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Exclusive interviews with the cast and production team of the hit tv series Dallas.
Our exclusive interviews enable you to ask the questions.
May 26th, 2006. Two weeks ago, Joan van Ark completed a successful run as
Helena in Tennessee Williams' A LOVELY SUNDAY FOR CREVE COEUR at the
Hartford Stage Theatre, Connecticut. "Van Ark plays the part with such
deliciously delicate, incisive bitchiness ... The show really belongs to
Joan van Ark," said the critics. Back at her home in Los Angeles, she
generously agrees to talk to two KNOTS LANDING fans in London about her career and how she approaches her work as an actress.
Jason: And I - so go ahead, yes.
Joan: Well, there was a scene when I was Verna Ellers, where Donna - Abby -
came to - where was I? - in Tennessee - to the diner that I was working at
as Verna Ellers. We were rehearsing a scene and I serve her - cos she's
trying to shake me out of it and bring me back to Valene -
James: Yeah, yeah.
Joan: - and there was a scene where I serve her as the waitress, cos she's
sat the table, my table, and (coughs) I - which is right in with what you
were saying - when we were rehearsing the scene, I just threw in an ad-lib,
"My God, you've got beautiful eyes."
James: Was that an ad-lib?
Jason: That was an ad-lib? Oh wow.
James: Oh, that's wonderful, cos that's a great - that's such a classic
moment. That's a classic KNOTS moment.
Joan: That was my homage - Joan/Val - to Abby/Donna, because I think she
would look at that beautiful, gorgeous face and say, "Oh my God, your eyes
are gorgeous," or whatever - I can't even - I'm paraphrasing - but the thing
is, that was - you gotta say and do what you see, and there was an awe that
she had about her, because Valene was Goody Two Shoes, who, you know -
chores, Monday through Friday - no, sorry - school, Monday through Friday,
chores on Saturday and church on Sunday, so -
Jason: And also there was a sense that Valene had never really moved on from
her relationship with Gary mentally. When you meet her in DALLAS, there's a
sense that -
Joan: With the pigtails and ponytails. When I saw, at Michele's house, some
of the early stuff with those pigtails and ponytails - I remember people
saying to me, "Joan, what's with the braids? What's with the -", you know,
and I didn't know what they were talking about, but boy, I look at it now
and I think, "Joan!"
James: I think there's something really interesting. It's almost as though -
because I think of all the characters in DALLAS and KNOTS LANDING, Val has
the strongest back story, the most vivid story, of growing up with Lilimae -
or without Lilimae -
Joan: That's it.
James: - and it all kind of stops, at a kind of - when - after she loses -
after Lucy's taken away from her. We don't know anything about her life
until she turns up in 1978 in DALLAS, and it's almost as though the
character, after her child is taken from her, is kind of frozen in time.
Jason: Time, yes.
James: And all those years, all the sort of social change of the 60s and
70s, Val misses out on.
Joan: That's very accurate, very good, and what I was often working off of
was instinct, because I did jump into her so quickly, but it was indeed -
that is exactly what it was.
James: And you get Abby coming in, who's so modern and so sophisticated.
Joan: Exactly, and also flashy in a wonderful feminine way, as a man magnet
and a zip code that Valene never knew about at all. There's a line
somewhere, "I gotta keep my eye on you," and Abby says, "Well, you better
because how else are you gonna learn?"
Jason and James: (chuckling): Yes, yeah.
Joan: I love that! Touché, right on!
James: And then there's that moment in that episode we were talking about in
Season 6, where she's the floozie, where Val is the floozie, and it's as
though she's trying to do Abby.
Jason: Because she says, "Wives don't bother me," to a woman in a bar.
(A police car drives past in London, siren blaring.)
Jason: Do you remember the scene in Season 6, with - when - just before Val
turns into Verna, she turns into the floozie character?
Joan: Right, now and you say - I was trying - I couldn't hear what he had
said - that she was - in the bar scene where she gets smacked by the guy's
Jason: Yes, and she says, "Wives don't bother me." And there's that
wonderful moment as, you know, Val tries almost to become Abby during that
Joan: No, she did! No, it wasn't that she tried - I talked to a
psychiatrist and they said when a person's going through a trauma - as
Valene most certainly was (all chuckle) - become the character that you -
cos I wanted to ask about this whole thing of where she became somebody
else, and they said you pick a name that has the initials of your real name,
so Verna Ellers was Valene Ewing.
Joan: That is absolutely text book, and that in your retreat, if you will,
you become the character that you, not fear, but the one that you're - that
is causing the trauma. Said, "OK, fine," and so we wet-braided my hair to do
that awful hairdo that is out to Christmas, you know, Glenn Close in ...
Jason: It's FATAL ATTRACTION, isn't it?
Joan: Yeah, so we did this wet-braided hair and frizzed it out and tried to
make her as trampy as we could do, and, yes, I remember that scene because
she - somebody smacks her, doesn't -
James: Yeah, the wife, because it echoes the line - there's a classic
Abby/Val confrontation in Season 3 over Gary, when Abby has the classic
line, "I'm not saying we're having an affair, I'm not saying we're not, but
I can have him anytime I want him," and Val says almost exactly the same
thing in that scene.
Joan: You're right and, see, that's the writers again being true to, you
know, serving us, the actors, with material that makes sense. That all was
backed by talking with doctors and people who would advise us about this
condition, and it's a real condition. People do it. It's not a form of
amnesia, but it's in that zip code, where, you know, you retreat to the
person - you become the person you fear, or the one that you're - that is
causing this dilemma, and then you also pick a name that has the initials of
your own name.
James: There was something very sort of resonant about Val - the fact that
she'd lost one child, she'd had Lucy taken away from her, and then the same
thing happens again to her with the twins.
Joan: Mmm hmm.
James: And what was so interesting about the Verna character is that she was
quite - she was almost a stronger character than -
Jason: Valene, yes. That's the tragedy of it.
James: Yes, she's sort of - there seems to be a thing about Valene that when
she's supposedly at her most insane or weak, in inverted commas, she
actually finds her strength. She goes her own bizarre way and finds herself.
Joan: Mmm hmm.
James: It's very - it's really fascinating.
Jason: It's uplifting. I think Val is an uplifting character.
Joan: Oh, I do too, and, see, that's what - in Hartford, I was so kind of -
the job I just came off of - amazed how many people did watch KNOTS and
embrace me when I'm walking around or wherever I'm going. Because of Valene, we have an immediate connection, and it's hard to articulate, but I heard
someone do an interview the other day, cos I never watch TV when I'm working
on a show because I just stay focused and whatever and it takes me way off
somewhere that I don't - and I was watching an interview when I got back
home, and they said that the wonderful thing about doing a television
character, if that character is warm or connects with an audience, is that
you have friends and you get used to it. For a while, it's kind of scary.
Joan: They know you and you kind of wanna hide. Then, for me now, as I go
wherever I travel to and wherever I work, there is a connection. It's
because of Valene and people really open their hearts to you, and it's a
comforting thing instead of a threat.
Jason: Yes, yes, of course. And can I ask you about your working techniques
on working on a television show like KNOTS LANDING which is, you know, a
daily routine, in terms of how the show changed? You still have to give a
very real performance to your character, while the show itself is perhaps
changing in the way it's presented to the audience and so forth. You must
have to - could you talk to us a bit about that process?
Joan: Well, I think the actor has their own process regardless, because you
still have to bring it in at seven in the morning and be ready to go right
away, so I don't know that I was aware - yes, I was aware the show was
changing from time to time, based on the story line or where it was going,
etc., or who they were bringing in, but I think, from the chair of the
character, it's always the same, because you can't violate or go outside or
elsewhere if your own process is to bring reality, a core reality, to the
Jason: Yes. And can I talk to you a little bit as well about departures?
Because you're on the show for thirteen, fourteen seasons, and you see
people come and go, and sometimes some of those departures must be painful
and affect your life - I mean, Julie Harris and Constance, you know, left
the show -
Jason: Times like that that are just really difficult. You must have seen a
few of those moments.
Joan: I did. The one that jumped as you were saying this, the one that
jumped out to me was Doug Sheehan.
Joan: That one - Julie and Constance, you know, I couldn't believe and of
course was upset, but in Constance's case, that exit became probably one of
the highlights, if not the highlight of the show.
Joan: It provided Bill Devane with his -
Jason: "Noises Everywhere".
Joan: Yes, his usual stellar, amazing work. It provided all of us - I had a
scene with Michele where I blow up at her.
James: Yes, the coffee pot! You break the coffee pot!
Joan: Yes, exactly. So Constance's exit provided all of us with just amazing
individual character moments.
Jason: And also she was a part of it too, that Constance was still filming,
with the video segments and "The Gift of Life".
Joan: So her exit was probably the highlight - but certainly one of the
highlights of the entire run of the show. So that one was spectacular.
Julie, I always assumed would be back in and out, and I don't believe that
ever came to pass. I was thinking she would visit or come back and forth,
but that was difficult. But Ben - Doug Sheehan's seemed out of nowhere
somehow and I know it did to him too a bit, and I remember sending him - oh,
I've never told this, but I sent him - because I'm a big balloon person, for
a birthday or a - mostly birthdays, I send balloons and crazy notes to
people or whatever - and I sent him a bouquet, a huge bouquet of balloons,
and it might have been even with a little basket of goodies or something,
with a love note basically, cos I loved him so and felt terrible that he was
leaving, and I know he felt not so great that he was leaving, and I sent it
and I asked the dialogue coach the next day or two, "Did Doug get my
balloons?" and he said, "Yeah, he got it," and then I said, "Well, I never
heard from him. What happened?" He said, "He just let them go. He let them
go up to the sky."
Jason: Awwww. Wow.
Joan: Never forgot that, and I've never told that.
James: That's lovely.
Jason: That's lovely. Isn't that lovely?
Jason: Just lovely. But you know what's also wonderful is when you - cos you
and Doug Sheehan did the most incredible work - I mean, on - you know, on
James: They were great. Val and Ben were such a great couple.
Jason: And in terms of your acting, fascinating to watch two people who are
so good at their craft, you know, take us on this journey, and I think the
fact that that work is captured on celluloid forever and, you know, it's on
DVD now forever, is just - it allows people to go back and look at the
quality of work that was really going on.
Joan: Well, you know, I'm wondering if - cos Ted and I, before I left for
the play, did I'd say a day's worth of work on the first DVD that has come
out, I think it was March twenty-eighth, seventh, sixth, and I was already
into rehearsals and so I haven't seen the DVD. I mean, I've seen the
packaging, but -
James: Oh it's great, it's great. It looks - it looks wonderful.
Joan: Yeah, it's the First - it's the Complete First Season.
Joan: Ted and I did commentary on it.
James: We've heard them and they're great.
Jason: Thank you so much for doing the commentary.
James: Cos we know you kind of didn't have to do them, and we're really -
Joan: Well, yeah, it was very complicated. Warner Brothers wasn't gonna pay
me until I did publicity, and I couldn't do publicity because we were
rehearsing from sunup to sundown on the play, and once I'm deep in that
character, to get down to New York, etc. etc., so it was kinda tricky, but
Ted did something for ENTERTAINMENT TONIGHT that he said he would - this is
what I love about him - he said, "I will only do this ENTERTAINMENT TONIGHT
interview if you include Joan, you know, and pay her too," or whatever.
(Jason chuckles) But I'm just wondering if in fact, you know, they will come
out with any further KNOTS DVDs, because I think Abby came in the second or
third year -
James: Second season, yeah.
Joan: Oh, was it second?
Jason: Second, yeah.
Joan: I think they may do the second year. I'm just - I'll be really curious
to see where they go from here.
James: Well, we really hope so, and apparently, from what I hear, who knows,
but apparently the first one has sold well.
Joan: Well, I don't know. I would rather doubt that it would actually,
because it was such a long time ago and -
Jason: But I think what's happened is with DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES, even though the shows are completely different shows -
Jason: - the media have echoed KNOTS LANDING and brought it up quite a lot,
and I think it's brought a newer audience to it who perhaps want to see, you
know, what the comparison is between the two shows.
Joan: Oh, how interesting. Has that been true over there too, that they
compared the two shows? Cos that's what they did when we had the reunion.
They said, "How do you feel about being the original DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES?"
Jason: They do, they do.
James: But you were so much better than DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES.
Jason: So much better.
James: The relationships on KNOTS were just so much more specific and made
far more sense.
Joan: Yeah, and they -
James: And that's what holds a show together.
Joan: Really. Well now, do you all - is DESPERATE huge over there still?
James: I think so. I'm not quite sure.
Jason: It still gets good numbers.
James: It got a lot of publicity when it started, but I don't know -
Joan: What are some of the other hot shows there that -
James: We get PRISON BREAK. You mean American shows? We get PRISON BREAK.
Joan: Is that a good one?
James: It's pretty good. It's kind of high concept, it's a bit like 24. It's
more sort of plot based than character based, but -
Joan: So PRISON BREAK and DESPERATE and -
James: Erm -
Jason: And we get SIX FEET UNDER. That's the best - I mean, that's
Joan: I mean, there's something that I - that is, to me - talk about
a cast, an ensemble.
Joan: Oh my God.
Jason: Yes, yes.
Joan: There's nothing - that is the best show, the best cast. I am dying to
meet Alan Ball, (Jason chuckles) and do you know what he said when he
accepted his first of many Emmys? He said, "Thank you so much," and bla -
whatever else he said, and he said, "I've always considered SIX FEET UNDER
as KNOTS LANDING in a funeral home."
Jason: Wow. What a fantastic show. I'm just -
Joan: I know, it's amazing! And the casting is just beyond brilliant.
James: There's something about Frances Conroy that reminds me of Julie
Joan: Oh my God, yes! Absolutely! And Rachel Griffiths is amazing. She's
like Anjelina Jolie was at the very beginning of her career. Totally
fearless. Just jumps in, whatever you give her. She's there and she's fully
committed to executing it. I mean, she is - they're all amazing.
Jason: You loved Karen Allen, didn't you? On the pilot for KNOTS, you loved
Joan: Loved her. That's again fearless. That is again fearless, cos she just
- you know, I would look at her work and look at her during the scenes and
think, "She just isn't afraid of anything. She'll just do it, let it all
James: I wanted to ask you about Ted, cos we know the story that, because
you'd done WONDER WOMAN, you had slight misgivings -
Joan: (laughing): You heard about that?
James: - about him being your husband. When did that change? When was - was
there a moment when you clicked and you thought, "There's a connection
Joan: Well, the first season, I think we were all, you know - what's the
word? I don't wanna say flying by the seat of our pants, not at all - but
you're so busy executing, that you don't reflect. You know, it's very
intense, television schedules. More so now, even, that when we filmed KNOTS.
I mean, we used to start - we started with eight days per hour show. That's
why the soap was two shows in one day, on YOUNG AND RESTLESS. I mean, it was just -
James: Wow, two in one day! My God!
Jason: Two in one day. Good lord.
Joan: Top speed. There was some days, because I was doing the play at the
Kennedy Centre, there were some days when I did three different episodes on
YOUNG AND RESTLESS.
James (laughing): Oh no!
Joan: Top speed compared to, you know, a nice eight days to do a one hour
show - KNOTS's schedule - but, still, you're kind of flying by the seat of
your pants, but I do know that I became absolutely - I had a crush on Ted
that first year finally, but when I saw how right he was for Gary in his way, because I had filmed with David Ackroyd the scenes in DALLAS -
James: Yeah, and he's great, but very different, isn't he?
Joan: Oh, very, very different, and was unavailable when we - when it came
time to film the pilot for KNOTS, so while David was just amazing as Gary,
he was night and day from what Ted was doing, and Ted showed me the black
sheep of the family, the kind of wanderlust, a kind of loose cannon in a
way, in a most charismatic way, what Gary really was to the Ewing family,
and I think he, just by nature, executed that, and so I was dazzled by how
right he was for Gary in a totally different way. So the first year was
really getting used to each other and discovering those two characters. I
don't know how or why, because we just became intertwined, you know,
completely over the -
Jason: And your work together was so incredible. There's a scene in Season 4
during the Ciji arc when both you and Gary are being held by the police and
you're being questioned in Ciji's apartment, and you two meet and there is a
physical explosion, and you both just - you're both screaming at each other
and it's like watching theatre. It's filmed, you know, captured theatre. Do
you remember that?
Joan: I'm trying - vaguely - I remember the Ciji - that whole arc, which was
another huge success in terms of story line, and I remember going, you know
- taking the - what is the word? - rap, you know -
Jason: Yes. When you were sort of - Valene was being, you know - looked as
though she'd done it -
Joan: - taking the heat. But I don't remember the fight.
James: Cos you're both with different policemen, or whatever, and you're
both brought separately to Ciji's apartment at the same time -
Joan: Ah, yes!
James: - and the sparks go off between you. You both just go mad! (Laughs)
Jason: Yes. It's electrifying.
Joan: Well, that always would happen with Ted and me, and, you know, you
remind me of another scene that is Ted's favourite of all. As Verna Ellers,
he comes in a tuxedo with tails to this apartment where she's dressed up in
this sort of vintage dress and they do a waltz.
James: Yeah, it's like a dream sequence, isn't it?
Joan: Oh yes. Oh my God. That one was total - cos they did that 180 with the
camera where they circle around.
Joan: That was a very magic - which we never discussed, we never did
anything. It's just when we got together and the camera rolled, there you
go. That's true of any successful television show. When the camera rolls, if
two actors have chemistry and a connection, it just happens. There it is and
it's magic and it happens. I think that was certainly an example of a scene
where that was true.
James: So, one thing that interests me - when we spoke to David Jacobs, he
told us how you and Michele - how he sort of would have open house for the
actors at the weekends to come and talk to him about the scripts.
Joan: Well, that was, you know, that was the true gift, and I realise it in
reflecting about the whole journey of the show and the character. That was
the gift that we had was that we could go in and talk to David and say this,
that and the other. If we had a story line idea, if we had something that
was in a script that we didn't feel was the character, we were free to
discuss that with David and/or Michael, and what a gift it was. And after
the reunion, which was aired last December, David called me and I hadn't
seen the reunion and he said the most amazing, beautiful things to me and he
said how I had kept it and driven the show and I was sort of the glue that
kept the reunion together, and it was because I had homeworked a lot of the
moments in the scenes, and I realised, in all of us getting together last
summer to film the reunion, that we are so connected, emotionally and
spiritually, and that was a lesson that I didn't know until last summer when
we all got together again. It's because we shared - what? - fourteen years
together and you can't deny that.
James: And would you say that applies to the actors that weren't there for
various reasons? Cos, just watching it, you couldn't help - I mean it was
great - but you couldn't help but slightly miss the Averys, you know,
Richard and Laura -
Joan: Yes, but you see that, and I think that's - I guess it's the family,
the family of both actors and the family of the characters, and we were
truly a family.
James: So what were the kind of - can you give us - I know it's a long time
ago, but can you give us any examples of the kind of things you would see in
a script and go to David and say, "I'm not -"? Were there kinds of things
that you were protective about, specific things you were protective about
Joan: I was protective about certainly the relationship with Gary and
eventually her relationship with the children, with the twins, and
protecting them and that that was the priority, which as an actress I hated
cos it meant I stayed in blue jeans and a man's shirt or a T-shirt. (Jason
chuckles) Nothing glamorous and nothing - more like the Felicity Huffman
character in DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES.
Jason: Yes, yes.
Joan: It kept me home-bound and kitchen-bound, which I hated, when, say,
Karen and Abby and Paige, Nicollette Sheridan, all of them were out there in
drop dead Thierry Mugler, Versace suits, or Dolce and Gabanna this, that and
the other, (Jason chuckles) and I'm there in a pair of jeans and a man's
shirt. You know, I hated that, but I felt that Valene's priorities would be
such that she would be there at home and loving it, and there are women like
that out there. It ain't the one you're talking to right now. (Jason laughs)
That's what the character was, and so I would keep a priority, you know, to
be home and gladly so, in that house with those children doing her thing.
James: So was there ever - were there suggestions to try and take her away
from that? To try and move her away from that?
Joan: Well, actually, yes, and that was later in the series when the kids
were growing up and there's the opportunity for Valene to write and to do
the novel and then to do the screenplay, which was one of our - was a story
when we did a reunion - that was a story line. So, yes, eventually, then she
got back to writing and got into a career and then I got into some clothes.
(Jason and James chuckle) Got a chance to get out and strut my stuff! I
loved - but it wasn't until it was appropriate to her family to do so.
James: There's an interesting trend, a strange trend, I noticed in the sort
of laterish years with Val where she goes through a kind of vigilante phase,
and almost every year - it sort of starts with Jean Hackney. If you
remember, Jean Hackney is the woman that makes Ben become assassin - the
year she's terrorising you and Ben -
Joan: And who was the - were you saying the actress's name or the -
James: It was Wendy Fulton who played Jean Hackney.
Joan: Oh yes!
James: And it's the first time - it's the first of Val's Vigilante Trilogy,
if you like, when she goes after her with a gun.
Joan: You know, Valene - if you ruffle the feathers of the centre of the
home, the husband, the family - you ruffle those feathers, she's a guard
dog, she's a German shepherd.
Jason and James (laughing): Yeah!
Joan: Yeah! So she'll, you know, that'll make the hair stand up on the back
of her neck and she will go for it. She can be tough, if it's defending her
man or her home. She became stronger and tougher because of that. I had
forgotten about that. You know, I have in my office downstairs pictures of,
you know, moments, different moments on the show. One that comes to mind is
me lying on the table just before delivering the twins, and we filmed it all
night one night, and I've got this - the way you're supposed to have a
surgical cap on, so your hair isn't showing and stuff, and hardly any make
up at all, and it's just me lying down there on the thing and it's just so
funny, and I've got all these various moments. I have one of Gary, Val and
Lucy running along the beach in the water that was taken on the first -
Jason: That's a beautiful shot. I think it's at the end of the DVD.
Joan: Maybe. Yes it is, yes it is.
Jason: It's beautiful.
Joan: Yes. And I love that and I've got a photo of that, because there are
moments that are signature, that are the heart and soul, and I've got so
many of those down in the office. I, unfortunately, have to do a call to New
York for a speech that I'm gonna do next week and - out here for the
American Women In Radio and Television luncheon -
Jason: Oh, OK.
James: Good for you, good for you.
Joan: So I have gotta write this speech this weekend and I need to talk to
the woman that I'm presenting the award to. But I will look for this down
Jason and James: We'll send it to you.
Joan: Oh, that's sweet. I appreciate it, if you would.
Jason: Have you seen the Michael Filerman one?
Joan: I'd love to see Michael's, if you have a moment. So Michael was
Jason: We did James Houghton and Kim Lankford, and then Michael and David.
Joan: You know, James Houghton was one of the writers on YOUNG AND RESTLESS.
James: Yeah, yeah.
Jason: Yes, he said, he said. We spoke to him at length about writing for
television, and he had some really interesting ideas about how television's
changed, and he said some really provocative things about television and the
way it's presented.
Joan: Oh, yes. I never communicated with him while I was on YOUNG AND
RESTLESS, and wanted to because I think he's spectacular, and I bet he did
have some provocative things to say that would really get your mind going
about what's going on. And let me say this too, that I've done a gazillion
interviews, but you honestly seem to have caught, both of you, things that I
did strive for. Whether I executed it or not, you caught it, you got it -
which I'm both grateful and impressed with, because I did take it all very
seriously, (chuckles) because that's what I was there for and I appreciate
your understanding and your -
James: Well, we love it. We just love it, and it so resonates.
Jason: It'll be timeless, because it's so well acted and written, and the
ensemble cast is as - it's an incredible piece of television, you know.
Joan: Bless your heart. I thank you for that and I know David and Michael
thank you too. Have great day, or night or whatever it is there.
James: Thank you.
Jason: Thanks, Joan.
James: And give our love if you - when you talk to Julie - and if you ever
talk to Constance again, cos we've got a soft spot for Constance.
Joan: I will and I do and I absolutely will do that.
James: Thank you so much, Joan. All the best. Take care.
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