A pair of young newcomers star in TNT's "Dallas" remake

Next generation: Jordana Brewster (left) and Julie Gonzalo at a "Dallas" screening Monday at the Ritz East. SCOTT WEINER
Next generation: Jordana Brewster (left) and Julie Gonzalo at a "Dallas" screening Monday at the Ritz East. SCOTT WEINER
Posted: June 11, 2012

Jordana Brewster and Julie Gonzalo are in town as part of their country immersion tour. They're the female leads in the TNT reboot of Dallas, which debuts this week. Hence their appearance at radio station WXTU's Anniversary Show at the Susquehanna Bank Center, headlined by Miranda Lambert.

But it's going to take some doing for the actresses to get their Dallas drawls on just right. Not because they're too young to remember the glory days of the Ewings (which they are).

"Actually," says Brewster, at 32 the older of the two, "I was born the year of ‘Who shot J. R.?' "

But both women grew up in South America — Gonzalo born and raised in Argentina, while Brewster spent a good chunk of her childhood in her mother's native Brazil. So the Southfork ranch wasn't really on their radar.

"Living in Brazil, my idea of America was Baywatch," says Brewster over lunch on Chestnut Street. "When my parents would go to New York, that's where I imagined they were going … to Malibu."

"For most of my life I shared a room with my grandmother," says Gonzalo. "Every night it was nonstop novelas." Telenovelas are the rabid soap operas popular in Spanish-speaking markets. "Those South American novelas are insane."

So the ladies had some catching up to do with the delicious treachery and rampant chicanery that made Dallas one of the most popular shows of the '80s.

Fortunately Gonzalo, 30, is a movie geek who travels with her own compact projector. Last fall, when they were shooting this season's 10 episodes in Dallas (the original show was taped primarily on soundstages in Los Angeles), she broke out her DVD stash.

"I have all 14 seasons — 357 episodes," she says. "We'd get together after a day of shooting to watch them. At one point I realized, ‘Hey, we're in Dallas, working on Dallas, watching Dallas.' “

(This is where those 10-gallon hats come in handy, so it won't make a mess when your head explodes.)

The women also had a singularly reliable resource on hand if they had any questions about the old days. The remake features the show's original stars Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), and Linda Gray (J.R.'s wife Sue Ellen).

“There's a lot of pressure remaking something so popular," says Brewster. "So the fact that the originals were involved really made it feel safer."

Hagman has battled health issues, including a liver transplant in 1995 and treatment for throat cancer during the shooting of this TNT project. But according to Gonzalo, he was anything but infirm.

"He works harder than anyone. At 80 years old and having gone through some difficulties, he's fantastic," she says. "Every time he was on the set, he was ready and wanted to work. He wants to see the show going for another 14 years."

Here's how the latest chapter shapes up. The next generation of Ewing boys — J.R.'s son John Ross (Josh Henderson) and Bobby's son Christopher (Jesse Metcalfe) — are at each other's throats almost before the familiar theme music stops playing.

Christopher is pushing some risky alternative energy sources. John Ross wants to stick with the commodity that made the family fortune — oil. And he's willing to break the sainted Miss Ellie's conservancy to do it.

Christopher and Elena (Brewster) were the loves of each other's lives. Now he's with Rebecca (Gonzalo) and she's with John Ross, but there's still more chemistry between them than in a case of Pop Rocks.

"It wouldn't be Dallas without a love triangle," says Brewster.

Henderson and Metcalfe both emerged from the chiseled-boy-toy factory at Desperate Housewives. You'll be seeing a lot of their assets around the ranch. "They really do have to show a lot more than we do," says Gonzalo, laughing.

The two actresses have formed an easy, close friendship that allows them to communicate at times with only a glance. But considering the similarity of their backgrounds, they have taken disparate paths to Southfork.

From the outside, Brewster's career looks almost effortless. After her family moved to Manhattan, she spent three of her teen years in the cast of As the World Turns while attending the Professional Children's School, a few blocks from the soap opera's studio.

She went on to Yale University, attending at the same time as then-First Daughter Barbara Bush. "The Secret Service guys tried to look inconspicuous," she says. "They'd put on backpacks. Yeah, that didn't work."

On summer break she took on a small film about car racing, then titled Redline. Shooting was extended through the fall, pushing back Brewster's graduation date. But she got an unexpected hit out of it when it was released as The Fast and the Furious.

"I had no idea it was going to take off like that. I didn't even drive," she says.

This summer she will shoot the sixth film in the series, most of them starring Brewster, Paul Walker, and Vin Diesel. "I'm so lucky to be part of that franchise. It's a magic carpet ride. You get to go wild in amazing countries."

For Gonzalo, it was more of a struggle. She was a nine-year-old who didn't speak a word of English when her family moved to Miami. She began modeling out of high school and hated it. By odd coincidence, Gonzalo's first big acting audition was for As the World Turns. But she was scheduled to fly up to New York on Sept. 12 2001. So that got pushed off.

Eventually she flew to Los Angeles with a ticket her brother bought her. She slept on her manager's couch, which only extended to her calves, with open scripts piled on her chest. She worked as a receptionist at a nail salon, bumming rides to auditions from friends because she didn't have a car.

Her first job was on the short-lived Andy Dick Show on MTV, a testament to bad taste on which Dick, among other things, introduced his video diva character, Daphne Aguilera.

A role in the 2003 comedy Freaky Friday with Jamie Lee Curtis and Lindsay Lohan turned things around for Gonzalo and she went on to series work in shows such as Veronica Mars and Eli Stone.

Both women are adjusting to the often gaudy lifestyle in Dallas, for instance the Diamonds and Denim theme at the Cattle Barons' Ball, where they shot a scene.

Brewster has a head start. She shot The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning nearby. She has only good memories of that 2006 slasher film, since it's where she met her husband, producer Andrew Form.

Gonzalo is still adjusting

"I'm used to L.A. where I can get up at 7, throw on a pair of sweats, and head over to Starbucks," she says. "Dallas is so high-class, if I try that there, I feel like somebody's maid."

Contact David Hiltbrand at 215-854-4552 or dhiltbrand@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @daveondemand_tv. Read his blog, "Dave on Demand," at www.philly.com/dod.

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