By Bel Hernandez
“Dallas is the hottest Latino show on TV. We have seven Latinos working on the show!” actress Marlene Forte declared as we began our interview — and tonight when Dallas premieres on TNT at 9/8c PM, you will definitely see several of these Latino talents, among them Jordana Brewster who plays Elena Ramos and Marlene Forte who plays her mom — and Bobby Ewing’s (Patrick Duffy) “keeper of the house”.
With no Latino themed series on the TV fall line-up (the word is still out on whether Lifetime will be picking up Devious Maids, a pilot ABC passed on), Dallas might be the closest thing Latinos get. Dallas has a diverse cast of Latinos characters and Latinos in non-Latinos roles. For a series that takes place in Dallas, Texas, it only make sense to include Latinos who make up the second largest group comprising 38% of the population.
In addition to Jordana Brewster (a Brazileira born in Panama City) as Elena, and Forte as her mother, the other Latino characters include Carlos Bernard (who is fluent in Spanish and whose mother was born in Madrid) as Vincent Cano, a JR ally; Leonor Varela (born in Chile) who plays the evil Marta del Sol; and Texan newcomer Carlos Marquez who plays a Venezuelan businessman who will feature more prominently as the series goes forth.
Then there is Julie Gonzalo, la Argentina, whose blonde (they actually had to dye her hair darker), blue eyes, and talent, landed her the role of Rebecca Sutter, the beautiful and intelligent fiancé of Christopher Ewing (Jesse Metcalfe), Bobby Ewing’s adopted son. And as the storyline unfolds, more Latinos characters will surface.
However, Forte almost didn’t get chance to be part of the most talked about television remake in recent years — she was the last of the series regulars to be cast. A point driven home when executive producer Cynthia Cidre (Cane, Mambo Kings) came over after the audition, glad to have finally found her Carmen. “Do you know how many actresses we saw for the role” she asked rhetorically.
It was Forte’s manager, Paulo Andres’ ability to look beyond the label of the “maid” role and take a look at the substance of the character written. He was convinced this was a role for Forte. He had gotten a hold of the script back in December 2011 and sent it over for Forte to look at. “It sat on the coffee table over the Christmas holidays,” Forte says. She was not keen on auditioning for another maid role. Finally she read the script and immediately knew she wanted the part. “I am the Latina Benson (a reference to the character in a sitcom by the same name who runs the household)!”, she exclaimed, and explains further. “This is not a maid role in the true sense of the word. It’s not a “Yes, Sir, Yes Mam” kind of role. I am the keeper of the house. I have a whole staff!”
Forte is a major fan of executive producer Cidre, who is charged with reintroducing the iconic Dallas characters of JR, Bobby and Sue Ellen while creating the landscape for a new generation of the Ewing legacy in an increasingly multicultural landscape in addition to writing some great female roles.
The original Dallas was very testosterone driven. Of the fifteen series producers there was not one female. Given the female perspective and the thirty-three year span, Cidre’s Dallas women are now in power positions and taking an active part in running the business. Even Sue Ellen Ewing (Linda Grey) has gone from being an alcoholic of old to being an influential fundraiser with a possible run for governor in site. Althougth, there will still be the usual dose of betrayal, scheming and backstabbing, the ante is upped, with these new empowered, smart and ambitious women. “I think different this time around because the creator of the show is a female,” Forte proclaims. “She wrote the pilot, oversees the show and she is there even at the looping sessions. She is hands on.” As for pushing the envelope, it helps that the show is not a network show but on cable. “It gives us more freedom,” Forte says. (What to Expect in future episodes below)
For Forte working with Cidre also has added special element. “I’ve been in this business for twenty years and it feels good to see a Latina woman in charge,” she explains. She is specifically referring to how the Latinos characters were written. “As a Latina Cidre understands that Latinos don’t live in a vacuum. She understands the reality – the diversity of Latinos in America.” And that reality has Latinos intertwined throughout the Dallas melodrama.
But most of all Forte is enjoying working on her first series as a regular cast member — working with actors she grew up watching as a young girl, like Larry Hagman. She remembers him as the iconic JR, but more importantly she remembers him as Major Nelson in the ‘60’s sitcom I Dream of Jeannie. As for the young cast, Forte has choice words: Beautiful and sexy! “I couldn’t wait to go to the set and get an eyeful everyday!
Forte believes that with the cancellation of several of the daytime shows and many of the scripted shows on the air being mostly detective, and medical procedural shows, audiences will really respond to Dallas. In addition, fans of the original show around the world, will be tuning in. “For the people that watched the old Dallas, they still respond to the nostalgia and escapism of the past,” Forte claims. “And we still have that in the new series and so much more”.
While, Forte waits to hear if the show will be picked up for a second season, she is keeping busy. She likes to say “work begets work”, as is the case for her. Even before she had finished filming Dallas, she was cast in a recurring role on The Secret Life of The American Teenager . She plays a young liberal grandmother helping her granddaughter, played by up-and-coming star Sierra Ramirez’s, deal with her pregnancy.
“I am having so much fun playing these two latest roles,” Forte gleefully says. “After twenty-one years ‘No tengo que llorar’ (I don’t have to cry).”
However, not content to “rest on her laurels”, she has set another milestone for herself. “I want Ted Danson’s career,” she states. “ I want to be on 3 different shows at once.”
With a career that spans theater, television and film with credits which include recurring roles in Crossing Jordan and House of Pain, film appearances as in JJ Abrams’ Star Trek reboot and an upcoming role in Marlon Wayan’s directorial debut Smart Ass, we don’t doubt she may reach her goal.
Dallas has its 2 hour premiere, Wednesday, June 13 at 9/8c on TNT
So what can audiences expect in the coming Dallas episodes? Here the list, according to Forte:
- Primetime soap or telenovela drama unfolding weekly
- Don’t expect to see Elena (Brewster) Carmen’s (Forte) daughter anytime soon working in the “Ewing kitchen” she has plans on making it big in the oil business, armed with her masters degree in energy resources
- More “mothering” of the Ewing boys by Carmen the “keeper of the house”
- More heat in the relationship between John Ross Ewings and Christopher Ewing and the gorgeous, ambitious Elena Ramos
- More feuds between the young Ewings over the oil vs. new energy and the increasing
- The inceasing Venezuelan oil pipeline connection
- More evil doings from Marta del Sol (Leonor Varela)
- More ‘betraying,’ ‘scheming’ and ‘backstabbing,’ storylines for the writers room