Patrick Duffy: New Dallas is ‘as good as the old’

Dallas is back, and so is Patrick Duffy as goody-goody Bobby Ewing in the Texas saga about a squabbling oil-rich family which begins on Channel 5 next week, 21 years after the original series ended. What’s On TV chatted exclusively to Patrick to ask him about the new Dallas and working again with his old colleagues Larry Hagman (JR) and Linda Gray (Sue Ellen)…

Did you have to think twice about returning as Bobby Ewing?

“The show was off the air in 1991, and since then there have been so many rumours re-circulating like bad air. We even heard things like, ‘oh they want to do a big feature movie’ without us. I read that movie script – it was atrocious, so awful. And then after a while we realised they could never do a feature film of Dallas for two reasons – for a start Dallas is a serial so a feature length movie of Dallas would have to be five hours long because it would need to roll in story after story.

“And the other reason is, and I’m being honest here, you could find another actor to play Bobby or some of the other characters, but there is nobody on the planet that the world would accept as JR Ewing other than Larry Hagman and that’s a fact. With a Larry Hagman substitute you’d just think, no way! Finally everyone in the film industry realised you couldn’t do a movie unless you had Hagman.”

So it must have been exciting to hear about a new Dallas series…

“Well, fast-forward to when we heard the rumour that TNT and Warners wanted to do a Dallas series and then we got sent our scripts and we were prepared for the worst. We all got sent our scripts at the same time. Larry, Linda and I are the closest friends ever and as soon as I was done reading the script I was on the phone to both of them going: ‘This is the best script ever, it’s right up there with the best that we ever did on the show. I’m in you guys, I’m definitely going to do this if you guys will do it.’

“Then Larry and Linda said the same and at that point all three of us were committed to doing the show. Because the script captured what the characters were about from the inside out. The reason why the scripts in the past for film ideas didn’t work was because they wrote us all off as caricatures – they didn’t get it.”

How is Bobby’s when we first catch up with him?

“On the show Bobby is now Miss Ellie and Jock all rolled into one because now those two brilliant people are gone. He’s the patriarch of the Ewing family now. He’s the ranch owner, the home owner. He’s the sage of Southfork and that would be a normal extension of him in the 20 years since we last saw him. He never wanted to be more than he was comfortable being. He didn’t have the driving ambition that JR did. He has brought up his adopted son, Christopher, who like Bobby, the basic purpose of his life is to do good things of value with his actions. So he’s got that in common with his son.

“Meanwhile JR’s son, who was largely ignored by JR, has grown up wanting to be a better than the legendary ‘JR Ewing’ and that has taken him down his dark path. So we now have this second generation of rivalry between these two polar opposites in terms of how they want to live and how they choose to approach life.”

How’s is Bobby’s love life?

“Bobby is very happily married now to the brilliant Brenda Strong, who played Mary Alice in Desperate Housewives. She’s such a brilliant actress and I don’t think she’s had the stuff to show how good she is that you will see when you watch Dallas. There’s a great dynamic between them, theirs is the perfect marriage – but Brenda had such a horrible job to come into. She had to be Bobby Ewing’s wife. She’s not trying to be Pam or anyone else, but she’s got to find a function as the wife of an iconic good guy.”

Will Victoria Principal or Priscilla Presley be popping up as Pam and Jenna again?

“I don’t know what their take on it is, but Cynthia, who is the producer and creator of the show, has said in interviews in our presence that any actor who was ever in Dallas, who is still alive, the option’s on the table! Because that’s Dallas, circulating those people back in. In the first season we’ve got Steve Kanaly as Ray, and Charlene Tilton’s in a couple of episodes as Lucy and we’ve got Kenny Kercheval as Cliff Barnes as well.”

How was it being back on set with Larry and Linda?

“Playing the characters was easy. The wonderful thing, the gift to Larry, Linda and myself is we are the best friends we have. Larry is literally the best friend I have and so is Linda. In 1991 we understood, because we talked about it a 1000 times, that we would never work together again. And it hurt my heart to know that I would never be on camera with them ever again. So when we agreed we would be doing this show, the joy wasn’t that we were going to be doing Dallas again, the joy was that we get to go and play together again. The Three Musketeers are back!”

Did you watch some old episodes to get back in the ‘Bobby’ zone?

“Not at all, playing Bobby is like an old shoe. It just fits. We’ve rehearsed these characters for 13 years so picking it up again was easy. The people who have their work cut out are four new young kids on the show. Young kids? Listen to me. They are the same age that I was when I started on Dallas. I really felt for them, especially Jesse Metcalfe as Christopher and Josh Henderson as John Ross, because their characters have histories and I know they’ve gone back and studied a lot of the history of where those characters have come from. But when Larry, Linda and I step on set it’s like butter, it’s as if we’d been playing these characters yesterday.”

What’s Bobby’s relationship like with JR now? Are they older and wiser?

“They’re older and wiser, but the rivalry is still there. For Bobby there is a minor heartbreak that it can never change. He’s fed up of being stuck in this cycle and just wants them to be a proper family and wants to make it work between them. JR, who is suffering from clnical depression, doesn’t give a monkeys about making it work, he just wants Southfork, period. It’s a really wonderful thing because I really like standing up for those values as a character and it’s really fun to play.”

Will there still be Ewing barbecues, rodeos and balls?

“When the producers looked at the 357 episodes, I think it is, they knew which were the iconic moments that the audience expects. So in the first season we have a big party at Southfork, we have a big Cattle Barons Ball, because those are the things that people expect and they are in there all the time.”

Where you surprised about the frenzy surrounding the show in the UK?

“The first trip I ever took out of the States was to London because my first show, The Man From Atlantis, was popular here. That was my first ‘Wow, outside of California they know who I am!’ moment. The second time was coming at the height of Dallas and we all knew it was a hit in the UK, but we had no idea of the level of popularity the show had. All I can say is – thank-you Terry Wogan! Seriously. He launched us and he talked about the show and every time one of us came over we’d do the Wogan show and I tip my hat to him because he’s responsible for our success in this country and that’s really not an overstatement.”

Why is there still such an appetite for the show?

“I think there is a similarity between what’s happening in the word now to what was happening in the early 1980s. There was an international monetary crisis and look at what’s happening now in Greece and other countries that are having to be bailed out. There was an oil crisis, there were the have and have nots, which we are looking at again now with the ultra rich and the ultra poor…

“The other thing that happening in my country, especially now, is that every daytime soap that has been on for ever has been cancelled – so there’s a real appetite for a decent serial and I think we can satisfy that because we’re back. This return of Dallas is going to remind people why they liked it in the first place and I think this new series is as good as or better than anything we’ve ever done before.”

What reaction have you had since the comeback has been announced?

“There is a polite crazy exuberance about it and it is polite because it’s people who have watched the show and are now of a slightly more mature age. They kind of sidle up to me and tell me how happy they are in almost a whisper. But I’m excited as can be about it – and it seems as though plenty of other people are, too. I’ve even been tweeting about it, but unfortunately I’m a bit of an old guy so I haven’t got that many followers whereas Jesse Metcalfe has got thousands upon thousands! He’s winning that one, but I don’t mind – I’m happy to pass on that torch!”

Dallas begins on Channel 5 on Wednesday, September 5 at 9pm

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