As Marta Del Sol, Leonor Varela has been heating up the new “Dallas” as the bad – and mad – girl who’s been causing trouble for John Ross and his father, J.R. Ewing.
With the rebooted show hitting its stride on TNT on Wednesday nights, Marta is ready to really bring out the crazy, the kind that just might bring John Ross (played by Josh Henderson) to his knees.
It’s been a unique part for the actress, who originally hails from Chile, and one she actually didn’t realize the full scope of (like her secret identity as Veronica, a bipolar schemer) when she first signed on for the TNT drama.
A fun ride, the six-months pregnant beauty told AccessHollywood.com what it’s like playing “Dallas’” main bad girl, what she learned from veteran Larry Hagman and how fun it is to work with easy-on-the-eyes Josh.
AccessHollywood.com: Which do you like to call her actually – Marta or Veronica?
Leonor Varela: I think I kind of always oscillated between the two because I think Marta has become so much of her identity, but I would say Veronica. But it was a little rough, because in all of the production papers and the call sheets, it would be like, ‘Marta,’ and I would be like, ‘No! it’s not Marta.’
Access: When did you find out she was so totally crazy?
Leonor: As I read each episode.
Access: Was it later on you found out she had a double identity?
Leonor: When I read the pilot, I got really excited at page 20, when I saw her come in the helicopter and come to buy the [Southfork] land, and I was like, ‘Oh my God, that’s so great,’ ‘cause I do a lot of environmental work myself in Chile, my home country, so I felt I identified with her. Then, when I read the end of the episode, I was like, ‘Oh, so I guess she’s double crossing. Oh, that’s cool. I like that!’ I thought that was great fun. Then, I read Episode 2, and she drugs John Ross and she has crazy tie-me-down sex with him, I was like ‘OK.’ And then, when she started popping pills, I was like, ‘OK, she’s bipolar. I got it.’ And it was fine because she stops taking her pills and things start to unravel… It was really well-timed. I didn’t have to play her crazy before and I think it was really good not to because then it comes off, really, as a great device.
Access: How dangerous do you think she is?
Leonor: Very. Very.
Access: Is it because she’s the unknown?
Leonor: I think she’s a wild cannon. She’s capable of pretty much anything. Her ethics are very flexible — let’s put it that way, so her morality is also. So she’s not afraid to get her hands dirty. I think she’s been burned before, so that makes her pretty ruthless in the game of like doing what it takes to get it done, get it resolved and because she’s very emotional and unstable, that creates like a wildfire combination.
Access: It’s such a fun character.
Leonor: (Giggles) So much fun. Actually, last year was the year of the crazies. I played a crazy in Stephen Sommers’ next movie, “Odd Thomas.” I play his crazy a** mom… So I think it was last year was the year of the crazies. It was seasonal (giggles)
Access: Your co-star Josh, who plays John Ross – he’s adorable!
Leonor: So adorable. I love him.
Access: What’s it been like to work with him. He’s an interesting guy with a really unique backstory and upbringing.
Leonor: I always felt like Josh was gonna really steal the show and really explode with it because it’s a role that’s perfect for him, first of all. And, second of all, he has the right attitude, in life, with people and with his work. He’s an ethical actor, he works really, really hard, he’s very, very devoted and it’s such a pleasure to come to set with somebody that’s prepared, that’s willing to try things and be like, ‘Ok, let’s do that.’ It’s like playing tennis with a pro, you learn and you get to play better. I think we got along really, really well and I think the chemistry kind of shows in the times where we do have chemistry and the hatefulness shows when we need to have hatefulness because, we felt like we were on the same team… I have nothing but great esteem for him and his work.
Access: And he’s not bad to look at either.
Leonor: Hell no, but I have a fiancée so I’m not going to comment on that (giggles).
Access: What have you learned from working with a veteran like Larry Hagman (J.R.)?
Leonor: One of the things that really impressed me from day 1, was that twinkle in his eye. When you see that little spark in someone’s eye, you’re like ‘Oh! Oh, he’s so right there in life…’ He’s curious, he’s quick, he’s sharp. You see someone who’s very much alive when you see that sparkle. He’s so got it and I also think this is an incredible opportunity for him, because this is a character that’s defined him so much. To be able to reincarnate him, it must be a dream come true and even throughout… his health challenges, he never backed off of his commitment. Never. So I think I learned to really understand how to handle the work and business even throughout anything, which is not always easy. Not everyone can do that. I was very inspired by that.
Access: You’re pregnant. Are you eating ice cream?
Leonor: I am actually the most healthy pregnant woman I’ve ever met. It’s ridiculous… I just came out of yoga and I just crave fruit and salad and fish, so it’s very boring for me.
Leonor: My baby just wants healthy things.
Access: So what has the reaction from fans been like to your role on the show?
Leonor: I’m on Twitter (HERE!) so I get a lot of feedback that’s very direct from people, which is wonderful… I have to say, it’s been a tsunami of just compliments… because everybody loves the show and has nothing but nice things to say to me about my character and the show, so I’m just happy right now, really, really happy.
“Dallas” airs Wednesdays at 9/8c on TNT.
-- Jolie Lash