PARKER, Texas — J.R. Ewing is gone, but his presence still looms large on Dallas — along with the influence of the actor who made the conniving oilman one of television’s most beloved characters.
The third season of the reboot of the classic series, which premieres Monday on TNT, marks the first full season without Larry Hagman, who died of complications from cancer in November, 2012, at age 81. But cast members say the memory and schemes of his character — who was shot to death in the second season to coincide with Hagman’s death — live on.
On the cast’s call sheets, Hagman’s name is even still listed first.
“His character was such a larger-than-life being that we still reference him on the show,” said Patrick Duffy, who reprises his role as J.R.’s brother Bobby Ewing in the new series. “And a lot of the plot devices that we’re dealing with, we attribute to the character of J.R.: ‘Oh my God, if it hadn’t have been for that, then this wouldn’t have happened. Damn him.’ But there he is. He’s omnipresent and that’s good.”
Duffy spoke during filming this month at the fictional family’s home base of Southfork Ranch, which is now a tourist attraction, just outside of Dallas.
“Once we got the first couple of episodes after Larry’s death, handling the demise of J.R., we knew we could do anything and it was a matter of would the audience stay with us. And they did through the end of the season,” Duffy said.
CBS aired the original Dallas from 1978 to 1991. As the Ewings schemed and the plot twisted season after season, the series contributed to some of TV’s most memorable moments, including the 1980 cliffhanger that left the whole world asking “Who shot J.R.?”
In addition to Hagman and Duffy, the new TNT series revival brought back Linda Gray to reprise her role of J.R.’s ex-wife, Sue Ellen, and Ken Kercheval as Cliff Barnes, the Ewings’ archenemy. Adding to the family drama in the new series, filmed entirely in the Dallas area, are Josh Henderson as John Ross, J.R. and Sue Ellen’s son, and Jesse Metcalfe as Christopher, Bobby’s adopted son.
Just before the new series began filming in fall 2011, Hagman announced he had cancer. But J.R., with his signature cowboy hat and boots, emerged on screen as wily as ever. When Hagman died as filming was under way on the second season, writers scrambled to rewrite scripts.
“We’ll never be used to shooting this show without Larry. He’s always missed and he’s always a part of the story line, especially through my character,” Henderson said.
Henderson said that in season three, John Ross is “very much into the J.R. style of life,” which besides being ruthless in business also means using his charms on women.
Executive producer Cynthia Cidre said John Ross has wanted to fill his father’s shoes since the pilot episode of the new series. This season, he struggles with whether he’s exactly like his father or his own man.
She said John Ross’ emotions run the gamut: “We see him be wicked. We see him cheat. We see him lie. We see him be unfaithful. We see him cry. We see him be crushed by things that he’s done and feel guilty about them.”
Meanwhile, Metcalfe said his character’s focus on a new love interest, played by AnnaLynne McCord, will have him retreating for a bit from the continuous family turmoil. But Metcalfe doesn’t expect the respite to last.
“He kind of takes a step back in order to lick his wounds and take care of himself. And Bobby sort of steps in to that role as far as standing up to John Ross with his various schemes that he has this season,” Metcalfe said.
Season three opens with Bobby standing in the family cemetery at their beloved ranch, looking at family gravestones, including that of his brother, before riding off on horseback — back into the fray.
Jordana Brewster, who plays Elena Ramos, agrees that reminders of J.R. and Hagman are everywhere, but adds, “Of course when you see old episodes, there’s no replacing that charm and that twinkle.”