Patrick Duffy on ‘Dallas’
TNT’s “Dallas” revival smartly brought back several original cast members, including Patrick Duffy as Bobby Ewing while also bringing in new actors, some as the kids all grown up and some as entirely new characters. The drama hasn’t let up.
When we caught up to Duffy, we had a lot of fun speaking about “Dallas” again after all these years, with some humor and a lot of sincerity.
CraveOnline: Aren’t you glad you came back in the shower all those years ago and Bobby didn’t stay dead?
Patrick Duffy: Absolutely. It not only resurrected my position in the industry. It took it up a notch. The show was a wonderful show to be on. I didn’t leave it because I was unhappy in any way but I wanted to go out there and see what my position in the industry could be more on my own.
Coming back from the dead the way I came back from the dead and the amount of press that followed that, and then the amount of time that was needed to justify it by Leonard and the writing staff, took me to a different level in the ensemble of the show. That has maintained its level ever since which is why we are the three, they refer to us as The Big Three. It used to be the Big One and the cast.
Then after the shower scene, I got a step up and I’ve maintained that step up. Nobody was more influential in getting me back on the show than Larry. So he’s responsible for me sharing the spotlight.
CraveOnline: After coming back famously in the shower, when you got the script were you like, “Really? Cancer?”
Patrick Duffy: Well, the first thing I said to Cynthia was, “Do I live?” And she said to me, “It’s soap opera cancer.” But it’s there for most of the first season of course. Again it’s very smart writing. Iconically, part of the show, other than the most iconic moment which is the “Who shot J.R.?” it’s the death of Bobby and coming back.
So how much better to address that and just say okay, remember that? It’s not going to happen, but here it is. It’s mortality. It’s life and death. What do we do about it? She rings that bell so it’s a memory in the viewing audience about Bobby, so why not address it flat out? Do it, take care of it, make it a dramatic moment and it gets solved.
Bobby lives. I’m not giving away anything, so I think it’s great. But it is interesting. The first question I asked her is, “This is not just to get me on the show and then I die and the rest of the people get to work and I don’t.” No, I live so it’s good.
CraveOnline: When you have scenes between Bobby and JR again, does it feel like the same chemistry and magic you had back in the first series?
Patrick Duffy: No, he’s so old and frail now. I just feel pity. Yeah, nothing’s changed. It hasn’t changed a bit. Notwithstanding the fact we recognize that we are older obviously, but it’s still exactly the same amount of fun. What somebody once said because I was saying this, I love working with him more than anything on the planet, and Linda.
Part of the reason is we’re such good friends that 90% of the scenes we have, we’re grabbing each other and threatening to kill each other, and that’s so much fun with your best friend. It’s just the most fun in the world.
CraveOnline: But you try to talk a loving approach.
Patrick Duffy: Oh, I always try. He always screws me. It never works out. That’s why you watched for 13 years. Everybody roots for Bobby, Bobby tries to do the right thing, JR always stabs him and yet Bobby knows he’s family and wants to be a good family and he tries again.
It’s classic and it’s wonderful. It’s wonderful. Coming back on this show is a gift. I know half of you, the collective you that watches the show, are going to be screaming at the TV when I do things like invite JR to come back and live at Southfork. You’re going to go, “NOOOO! You dumb sh**. That’s gonna leave a mark.” And it does but it’s fun. It’s so much fun.
CraveOnline: Do you still play pranks on the show?
Patrick Duffy: No, we don’t do that anymore. Michael was saying the extent to which we do anything, there’s a great respect for it. We also have a different role now. Not that our job is to be an example for the rest of the cast but it is a responsibility to do the work first. If it gets to the point where people think you’re just there to play pranks, then the work will suffer.
So we don’t do that. We’re not playing pranks. It doesn’t mean we’re not having a good time but what Michael said is true. We’re the first ones to work, we’re the first ones to know our lines, we’re always first on set. Nobody ever waits for us to get out of makeup and hair. It’s a big responsibility. I don’t put lizards in his briefcase anymore because it’s just not right.
CraveOnline: How has Southfork changed?
Patrick Duffy: Southfork is almost identical to what it does. It’s still a lot smaller on the outside than it is on the inside. They put a lot of rooms in a little tiny house but it’s a tourist attraction, and they keep it up in order to be a tourist attraction. It’s like Disneyland never changes.
Southfork won’t change either. It’s kept up to be the Ewing family home. We have to avoid certain things now. There’s a huge convention center there and there’s a lot of twinkly lights all over the roof that look so tacky. So you have to shoot and avoid those because otherwise it really looks [like] Christmas 12 months out of the year, but it’s a part of the show as much as the theme song is a part of the show. Southfork ranch, in the opening credits, that last thing you see, that camera goes vroom and Southfork and it’s a character. It stays the same.
CraveOnline: How important is it for Bobby to respect Miss Ellie’s wishes for the farm?
Patrick Duffy: Oh, the hell with her. It’s mine now. Actually, the whole first season, the plot of the first season is predicated on the fact that there is seismic shift in what’s going to happen to Southfork. The entire season is based on that. And the reason that there’s that shift in what’s going to happen to Southfork is that Bobby [confronted] his mortality in the opening episode.
Then everything changes because family is the most important thing and he’s going to protect the family from what’s going to happen if there’s a problem with Southfork. So the whole season is based on that. It’s brilliant writing on Cynthia’s part.
CraveOnline: What did you think of Brenda Strong as the new Mrs. Bobby Ewing?
Patrick Duffy: In defense of my new wife, I very seldom critique things that I’m in. I’ll watch myself, which I have no problem doing, but in every episode of the first seven episodes I was captivated by the relationship of Bobby and Ann. To me it felt absolutely normal. It felt as if it had been going on for a long time. I watched it in the third person. I watched them and I said, “They’re so good. They’re so natural.”
I remember asking her maybe the first day we worked, because you have to nowadays, I said, “Is it okay if I put my hand on your body at different times?” Because you have to ask those questions now. Because that to me was so normal, when you’re married and you love somebody, you walk behind them in the kitchen, you just put your hand on them. I see that in our relationship on camera all the time and I just think she needs no defense in terms of filling shoes because they’re two separate lives.
Two completely separate lives. She is the wife for Bobby Ewing I must say. I think acting-wise, on and off camera, in terms of working with a person, she can be a great wife on camera and just a rolling bitch on camera, but she’s not. We are blessed. This cast is a magic cast. It’s a magic cast that is so immediate in terms of being a family on and off camera that it makes working a blessing.
It’s an absolute blessing. I don’t want to screw with it. I don’t even want to try and define why it is. As it was 30 years ago when we did the original “Dallas,” they put together the magic combination of people, both as people and as characters. There’s not a fly in the ointment there.
CraveOnline: Is there more of an edge to Bobby this time? Is he as ruthless as JR now?
Patrick Duffy: Well, I’d say he’s as passionate. I heard Jesse defend my character a little bit in one of the other interviews we were doing. We all mature. We all grow a bit and whereas Bobby was very idealistic and pure 35 years ago, he is now a 63-year-old guy who’s learned how to live life.
I think the parameters that I am given to still be the moral compass of the show still give me the latitude to be a normal human being with rages and anger and passion and et cetera and give vent to those every once in a while without losing my moral compass. So yeah, he’s not ruthless but he’s passionate.
CraveOnline: What did you think when they came to you and said they were thinking of doing “Dallas” again?
Patrick Duffy: I wasn’t sure it could be done because I’ve seen attempts on the printed page and in pitches about what to do to resurrect it. Why wouldn’t you want to redo “Dallas?” It was so iconic. At least the temptation is there but I’ve never seen anybody produce something that made me think it could actually end up on screen because the scripts sucked.
Everything I’d read was atrocious. Nobody knew how to write it. So when we first heard they wanted to do this, my eyes rolled back in my head and I thought, “Oh, okay.” Then we got the script. Larry, Linda and I got the script. The minute I closed the page I was on the phone to Linda and Larry and I said, “If you guys want to do this, I’m 100% in.”
CraveOnline: You’d read the movie script for John Travolta?
Patrick Duffy: Oh yeah. I don’t know anybody that could write it. It doesn’t just take a good writer. It takes a gifted kind of person. Any good writer can invent people, but to take somebody that’s already invented and understand what that voice comes from, that takes a special kind of person and that’s who Cynthia was that this other writer just wanted. We as actors when we stepped on the set after 21 years, it felt like we were on a three month hiatus and we were back at work. That’s how seamless it was.
CraveOnline: Does Bobby believe in Christopher and the alternative fuel?
Patrick Duffy: I am the father to two boys, 35 and 32. I think Bobby feels the way that I feel which is my work is done basically, in the sense that everything I can do to raise a child, if I haven’t instilled everything that I possibly can by the time they’re 10, then I’m never going to do it. So Bobby feels that about him. He may still feel like oh, he’s not going to be able to do this or it’s not his time yet, I need to protect him, but he has total confidence in him as a person.
It’s unquestionable confidence and love. So that’s the source of some of the problems because that’s old school. You might feel that but you don’t talk about it. That’s just something you don’t talk about. That’s my generation, don’t talk about it. I’m not into let’s feel good and expose our feelings and we’ll get everything out in the open. I don’t want to talk about it. That’s his character but it’s unquestionable love and confidence.
It’s the noncommunication thing that gives rise to more of those problems. He’s left on his own because he’s not getting enough feedback that Bobby may feel, but he just never would say. But my work basically is done. I’m totally confident in him as a person.
CraveOnline: Why do you think viewers like to see rich people behaving badly?
Patrick Duffy: Well, rich people are given a wider latitude to act badly. If you’re not rich and youer’ watching this, every time you act badly, you’d get arrested or slapped and we pay our way out of things. So there’s a vicarious living an alternative lifestyle when you watch rich people behave badly. I think that’s part of it. Then you kind of in your mind think, “Yeah, I could’ve done that.” But you don’t then have to go out and do it.