DALLAS -- Were it not for all the large white trucks lining this quiet street in Preston Hollow, you'd never know that scenes from a TV show were being shot inside one of the houses here.
But open the door to the one that's being used as a set for Lone Star, Fox's new prime-time soap that launches Monday night, and the TV-set atmosphere becomes apparent pretty immediately. The first thing you see are Lone Star's lead, James Wolk, and his co-star Adrianne Palicki, sitting in director's chairs, going over their scripts. Cardboard protects the hardwood floors -- and the occasional prized piece of furniture -- from interloping camera equipment and scuffing shoes. Crew members are scattered all over, some working on setting up the next scene, some biding their time at the dining-room table till they're called.
The day before, the dining-room table was busy for other reasons.
"We had a big dinner scene," says Brian Klein, the series' art director. "It was a pretty wonderful scene with various characters of the story coming together for one meal. It was a very charming scene that's going to set up a lot of the drama and a lot of the relationships that will evolve over time."
Lone Star has plenty of drama and relationships, with people often pretending to be something they're not -- much like this Preston Hollow house, which is the setting for the Houston home of Clint Thatcher, an oil-family patriarch (played by Jon Voight) who is the father of Palicki's character, Cat. Cat is married to Wolk's character, Bob. What Cat doesn't know is that Bob also has a woman in Midland, where he goes by Robert, and that Bob is a con man who's part of a revenge scheme Bob's father John (David Keith) has against the Thatcher family.
And that's simplifying things considerably. Lone Star was created by Kyle Killen, an Austin resident who has written for Salon.com and McSweeney's -- credits that don't tend to pop up on screenwriters' bios. In interviews (the Star-Telegram was unable to talk to Killen for this story), Killen has described Lone Star as " Dallas without the cheese," but he might more accurately describe it as Dallas -- but a lot more complex.
Although it's shot in Dallas, Lone Star is set in Houston and Midland (a Fair Park house doubles as the Midland location), a dual setting that's fitting for a show that's largely about dualities. Bob/Robert's double life is at the core -- and he's more conscience-stricken about it than you might expect, considering he is a con man -- but there are dualities throughout, many of them soap-opera staples: Two women from different backgrounds in love with the same man (Eloise Mumford plays Lindsay, the Midland woman). Two father figures who are sworn enemies. Two brothers (Mark Deklin and Bryce Johnson as Voight's sons) with disparate temperaments and levels of cynicism.
Holding this all together is Wolk, a relative newcomer whose best-known role is a part in the 2008 TV-movie Front of the Class. Months before Lone Star's official premiere, Wolk was tagged as one fall TV's faces to watch, headlining a series that is on many critics' lists of best new shows.
"There's an element of me that's very excited about that," Wolk says during an earlier interview. "And then there's an entertainment side of me that that's very realistic about what that it is. I'm obviously doing something that some people think is right. Not 'all,' not 'many' -- some. So I'm going to keep doing that."
Because he's playing the guy with the double life, Wolk is the only Lone Star actor who interacts onscreen with everyone else in the cast, and it's a gift that he doesn't take for granted.
"It's like being an artist with all these different colors," he says. "I get to paint with red and violet and blue, and then I get to go paint with grays and blacks. And then I get to play with really bright oranges and reds. It really allows me to build the layers of this character."
Voight as patriarch
None of the principal cast of Lone Star is from Texas, although a couple of them have so much experience playing Texans that they almost feel like they are from here. Voight made his big breakthrough playing naive Texan lover boy Joe Buck in 1969's Midnight Cowboy, and he has returned to the state for several other roles, including as a high-school football coach in 1999's Varsity Blues.
"It's a funny thing about me and Texas," Voight says during an interview in his dressing room, a trailer compartment where the air conditioner is turned up so high against the summer heat that it is hard to hear Voight's voice on the recorder afterward. "Even though I'm from Yonkers, N.Y., I seemed to fit the image of a Texas boy at the time of [Midnight Cowboy]. I worked very hard to do that, but it felt very comfortable. I'm different from many other members of the acting community in that I'm tall and lean and I look a little bit more like a cowboy than an urban character."
Clint Thatcher, Voight's Lone Star character, is a little bit cowboy and a little bit urban. He's an old-school Texas oilman who doesn't let much get by him, and if anyone is likely to figure out what Robert/Bob is up to, it's Clint.
"As I said in the pilot, 'Nothin' goes on around here that I don't know everything about, so take your shot, son,'" Voight says. "I get a little bit of a glint that he might be a player, but it doesn't intimidate me because I was a player. He's ambitious and he works hard and all those things, so I kind of like him. But if I catch him doing something out of line, I'll let him know."
At 71, Voight is also in a way the patriarch of a show that features a much-younger cast (even David Keith, the show's other longtime vet, is 56). That came with its perks for the other cast members.
"It's almost funny going into a restaurant with Jon Voight," says Mark Deklin, who plays the more suspicious-natured of Voight's two sons. "People'd go, 'Oh, it's Jon Voight,' and we'd get treated very well. Every restaurant we'd go to, someone would say, 'What's the special occasion, Mr. Voight?' And he'd point to me and say, 'It's his birthday.'"
Coincidentally, Palicki, who plays Voight's onscreen daughter, has logged quite a bit of Texas time during several seasons on Friday Night Lights. In fact, although Palicki is no longer a FNL regular, she will appear in the upcoming series finale, which filmed scenes in Dallas about the same time that Lone Star began filming its initial episode run.
"They can't get rid of me," says Palicki, whom other Lone Star cast members call the show's social director. "I have multiple friends here who have lived here their whole lives. During the pilot, it was really awesome, my friend Barbara would drive us around town, take us to really good restaurants we never would find on our own."
On Friday Night Lights, Palicki played Tyra Collette, a "bad" girl trying to become good. Cat, her Lone Star character, is a change of pace, a more sweet-natured character who is very much in love with "Bob" and seems very vulnerable if she ever discovers his deception.
"One of the things I love is that there's no bad girl in [Lone Star]," Palicki says. "You come to see why he loves both women. And it's not hard. Otherwise, you'd be like, 'Well, hopefully he leaves that b----.' Jimmy plays his character so well because he needs to be endearing. You have to root for him."
Deklin adds that Wolk's character is so likable, despite the despicable things he does to lead his double life, that other characters -- including Deklin's -- come off more as bad guys.
"I'm the antagonist," Deklin says. "I'm the jerk. I'm kind of the villain of the show. What's funny about that is I'm actually the one who's protecting my family, the one who smells a rat. I don't know what he's up to, but I know he's up to something. As an actor, I'm approaching it like I'm the moral center of the show. My character's not the nicest guy in the world, but he believes he's right."
The show's real bad guy, though, is Bob/Robert's father John, played by David Keith, a character actor who has played dozens of roles but is probably still best-known for playing a doomed character in 1982's An Officer and a Gentleman. Keith says that his Lone Star character may be the least ambiguous character in the show.
"He's a total sociopath," Keith says. "And he completely accepts it as 'There has to be people like me, because there are so many suckers.' And he has to take advantage of them. He's never met a person that didn't represent dollar signs.... His son can do it better than anybody he's ever seen, because he's so charismatic and so good-looking." The trouble is, Wolk's character isn't a sociopath and is starting to have doubts about his con-man life -- and that leads to friction between father and son.
Keith, who is originally from Knoxville, Tenn., sounds more naturally Texan than anyone in the show. (Keith says this is because large parts of Texas were settled by eastern Tennesseans.) Like Voight and Palicki, he's logged a fair amount of time doing Texas-based projects. But he may have more Texas TV time than the entire rest of the cast combined.
"I spent a lot of time in Dallas in the '80s, hanging out with Bill Bates and a bunch of the Dallas Cowboys," says Keith, who was friends with Bates at the University of Tennessee. "When [Bates] came here as a rookie in '83, I started hangin', working all the way up to actually carrying Tom Landry's headphones. His final season, I was on the sidelines of every game."
Coordination is key
As tends to happen on TV sets, things move a little slowly, at least from at outsider's point of view. During a couple of afternoon hours at the Preston Hollow house, Wolk and Palicki work on a couple of scenes, one nearly silent as "Bob" arrives home to comfort Cat after an accident, another in which they put Grace -- Cat's young daughter from a previous marriage, played by North Texas actress Alexandra Doke -- to bed.
Klein says that the bedroom, which looks like a little girl's room but in real life is occupied by an older girl, was one of the few major changes made in using the Preston Hollow house to portray the Houston house
"We're taking advantage of the wonderful stuff they do have and have accumulated over decades in this house. It's wonderful. There's a lot of beautiful furniture and a lot of beautiful things to shoot in here."
There are risks to filming in a private home, Klein says, but he says the owners have been great about letting the crew film there.
"Even though this house is gigantic, it's like every other set," he says. "Very cramped conditions, people flying past each other, and there has to be a lot of cooperation in order to make it happen.
"Usually, I try to keep things from being damaged," Klein continues. "Try to keep everybody happy as they're running by equipment. But it's just a matter of time before stuff gets broken. But the owners of the house have very good taste, and are very kind, very wonderful to work with. Which doesn't happen every time, so we're very grateful to be here."
Robert Philpot, 817-390-7872