Brenda Strong talks TNT's 'Dallas' and being Mrs. Bobby Ewing
Brenda Strong spent the past eight seasons narrating “Desperate Housewives” as Mary Alice Young -- the suburban housewife whose suicide set the whole series in motion. It was a steady gig, but didn’t exactly give her a lot of screen time.
You’ll see a lot more of her on TNT’s revival of the long-running CBS soap “Dallas,” as Strong steps into the newly created role of Ann Ewing -- the latest woman married to series good guy Bobby Ewing (Patrick Duffy). If you don’t count the “Housewives” narration, “Dallas” marks Strong’s first series regular gig since The WB’s short-lived comedy “The Help,” although she’s also familiar to TV fans from numerous guest roles including memorable stints on “Seinfeld” (as Sue Ellen, the “bra-less wonder”), “Sports Night” (as Felicity Huffman’s nemesis Sally Sasser) and “Everwood” (as Treat Williams’ deceased wife).
I spoke with Strong last month about her ties to the original “Dallas,” what viewers can expect from Ann and whether or not she’d object to Bobby’s ex-wife Pam (played by Victoria Principal) making a long-awaited reappearance.
You were on the original “Dallas,” right? For just a single episode?
I was on as a guest star in one episode, I played the one-night stand of Cliff Barnes.
Did they want to acknowledge that in the new series? Would Bobby find out about your little history with Cliff?
You know I wanted to tie in that [guest appearance] with Ann somehow. I thought that would be really a clever road to the past. But there was no real ability for us to do that and as much as I lobbied for it, it didn’t really make a lot of sense. So really, very much like [my roles in] “Starship Troopers” one and two, the two characters have absolutely nothing to do with each other.
Stepping into this world as the new Mrs. Bobby Ewing is a big role. Did you feel pressure or was it exciting?
Both, it was a mixture. We wanted to establish a relationship, a new relationship that the audience would embrace as much as they had the old relationship. That’s outside of my control. That’s going to be up to them. But what I can say is that Patrick and I happily found working together to be not only an ease and a pleasure, but a joy. And there is a sense of familiarity and a sense of a long married couple in the way that we relate. I feel really good about the work that we did and I hope that the audience is able to honor the old and embrace the new.
Patrick Duffy said he's very happy to have you there. I asked him about the idea of Pam coming back, and he mentioned Victoria hasn’t acted for a while. But obviously that character returning is something that people would like to see and it would add an interesting dynamic to your relationship.
I don’t think anyone’s saying, no, to anything. Her character went through a horrific accident and had some changes physically to how she looks. So I’m not sure how we would incorporate that, but certainly anything is possible and I know our writers are open to any of the iconic characters returning to “Dallas.”
I don’t think anyone’s closing that door, but we’re also trying to establish the Ewings in the modern day and age and Pam isn’t part of the Ewing family in the modern day and age. Unless the opportunity arises to bring her back in seamlessly, I don’t anticipate that they would force that to happen. Obviously, the audience loves that character, as they should. It was a great character.
Patrick was very clear that even if Pam came back, he feels Bobby is with the right woman right now.
Yeah, I don’t anticipate [Bobby] getting married again. I think he’s in a mature relationship that’s very satisfying. [Executive producer] Cynthia [Cidre] said when she wrote it, “This is the real marriage. This is not a marriage of convenience; it’s not a marriage for means.” We didn’t marry each other for money; we married each other for love. And I think that’s evident. Unless one of us dies, with the ability for us to work through problems as we have in this first season, it definitely paves a very solid future for us.
Plus, Ann is very handy with a shotgun, which is one of the cool things about her.
I love that. It’s so funny, everybody says, “I saw you with a shotgun!” And even Michael, our director, said, “Brenda, you’re a badass.” You know, it’s something I never anticipated enjoying as much as I did. It was research I had to do to make myself familiar and believable as a woman of Texas, and there’s a lot of women across the country I discovered -- there’s over 50,000 women who have guns, and have a lifestyle that support the use of guns. And that was surprising to me because I’m a pacifist. I’m a Yogi and a tea drinker and having a gun is the last thing that one would expect of me, as a human being. So to embrace a character that that’s very much a part of her everyday life was new and challenging, but I loved it.
And it gives her a very strong moment in the pilot. Can you talk a bit about establishing the relationship with Patrick and also with working with Larry Hagman and Linda Gray since they have a history together on and off show?
Larry, Linda and Patrick have a long-standing friendship and working relationship that – it’s daunting. And at the same time, it’s really what makes the show work so well because that translates to their relationships on camera. Coming in as kind of the fourth wheel of that three-generation, three-decade friendship was a little, I want to say – you know, I wasn’t intimidated by it, but I recognized the weight of it. I’m definitely the newbie.
At the same time, I’m not necessarily of that same generation because I’m the younger wife coming in. So as a new character, I end up kind of being the bridge between the next generation and the older generation. They made us all feel so included and important. They never put themselves apart in any way as more important or special than the rest of us. So, it was immediately a professional working environment where everyone was generous and inclusive. I just felt like I just married into the best family I could possibly ever have. I love working with Larry. He’s really a pro. He’s terrific as JR; it’s one of his most iconic roles. And Linda has had a long journey as Sue Ellen and I think she’s excited to reinvent that character.
What is Ann’s relationship with Sue Ellen like, are they friends or foes?
I think what’s great about Ann is that she’s a friend and she’s also aware that Sue Ellen is on the other side of the fence of the Ewing family. Her loyalties will be to the wrong side of the tracks. So I think as loyal as Ann is to her family, she’s friends with Sue Ellen in a guarded way because she knows that, if the chips fall, Sue Ellen will go to the other side. Ann’s protective of her family, but she still loves and admires Sue Ellen as a woman.
You’ve said your character has a bit of a dark past that we’ll only see some of this season. Do you know anything more about it?
I do. I can’t share a lot. We’ll find out more, hopefully, when there’s a second season. But it’s definitely teased that Ann has a very dark and difficult past. And this is a woman who was most likely abused in some way, either psychologically or possibly even physically in a past relationship and that she has finally found a home with Bobby.
The new “Dallas” premieres June 13 at 9 p.m. ET on TNT