Yes, They're Back...
JR’s Stetson, women with bulletproof hair and TV’s catchiest theme tune. Patrick Duffy tells Michael Moran why it’s a dream to be back at Southfork
Duffy, with a twinkle in his eye you could see from space, leans forward. 'I loved it,' he says. 'When Larry Hagman phoned me to start the conversation about me coming back [at the end of Season 8] he got my answering machine, which tells you how long ago it was. No mobiles then. His message said, "Hey, it's Larry. Want you to come out to Malibu. Let's get drunk. I want to talk to you."
'I stopped it and turned to my wife and said, "They want me to go back on the show." She immediately said, "Oh honey, the only way you could go back on that show was if that whole last year had been a dream." And that's exactly how it worked out.'
Duffy's an engaging, instantly likeable fellow. It's a truism that actors, especially in long-running shows, play a version of themselves. Bobby Ewing was the solid, consistently decent brother to JR's 'moustache-twirling' villain. Does he ever envy his great friend Larry the juicier role?
'Not really, no. I've been a bad guy in a cameo role once or twice, but it was no more fun than playing a good guy – if the good guy's character is fleshed out appropriately. In the early days of Dallas, Bobby was not fleshed out appropriately. He was quite boring, but we solved that problem very quickly. And now Bobby's more interesting again because he's getting older, and changing.' And he has a new young wife...
'Yes, but not a trophy wife. I was glad they didn't go with some 30-year-old. That would have made Bobby seem ridiculous. Brenda Strong's a perfect match for Bobby right now. I'm so glad she wasn't on camera in Desperate Housewives – she's a great character actress.'
Brenda Strong has a spectacular list of credits, mainly one-off appearances in US TV dramas, but her most high profile 'appearance' to date has been the disembodied voice of Mary Alice Young in Desperate Housewives. Her character, Ann, along with Duffy's Bobby Ewing, provides the moral centre of the new Ewing family.
'She's a solid, steady person. She has to be: we're the only two people like that on the show.'
If you cast your mind back to the original series, in every scene the characters appear to be holding a drink of some kind. Dallas was more about whisky than oil. I asked Patrick how, given their apparent intake, the returning cast seem to be in such extraordinary fettle.
'You see more old drunks than you do old doctors! In the new series, Bobby doesn't drink a drop for the whole of the first season, which drove me crazy, because part of the tradition of that show was coming in with a glass of Scotch and delivering the line. I don't actually drink any more, except wine, but that tumbler of Scotch is part of the show's tradition.'
And we envied them that. No one in the real world could drink that much and function. There is another aspirational aspect in the amount of wealth on show in Southfork. The 1970s and early 1980s were a grim time in the real world, and it seems that Dallas has returned just as we're in recession again. The Ewings are dream characters: superheroes of cash.
'That arc is the same right now as it was when we started the first show: worldwide recession, the oil supply being an issue for almost everyone. So it's perfect timing for us. I don't think it was done because of that, but I think the way it's worked out, it's a perfect marriage.'
Which brings us neatly to my final question. Bobby Ewing has had three wives during Dallas's long run. You've managed with one. In your line of work, that's not an easy trick. How have you managed it? 'I've only kept one alive. And she's nervous! Seriously, though, to me it is an easy trick. To me, being married now for 41 years is a walk in the park. That doesn't mean it started that way. I was 22 when I got married. I was fresh out of college. My wife is 10 years older than I am, so she was 32.
'And thank God, because she had the patience to shepherd me through those first transitional years. Those years when you think, "What do you mean, I don't just play to my own rules any more."
'When you're 22, you think you're bulletproof, you think you're irresistible, and you're the buck in the herd.
'Just the concept of monogamy, even if you never actually stray, is foreign to a 22-yearold guy. Not only did I marry the right person, but she introduced me to the practice of Buddhism. The combination of those two things enabled me to make that transition smoother and faster than I otherwise could have.'
Stability and consistency are the key. You've got the same setting, Southfork, as you had in the first series and as many of the original cast as you could have found.
'Yes, if it serves the purpose of the show. Cynthia Cidre [the writer/producer on the new series] put together a basic framework without knowing Larry or Linda or myself at all. But she decided it was us three she needed to make the new show work.
'It was only after meeting us that she discovered we have remained the best of friends since working on the original series, and that none of us would have signed up for this new series without the other two.
And that friendship is the magic part of this show.'
The new series of Dallas is on Channel 5, Wednesday nights at 9pm.
DALLAS CIRCA 2012
From left to right:
John Ross Ewing III , played by Josh Henderson, is desperately trying to follow in the footsteps of his father, the legendary JR. His grand plan is to start drilling for oil at Southfork.
Christopher Ewing, played by Jesse Metcalfe, is attempting to discover alternative energy sources, and has returned to the ranch to get married. Adopted by Bobby and his ex-wife Pamela Barnes Ewing, Christopher is the biological child of Sue Ellen's younger sister Kristin Shepard.
Elena Ramos, played by Jordana Brewster, is the smart daughter of the Ewings' cook. She has a Masters in energy resources and was childhood friends with Christopher and John Ross, both of whom are now in love with her.
Rebecca Barnes, played by Julie Gonzalo, married Christopher under her alias, Rebecca Sutter, and is now pregnant with twins. But her true identity has been revealed: she is Cliff Barnes's daughter with Afton Cooper.
Ann Ewing, played by Brenda Strong, is a friend of Sue Ellen and Bobby's third wife. A strong woman, she defends herself against her brother-in-law JR and her ruthless ex-husband, Harris, while also being the matriarch of Southfork.
Bobby Ewing, played by Patrick Duffy, is the son of Jock and Miss Ellie. A big family man, he is the adoptive father of Christopher and is determined to abide by his late mother's wishes and disallow oil-drilling in Southfork.
Sue Ellen Ewing, played by Linda Gray, is wracked with guilt about the way she treated her son, John Ross, to gain revenge against her ex-husband, JR.
JR Ewing, played by Larry Hagman, is the former president and co-owner of the family company, Ewing Oil. Father to John Ross and eldest son of Jock and Miss Ellie, he has returned from a nursing home where he was treated for clinical depression. This new series sees him embark on a desperate mission to regain power. Whatever it takes.
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