Larry Hagman and Linda Gray knew better than to put all their oil in one barrel.
The two, along with fellow Dallas stalwart Patrick Duffy, long hoped to reunite for either another reunion movie or a new series -- Dallas ran from 1978 to 1991 and reunion movies aired in 1996 and 1998 -- but that really big gusher eluded their grasp.
Now here they are, calling together by telephone from a Los Angeles hotel to talk about Dallas, the revival/next-generation series that will premiere at 9 p.m. Wednesday on TNT.
Hagman, Gray, and Duffy return to their famous roles as, respectively, devious tycoon J.R. Ewing, his long-suffering ex-wife Sue Ellen Ewing, and his forever-good-guy brother Bobby Ewing. Meanwhile the veteran trio are surrounded by a whole bunch of sexy, scheming children, business partners, and spouses, among them Josh Henderson as J.R. and Sue Ellen's hot-headed son, John Ross, and Jesse Metcalfe as Bobby's adopted son, Christopher. Jordana Brewster plays Elena, formerly Christopher's fiancee and now dating John Ross. Also in on the intrigue are Julie Gonzalo as Rebecca, Christopher's seemingly super-sweet fiancee, and Brenda Strong as Ann, Bobby's loving but flinty wife.
"We'd been teased," Gray says. "They teased us. We kept hearing about a movie, but then a couple of years ago we got this call asking, 'Would you be interested in doing Dallas again?' The operative word was 'interested.' They'd called the three of us, Larry, Patrick and me. Then we never heard a word for two years and we thought, 'OK, they're playing with us, messing with us,' and we sort of gave up.
"We were still dear friends," she continues, "and so we still saw each other as much as possible. Then we got another call, and there was something different about this call. Then there was a script, an actual script. There were actual people involved. I read the script and saw my character's name. Then it went from there and now it's a reality, and it's quite exciting."
The revived show picks up in the present day and a seemingly much-changed South Fork. The family has fallen on hard times with the end of the Texas oil boom. A catatonic J.R. is living in a nursing home -- but he snaps out of it when he hears that Bobby intends to sell South Fork in order to prevent an all-out war between John Ross and Christopher. John Ross is seeking to drill for oil on South Fork, against the wishes of the family's long-dead matriarch, Miss Ellie. Christopher prefers to tap alternative-energy sources in order to resurrect the Ewing dynasty.
As one might expect, there's backstabbing, double-crossing, romance, gunfire, and romance aplenty.
Now 80, Hagman had no reservations about resuming the role that made him famous in his 40s.
"It took me about an eighth of a second," Hagman says. "I love my lines. It's like a license to steal. I think it's wonderful, the mix. I'm enthralled. They have the young kids with the sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll, and we kind of hold up the older guard. That works."
He slipped right back into character as the oily J.R., Hagman reports, and found new energy in the aforementioned mix of familiar faces -- look for cameos or recurring turns by the likes of original Dallas co-stars Steve Kanaly, Ken Kercheval, and Charlene Tilton -- and newcomers.
During the first-season shoot last year, Hagman was diagnosed with cancer -- he's never revealed what kind -- and underwent treatment. In some scenes in the show he looks thinner and drawn, but he says that he's doing well and has been keeping up with his younger co-stars as they've crisscrossed the country promoting Dallas.
"I'm feeling great right now," Hagman says. "It was a little tough, only because it was time-consuming. I was taking radiation and chemo. There was no pain involved, but there was a lot of time involved driving and going to doctors and so forth. The show gave me a lot of time off, and they integrated my work and my diagnosis very well."
In a separate interview Josh Henderson, an actual Dallas native, admits that he is too young to remember the original series, but calls his family "avid Dallas watchers" who loved "this crazy, huge, epic television show."
A 30-year-old best known for his role as Austin McCann on Desperate Housewives (2006-2007), Henderson admits to a certain "intimidation factor," at least initially, when it came to working with Hagman.
"Larry has such an intense energy about him," Henderson says. "It's this larger-than-life aura that he has. For me it was like, 'Wow, am I really going to get to play ball with this guy?' So I was excited, a little intimidated, a little nervous, and as soon as I met him I realized that it was going to be something where I needed to bring my game up and hopefully we could really do some great stuff together.
"Also Larry and Ellen and Patrick, they made us all feel so welcome," Henderson adds. "We felt like we belonged there, and I think that opened up all of us to where we could really give everything to these scenes and to these characters, and it let all of us, because we were so comfortable with each other quickly, take the characters and the scenes deeper."
Production on Dallas wrapped months ago, and TNT will air the resulting 10 episodes throughout the summer. If the show connects with viewers, Hagman and Gray are ready for more.
"Of course we'll come back," Gray says. "Are you kidding? Patrick said, 'We did 13 years of the original show and we consider this year No. 14.'
"I love that," she concludes. "That sounds right. That's how it feels."