“I think sometimes when women get promoted, they forget to bring other women with them”
Linda Gray shares what it was like behind the scenes on the set of Dallas.
In the iconic TV soap Dallas, you played the alcoholic Sue Ellen, who was married to J.R. Ewing (Larry Hagman). That must have been a fun role? It was beyond fun, the best thing in the world! I would be sitting in the make-up chair, preparing, and they would give us the scene for the next episode, and we were all, “Oh my gosh, oh no, this couldn’t possibly be happening,” because it was so crazy. Behind the scenes it was like a comedy. Larry would always start giggling or doing something stupid – he was a consummate actor but also a comedian. Any favourite memorable scenes? All my drunk scenes – of course. Those were the best because normally I would spend two hours in hair and make-up, but when I did the drunk scenes it was 20 minutes, just in and out. I loved that famous scene where Larry called me a drunk and an unfit mother and I threw a bottle of wine against the wall. In your book, The Road To Happiness Is Always Under Construction, you wrote about how your mother Marge was an alcoholic – did she inform your performance? People always say: “The role must have been easy for you because you grew up with an alcoholic.” But my mother wasn’t like that – she was a functioning alcoholic. That was the Mad Men era, when everybody had cocktail hour. She wasn’t falling down drunk, she just slurred her words and was in her own world. My role ended up being very healing for her because she eventually stopped drinking. You directed episodes of Dallas, which apparently was quite the battle? It was a very chauvinistic and sexist time. I pushed really hard to direct and then I got fired. But Larry helped me. He said, “If she goes, I go.” I knew Larry wouldn’t have quit, but the threats worked and I got to direct, which I loved. Would you say Sue Ellen paved the way for all those flawed and feisty women we’re seeing on TV now? Oh sure. I remember speaking to one of the writers of the show Empire, and she said, “Honey, do you know how many storylines we stole from Dallas?” Why did Dallas, a show named after an American city, resonate in Australia? I think it resonated in Australia the same way it did all over the world – because it was all about family, and we all have a family, whether it is good, bad, indifferent or dysfunctional. People enjoyed it because they would look at these crazy, rich, dysfunctional people and go, “Oh my god. These people are not doing so well with all this money.” What are your happiest memories of Larry Hagman, who died in 2012? There are so many. That man was just delicious. When I was going through my divorce from Ed [Thrasher], I moved to Malibu and he came to my door with champagne and a bubble machine. Tears were streaming down my face, I was so upset, and he said,
“Stop all this now!” and took me for a ride on his Vespa around Malibu. You are still making films and doing TV in your 70s. How has Hollywood changed in your time? I recently did a British show, Hollyoaks, and I was working with two female directors and they said nothing much has changed, that men still have control. There are a lot of powerful women in this industry now, but I think sometimes when women get promoted, they forget to bring other women with them. Is it still tough for older women in Hollywood? We are inching towards success, but we are not there yet. We need people to take a step back and say, “Older women have more life experience.” We need the great roles to be written and networks have to put money into shows with older women. But it is happening with great shows like Grace And Frankie [starring Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin]. How challenging was it appearing naked as Mrs Robinson in The Graduate on the West End in London in 2001, when you were 61? I was terrified. All the way through rehearsals I was fine, but I wouldn’t drop the towel [and appear nude]. And then at the final dress rehearsal, they said, “Linda, you’re going to have to drop the towel to make sure the lighting is correct.” So I did it. I stood there naked and I was so nervous, I started shaking. And they said, “Fine.” The lighting was perfect… it was very dim. What are your thoughts on cosmetic surgery? I haven’t had plastic surgery, nothing, because it scares me. I once had Botox and I looked ridiculous, so I never had it again. But I don’t criticise people who do. If that makes them happy, great. Also, I don’t take any prescription drugs at all and I am 76 years old. You played a woman involved with a much younger man in The Graduate. Is age irrelevant in relationships? Yes. You either have a connection or you don’t. It’s all about the guy. It’s not about the age. But if they ask me how old I am, they’re toast! Would you ever get married again? I’m having way too much fun and I love my freedom. Well – I’m always open, but I focus on life and my children and grandchildren. Life is delicious. I get up every single day and I say: “Thank you, God. I’ve got another day to be the best me I can be.”
``it was like a comedy behind the scenes on dallas ´´