our executive producer, Mike Robin – they’re divine. We couldn’t have dreamt a better cast of characters from them. They show me such respect and they invited the three of us to have dinner with them. Just the five of us at a restaurant in West Hollywood, and they wanted to know about us, and how we thought this and that, and they gave us respect.

Access: And no one knows the characters better than you guys.

Linda: [Exactly]… So there was this stuff and I had my concerns about that for this script… So I called my agent and said, ‘Can you set up this lunch with Cynthia, just she and I, to talk to her,’ and they said, ‘Sure.’ She was lovely and so open and wonderful. We had lunch and she shared some ideas. I said, ‘Where’s she going?’ What have you got in mind for this character who doesn’t have much to do?’ And so she said, ‘These are my ideas,’ and I said, ‘Well do you mind if I share some of my ideas?’ And she was so open and wonderful.

Access: And she listened.

Linda: She listened… So I said, ‘How well do you know Texas women?’ and she said, ‘I don’t,’ which is honest. God bless her and I said, ‘Well, I do.’ And I said, ‘So let me share some things.’ And I gave her some of my random notes… and she shared some with me. And it was this lovely, open, receptive [conversation]… And then we headed down, we shot the pilot.

Access: The premiere episode is so, so good. What’s to come?

Linda: All of us are very close… So anyway, we’re reading the scripts and we get scripts 7, 8, 9, 10 and we finish filming 7. We’re reading 8 and we’re going, ‘No! Oh my God! That happens?’ ‘You’re kidding me!’

Access: Hilarious that you are shocked by the twists and turns.

Linda: We were shocked because this character goes over there… All of a sudden it’s like, ‘No! I didn’t think that was possible.’ So then, then next day on set, the kids would go, ‘Did you read [Episode] 8?’ I went, ‘Oh my God, do you believe what happened? I didn’t know that, I thought this was going to happen.’ The kids would go, ‘We did too!’ And then the next script? Forget it. The finale, the final one? Forget it. We were all crazy, we were all calling each other going, ‘You’re kidding me.’ [It’s] beyond. [The first part of the season, the episodes are] fabulous, but hang on, because man, you haven’t seen anything.

Catch the premiere of “Dallas” Wednesday, June 13 at 9/8c on TNT.

-- Jolie Lash

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