Larry Hagman’s J.R. Ewing made a lasting impression as arguably the most infamous villain in television history, and when it came to finding the right man to play his son, John Ross, for the “Dallas” reboot, there were some pretty big shoes to fill.
Luckily for producers of the TNT show, Dallas-born, Tulsa-bred Josh Henderson came into their lives.
He may be easy on the eyes, but that’s really just a bonus. AccessHollywood.com’s newest Rising Star is about to show off some Texas-sized primetime soap chops when the rebooted show premieres at 9/8c on Wednesday night.
“I knew that I had to do something that stood out, something that was intense, something that kind of had the spirit of J.R. inside of him, but also was a spin in his own [right],” Josh told AccessHollywood.com of what went into his performance as John Ross in the new series. “If there was any way you could one up J.R., John Ross wants to do it. And, so I just knew that I had to try to come up with something kind of very intense.
“My wheels are always turning, so it’s all through the eyes, I really try to be intense, but also manipulative and I want to keep the audience guessing,” he added.
It’s a dream role for the actor, on a show that was close to the heart of his family.
“My Meema, her favorite show was ‘Dallas,’” Josh explained, referring to his beloved grandmother. “She made the family watch. She loved to hate J.R. She passed away when I was 12, and I know she’s looking down on me going, ‘Oh, my goodness. How are you on the show? I am so proud of you and why in the hell are you playing J.R.’s son?!?’”
Television wasn’t the actor’s original goal during his younger years. As a youth, Josh was hoping to play baseball in college.
A stint on the musical talent competition “Popstars,” the very show that brought Nicole Scherzinger her first brush with fame, turned Josh down the acting path.
“She won the first season and I ended up winning the second season, which is the first time they allowed guys to audition,” he told Access, referring to the group he was put in, Scene 23. “Because of the show, I got noticed by agents. I didn’t know what an agent was.
“When the show ended, the record label folded three weeks later, so it all stopped really quickly. I didn’t know what I was going to do,” he continued. “I was probably going to go back to school and try and walk on and play ball and continue that and then I got a call and they were like, ‘A few agents want to meet you.’”
After meeting with two agents, the very green Josh went out for his first television pilot, completely unaware of what a pilot actually was.
“I said, ‘Thank you so much for having me here. I don’t know anything about flying planes, but I feel very fortunate to be here.’ And they all laughed and I was like, ‘OK, I screwed that up,’” Josh recounted.
But he didn’t. The audition led to acting work – in TV and on a film, and a print ad campaign.
He may not have had all the Hollywood lingo down in those early days, but casting agents clearly recognized Josh had the passion, something he likely found from watching his grandfather, the late Baptist minister, Dr. Warren Hultgren, an associate and longtime friend of Billy Graham.
“My grandfather was one of the most amazing Baptist ministers in history, he was unbelievable,” Josh beamed of his grandfather’s accomplishments. “He was one of the most amazing men — the most amazing man that I ever met… He lived an amazing life. I believe that God was presenting this to me for a reason and I went for it and here I am 10 years later, somehow, portraying son of J.R. on a show called ‘Dallas’ — the city where I was born.”
Josh may still be pinching himself, but he more than holds his own on the show alongside the veterans, and he’s left a big impression on castmates like Brenda Strong, who plays Ann Ewing, the wife of Bobby Ewing.
“This is gonna be a breakout for him,” the former “Desperate Housewives” actress told Access. “He has a lot to do. He was raised in Texas. These boots are familiar to him and the way he walks and the way he talks and how he handles himself and the fact that he’s a chip off the old block is not going to hurt his popularity. I think he’s going to be the person who jumps off the screen more than anybody. I think he’s done a terrific job with this role and I think he’s going to be definitely the one to watch.”
And perhaps, the one to listen to, as well.
Still pursuing his music, Josh said producers of the new “Dallas” took inspiration from his own life for his character.
“The producers love the fact that I sing and am a songwriter, so much so that they even wrote in John Ross’ backstory that he left for Nashville to pursue a music career instead of college,” the actor revealed.
While the critics have already praised the show, Josh is hoping his work — and the work of his castmates — resonates with the TV audience.
“For me, it’s really about the unknown, because you never know. ‘Dallas’ was such a big deal. Now, nothing’s a guarantee. There are hints of how excited people are… It’s very exciting for us as a cast, especially the new members,” he said. “The three original members that are regulars on our show [Larry Hagman, Linda Gray and Patrick Duffy] are incredible people and they made ‘Dallas’ what it was. They created this monster. We’re just fortunate enough to jump on this bandwagon and hopefully be a part of a show that can last many years like the original.
“The fact that people are so excited… it’s like the twilight for the older generation, they know everything about our characters, more about John Ross than I do, and they’re so excited and that makes us feel like what we’re doing is bigger than an average TV show. And we can only hope that it does well. And for me? Every day I went to work saying, ‘This is an important thing to people, this is an important thing to myself.’ My Meema — it was her favorite show. I have a lot invested, personal ties in this show, and somehow I’ve got the opportunity to play John Ross. It’s a really big deal for me,” he said.
Catch “Dallas” Wednesdays at 9/8c all summer long on TNT.
-- Jolie Lash