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Jason Lee Talks ‘Memphis Beat’ — He’s Not an Elvis Impersonator

Jason Lee would like to correct misconceptions about his June 22-debuting TNT "Memphis Beat" series — which a number of critics have already referred to as the best of this summer's crop of new TV offerings.

First, "People started talking about this show as being about a cop who's an Elvis impersonator, but that's not what it is. We're taking a very, very sincere approach, absolutely without being silly or gimmicky," he says.

Lee, clean-shaven and looking much different from his mustachioed Earl Hickey persona in "My Name is Earl," plays a dyed-in-the-wool Memphian who is passionate about his city and his music, who is a cop that goes out and performs at night. "It's a massive release for him," he says. And for Lee himself, "It's great; it's fantastic performing 'Love Me Tender' with a guitar onstage. It's really special. It feels comfortable."

Second — fear not, Memphis. The "Memphis Beat" company has been shooting in Louisiana, a fact that Memphis media have noted with some dismay, but "We're going up there soon to actually shoot some stuff. I spent a little bit of time in Memphis before, but I can't wait to go back within this context," he says of the soulful drama that also stars Alfre Woodard and DJ Qualls — and is produced under the banner of George Clooney's and Grant Heslov's production company. "The city is a big part of this show, and you've got to see it. You can't fake it."

Lee admits he's still saddened by the loss of "Earl." He says, "I wasn't sure what was going to happen next when the show ended. I didn't know what to expect, but I'm glad it became this thing. It's something I've not gotten to do yet, and very, very exciting for me."

The shooting schedule "is tough," however. "We have fewer episodes than a network drama, which is great, but the workload is pretty intense, especially in the heat. You just take a lot of water and pace yourself. It's a fun, exciting gig and that certainly helps a lot. But I'm definitely going to take a break once we're finished — a much-needed break. I'll probably just kind of go camping."

HELLO, AGAIN: Linda Gray tells us she had a blast making the big-screen "Expecting Mary," which has an anticipated fall release. The indie film has a pregnant teen — Oleysa Rulin of "High School Musical" fame — running away and winding up in a trailer park, the denizens of which are a colorful assortment of crazies in their AARP years. Gray stars with Elliott Gould, Lainie Kazan, Cybill Shepherd, Cloris Leachman, Della Reese, Fred Willard and Gene Simmons.

"We shot it in 18 days. Because everybody loved their role, we all came together quickly. It was like going to a party you can't wait to go to," says the actress who reigned over the TV scene as Sue Ellen Ewing on "Dallas" back in the '80s. Gray plays a former Vegas showgirl "whose last gig was in New Mexico. She's funny and pathetic — and still can be glamorous."

Gray was also instrumental in getting "Expecting Mary" made. She'd gotten to know screenwriter Dan Gordon when "we both bought the rights to 'Terms of Endearment' as a play, which I did in London about eight years ago. During that time, we talked about what fun it would be to come up with something more comedic than Sue Ellen or Aurora, the part I played in 'Terms,' and we started throwing out ideas."

Gordon eventually wrote "this miraculous screenplay" for "Expecting Mary" as a result. The fact that the movie put so many talents of a certain age to work is, of course, one of Gray's favorite parts of the enterprise since all of her cast mates — save Rulin — have had to face unapologetic Hollywood ageism. "We approached it with a lot of humor. We made a pact: Nobody under 50 allowed."

Asked about the chances of any more on-camera "Dallas" reunions, Gray is quick to respond, "Oh, God, no. Unless something very classy came along, we're through."

That's not to say, however, that the "Dallas" cast is through getting together on their own. Gray says that she and Larry Hagman and Patrick Duffy got together just a matter of weeks ago when Duffy was in town from his Oregon home for a "Bold and the Beautiful" appearance, and it's not unusual that they and other former cast mates meet for "long lunches or dinners. One of the joys of doing 'Dallas' was the enduring friendships. We've known each other 33 years. We text each other now. Our kids have us all using iPhones."

MAKING ADJUSTMENTS: Terry Crews admits that having his and his family's lives opened for the world to see on their "The Family Crews" reality show has been an adjustment for everyone. With Season 2 of the BET show now in production, he recalls that when the first season began to air, "We got off Facebook and all that stuff. We retreated. We felt like, 'Hey, if you want to know something about us, watch the show.' There has to be a boundary, a limit. You start to feel like you don't have any privacy at all."

According to him, they have bumped into "a couple of people" who've been negative. "And you're like, 'Eh! They don't like me.' But the thing is, most of the people we encounter are fans, and they're nice. It's fun to talk to them."

Crews, who's also starring in TBS's "Are We There Yet?" says, "We're pretty excited about Season 2" of the reality skein. "On our show, the drama doesn't come from me versus my wife, or us versus the kids. We've decided we're going to stick together, to have each other's back. When my daughter announced she was pregnant, that was a really big family issue." Obviously, baby on board will be a theme this coming season.

COPYRIGHT 2010 MARILYN BECK AND STACY JENEL SMITH
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