Larry Hagman on ‘Dallas’

The original JR Ewing promises he’s still bad when “Dallas” returns.

Fred Topelby Fred Topel

Earlier this year, the cast of “Dallas” met the Television Critics Association. Tonight, the long awaited reboot finally premieres on TNT. It features a new young cast but also the original Ewings, so TV legend Larry Hagman was there to talk about JR.

Sitting on stage, Hagman could have held court all day with witty one liners and insightful anecdotes about his TV legacy, which continues as he plays JR Ewing one more time.


CraveOnline: Did you always know that one day you’d play JR again?

Larry Hagman: Yeah. Yeah, I knew. I thought they might do a parody on it.

CraveOnline: As you followed the news in the industry, have you wondered what a guy like JR would do in a world of alternative fuels?

Larry Hagman: Well, if they made money, he’d do it.

CraveOnline: What keeps you going at age 80?

Larry Hagman: Oh, experience. Knowing when to rest and use your energy.

CraveOnline: Are you working 10 hour days or more?

Larry Hagman: No, no, they’re very good to me. I only work either in the morning or the afternoon. I’m not one of those 10 hour guys.

CraveOnline: Why do you think the new incarnation of “Dallas” will appeal to audience who never watched the original?

Larry Hagman: Well, we have a younger group of people here too who are their age. And these are not young actors with no experience. These kids are well trained. They know what they’re doing and they’re all gorgeous.

CraveOnline: How do you like where we find JR in the pilot, sitting in the chair and quiet?

Larry Hagman: It was an easy pilot to make, that’s for sure. I liked it. I thought it was kind of fun.

CraveOnline: Do you feel JR has been sitting in wait all these years waiting to strike?

Larry Hagman: Well, you’ve got to know why he was there in the first place, and I ain’t telling you.

CraveOnline: Was it fairly easy to step back into the character?

Larry Hagman: Like an old pair of slippers.

CraveOnline: Have you ever thought about retiring?

Larry Hagman: God, if I make it another 10 years I’ll be 90 f***in’ years old!

CraveOnline: Can you see yourself still doing this at 90?

Larry Hagman: Hell yes I do!

CraveOnline: Is the time right for another big corporate villain, and is JR the perfect guy? Are people angry at the rich corporate people?

Larry Hagman: I don't know, they seem to be bamboozled by the rich corporations. He’s a wild card. He’s not one of these corporations. He’s a guy who goes out and does it himself. He’ll use corporations and so forth but he’s not a big corporation.

CraveOnline: What do you think had made JR a hero to some people?

Larry Hagman: You know, everybody’s got a jerk like this in their family. A father, a brother, an uncle or a cousin or something. Everybody’s got that. That’s what makes him so appealing. They can hate him. They know who he is.

CraveOnline: Has JR finally met his match in this new generation?

Larry Hagman: We shall see.

CraveOnline: When you were making the original “Dallas,” did you understand you were making something people would still be fascinated by decades later?

Larry Hagman: How could you possibly? Prescience. You couldn’t. There’s no way of knowing how big it was and still is. If you think it’s big in America, you ought to go to Europe. My God, in Germany and France, you know they banned us in France for a year and they almost had a change in government for God’s sake.

CraveOnline: Why did they ban it?

Larry Hagman: Because they thought it wasn’t representative of whatever they thought. You know the French, for God’s sakes. Who knows?

CraveOnline: What was your favorite memory of when the show was at its most popular?

Larry Hagman: Being the king. Being king is nice. And Ms. Gray was the queen. We were living like stars in the ‘20s. You’d get a good seat in a restaurant. That’s an old one but you could get a good seat anywhere. And still can too.

CraveOnline: How has the city of Dallas changed since you were last working there?

Larry Hagman: You wouldn’t know there’s a recession going on. They’re building more buildings and it’s going up like crazy, they’re just flourishing down there. At least what I can see, I’m sure that a lot of poor people think there’re not a lot of jobs but what I can see is affluence.



CraveOnline: Have you met a lot of the locals working on the production now?

Larry Hagman: Well, a lot of them are guys who worked on it before. That’s where it’s fun coming back into the family. And their grandfathers, the grips and the cameramen and stuff like that are all old farts like me. It’s wonderful.

CraveOnline: Do you remember hosting the press at your house?

Larry Hagman: Yes, I have a very vivid memory of that. What happened was they sold 2000 seats and some people bid $1000 for those seats and they were supposed to be specifically for them. Somebody left the gates open and 3000 people more came.

We had 5000 people there and the people who didn’t pay $1000 were sitting in those seats and wouldn’t get up. I think there’s still a lawsuit going on someplace. I was just a hired hand. I didn’t have anything to do with that. We were having a good time. We didn’t know that was happening. We knew that the crowd was a little unruly to say the least but we didn’t know that they paid significantly.

CraveOnline: Are you on a new Vegan diet to help with your medical situations?

Larry Hagman: Yes. When I was diagnosed with what I got, Ms. Gray said, “Well, you’ve got to be a Vegan now.” I said, “Are you kidding?” She says, “No, it’ll help you. It’ll get you off all those steroids with meats and turkey and chicken and beef and stuff and it’ll cleanse your body.” So she got me a chef down there named Nancy Addison who knows more about Vegan diets than anybody in the world I’ve ever met.

She’s about 5’2”, long gorgeous blonde hair, and she talks like that [so soft] I can’t understand a f***ing word she’s saying. And she knows, so she put me on this diet. I drink these diet things and they’re kale and spinach and cucumber and no onions or garlic or anything like that, and that’s all I’ve been on for four months.

CraveOnline: Does it make you feel good?

Larry Hagman: Yeah, it makes me feel great.

CraveOnline: I didn’t think they had Vegans in Texas.

Larry Hagman: Oh, it’s much more sophisticated than 25 years ago.

CraveOnline: Would JR ever go Vegan?

Larry Hagman: If there was money in it, yeah.

CraveOnline: What do you think about Josh Henderson playing your son?

Larry Hagman: Oh, he’s a wonderful kid. He’s really great. I had no idea who they were going to pick, and you know both those boys got muscles. You can’t believe it. They had eight packs if there is such a thing. Not only that, they’re really good to work with. They’re experienced. We don’t have to train ‘em. They’re just great.

CraveOnline: Do you still observe silent Fridays?

Larry Hagman: Usually Saturday or Sunday. It wasn’t a religious thing. I don’t. I should because I talk too damn much. You know, as you get older, your vocal chords [get strained.] Why I did it was because I was doing “Jeannie” and on the weekends I would have fun and party and all that.

Then one time I was working on a trampoline in a rodeo scene. There was a lot of dust and horse sh*t and stuff like that and I got it in my throat. I woke up Saturday, couldn’t talk. Went to the doctor, he says, “Just do that. Don’t talk.” So for that weekend I didn’t talk and I liked it so much, I did it for 20 years, because you get a lot of attention that way.

CraveOnline: By not talking?

Larry Hagman: Yeah, people are wondering what the hell you’re saying so you have to kind of mime and they’re brought into your bubble. It’s a great way of getting attention.

CraveOnline: We’re glad you didn’t do it today.

Larry Hagman: You know, I’ve done it on a day like this. I did it in Europe once. I’ll never do that again.

CraveOnline: How welcome was the role of JR when it first came along? Were you starving for a part that juicy?

Larry Hagman: Oh, I didn’t realize it was going to be that, I mean who could realize it’d be that good but yes, I was out of work at the time. I got two scripts. One was “The Waverly Wonders” which was a half hour comedy which I thought that they probably wanted me for. I’d done comedy. Then my wife took the script into the other room and after five minutes she said, “Larry, this is it. Hands down. There’s not one redeeming character in the whole show.” At that time there wasn’t, then it all filtered down to me.



CraveOnline: What were you doing in between acting jobs?

Larry Hagman: I worked. I did movies and I did television.

CraveOnline: Do you have another great passion when you’re not acting?

Larry Hagman: Playing Frisbee. Good as any. Well, I motorcycle, I hunt, fish, I do all that. I keep busy. I’m never bored. I’ve never been bored.

CraveOnline: When the role came back this time, was there any hesitation?

Larry Hagman: I said there’s only one thing I need, Patrick and Linda. They said, “Okay, you’ve got ‘em.”

CraveOnline: Do you feel like a kid again now that you’re all back to work?

Larry Hagman: I always feel like a kid again.

CraveOnline: Is there a new shade to JR that you’re playing now?

Larry Hagman: Well, I’m old. I’m playing my age. It slows you down a little bit but I’m still as mean as always. Maybe a little meaner because I’ve got more experience at it.

CraveOnline: Could anybody have played JR besides you?

Larry Hagman: They were talking about John Travolta when they were going to do a film of it. He would be great. He’s a wonderful actor. I did a show with him, Primary Colors. He was wonderful to work with. He could play the hell out of this character, but I’m better at it.

CraveOnline: Do you think there could have been a new “Dallas” without bringing the original Ewings back?

Larry Hagman: I’ll bring that up with them later. We’ll see where there successes are.

CraveOnline: If this works out, will there be an “I Dream of Jeannie” remake in your future?

Larry Hagman: Not a bad idea. Not a bad idea. It could be fun.

CraveOnline: Was that show fun for you too?

Larry Hagman: Comedy is not funny. Comedy is hard work and timing and lots and lots of rehearsals. I had a good time doing it of course but it was my first big television show and I didn’t know how big it was going to be. I think 46 years, can you imagine? Half of you are not that age for God’s sake.

CraveOnline: Who approaches you more today, “Dallas” fans or “Jeannie” fans?

Larry Hagman: It’s kind of odd. The older group, both. The younger group, “Jeannie”’s still on but they don’t look at me and say, “Oh, Major Nelson.” They don’t recognize me as that. Some people do but the kids don’t. But they still watch it. It’s all over the world.

CraveOnline: Actors always say they can’t judge their characters. Do you look at JR as a villain or do you think he’s misunderstood?

Larry Hagman: Well, I think he’s a monomaniac. It’s me, me, me all the time and he uses people. He’s a user. He’s a Iago.

CraveOnline: When you were working with Jim Davis and Barbara Bel Geddes, what do you remember about them?

Larry Hagman: One of the main things I took to heart was they said, “Oh, Barbara Bel Geddes will be playing your mother,” I said, “I’ll do it.” I figured if they had her, they had quality and they were going for a different thing.

CraveOnline: Did you learn anything about playing an older person from them?

Larry Hagman: Yeah, that you have infirmities. Barbara had a couple heart attacks during that period of time. You know, as you get older you pick up all the things old people do.

CraveOnline: When you had your health scare, did it make you sit back, re-evaluate, take stock?

Larry Hagman: Well, it made you appreciate life. Take it easy, forget it, don’t get too involved with the future. This was when I was 65.

CraveOnline: What about the recent one?

Larry Hagman: Oh, now is a piece of cake. God dammit, when I had a liver transplant that was heavy duty.

CraveOnline: What would you say to fans of the original “Dallas” who are feeling hesitant?

Larry Hagman: Well, they’ve asked us not to give away too much because it is introducing five new main characters. So I’m just going to skim over that and say I’m having a good time and I like who I’m working with. I’m not going to get involved in minutiae.