"Dallas" bid farewell to Larry Hagman and the infamous J.R. Ewing in the March 11 episode, titled "J.R.'s Masterpiece," but the character will be at the center of one final (and familiar) mystery: Who shot J.R.?
At the show's PaleyFest event in Los Angeles on March 10, the cast and executive producers were on hand to discuss what's ahead in the latter half of Season 2 and to share their memories of Hagman. Co-star and original "Dallas" cast member Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing) predicted that even in Hagman's absence, "the character of J.R. will be present in 'Dallas' as long as 'Dallas' is on the air ... the influence of that character goes beyond the actor playing it and it becomes an iconic part of the show itself."
Linda Gray, who played Hagman's on-screen ex-wife Sue Ellen Ewing, shared a beautiful anecdote with the audience about feeling Hagman's presence even after his passing. "Christina Hagman, Larry's daughter, was with Larry when he was passing. He was in a coma, and she was singing to him -- a beautiful song, an old song, "I'll Be Loving You Always" ... and then Larry came in and started singing with her, moments before he died," Gray recalled. "She told this story at Larry's actual memorial in Dallas. And I was driving home from the set about two days later, and I had the radio on, and all of a sudden, this song that I hadn't heard maybe in 40 or 50 years -- I remember my grandmother singing it to me -- came on the radio, "I'll Be Loving You Always" ... It just took my breath away because I thought, 'Larry, is that you singing this beautiful song?' I think my grandmother was the last time I heard it, and then I heard it after Christina told us this beautiful story. So if you ever hear that song, know that Larry is singing it to you."
"Just so you know, he sings dirty limericks to me," Duffy interjected, adding a little levity to the somber moment.
Josh Henderson, who played J.R.'s son, John Ross, shared a similar experience that he'd had shortly after Hagman's death. "A few days after he passed away, we were having a moment, together with the cast and the crew, just telling stories about Larry and just paying tribute to him," Henderson recalled. "I had the tough task of, right after that, having to go in and film a telephone conversation with Larry. I didn't know how I was going to react to it and they did the movie magic and cut his voice in and I was literally talking to him on the phone and I was trying to not lose it, just because it was an emotional day in general. And each take, a broom would fall over, a train would pass the studio; I was literally going 'Okay, Larry -- thank you for helping me get through the scene.' The most random things were happening that never happen on our stage, and I just knew that Larry was playing a joke on me like he always does every day."
Gray also poignantly summed up her feelings for her friend and colleague of more than three decades. "He permeates every moment of this show to me. He's on and off camera, he's in and out of our hearts and our lives, he's here and he will always be here. He's the man you loved to hate for all those years, he's the man you loved to love. He is and was an extraordinary human being," she said. "The thing that's difficult for me [is] ... he's not in the scripts, which is devastating for me. I keep looking for the Sue Ellen/J.R. scenes, and I wait for him to walk in on the sound stage to start the magic. But the magic for me is still there, and it will always be there."
While Hagman's loss will be keenly felt by both the audience and everyone involved in the show, the ongoing (and returning) mystery of "Who shot J.R.?" will ensure that both Hagman and his character won't be forgotten.
As for when we'll learn the answer to that question, producer Cynthia Cidre teased, "you'll have to watch the rest of the season!" before confirming that Duffy is the only member of the cast who knows, and only out of necessity: "We realized he was about to shoot a scene where he's reading this letter, and he has no idea what it says. To play that part, he needed to know where we were going. So Mike [Robin] and I told him. But that's it, no one else knows."
Fellow producer Robin confirmed that we will find out the identity of J.R.'s latest shooter "by the end of episode 15. That's just not fair to keep from everybody. They've crafted a really remarkable story over the next eight episodes to really lay this journey out."
When asked how he thought fans would react to the revelation, Duffy said, "as much as I don't like to predict the future, I think it's probably the most brilliant piece of scriptwriting that I've read, whether it's in this show or any other television ... in the way that it resolves a problem with such dignity and respect and drama. I think every fan who has ever liked this show is going to think that it's the pinnacle of 'Dallas' writing and plot."
For fans who were curious how the show managed to involve Hagman after his death (he passed away while in the midst of shooting Episode 205) Robin and Cidre explained the TV magic involved in putting J.R. back on screen for his murder.
"There were scenes that'd we'd scripted for the end of five, for all of six and a plan for seven. We'd kind of figured out a plan for six, and then Cynthia instructed the post-production staff to find any scenes that Larry had not been in and also to locate all of the dialogue that we had of Larry's, because we were thinking we'd construct a phone call," Robin explained. "We were thinking we'd only be able to put dialogue into the phone side of it, and Adam Bluming, who was the editor of Episode 7, found that there were two lines and then that last moment that were all from the same scene, so he cut 'em in and cut the picture in against those lines. Those pieces were swiped from Episode 204 this year, where J.R. was having a phone call with Frank, where he was finding that John Ross and Pamela were in bed together, and he wasn't happy."
Robin continued, "But J.R. was sitting in his room at Southfork … so Geoff Leavitt, our visual effects supervisor, and Bryan Raber, our co-producer who runs post-production … We had shot the scene in Nuevo Laredo so we knew where the space would be, so they went and literally took the walls from the hotel in Nuevo Laredo and we rotoscoped out Larry and put the walls from Nuevo Laredo against that scene. It just made it seamless."
Cidre added, "We liked that, but then it felt like a coda to an episode that Larry wasn't in, so I didn't think we had enough emotion from that. So we said 'let's keep looking for other Larry scenes. What else have we shot that we've used or haven't used or we can repurpose or we can reframe or flip the image?' So we found the limo ride from Season 1 at the beginning of the episode, and it was just deliciously generic on his side: 'oh, I was hoping to hear from you.' It was something we could write anything to on the other side. That was the opening to 207, and then Mike and I are watching [the episode] and it has a wonderful opening and ending, but I feel the need for a middle beat -- so let's keep looking. So then we found that bar scene that was from 108 or 109 from last year, and we thought, 'if only we could've filmed Larry in a limo saying generic things, we could've used him for years.' So he's in the episode three times."
The producers shared a glimpse of what might of been had Hagman lived, with Cidre admitting that they'd "discussed" remarrying J.R. and Sue Ellen. "We had something maybe even at the end of this season. We had this pitch where they'd walk into this room and the door would close behind them ..." Cidre said.
Gray said she would have loved to see the couple reunite: "All the years and the baggage that they had together, underneath it all there was a deep love. Dysfunctional, yes, but there was a deep love," she insisted.
As we see in "J.R.'s Masterpiece," the loss of the iconic man will push Sue Ellen over the edge -- and back into alcoholism. While Cidre admitted that Gray had voiced her concerns about the storyline, and had shared many discussions with the producers about the arc, Gray expressed her appreciation for the unexpected turn her character took.
"I've known many people who have the addiction, and in that moment when he passed, that was the appropriate time, so the writers kept it appropriate and authentic to the character," Gray said. "She had stopped drinking, she had been in rehab, and I thought that was a huge jolt, and as you saw at the memorial, when she said he was the love of her life, I felt that for an alcoholic, that's the time when they would drink."
The end of the episode also revealed that J.R. had been in Mexico in search of Pam Ewing (formerly played by Victoria Principal) and that Christopher (Jesse Metcalfe) would continue that journey. As for how it will end, and whether his quest would be successful, Cidre would only say, "keep watching, you'll see how the journey ends."
"Dallas" airs Mondays at 9 p.m. EST on TNT.
What did you think of "J.R.'s Masterpiece"? Do you think it was a fitting send-off for Hagman and his character? Weigh in below!
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