Jesse Metcalfe plays the "anti-Ewing" as new Dallas continues where original left off
Jesse Metcalfe is back... on television, that is. The 33-year-old American actor, best known for playing hunky gardener John Rowland on Desperate Housewives, has a starring role on Dallas, the recently-premiered continuation of the '80s primetime soap opera. He plays Christopher Ewing, the adopted son of Bobby Ewing (Patrick Duffy), head of Ewing Oil and the "good" younger brother to "evil" older brother J.R. (Larry Hagman).
The Dallas part is arguably Metcalfe's highest-profile role since the 2006 film comedy John Tucker Must Die cast him as the titular teenage douchebag. Following a stint in rehab in 2007 for alcohol abuse, Metcalfe's film projects have mostly been straight-to-video, and his only other ongoing TV show, Chase, premiered last fall, only to be put on permanent hiatus this past February. The morning after his appearance at the recent MuchMusic Video Awards in Toronto, the actor talked about his gratitude for the Dallas part and his hope that it will give him a chance to finally show off his talent.
"I think it's great to have a leading role on a television show with some substance so that I can show people what I'm capable of, so I can actually act."
Do you feel like you haven't had that opportunity in the past?
"I've had some opportunities, but the finished products haven't been seen by that many people." To that end, Metcalfe cites his performance in the 2009 film noir Beyond a Reasonable Doubt, in which he co-starred with Michael Douglas, as a "weighty, substantial role" little seen by the public. (For good reason perhaps. Rolling Stone critic Peter Travers wrote in his review: "You could stay warm for two hours by striking a match to the wooden acting.")
"I think the things that people really know me for - Desperate Housewives, daytime television, and John Tucker Must Die - critically, they were deemed as lightweight roles. So this is my opportunity to sink my teeth into something a little more substantial and show people what I'm capable of."
Metcalfe describes the new Dallas as "a continuation, not a remake, as if the cameras weren't rolling for twenty years." In the new show, Bobby Ewing is thinking of selling the family home of South Fork which would put a damper on J.R.'s son John Ross's (Josh Henderson) plan to drill on the estate. Christopher, meanwhile, is attempting, with Bobby's approval, to move the family business away from oil towards greener alternatives, a plan that doesn't sit well with the retirement-age but still conniving J.R. Infidelity, extortion and betrayals follow amidst those and the dozen other plotlines which I don't have room to go into here.
Metcalfe, whose mother was a big fan of the original show, admits to being initially "skeptical" of the idea of resurrecting Dallas. He wondered if it was "a good idea to bring back such an iconic show" that to his mind was "quintessentially '80s." But he read the script and agreed that it was "current," "modern" and felt "very contemporary."
Further increasing his comfort was the "stamp of approval" that was original series actors Larry Hagman, Linda Gray and Patrick Duffy's decisions to reprise their roles.
"That gave me peace of mind to be part of the project," he says. "The three of them really created an environment that is solely responsible for the chemistry that we have as a cast."
Unlike the original show, which shot interiors in LA and exteriors in Dallas, the new Dallas was shot entirely in Texas's third-largest city, taking advantage of new local landmarks like the Cowboys Stadium and the new Omni Hotel to give it a more contemporary feel.
"Today's TV viewer is incredibly discerning. So if you were trying to make a city look like another city, they're going to be like 'that's not my city.' They're going to pick up on that in two seconds flat. So I think to have the authenticity we definitely had to shoot Dallas in Dallas, and entirely this time."
Metcalfe also notes that the people of Dallas "are so happy to have us there. Texans are a very proud people, but I think they hold the show close to their hearts as something that is theirs and is representative of them. So they take a lot of pride in it. It's great for us because they welcomed us into their city with open arms."
Whether or not the new Dallas will be as long-lived as its predecessor (which ran for thirteen seasons), it's certainly off to a strong start: last week's two-hour debut was the most-watched cable series premiere of the year so far, drawing 6.9 million viewers.
"So then the question is: are we going to get new viewers? Will we get the younger viewers? Because we know the original viewers are going to tune in, and we did," Metcalfe says. "That's incredibly gratifying because that really speaks to the new generation's storylines and the new generation's characters and cast, and I'm a part of that."
While Metcalfe is "absolutely" interested in a second season of Dallas "and beyond," he's not sure if he'll be up for thirteen years worth of blood and oil.
"Thirteen seasons? I don't know about that. I don't want to jinx anything by being ungrateful.
"I feel very lucky to be on another big show and a show like this with a built-in audience. To be a part of this incredible brand, it's great."
Dallas airs in Bravo! Canada on Wednesdays at 9 p.m., ET. Visit bravo.ca to confirm local broadcast times.