Larry Hagman and Josh Henderson on the first day of filming "Dallas." (TNT )
Josh Henderson was floored just to test for a role in TNT's "Dallas," but that didn't compare to how he felt when he he was cast as John Ross, J.R. Ewing's son, and knew he'd be playing opposite Larry Hagman.
"I was so excited, a little intimidated and a little nervous just knowing that I was going to get to play with Larry for the whole first season," Henderson told me during a phone conversation.
The handsome 31-year-old Dallas native gives as good as he gets from Hagman, shifting easily from schemer to charmer and proving that the apple didn't fall far from the tree when it comes to John Ross and his daddy. Henderson talked about working with Hagman and how even though he was born in 1981 during the original show's fourth season, he always knew about "Dallas" from his Memaw.
The new "Dallas" premieres at 8 p.m. June 13 on TNT.
How do you feel doing a show that is so iconic?
I feel truly honored and blessed to be doing this and to get a really kind of exciting role in the show playing JR’s son, which has just been a ride so far. I’m very grateful. I was born in Dallas, Texas, and so it’s like I get to come home and shoot a show that put the city where I was born on the map. So it’s just a really special thing for me.
I saw that you were born in Dallas, and I wanted to ask if you knew about the show growing up. It predated you a bit, but still.
I totally knew about it. My Memaw was a huge “Dallas” fan and she would—I guess I keep hearing the term “appointment television,” people made sure that they went home to watch “Dallas” every week. And so I knew how big of a deal the show was and continues to be around the world. So when I heard it was coming back, I felt an attachment. I really was just hoping to get to audition.
I went in with this kind of character built in my head; who John Ross would be now, today. And within a half hour or so after my first audition I had gotten a test offer for the show and I was just floored. I was so, so excited. It was a really big deal for me, this project, for good reason. I felt kind of really attached to it. And once I got cast it was just like, “Here we go!” It was a surreal moment but I was really excited for the ride.
Did you read up on John Ross’ history and the Ewing family history?
I didn’t have a DVD before we started shooting so I kind of did a lot of research on YouTube. I kind of YouTubed a lot of J.R. scenes, J.R.-Bobby scenes, to kind of see the original conflicts between the two brothers. And really to kind of see what Larry did to fascinate viewers with this J.R. character. I mean people were just enthralled with the show and very, very much I think just overwhelmed by what J.R. did every week. They couldn’t wait to come back and wait to see what he did.
So I really wanted to study what he did and to be able to make the best, I guess, assumption of who John Ross would be now considering J.R. was his father. And I wanted to have a little inkling of who J.R. was, but also figure out how John Ross was his own man. And so I definitely did a lot of research on YouTube before I got my hands on the DVDs.
As someone who has a complicated relationship with his father, I can appreciate your scenes with Larry, those scenes that show John Ross’ conflict of “I want to do right by him, but I want to do better than him.” Tell me about those scenes, and acting with Larry.
I was so excited, a little intimidated and a little nervous just knowing that I was going to get to play with Larry for the whole first season. It was really exploring this relationship, the history of it, you know? John Ross doesn’t have a great relationship with his father or his mother, so that definitely affects who he is coming into manhood. But at the same time, John Ross really admired the way J.R. commanded—demanded—respect and the way he did business.
It might not have been the most politically correct way to do business, but it got the job done, and people feared him and respected him. So John Ross admired that about J.R., and that’s kind of the only way he knows how to do business. He grew up watching J.R., who is the best at what he does. And so to be able to kind of hop into this not-close father-son relationship and try and figure out a way to one-up the sneakiest, most devilish character in television history, it was just—I knew it was going to be a ride.
I knew that the first day I stepped on the set with Larry and saw this character of J.R. come to life. This energy just swept in and took over the room and it was kind of breathtaking. And for me, I just knew at that moment that this was going to be a lot of fun and that I was going to learn a lot from the power that Larry brings to J.R. I just needed to try and stick to my guns and play ball with him.