Jesse Metcalfe knows his way around a soap opera. His first major acting gig was the kooky daytime soap “Passions,” and his breakout role was as Eva Longoria”s gardener/lover in the first season of “Desperate Housewives.”
Now he”s joining the cast of one of the most legendary soaps of all time as TNT revives “Dallas” for a new generation. Metcalfe is central to introducing that new generation as Bobby Ewing”s adopted son Christopher, who had only a minor role in the show”s original run. Now Christopher is all grown up, engaged to marry his current sweetheart, Rebecca (Julie Gonzalo), and sparring with his cousin, John Ross (Josh Henderson), who stole away Christopher”s childhood love, Elena (Jordana Brewster).
The new “Dallas” crew is surrounded by veterans Larry Hagman, Patrick Duffy and Linda Gray, but they”re also tasked with bringing fresh intrigue — and hopefully fresh viewers — to Southfork Ranch.
I spoke with Metcalfe last month about joining the world of “Dallas,” how he personally relates to his character and the unique challenges he faced with Christopher”s role as an alternative energy expert.
How much did you know about the original “Dallas” before you got this role?
I had a minimal knowledge of the original show. I was born the year it premiered, so I definitely caught bits and pieces of it through the years. My mom was a big fan, so it was definitely part of my childhood memories.
I had to go back and watch some episodes, I watched like 30-some odd episodes to really get a feel for the tone. Even though the characters of Christopher and John Ross were introduced in the original series, there really wasn”t any information to draw from. For all intents and purposes we were new characters to the new series. From that perspective I felt pretty lucky, actually, because I wasn”t really boxed into to what had preceded me in the original series.
Was there anything that you felt like you wanted to learn about Bobby”s character or about your character in particular from those episodes?
Well, Christopher was a baby. So what I really had to draw from was what was on the page. And [executive producer] Cynthia Cidre wrote a great script. As an actor you go, ‘Can I get a great performance with this? Can I sink my teeth into this?” And I really felt I could specifically with Christopher.
I auditioned for the John Ross character, and that”s how I was introduced to the project. And then they found Josh and Josh completely embodies that character and is really perfect for the role. They came back to me for Christopher and I was even more excited because Christopher has that great duality. He”s a lot like his father in a sense that he has a strong moral compass. He”s an incredibly ethical man. But at the same time, he”s ambitious. And in pursuing those ambitions he finds himself in conflict with the values he was raised with, whether to maintain those values and play fair or to go to the dark side and fight fire with fire.
He”s got some abandonment issues and he”s got some insecurity issues. He definitely feels like he has to prove himself as a Ewing, prove himself to his father and assert himself in the Ewing family hierarchy, which is a real dog-eat-dog world.
By following multiple generations of characters you see how all these kids are essentially trying to please their parents in some way, even though the kids are fully grown adults. Is that something that continues throughout the season?
Yeah. That”s definitely a major theme that I think is probably going to continue through the course of the series, however long of a run we have. The cool thing about the arc of my character in the first season is that, I think Christopher really finds himself. For a large part of the first season, he”s really teetering on the edge of keeping it together, emotionally. He”s conflicted romantically, he doesn”t know if he”s with the right woman and he sees his cousin and nemesis, John Ross, with the once love of his life who he never had any closure with. And that”s haunting him on a daily basis.
I don”t know if you”ve ever been in that position, but I can tell you, I have. That type of thing can really stress a person out. Then you add being part of this dysfunctional family where at every turn John Ross and JR himself are trying to rub my nose in the fact that I”m not a Ewing by blood. And you”ll find that [makes Christopher] a very volatile, temperamental person. I”m a good guy at my core but I”m really trying to find my bearings as a man and my place in this crazy family.
So Christopher will pick a side in his personal love triangle by the end of the season?
Does he make the decision or is the decision made for him? You really don”t know exactly what”s going to happen and it”s going to be certainly shocking for the viewers. First heartbreak cuts the deepest, and I think most people live with that first heartbreak their entire lives, so I don”t think that”s something that ever gets resolved.
Is that what you meant when you said that you”ve been through the experience yourself?
I can”t reveal my tricks! But, you know, I certainly bring some of my personal experiences to bear.
There”s a lot of interesting jargon that you have to have in your role.
You’re telling me.
Have you learned a lot about the world of fuel and alternative energy?
I”ve learned a lot about this process of extracting methane … but I couldn”t really tell you exactly how it works.
And you actually film in Texas, have you seen any ways the idea of alternative energy is changing the state?
I”ve definitely seen that Texas is certainly a right-wing area politically. I think if you talk to the average Texan, some people may still think that alternative energy is some sort of hippie mumbo-jumbo, you know. I think there”s still a strong movement to continue to drill and continue to find these other sources of oil within the country. And I think that [our storyline] is a great piece of social commentary and it”s raising awareness in its small, very small way.
The new “Dallas” premieres June 13 at 9 p.m. ET on TNT