Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Interview with Linda Gray about Cinderella at New Wimbledon Theatre

IT'S a long way from the rich oil fields of Dallas, Texas to the the bright lights of the New Wimbledon Theatre but the journey between the two has been something of a fairytale for Linda Gray.
The legendary actress who helped make shoulder pads the fashion statement of the 80s thanks to her portrayal of alcoholic Sue Ellen Ewing in the American TV soap Dallas, is currently in town preparing for her panto debut.
That the 74-year-old is excited about taking part in the theatre's production of Cinderella is an understatement.
Indeed during our chat at the theatre her eyes were positively sparkling - and it was nothing to do with the copious amounts of glitter on her eyelids.
"We did some photos this morning and my lovely make up lady put lots of glitter and sparkle on my eyes," she smiles warmly.
"Have a look - isn't it fabulous?"
And indeed I can report that her eyes were indeed 'fabulous' and adorned in glitter. They have also lost none of their smokiness and sultriness that made Sue Ellen such a seductive force on the TV.
But it's her role as the Fairy Godmother in Cinderella, not Dallas that she is most keen to talk about.
"I am so excited to be here," she enthuses. "It's very exciting because I got my dress today and it's so fabulous! The crew and cast are great and this theatre is just beautiful. It's a fairytale for me."
By taking part in the panto, Linda is following in the footsteps of fellow Americans such as Jerry Hall and Priscilla Presley and although she says she's looking forward to taking on the role, she cheerfully admits she's "terrified".
"I got a call from my agent who said the theatre had asked if I would like to be part of the show," she says.
"He is from London and had grown up going to pantomimes. He told me all about them and the ones he had seen as a child and how I had to do this.
"When he told me what happened though I was like 'men playing female parts - are you joking?'
"Americans don't know much about it - in fact we don't understand panto at all.
"But I thought it sounded fabulous and I loved it so here I am - although I'm terrified!"
And despite having to adjust to the cold - she's from California - and the punishing 12 performances a week schedule awaiting her, she says she's enjoying the experience "very much" not least thanks to those who will be joining her on stage.
"It's such a great cast," says Linda. "They are amazing, really talented and fun and the dancers are fantastic, so it's been an absolute joy.
"Tim Vine who plays Buttons is very funny and has me laughing all the time. We have a scene together where I have a few words with him and during rehearsals I can't look at him because I just know I'll laugh.
"However, my job is to keep my character together. We are here to tell the story and entertain people and I have to be solid in my character."
To help her in her task, director Ian Talbot made her do a run through of her part on stage with the rest of the cast sitting as her audience.
"I've never done anything like this before so I've never had people yelling, applauding or talking throughout a performance," she says.
"So I had to do my run through with the rest of the actors and crew doing all of that and more. It was so distracting but he needed to know I would be OK and to show me what I can expect.
"I am used to a camera being very close to my face and all those small gestures so this was always going to be very different for me.
"In fact every single thing has been different - for a start I'm speaking in rhymes - but it couldn't have gone better," she laughs.
What she won't be doing is making any ad libs.
"No, I will just wave my wand," she laughs. "I love my wand. Wouldn't it have been great to have had that wand for Sue Ellen? I could have made all her troubles disappear."
Which leads us neatly to her role in Dallas, the show which gripped the nation in the 1980s and which propelled her to stardom.
However, it turns out her character Sue Ellen, whose shoulder pads were as big as her vodka and tonics, was only supposed to be in a few episodes.
In fact it was her on screen chemistry with the late Larry Hagman as everyone's anti hero and arch villain JR Ewing which made the show such compulsive viewing and ensured Sue Ellen's permanent place in it.
"It was beyond my every expectation," she says warmly. "It's hard to describe. Here in the UK it was bigger than it was in America. You were massive fans!
"Originally it was Patrick and Victoria (Bobby and Pam) who were supposed to be the two main characters but Larry and I were at each other all the time - it was the juicy relationship and that was what CBS saw.
"When they decided they wanted more of us on screen I looked at Larry and realised I needed to know who would marry this guy.
"He is loud, obnoxious, disrespectful and really horrible to Sue Ellen. So why would she be attracted to him.
"So we created this back story - Larry wanted a trophy wife to show off and Sue Ellen was an ex Miss Texas and raised to marry the richest man in the state."
The partnership lasted over a decade and the cast revisited the show a few years ago before Larry died. It was, says Linda, a magical time in her life.
"It was quite ground breaking in many ways," she says. "It was a time when people who had any kind of problem, it was pushed under the rug and never spoken about.
"But here was this wealthy family who had a lot of problems - Sue Ellen was an alcoholic and suffered domestic abuse and Miss Ellie had a mastectomy.
"This woke up a lot of people because it was real and we really put it in peoples' faces. That's why it was so successful.
"The script was amazing too of course but it was the cast that made it a magical experience - much like it is here," she smiles.
"I have great memories of Dallas and it was a dream working with Larry - he was like a brother. It was a fairytale and I had the best time on that show and I'm having the best time here too.
"There was a magic there as there is here and when you feel it and know it, it's palpable.
"And I love Wimbledon - I came here a long time ago when I filmed Lovejoy - and so to be here now in such a fabulous show is a dream - a proper fairytale."

Cinderella is on at the New Wimbledon Theatre, The Broadway from Friday, December 5 until Sunday, January 11. Tickets cost from £11.90. Visit or call the box office on 0844 871 7646.

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