Brenda Strong: “It was an organic drop-in for me to be able to relate to this loss and be able to experience every single torturous decision that she had made in the past.”
Dallas star Brenda Strong talks to ultimatedallas.com ahead of Monday’s spectacular season finale.
Ultimate Dallas: Congratulations on season two; it’s been amazing.
Brenda Strong: Thank you.
Ultimate Dallas: You’ve had some really emotional scenes this season—the court scenes were fantastic. Do you enjoy that material?
Brenda Strong: I was so grateful that Cynthia Cidre decided to take Ann down this convoluted walk into her past to figure out what had happened with Harris Ryland, why he was so incredibly bitter, and the shame that we saw glimpses of in season one. I was so grateful that we got to unpack that in season two. The fact that they cast Emma Bell as my daughter was single-handedly one of the most brilliant pieces of casting in a long time. Emma and I have an incredible, organic connection. I’m really grateful that I could explore a lot of Ann that I wouldn’t have gotten to do otherwise.
Ultimate Dallas: Was that court scene the first time that you had seen Ann’s whole backstory laid out in front of you with the Rylands and everything?
Brenda Strong: Yes. Opening that script was an interesting experience for me because in my 27 or 28 years of acting now, I don’t think I’ve ever opened a script and seen such a deep, lengthy monologue—and confessional monologue—afforded a character before. I felt tremendous responsibility and….well, not pressure, but I wanted to make sure the material was served in the way that it would benefit the entire show. I was very excited to have that much to work with emotionally.
Ultimate Dallas: Your most recent scene with Ann leaving Emma in jail has a lot of parents cheering. Do you think that Ann did the right thing?
Brenda Strong: Absolutely. I think Ann finally put her own sense of wanting to be loved and having a relationship with her daughter second to her daughter’s welfare and well being. I think in that moment she became the mother and much less the victim to Ryland’s manipulation. She thought “If anything is going to happen to my daughter, it’s not going to be because I didn’t do something.” When she saw the car accident, she realized that this was a cry for help. I was very proud of the writers for writing that and I’ve had people comment that their favorite line in the entire episode was “Because I’m your mother”. That made me feel good.
Ultimate Dallas: Do you think there will be any lasting friction with Emma or is she going to wake up after that?
Brenda Strong: I think there is always going to be friction with Emma because as much as she is Ann’s daughter, she is also Ryland’s daughter. She has her own internal conflicts to work out as time goes on. Once you see the finale, you’re going to realize that we’ve just touched the tip of the iceberg with this character and what she’s capable of. I’m excited to see what happens next season between Ann and Emma and where they go with it.
Ultimate Dallas: The Rylands are obviously very dark and twisted and played brilliantly. How has it been working with Mitch (Pileggi), Judith (Light), and Emma (Bell)?
Brenda Strong: What’s so fortunate is that we have three very extraordinary actors in these three walls of the Rylands, always around between Harris, Judith, and Emma. Their chemistry—you can’t make up. It just occurs between all three of them as individual actors and also as a group. It’s just delicious. That’s the best word I can describe is that everyone is bringing their game, feeding off of each other, and having the time of their life playing these archetypical but not atypical roles. It’s really a pleasure to work with all three of them.
Ultimate Dallas: It’s great to see Ann actually step up like you said in that last scene. She’s obviously done a lot of crying this season. Do you find it easy to get into those scenes where there’s so much emotion like that?
Brenda Strong: I never felt as a young actor that I could be one of those actresses that just has emotion. I was always good with a lot of technical dialogue; I was always good with things other than having to cry. In a lot of ways this exposed part of my craft that I felt I haven’t been given a lot of opportunity to do on screen. I certainly have had my share on stage, but not on screen. In a very strange way I got to exercise a muscle publically that I thought was very weak and strengthen it over time. I think because Ann cares so deeply about her daughter and feels such loss, it was an organic drop-in for me to be able to relate to this loss and be able to experience every single torturous decision that she had made in the past and revisited again. It was very cathartic for me as a human being and also as an actor to be able to go there.
Ultimate Dallas: Moving on to your relationship with Bobby—Bobby obviously had some rough patches this season and now the search for his first wife Pam coming up—we haven’t really seen Ann react to this as much. Is there going to be some reaction to it—maybe jealousy or unfinished business from Ann’s perspective?
Brenda Strong: I think Ann is very trepidatious. We have been on faltering grounds with this revelation of her past. They certainly do love each other but they have been tested within an inch of any marriage. I think she is definitely uncertain as to the searching for Christopher’s mother/Bobby’s ex because she was so much a part of the dynamic between the fight between the Ewings and the Barnes. Because that is the fight that is still going on in this modern day incarnation, she’s very uncertain as to what this means for her personally but for the entire Ewing clan and how this could possibly upset the apple cart. She’s playing her cards very close to her chest because she doesn’t want to upset Bobby any further than she already has, but I think it brings up a lot of insecurities and a sense of uncertainty as to her future with him and what this might mean for him emotionally and any residual feelings he may have about Pam. You will see that start to resolve a little bit, but she’s definitely on the fence.
Ultimate Dallas: Will Pam be resolved this season or will it spill into season three?
Brenda Strong: I think you’ll get some answers by the end of season two for sure around that relationship and that history and what it means to the Ewing family. There will be some loose ends that will be tied up so that people know what to expect. At the same time, whenever you get one thing tied up, it raises a whole other set of questions. It’s never all that you think it’s going to be. It’s not quite as black and white as one would think.
Ultimate Dallas: The other big question is the “who killed JR?” storyline. What was your reaction when you found out about the master plan and who killed JR, or have you seen it yet?
Brenda Strong: Well, first of all I read the script and I actually saw the tail end of the finale. I had an opportunity to go into the office and do a line of ADR for the last episode. Michael and Cynthia sat down and showed me the last “tying up” of all the loose ends. It’s so exciting, you guys. I can’t even begin to tell you. I’m a participant of this series, but I’m also a fan. I think our producers and our writers do such an exceptional job especially in light of what happened with Larry. They had to really pull up their boot straps and figure out a way to honor the man, the legend, and the character of JR and do it with dignity, with an integrity that aligned with what people had come to expect from Dallas, and it’s actually quite exciting to see that they’ve accomplished it. I think the audience is going to be very excited; I know I was extremely concerned because I think it’s difficult to do that kind of thing and get away with it—a way that is satisfying. I think they really did a Herculean effort to accomplish that.
Ultimate Dallas: We haven’t been told one way or another about season three yet, but where would you like to see Ann go in season three?
Brenda Strong: I have a lot of different ideas about what could be possible. I have to say that I trust Cynthia Cidre immensely, especially after what she just gave me in season two. I would hate to offer up my suggestions before hearing what she’s got in mind. It’s a whole tapestry that has to be honored that I’m a part of. I may think “Oh, this may be good for Ann, to be a part of this direction in season three”, but it may have nothing to do with what’s appropriate for the character or the direction of the entire series. It’s a very intricate web and far be it from me to upset the balance of that.
Ultimate Dallas: There’s been a great relationship with Sue Ellen and Ann. How do you enjoy working with Linda (Gray) on those scenes?
Brenda Strong: I adore Linda Gray as a human being, as a fellow artist—she is absolutely one of the most exceptional women I have ever had an opportunity to know and work with. I love that we have a friendship on and off screen. It feels to me to be very authentic and complex—she’s in the other camp and pulling some strings lately, so there’s an opportunity for that friendship to be tested in the future and to possibly have some rough roads ahead. I’m actually kind of excited to see that maybe that friendship gets a little strained in the future and these two powerful women have an opportunity to hash it out a bit. I think the audience really loves that we have a friendship because Sue Ellen didn’t really have many friends in the first incarnation. I think this is an opportunity for her to be strong for me during my difficulties and vice versa. We’ll see where it goes. I also wanted to say because we touched a little on the Pamela situation that I think Patrick Duffy is doing some of the best work of his life. I have gotten to know the man and the actor and I think his strength of character and his capacity to hold center even in the face of losing JR has been a testament to how powerful he is to the series. I’m grateful to be in association with him.
Ultimate Dallas: In that scene where he finally unloaded on Ann, a lot of people were like “It’s about time that you get your emotions out.”
Brenda Strong: Exactly! Exactly. I think once Bobby had the chance to get his emotions out, he gets to enter a gray area that he’s never been able to occupy before because JR always had the bad so Bobby always had to be the good. He’s finally got an opportunity to cross some boundaries and that’s pretty exciting.
Ultimate Dallas: So the season has wrapped shooting. How do you plan on spending your hiatus?
Brenda Strong: I have some things planned. I’ve just driven across the country for three days with my dog so that was a nice sojourn back into Los Angeles. We’re going to be doing the festival in Monte Carlo which will be exciting for DALLAS. I have some vocational things and charities that I’m working with. I have a product line for women in yoga that I’m continuing to develop. The show that I’m working on producing as well as being a part of has to do with bringing awareness and health and balance to people’s lives. It’s going to be a very creative summer and I’m hoping to maybe throw in an interesting independent feature film in there and put on someone else’s boots besides Ann’s for a while. It’s always fun to come back to something after you’ve been away from it.
Ultimate Dallas: Distance makes the heart grow fonder.
Brenda Strong: Absolutely.
Ultimate Dallas: Any messages for the fans?
Brenda Strong: A big letter of gratitude to say thank you. Thank you for trusting us. Thank you for going on the journey with us. Thank you for your continued devotion and interest in the Ewings and this world that we occupy that is DALLAS. We would not be here without them, the old and the new. I’m just so incredibly grateful to be part of something that I’m proud of. What I get from the fans that do come up to me in Dallas and around the world is that they are so excited that we have honored the show in a way that has allowed them to continue to celebrate it, and that makes me feel really good. Thank you so much for your support all the way through.
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