TORONTO - "Dallas" star Linda Gray says she lobbied hard to make sure legendary TV villain J.R. Ewing gets a suitably grand farewell next month.
And when the cameo-packed episode airs, she promises that fans of the larger-than-life character — and late actor Larry Hagman — won't be disappointed.
"For me, personally, it should be an event," Gray said in an interview this week from the Texas city that made her famous.
"It shouldn't be just another show. I told (the writers), I said: 'Look, make this not just another episode. Make it longer, make it more meaningful, make it matter to Larry and I think people would respect that.'"
It shouldn't be much of a spoiler to reveal that loathsome Texas oil baron J.R. dies in an upcoming episode, but exactly how that happens is being kept under wraps.
Gray will only say that the grand farewell will serve as a loving tribute to both the indelible TV character and the actor who played him.
Gray, who played J.R.'s long-suffering wife Sue Ellen on the original series and joined last year's reboot with fellow originators Hagman and fan favourite Patrick Duffy, says the cameo-packed send-off includes a wake, funeral and burial scenes.
"We're going to take you with us and you're going to cry with us and you're going to mourn him and you're going to miss him just like we're doing," says Gray.
Season 2 of the "Dallas" reboot had been in production for several weeks when Hagman passed away in November due to complications from a lengthy battle with cancer.
His death sent the show's writers scrambling to craft new scripts, says Gray, adding that even though the 81-year-old Hagman had long been unwell no one suspected the end was near.
"I mean, he was failing, we all knew that," she says.
"But because he's always bounced back from everything that he's ever gone through — liver transplant and diabetes and all this — he's always bounced back so nobody really had the feeling that (he wouldn't make it). We knew he was not well but we thought he was just going to bounce back and the writers thought the same thing. But it unfortunately didn't happen so they had to scramble and really step up and pull it together and they did. Beautifully."
Fans of the original series will be pleased to see several faces from the long-running soap smash, which premiered in 1978, she adds.
"There's lots of surprises and it was fun for us because we got to see people we hadn't seen in a long time," says Gray, not naming names.
Bravo says guest stars include actors Steve Kanaly, who played Ray Krebbs; Ted Shackelford, who was Gary Ewing; and Charlene Tilton, as Lucy Ewing.
So far, the deviously charming J.R. has been a key driver of much of the underhanded shenanigans in season 2, most notably in schooling his power-hungry scion John Ross in the fine art of poisoning one family member against another.
To Gray's delight, recent scenes included one in which J.R. offers Sue Ellen his nefarious services in making her own scandalous troubles go away.
"To this day I open up a script and I think, 'Where's the J.R.-Sue Ellen scene?' That will never happen and that's the sadness for me," says Gray.
"We always had such dynamic chemistry. That was the magic for me. We'd get on the set and Larry and I, we never knew what each one was going to do so it was always that ping pong game of back-and-forth, cat-and-mouse and that was what the chemistry was."
Still, so much of the new "Dallas" rests on its fresh, young cast, and Gray says the sophomore season runs wild with salacious twists and turns for J.R. and Bobby's feuding children.
Bobby's earnest son Christopher, played by Jesse Metcalfe, is embroiled in a bitter divorce battle that has suddenly turned into a homicide case.
And his business partner and rival John Ross, played by Josh Henderson, is proving to be as dastardly corrupt as his scheming father and mentor, J.R.
Complicating matters is Christopher's soon-to-be ex-wife Rebecca — who was recently revealed to actually be Pamela Rebecca Barnes, daughter of lifelong Ewing rival, Cliff Barnes.
Gray says a Season 1 storyline that involved a devastating diagnosis for Bobby has been abandoned.
"That was TV cancer. He had cancer, he's all over it now," she says laughing. "It's on to something else. That's television."
A lot of season 2 has been geared to making sure J.R. gets a proper swan song, she allows. And the March 11 farewell episode in particular was crafted with the fans in mind.
"I think it's very respectful for the fans because everyone knows he's gone and they want to mourn and grieve and say goodbye and this memorial show, to me, is extraordinary," she says.
"It's done with such love and such respect and that's what Larry deserved."
"Dallas" airs Mondays on Bravo.