'Dallas': Brenda Strong on the Introduction of Ann's Daughter, J.R. Ewing's Funeral (Q&A)

'There is a sense of celebration and honoring of both [Larry Hagman] and this character," the actress tells THR. "There is an opportunity to bring back a lot of beloved characters of the past."
Zade Rosenthal/TNT

As fans were reintroduced to the Ewing family last year, they also met the new Mrs. Bobby Ewing -- Ann, played by Brenda Strong -- for the first time. And while she played a vital, but mostly supporting, role in the season one dynamic, season two finds Ann occupying a bit more of the spotlight.

"Ann kinda gets the rug pulled out from under her," Strong tells The Hollywood Reporter. "And [showrunner] Cynthia Cidre last year said, 'Now that we've kinda gotten to know a little bit about Ann, we're gonna take her for a ride.' Boy, she wasn't kidding."

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Among the introductions from Ann's mysterious past is a long lost daughter (Emma Bell), believed to have been kidnapped as a child, and a former mother-in-law (Judith Light), bringing Ann's ex Ryland (Mitch Pileggi) back into the fold.

Strong also reveals details surrounding the funeral of J.R. Ewing, set for episode eight, following actor Larry Hagman's November death.

"Larry lived life are and J.R. lived life large, so there is a sense of celebration and honoring of both he and this character in episode 2.08," she says. "There is an opportunity to bring back a lot of the beloved characters of the past and I think our original fans will be happy to see some of their former stars return."

Strong adds: "It's really a way of commemorating the delish, decadent and devilish character of J.R. and we have an opportunity to shed some tears and have some good laughs, and he would have wanted it that way."

Dallas returns to TNT on Monday, Jan. 28 at 9 p.m. ET/PT.

Read Strong's full interview below.

The Hollywood Reporter: I watched the first episode of the second season. Very exciting. Big things happening for your character.

Brenda Strong: Yeah, Ann kinda gets the rug pulled out from under her and Cynthia Cidre last year said, ‘Now that we’ve kinda gotten to know a little bit about Ann, we’re gonna take her for a ride.’ Boy, she wasn’t kidding. I hit the ground running emotionally and it was quite a roller coaster. I am just now recovering and we are in episode eight and there is still more to come. It’s been quite an extraordinary journey she has taken me on and I am having the time of my life playing her.

THR: So it is safe to say that someone from Ann’s past returns and it doesn’t go the way she thinks it will. What is this character's involvement throughout the rest of the season?

Strong: Well, [what] I can say is that Ann gets to meet her daughter, who she thought was kidnapped, and in addition to her daughter she is reintroduced to her former mother-in-law and you start to understand why Ann’s past is such a secret and why there is so much shame involved in her former life and why she has kept it from Bobby. There’s definitely an unraveling of sorts that she becomes -- I wouldn't say a victim of because Ann has never been a victim -- but there are revelations that happen that definitely threaten her relationship with Bobby. And he is the love of her life so that is, of course, extremely devastating. Ann is who we think she is. She is loyal. She is kind. She is generous. She is fiercely protective. All of those things were not something that she could clearly define in herself and so they have been hard won characteristics. As my father used to say, ‘You can’t get good metal out of a cold fire.’ And Ann has definitely been through some of the hottest fires in her past.

THR: You mentioned the former mother-in-law, so it is safe to assume that Ryland is involved in all of this drama as well?    

Strong: Ryland just can't give her a moments peace, you know. He likes to twist and turn the knife, so to speak, and gets tremendous pleasure out of making life miserable for Ann. It is fun for Mitch Pileggi to play that character.

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THR: Ann was not involved in as much of the drama last season compared to this season, so how is that shift for you as an actor going from a supporting role to be right in the mix of everything this season?

Strong: Oh, just delicious. I have to stay that being on the sidelines in Desperate Housewives for eight years it feels really good to have a storyline that supports my ability to play a range of things. I haven’t had that opportunity in a while and it’s a privilege and an honor and something that has just been so much fun to explore, and I feel really grateful to our team of writers for giving me so much richness to delve into in this character. It’s very possible that had they decided just to do the norm, she would have been just a lovely, supporting wife to Bobby, but instead they brought on two new characters to be series regulars to support her storyline and really decided to plumb the depths of this character and I’m very grateful. Women can get kind of sequestered to being the quiet support to the man and Ann definitely is not quiet, but she is very supportive! But its been a hard won battle for her.

THR: You could almost argue that Bobby is a little more of the quiet one.

Strong: Well that quietness is not -- there is a lot going on with Bobby. Trust me.  

THR: Well, what is going on with Bobby?

Strong: I think his world is being rocked. Both his wife and his brother are creating some conflicts that he did not anticipate. At the end of season one, there is a respite. There is a sense of peace and one would think that would continue, but for weeks later, at the enter of season two, the rug gets ripped out from under him as Ann starts to have to deal with this past that she has been keeping secret about. When you are the partner to someone who is going through an upheaval, you are not left unscathed and he definitely gets taken on the ride with me.    

THR: It was sad news when we lost Larry Hagman late last year, can you tell us at all what has been planned for the funeral? Have you shot a funeral episode yet?

Strong: Yes, we just are in the process of completing that episode now. Larry would not want any of us to mourn. Larry lived life large and J.R. lived life large, so there is a sense of celebration and honoring of both he and this character in episode 2.08 and there is an opportunity to bring back a lot of the beloved characters of the past, and I think our original fans will be happy to see some of their former Dallas stars return. It’s really a way of commemorating the delish, decadent, and devilish character of J.R. and we have an opportunity to shed some tears and have some good laughs, and he would have wanted it that way.

THR: Is there anything you have had to re-shoot since Larry passed away?

: Not me personally, no.  In fact, he is solidly in five of our episodes and I think through the invention of modern technology will be in more, because we are able to add him to other episodes through other performances that we have had. I think the audience will be happy to see a lot of Larry Hagman in season two.

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THR: Is there anything I am missing about this season? I am really excited for it to start up again.

Strong: I am too! I think the audience is gonna be surprised by all the twists and turns. Last year was a pretty fierce pace and I think in some ways we have actually accelerated, if that’s possible. It feels that way.  It feels like every character is being tested, every character has a moral dilemma to face and I don’t know how our writers are able to do it, but it’s a very rich tapestry that we have woven and I am very excited for the audience to get a chance to see it.

THR: Do you think there is pressure now with so many twists and turns and huge cliffhangers -- do you feel like the writers go in there consciously thinking ‘Well how are we gonna up it now?’

Strong: I think whenever you have a product you are always trying to improve it. Whether it is a commercial project out on the market or it’s a creative collaboration, you are always looking to keep you audiences more engaged. The good news is that our writers don’t pull any kind of unrealistic hijinks just for the sake of drama. I think it is always grounded in reality. It is always grounded in something that is plausible for these characters to be faced against. And, you know, all you have to do is pick up the newspapers to go ‘life is pretty dramatic.’ It doesn’t take a lot to build upon the family themes of sibling rivalry and jealousy and greed  and all those things that are happening daily in all of our lives, so I think it is a pretty fun palate to draw from. But yeah, I’m sure there’s pressure. I mean, we all feel pressure to deliver a great product.

Email: Sophie.Schillaci@THR.com; Twitter: @SophieSchillaci