Sunday, April 24, 2011

Linda Gray Can Do It All ,Interview Alan Mercer

photos: Alan Mercer
hair: Patrick Jagaille
make-up: Jai Lone
lighting: Eric Venturo
assistant: Richard Levi
assistant: Kristen Moser

Linda Gray is an award winning actress, an accomplished director, a former United Nations Ambassador and one of the world’s most recognized and admired stars. She is also one of the most beautiful stars of any time.

Her award winning portrayal of ‘Sue Ellen’, in the legendary TV phenomenon DALLAS, brought her international fame and critical acclaim, earning her an Emmy nomination for Best Actress, Germany’s Bambi Award (which is equivalent to the United States Academy Award), Italy’s Il Gato for Best Actress on television, and she was voted Woman of the Year from the Hollywood and Radio Television Society. After eleven unrivaled years on television, DALLAS is still in syndication around the world and still enthralling audiences. It was during this time that Linda made her directorial debut on DALLAS, gaining experience working as a director on the show.

In the mid-90’s Linda starred in a series of television fact-based movies for NBC, including WHY MY DAUGHTER?, THE GAYLE MOFFIT STORY and BROKEN PLEDGES: THE EILEEN STEVENS STORY, as well as numerous other television movie. Linda guest starred in the CBS hit TV series TOUCHED BY AN ANGEL. She took part in the CBS environmental special, WHAT ABOUT ME … I’M ONLY THREE, which was particularly meaningful to her as she is actively involved in world conservation and environmental issues.

She also guest starred as Heather Locklear’s mother in Aaron Spelling’s MELROSE PLACE, and also starred in Spelling’s TV series MODELS, INC. Linda reprised her role as ‘Sue Ellen’ in the CBS-TV movie DALLAS: JR RETURNS, re-uniting her with Larry Hagman and once again taking them to the top of the TV ratings around the world.

Among the projects that Linda executive produced, she was most proud of the two-hour community cable program, SANTA MONICA: A COMMUNITY CARES. This was a joint venture between the Director’s Guild of American and the City of Santa Monica cable television, City TV.
When it became clear that I would be working with Linda Gray there was a wave of excitement in the air. It is widely known that she is one of the classiest and nicest ladies in the business. She did not let us down. Her beauty is truly from the inside out. Our photo session was fun for all of us. Linda even called me up a couple of days later to say she had a great time shooting and hanging out.
AM: Hi Linda. I know you just made a film. What is the name of this new movie?

LG: I think it has been re-titled 'Expecting Mary.'

AM: Did you enjoy working on this film?

LG: It was such a joy to go to work everyday, which is rare in any job. To say, "I can't wait to go to work." The hours were very long. It was very hot.

AM: When did you shoot?

LG: We shot the film in August. We had a funny scene with a little pig named Georgiou. We were supposed to walk with the pig, but it was so hot the humane society wouldn't let her little feet touch the ground, because it was too hot. The script had to be re-written so that I am carrying Georgiou.

AM: What kind of character has a pig?

LG: Well Darnella does. Don't you love her name? Darnella is fabulous. That is the character I play. She is a former showgirl from Las Vegas. She was in Las Vegas during the time of showgirls. Back when they had clothes on more like a bathing suit. They would hold their arms out and they had feathers. They just walked around and looked pretty. Then Las Vegas changed to this topless and bottomless place. It was too much for Darnella. Time was moving in a different direction. She lost her job and now she lives in a trailer park in New Mexico where her next door neighbor, played by Cloris Leachman, raises pigs.

AM: Are there some other name actors in the movie?

LG: The owner of the trailer park is Della Reese. The woman who owns the Indian Casino where Darnella performs now on a stage the size of a table is Lainie Kazan. She has a man who is sweet on her played by Elliot Gould. Then a young girl, who I adore in real life, is played by Olesya Rulin, who was in all the High School Musical movies. She ends up in this trailer park and Darnella welcomes her in to take care of her. Her father is played by Gene Simmons of the rock group KISS. Her mother is played by Cybill Shepherd. So we have this pregnant young girl hanging out with Darnella. All kinds of wondrous things happen from there. It is a great cast and I am honored to have worked with every single one of them. It was a joy to be there everyday.

AM: That reminds me of the series you made in England called "Lovejoy." What was that like for you?

LG: Oh I loved "Lovejoy." The trivia people will like this. In the final scene I had in "Dallas" Ian McShane was my lover and I was whisked off to London with my son John Ross to get away from JR. We were divorced by then. So Ian said, "Why don't you come to London and do 'Lovejoy?' I said, "Sign me up, I'll be there."

AM: I notice you have a connection with the Brits.

LG: I love the Brits. I have way back family that I am hoping to go find sometime when I'm not working.

AM: Linda you belong on a very short list that consists of female directors. I know it was a struggle to even get to direct one episode of "Dallas." Can you comment on this?

LG: It was tough because it was in the eighties.

AM: It's still tough.

LG: It's very, very hard. I didn't want to be a diva and say I am on a hit series so therefor I am entitled to direct. I didn't ever want to do that. I thought that wasn't the way to approach it but I really, really wanted to direct.

AM: Did you study directing?

LG: I studied with Lillian Chovan. She has now passed away but she was a French woman director. I studied with her on my days off. She would teach me all about directing and camera angles and more. She said to let her know when I was ready. I'll let you know if it's premature. At the end of Season Eight I went to the producers and told them I would like to direct. No, no, no was the answer. I said, "What!?! Patrick is directing and Larry is directing. Why can't I?" They said if they let me direct then Barbara Bel Geddes and Charlene Tilton and Victoria Principal will all want to direct. I had already talked to them and they said they don't want to direct. So it got a little sticky.

AM: What did the producers say then?

LG: I told them I don't want any more money. I just want to direct one episode in the next two year cycle. I didn't think that was so horrible. I didn't want to direct six episodes. They still said no. Basically I was fired at the end of year eight. So I said good-bye and Larry said see you next season. I told him I won't be coming back. He said, "What!?!" I told him, "They fired me because I want to direct one episode and if that's there stance I'm out of here." He was stunned and he said if you go I go. He denies that to this day. He really went to bat for me. He said, "She can't go. We are family. Sue Ellen and J.R. have this magical rapport. She can't go, give her one show!"

AM: How did they handle that?

LG: The producers came back to me and reluctantly gave me one show. I didn't care how I got it. The funny thing was in 'Dallas' most of the scenes were always two people in bed or an office. My first episode was a costume ball in Martinique with German Shepherds and gurneys. It wasn't two people. They thought OK she wants to direct we will let her direct. I opened the script and went 'Holy Crap' what is all this? They just threw it at me. I called Lillian and told her they were out for me. She said, "Of course. Just take a deep breath and get out there and show them." She was my support so I went in and did it. After that it was, "Do you want to do another one?"

RL: That must have been so fulfilling for you.

LG: It was and you know it was a different time. Not to say that it is easy for female directors now because it isn't. Back then in the eighties it was really challenging. Yes I was a cast member so I had the support of the cast and crew. I felt really blessed and I kept that focus.

AM: Do you still have an interest in directing?

LG: I would direct but I would have to direct something that appealed to my heart. I couldn't just direct, it's not my deal. I read a lot of scripts and if I found something that I really felt would enhance people's lives I would do it.

AM: Tell us about being the UN Goodwill Ambassador.

LG: I did that from 1997 to 2007. I traveled around the world helping women and children with their health issues. Once again I feel very blessed to be able to have done this. I saw places that a travel agent would not send you, sitting in little huts with concrete floors. I always asked them what they wanted and was told they wanted clean water, a healthy child birth and an education. To this day if I have a little bottle of water I have to finish it. We take so much for granted. It totally changed my life. The first day I was in Nicaragua I went back to my hotel and sobbed and started journaling. They don't have anything.

RL: You saw it one on one and really got to experience it.

LG: Oh yes I was the interviewer and they would tell me things that were important to them. I didn't want to be this American and go there and tell them what they needed. We were invited in.

AM: How true is this rumor of a new 'Dallas' series?

LG: I will tell you the full scope of what I know. I was driving along when my phone rang and it was this lady who told me there was a possibility of putting together a new Dallas focusing on the younger cast like John Ross and Christopher. She asked me would I be interested. I said, "Sure." They were checking with me, Larry and Patrick. She then said, "OK, we'll get back to you." From then on it exploded with the New York Times and Google. We then did the CBS Morning show but they didn't ask us anything about it. It puts you in a very precarious situation. You don't want to be the publicity person. We don't want to be used like that.

AM: It spread like wildfire.

LG: Yes it did spread like wildfire. People were talking all over the place. First of all there has never been a discussion, no talks of dates or time or money. I know we'd all think twice if we had to go back to Southfork. None of this has been discussed. That's the honest truth. We don't want it to be a T&A show if they are going to focus on young kids half naked and drag in the old people who made it a huge success and then have a crappy script. Are we interested? Yes, but there are a lot of things that have to go on before we commit.

AM: You did something a little different for an Actress of your stature by being on "The Bold & the Beautiful." Were you a fan?

LG: I was asked to come on and do ten episodes. I played the mother of a not-very-nice lady. It was a great part. I did the ten episodes. That was the hardest job. I'd never done a Soap Opera. You never see the director. I was looking around going where is the director and I heard a voice come over the speaker saying, "I'm up here." It's three camera and I'd never done that before. I like to know all about as much as I can. I've done London Theatre and Broadway.

AM: Are you interested in more Theatre?

LG: I love Theatre.

AM: That means you are a real Actor. You are not the typical Actress anyway. You seem to have had a life first. Is this true?

LG: Yes it is.

AM: I also know you are the leg in the famous poster shot from the classic film, 'The Graduate.'

LG: Then I got to play Mrs. Robinson on the stage. I look at my resume of women and it's Sue Ellen, Mrs. Robinson, and in 'Terms of Endearment' I played Aurora. For me those are the kinds of women that are interesting.

AM: It's so far away from the real you isn't it?

LG: Oh yeah. When you see Darnella, you will fall in love with her. I've never played anyone like that in mini-skirts and tights and five-inch high heels. She is just charming and adorable like a Fairy Godmother.

AM: Can you tell us about 'Santa Monica: A Community That Cares?'

LG: I produced that and I think every community should have it. It's a community service program. Say if you move to a new city and need some assisted living information. We took seventeen female directors and gave them a thousand dollars each. We married them with a service organization like a retirement home or Alcoholics Anonymous. Anyway we gave them the money and said you can spend it on lunch or film, or music for the film. We gave them seven minutes for their reel. They had to go to their respective service organizations and tell us what they are about.

AM: What does this service do for Santa Monica?

LG: If I just moved here from New York who is going to help me? I need some insight into what you do. It played for two years twenty-four hours a day. It was on an endless reel all about these seventeen different organizations. It was magical. If you are new to the community you get to learn a little about all these services. It was fabulous.

AM: You have been a delight to work with and I am so grateful for this opportunity.

LG: Thank you, that is kind. I feel the same way. There was never an awkward moment and you shoot the way I love to be shot.

To learn more about Linda Gray check out her web site
Visit Alan Mercers website, 

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