I drank from dawn till dusk
has put his Dallas days behind
him - and become unnervingly calm and controlled. Jan Moir
THROUGH the hotel lobby, up the richly carpeted stairs, turn
right into the sitting room and there - I can hardly believe
it myself - is Patrick Duffy.
Say it one more time: Mr Patrick Duffy
has entered the building. The very same P. D. who once starred
as a web-toed superhero in The Man From Atlantis, thwarting
the forces of evil, while - just like a naughty puppy - permanently
in a puddle.
Patrick's destiny: after behaving like 'the head buck in a
rabbit warren', Duffy decided to settle down at 21. 'I was
deliberately, almost at random, looking for a wife'
As if this wasn't enough, he then gilded his claim to the
hall of television fame by appearing as Bobby Ewing in Dallas,
the series that heralded and defined the 1980s.
For 11 glorious years, Duffy's Bobby
mooched around Southfork Ranch with a pained expression, his
fussy blow-dry rock solid in the Texan winds. Indeed, so potent
is the Dallas heritage, that all morning I have been repeating
Duffy-Duffy-Duffy's name like a mantra, in case I idiotically
call the 51-year-old actor "Bobby".
"Hello, Patrick," I screech
when we are introduced, although he is not really listening.
Right now, Duffy is having a d? vu moment. "Have I stayed
here before?" he asks one of the hotel staff, supremely
confident that she would have remembered if he had.
"Um. Possibly," she replies.
"Do you have a penthouse suite
here? On two floors? With a balcony front and back?"
he wonders. The answer is affirmative.
"Then I did stay," he says,
pleased, ordering tea and strolling around the room.
In a wool polo shirt and beige trousers,
he looks screamingly wealthy in that casual, American way
and is surprisingly tall - is it me or didn't Bobby always
seem like a shrimp?
His hair, attractively greying at the
temples, is fabulously cut and his complexion is as smooth
as buffed calfskin. His watch, a present from his wife, clunks
expensively on his left wrist and on his right he wears a
medical alert bracelet to draw attention to his potentially
fatal penicillin allergy.
All in all, he really could be the
Ultimate Penthouse Guy were it not for his footwear. Readers,
there is no easy way to break this news: Patrick Duffy is
wearing a pair of clogs.
"I have terrible feet," he
says. "I really beat them up during Man From Atlantis
because I was barefoot all the time. Running through fields,
running on cement, jumping out of the water, slapping 'em
around for years. So the nerves on the bottom kinda went all
He developed something called Morton's
Neuroma and had to have an operation in 1989 - not to have
the webs surgically removed, but to cut out his swollen nerve
"Since then, I have chosen to
wear clogs," he drawls.
Duffy is currently clippy-clopping
across London preparing for his role in Yasmina Reza's award-winning
play Art, which has run in the West End since 1996 and cornered
the market in quirky casting. He is particularly delighted
to be here, as he was almost selected for the play a year
ago but did not make the final cut.
"It's not my first day at the
picnic here. I have been talked about and denied enough times
in a 25-year career to know, ah well, that is the way it goes,"
he sighs, then instantly contradicts himself.
"But you always take it a bit
personally. It's like asking a girl to the high school prom.
If she says no, and even if you end up taking another terrific
girl, you still wonder why the first one refused you."
Although amenable enough, Duffy is
distant and unconnected, like a preacher forced, yet again,
to address his recalcitrant flock. Perhaps much of this chilly
calm stems from the fact that he has been a practising Buddhist
for nearly 30 years and takes his faith seriously.
Buddhists believe in creating their
own karma, so when I apologise for looking at my watch to
check the tape recorder times, he keeps his gaze in the middle
distance and drones: "You chose the job you got. If I'm
boring you, I don't really care."
It certainly is not a good moment to
float my theory as to why so many actors become Buddhists
- because they get to look in a mirror while they pray - but
I have to remonstrate when Duffy states in his self-satisfied
way that he has always been a "passionate and emotional
If this is true, why is he behaving
so differently today?
"That is not my job," he
But he seems so very controlled and
"That is my job," he beeps
After Dallas ended in 1991, Duffy spent
seven years appearing in a successful American sit-com which
was not shown over here. Since then, he has made three television
films but has settled into a life of "semi-retirement"
and is shortly to leave California to live with his wife on
their new ranch in Oregon. "Quite honestly, I think the
industry needs a Patrick Duffy recess. I haven't stopped working
for over two decades," he says. More importantly - much
more importantly - he wants the time and the space to welcome
in his old age.
"I really relish the ageing process.
I can't wait to be 90 years old. And I like my diminishing
strengths because they were taking up space for other strengths,
ones which only age and maturation can develop," he says.
What he seems to mean by this is that
now he no longer goes to the gym - "my pecs get softer
every day" - his physical deterioration is creating a
vacuum that his expanding brainpower can fill.
Even Patrick Duffy is coy enough not
to refer to this as wisdom, preferring the marginally more
humble description, "My accumulation of knowledge".
For example, "My wife and I have an extremely modest
but important art collection," he says. "And I now
enjoy the ease with which I can sit and study an artist. You
know, there is so much to learn about those guys."
However, it would be wrong to assume
that Duffy is going to drift off to his ranch on a cloud of
tranquillity and see out his days thinking great thoughts.
Underpinning much of his conversation about his work is the
murky discontent of someone who suspects that no one else
takes him quite as seriously as he takes himself.
One of his projects will be an ambitious
fictional trilogy of books, a prequel and sequel to The Man
From Atlantis, that he and his wife are going to write. "If
George Lucas can do that with Star Wars, then so can I."
During his years in Dallas, Duffy feels,
he was at a constant disadvantage, as the scriptwriters were
far keener to write good storylines for dastardly J. R. Ewing
rather than for his boring brother, Bobby.
"They would be enthused and inspired
when it came to J. R. but I was a functionary, something much
more difficult for them to contend with.
"Bobby's sole role was to create
value at the expense of his own personal happiness,"
he says, although I have no idea what he is talking about.
To get back on firmer ground, I ask
if he believes himself to be a good actor. "I think I
am good. I don't know if I am a great actor. I think I am
a very good actor," he says, back in beep-mode once more.
"I think I could be better if I was given different things
Duffy grew up in Montana, where his
parents owned and ran a bar. His father was an alcoholic who
never quite conquered his addiction. "Dad would try to
stop and he would, for a couple of months, but then he would
After behaving like "the head
buck in a rabbit warren, dating girl after girl after girl"
throughout drama college, Duffy decided at the age of 21 that
he wanted to settle down.
"I was deliberately, almost at
random, looking for a woman, a wife. I was searching for something.
I had personal problems," he says. Perhaps his own fractured
childhood led to this unusually early desire for security,
although he prefers a more poetic explanation. "I have
an old soul," he says.
The woman he chose - "Carlyn,
a ballerina I met on a bus" - happened to be 10 years
older than him and already married, but nothing would deter
Duffy from his destiny. "She has now been my wife for
28 years and is with me always, always," he says.
It was Carlyn who introduced him to
Buddhism and both were happy to raise their own sons, now
aged 25 and 20, in the faith. Certainly, it was Duffy's religion
that helped him when his parents were murdered in their bar
in 1986, shot dead by two drug-fuelled drifters. Afterwards,
their son was much criticised for revealing that he had not
shed a tear over their deaths. "My concept of death is
different from most people's because I know it is the most
inevitable thing there is. And because I believe that, people
assumed a huge degree of lack of care and emotional commitment
on my part."
Oddly, given his family history, he
even laughs when he admits that his legacy from Dallas was
a "finely honed" drinking habit of his own.
"I mean, I studied with the master.
With Larry," he says of his co-star Hagman, who later
needed a liver transplant. Their days on the Dallas set would
begin when Hagman opened a bottle of champagne during the
7am make-up call.
"I would have a glass with him,
but then he would continue for the rest of the day with many
more bottles," he says. "At lunch, we would go off
and find a restaurant, have a couple of drinks with our meal.
Late afternoon before we wrapped, it was time for a little
"Then, after we wrapped, we would
sit in the dressing room and have another little drink before
we went home to have drinks before dinner and a bottle of
wine with dinner and a little after-dinner drink before going
Was it fun?
"It was wonderful fun," says
Duffy, who is a keen collector of first growth clarets, "but
I couldn't keep up. I never thought, whoops! I'm developing
a drinking problem. I just took my foot off the accelerator."
Saying that, he prepares to leave for
he says larkily, as he makes his exit. You see, he does have
a sense of humour - he just didn't want to share it with me.
It must be my karma.
Patrick Duffy appears in Art by Yasmina
Reza at Wyndham's Theatre, London WC2, from April 25 to July