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Time Out Interview April 26th 2000
Theres nothing like meeting the star of a long-running series to blur the line between reality and fiction, but this is just too bizarre. Here I am in the upstairs room of a church in Waterloo shaking hands with Bobby Ewing. For those too young to know or too highbrow to care, Patrick Duffy played Bobby Ewing, younger brother of JR and son of Miss Ellie and Jock. He was the dutiful son, the good husband and the all round nice guy. In this case anyway life imitates art, Duffy is as pleasant as peach pie. The hair's greyer, but he's pretty neat for 51. His wife of over 20 years , Carlyn sits next to him throughout the interview, smiling affectionately as Duffy basks in her approbation. He's nice, she’s nice, they make me try hard to be nice. It’s all a bit, well, nice.
You may once have been able to buy bags of ‘Dallas’ Dirt — ‘The dirtiest dirt in the world’ — but there’s no shit on Duffy’s shoes. With a TV career spanning 22 years, the guy has mastered the art of being not quite ‘A’ list. From seven years on ‘The Man From Atlantis’ to over a decade on ‘Dallas’, Duffy most recently spent another seven years on the saccharine sitcom ‘Step By Step’ with the truly scary Suzanne Somers. It’s not a CV everyone would be thrilled with, but Duffy is happy it’s his.
He says he finds it hard to complain about his career, but it’s clear he feels he’s missed out on something, somewhere along the line. ‘When we were doing "Dallas", there wasn’t the amount of feature film work available to those in television as there is now.
Indeed before the ‘Friends’ phenomenon, the most a soap star like Duffy could hope for was the odd TV movie. It didn’t stop him having a go:
Seven years into ‘Dallas’ his contract was up, and his feet were itching to get out of cowboy boots. High on his expectations he pulled out of the show, demanding to be killed off, ‘so that I could never ever come back’. There are few characters in the history of television who have proved less dead than Bobby Ewing. More mind-blowing than even the changing face of Miss Ellie, the return of Bobby nonchalantly taking a shower after a whole season six feet under, was the plot twist to beat ‘em all.
I tell Duffy that, in an internet interview (www.UltimateDallas.Com) with Victoria Principal (who played Pam, the wife with the endlessly inflating chest), she claimed the entire cast thought the ‘it was all a dream’ scam was a terrible idea. ‘That’s not true,’ he says, checking that Carlyn concurs, before trying, rather implausibly, to throw me off the scent: ‘It would be very interesting to know if it was really her.’
Now, it may be in Duffy’s interest to play down the absurdity of his reappearance, but most reports confirm Principal’s stance. Indeed, behind-the- scenes gossip suggests that the real star of the show, Larry Hagman, was so displeased by the development that he demanded heads on plates. And reading around the polite smiley chat, it is clear that it was Hagman’s status which prompted Duffy to leave in the first place.
‘When I left Larry was the absolute figurehead. It was him, and then the rest of the cast of "Dallas". The real driving force behind the show, Leonard Katzman, also left that year, and the new producers took it down a whole different route. Audiences were falling off, and so it was decided to try and bring us both back. They got Hagman to call me, and it was soon apparent that if I came back, things were going to be different. It was going to be Larry Hagman and Patrick Duffy and the rest of the cast of "Dallas".’
Aha! Gotcha! Mr Nice was really Mr I Want More Kudos. But whatever Duffy says, ‘Dallas’ wouldn’t have stood a chance without Larry Hagman as JR. He played the evil big bro for all it was worth. JR grinned his way through dodgy deals, endless affairs (81 is one estimate) and stupendously scurrilous shenanigans. He represented the unadulterated pursuit of wealth for an America fed up with Jimmy Carter’s dowdy worthiness; bumperstickers all over the country pro-claimed ‘JR for President’. Romania was mad for him; Hagman jokingly credits himself with the fall of Ceausescu. But Britain really loved to loathe him: the episode in which he was shot not only made the ‘Nine O’Clock News’, it notched up 20 million viewers.
So wasn’t it boring being the goody-goody? Duffy shrugs. ‘Only because the goody-goody gets less scenery to chew. Ninety per cent of the time I play the hero. It’s a combination of what I look like, what I’m comfortable doing and what people want me to do.’ Being asked to do ‘Art’ is a big deal for Duffy: he had a week spare between ‘The Man From Atlantis’ and ‘Dallas’, two weeks between that and ‘Step By Step’ which finished in 1998. This is, he says his ‘quiet time’. He’d still like to make it in the movies, but seems just as keen to get another TV show under his belt. So what would he really like to do, given the chance? ‘I’d like to do period work. I’d like to swash and buckle until I can’t see my buckle anymore.’
As we say our goodbyes I’m imagining Patrick Duffy with long curly hair, thigh-length leather boots and a long sword in his hand. It’s not really happening for me, but then he calls, ‘Say hi to your mom for me.’ And I realize that he knows exactly where his blade is pointing. •
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