Ted Shackelford Q&A
Ted Shackelford who plays the Ewing middle son Gary Ewing discusses his return to Dallas on TNT
Ultimate Dallas: Ted, welcome to Ultimate Dallas.
Ted Shackelford: Thank you.
UD: It’s great to have you here with us. Obviously “Dallas” is back. Did you ever think that you would be coming back into this role again after all these years?
Ted: (laughs) No. I certainly never did.
UD: Patrick Duffy calls it the gift that keeps on giving.
Ted: Apparently it is and with most gifts, you don’t look it in the mouth.
UD: No, that’s true. It’s always been great seeing your work on television in your various roles. What actually brings Gary back to “Dallas” this time having been away for so long?
Ted: Without giving too much away, Bobby is trying to make Ewing Oil green I think and I own one third of it. He’s trying to get a voting block to stop JR and Sue Ellen from doing whatever it is they’re doing.
UD: Sue Ellen is obviously turning into a female JR here it seems after the last episode, I don’t know if you’ve been keeping up with them.
Ted: Actually, no I haven’t.
UD: It’s interesting. I’ve heard that you don’t watch your stuff after you’ve done it. Is this true?
Ted: No, no. God no. I was barely on when I first started in television and I used to watch it and I reached a point where it was just counterproductive. I would watch it and I’d say “It’s just dumb. My God, why did I do that?” or “That’s not what I meant.” It was too frustrating. I don’t really do it for that. I do it for the immediacy of it, the feeling of it. That’s where I take my sustenance is from the actual doing of it. I don’t care about afterward.
UD: It’s almost like the people who do stage productions. They get that live rush every night and it’s done.
Ted: I suppose so, it’s a different kind of rush for sure. You don’t have the live audience but it’s a certainly more intimate rush. I don’t know, it makes my life easier if I don’t have to watch it. I’m also slightly embarrassed by it.
(UD and Ted laugh)
UD: You get critical seeing yourself on the screen.
Ted: I do, yeah. Then I start thinking “Jesus, why did I ever work again after that scene? Why would anybody hire me?” It’s not good for me.
UD: Was it easy getting back in that character after all these years?
Ted: Oh yeah. It was bicycle time. It’s like getting on a bike again.
UD: Oh yeah. That’s a common analogy. What would you say Gary is like in 2013 from what you can gauge?
Ted: He’s wiser but sometimes stupid in other ways. Not much has changed with him! You know what they say. The older you get, the more you become who you are. I would say that’s pretty much where he is. He hasn’t changed much at all.
UD: His character was driven off by JR and Jock, and now unfortunately both of them are gone leaving Gary as the oldest now and when you lose a sibling facing your own mortality. Is there an opportunity for Gary to step back in a little more after these episodes the way they left it?
Ted: That’s a good question. Yeah, they could always do that. It’s television for God’s sake. It doesn’t have to make a lot of sense, just a little bit of sense.
UD: Obviously Bobby would be another sibling dynamic having JR out of the picture. How does Gary react to JR’s death? I know they had a difficult relationship.
Ted: It’s kind of an interesting reaction actually. Yes, it was a very acrimonious relationship and Gary’s reaction is “I spent my whole life hating him and now I don’t know how to feel.” I think he’s kind of thunderstruck. It’s like if you have an enemy for a long time and you spend a lot of energy on that enemy, and all of a sudden that entity is gone, what do you do with that energy? You’re just kind of left standing around saying “What happened?”
UD: What was it like shooting the memorial episode? I was actually down at Southfork that day and just missed everyone coming back from the park.
Ted: It was really cold to begin with and then it warmed up. It was acting with reality intruding in a very ugly way because the character is dead as was the real actor so it was interesting.
UD: You’re back together with Joan of course and Charlene. Joan actually said she was down by the set that day and wanted to pop up from behind the bushes like Jimmy Kimmel in the middle of the funeral take.
Ted: I know, she told me that. (laughs)
UD: Joan said she prepares a collage when she takes on a role. Do you have any specific approach for getting into a character like Gary?
Ted: I learn the words, I find out where they want me to be, I find out what time they want me to be there, and I show up.
Ted: That’s it.
UD: What memories do you have of Larry Hagman and working with him?
Ted: I didn’t have very many scenes with Larry. It seems like most of my scenes were with Patrick or Barbara Bel Geddes. I would see Larry occasionally. I ran into him a couple of years ago at one of those autograph things where they hire a big hall and you have every has-been that ever was. We were there—me and Joan and Donna and the show. Larry was there as well; he was in a different part. We talked a bit then. It was great to see him. He looked good, he was happy. He was always very positive. I remember that. Given what he had been through, it’s extraordinary that he could remain that positive. I’ve said this before, it’s becoming a little trite, but it’s true nonetheless—whenever I would run into him after the shows were over, I always walked away feeling better about myself. It’s the good thing about people with true charisma. When you talk to them, you’re the only other person in the room, and he was able to focus like that. He made you feel special I guess.
UD: That’s how I felt. I met him a few times myself and I think I had the same reaction you did. You mentioned Barbara. What do you remember of Barbara?
Ted: A tiny little woman that smoked Now cigarettes and swore like a sailor.
(UD and Ted laugh)
Ted: We’re talking about Barbara Bel Geddes, one of the first ladies of American theatre. She was fabulous, she was great. Kind of quiet….not timid, I wouldn’t say that. Very pleasant, very nice.
UD: You’re back now, you’ve worked with Patrick again. Linda Gray, you didn’t really have many scenes with her in the original series. What was it like connecting with Patrick and working with Linda this time around?
Ted: With Patrick it was the same, it was like Gary and Bobby. It was nice, very comfortable. Linda—I never really had any scenes with her, but I had some pretty good scenes with her in this go-round. She’s really pleasant. She’s such a joy to be around and to work with and one of the kindest people I’ve ever met. One of the nicest and loveliest people I’ve ever met. She’s just a joy to be around.
UD: We’ve heard rumors of a connection between Gary and Sue Ellen. Anything you can say about that at all?
Ted: We don’t take our clothes off, I can tell you that.
Ted: America’s not ready for that at this age.
UD: Some have heard that Gary and Val are having problems at the time you come back.
Ted: Yeah, they’re separated actually.
UD: Separated, okay. Did you have many scenes with Joan and Charlene when they were on this go-round?
Ted: I actually didn’t have a scene with Charlene although she was there. I didn’t have any words with her I don’t think. You’d think I’d be able to remember but I have to tell you I was so f***ing sick when I did this thing I could barely stand up. My memory is a little faulty. I had some kind of sinus thing that I still have, I might add. I only had one scene with Joanie.
UD: She mentioned she was under the weather too when she was down there at that time.
Ted: Everybody’s got the same thing going around and it lingers forever.
UD: What are your impressions of the new cast? I know Josh Henderson tweeted that he had a scene with the incredible Ted Shackleford.
Ted: Actually, the first scene I had was with Josh. That’s the day I was the sickest (laughs). I was trying to get through the day. He was delightful, very professional, knew his words. We didn’t mess around. It was a joy. He gave as good as he got. I didn’t have any scenes with any of the other cast besides Josh, Patrick, and Linda.
UD: I know fans were excited after the last episode when they showed the preview for [2.07 The Furious and the Fast]. There was the shot of Gary coming in the door.
Ted: Oh, okay. So that’s when it’s airing. Good. I’ll be sure to not be home when it airs.
UD: Gary is obviously a very complex character. Are any of those complexities going to rear their ugly heads?
(UD, and Ted laugh)
Ted: I have no idea (laughs). I say those words and hope for the best. I just don’t know. It’s a very simple process I go through here.
UD: Did you have reservations when they asked you back? I know last season they tried and it didn’t work out.
Ted: Oh no, no.
UD: And you’d come back if they wanted more from you?
Ted: In a heartbeat. Of course I would. Wouldn’t you?
UD: Yeah. The gift that keeps on giving. Will Knots Landing fans be happy with where Gary and Val are left at the end of this arc?
Ted: I don’t know. That’s a good question. Joanie and I were talking about that. It’s kind of semi-resolved at the end. I don’t know. She calls it a button. There was a button put on our relationship.
UD: Obviously people saying with the success of “Dallas”, would “Knots Landing” come back? Would you want to be involved if it were to come up?
Ted: In half a heartbeat. Absolutely.
UD: In one other interview [Dallas Decoder], you mentioned that Gary was very weak and lacked courage. What did you mean by that and what would make him a courageous character?
Ted: I always felt like he didn’t have strength of character. He gave into his impulses too much. He didn’t fight some of those things that would’ve made him a stronger character. I thought he was weak—a person of weak character. I think eventually he became stronger but he was easily manipulated because his feelings moved right into his brain and had he had strength of character and didn’t let his feelings in—well, I wouldn’t have a job because I’d have nothing to play, so I’m eternally grateful that he was weak of character because he gave me a lot of things to play and a lot of mischief to get into. It was great fun.
UD: They often say that the more interesting characters to play and watch are the weak ones or the evil ones.
Ted: Yeah, that’s certainly the most interesting to play, absolutely. It doesn’t do you too well in endorsements, but it’s great for acting! My God, especially if you’re a bad guy—bad guys are always the most interesting, and certainly the most fun.
UD: Do you find it interesting or surprising how many people are still fascinated by “Knots Landing” and “Dallas”?
Ted: It’s astonishing. Truly astonishing. We went off the air in ’93—that’s twenty years ago. I find that astonishing. We shot the last episode in January of ’93.
UD: We have people on the website—well, on the message board, like a forum, and they’re talking about it every day and have been for years. They discuss the characters inside and out. It’s amazing.
Ted: Isn’t that amazing? I mean, how many people do that with “Gunsmoke”? (laughs) That was the longest running show in television.
UD: It doesn’t happen. Even with more recent shows like “Desperate Housewives”, they don’t do it [to that degree]. There’s something about “Knots Landing” and “Dallas” where it’s just hung around all these years.
Ted: It’s really interesting; I don’t even know why that would be.
UD: Are we all just crazy?
(UD and Ted laugh)
Ted: I think that if you’re human, you’re crazy. It’s part of the human condition to do crazy. I think there was an emotional attachment with the “Knots” characters.
UD: Keep in mind they only released the first two seasons on DVD in the United States and it’s not being rerun anywhere right now, but it’s coming on in Europe in the near future.
Ted: I saw that on UK CBS or something like that.
UD: Yeah, CBS Drama over here. Everyone’s very excited that it’s coming back.
Ted: Isn’t that amazing (laughs)? I mean, think about that. You can be looking at people and clothes and shoulder pads from thirty years ago.
UD: There was a petition to get it back on, so they’re bringing it back by fan demand.
Ted: Wowwww. That’s amazing.
UD: Hopefully we can get those DVDs released here in the United States, and then we’ll be all set.
Ted: Yeah, because there’s twelve more years of them.
UD: [You’ve mentioned that] your wife is Danish and that you used to travel to Denmark. Do you still visit Europe at all?
Ted: I haven’t been in a while. Annette goes every once in a while. She hasn’t been in about three years, three or four years. I certainly want to. Part of the problem is the guys who attacked us, so the offshoot of that was the plane schedules got all screwed up and now you can’t fly nonstop to Denmark. You have to fly through Heathrow or Paris or whatever. It takes forever to get there. We had a house in Denmark and we would take our dogs with us because it was a straight 12 hour shot but now it’s just impossible. We sold the house a few years ago and it’s been difficult to try and get there. Plus, her schedule has been pushed to the wall. She’s a publicist and she’s always covering people and traveling.
UD: What projects do you have coming up other than “Dallas”? Are you going back to “The Young and the Restless”?
Ted: It’s kind of up to them, I don’t know. I’ve never had a contract so I serve at their pleasure. I’m waiting to hear. If you hear anything, let me know (laughs).
UD: How did you find daytime different than primetime in the shooting schedule and approach?
Ted: (Laughs) It makes me laugh. I started out on daytime in ’76 on “Another World”. I don’t know if you remember that soap or not. I did that in New York for about a year and then I came out to California. When I went back to do Y&R, I knew it was quick. It’s fast. I was prepared for that, but I didn’t know it was as fast as it has become. It used to be that you would rehearse in the morning, have camera blocking, then lunch, another camera blocking, then dress rehearsal, and then you tape. Now, you get out of wardrobe, you get out on the floor, they tell you where you go, you walk to it for the camera operators, and then you do it. That’s it. No rehearsal, no nothing. It’s so fast, it’s a speedy trade. You just grab ahold and hang on. I have to tell you, it’s the most fun I’ve ever had. It is a hoot. It’s kind of like doing a stage show every day. You can’t stop—the only reason they’ll stop is if you drop a line that’s necessary for the plot. Otherwise, they keep going. You really have to pay attention and a lot of it is instinctive acting hoping you’ve made that right decision. You’ve got to listen to what your partner is saying to react. You can’t come in there with a complete performance, so you’ve got to be loose enough to go with whatever they’re giving you. I think it’s a ball—I’ve never had so much fun. It’s just great.
UD: It’s been an interesting time in the world of daytime television with a lot of them being canceled and now you have something new coming up here where two shows were just picked up for the internet—One Life to Live, etc. How do you feel about the changing landscape?
Ted: I don’t have any control over it but it certainly doesn’t change my acting any. It doesn’t impact what I do as an actor. It might impact if I can do it as an actor just because of the lack of jobs but I don’t know. I don’t even understand how that works on the internet.
UD: Did you get to work with Cynthia Cidre?
Ted: I met her and talked to her a few times. I didn’t really get any working interaction with her. She’s a very nice woman. I can tell you from her writing that she certainly knows what she’s doing. That’s for damn sure. I think she has great respect for the characters, at least for my character because she didn’t have me doing anything ridiculous that my character would never do. What she wrote for me was Gary. She’s obviously done her homework and she knows what she’s about. The show is in very good hands and the script I had was wonderful. I thought it was very good. I was pleasantly surprised.
UD: That’s good. I think a lot of the fans were concerned initially that maybe Gary would do something out of character.
Ted: I understand that. I was too. I didn’t quite know what was going to happen. I read the script and was like “Ahh yeah, she obviously knows what she’s doing. She’s paying attention.”
UD: Did your storyline change at all because of Larry Hagman’s death? Was there anything different?
Ted: That’s a good question. I was going to do three episodes and I did three episodes but I don’t know if it changed because I got the script after he died. I know that they had to rewrite a lot after he died because they went down mid-December and came back up the latter part of January so they spent all that time rewriting a bunch of stuff because they had to. I don’t know if that rewrite involved me or not. It probably did because we had to deal with his passing and the funeral, etc. I’m sure it did change, but I never saw them before the changes.
UD: We want to thank you for taking the time to join us and the fans for submitting all of these questions. Do you have any messages for the fans of “Dallas” and “Knots Landing”?
Ted: It’s been delightful, I’ve enjoyed it. And thank you, thank you, thank you for all the years of watching and being so loyal. If they can get up a petition to get “Knots” on the UK CBS, maybe they can do the same here! (laughs)
Transcribed by Melanie Joy
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