Patrick Duffy talks the return of 'Dallas' and Bobby Ewing
“Dallas” wouldn’t be “Dallas” without Bobby Ewing. He was a relative saint next to his big bad devil of a brother, J.R., had a star-crossed love affair with fan favorite Pam (which abruptly ended when Victoria Principal left the show) and — most memorably of all — was resurrected from the dead when it was revealed an entire season of the show was “just a dream” so he could rejoin the cast after being killed off.
Now Patrick Duffy reprises the role of Bobby once again for TNT’s continuation of the “Dallas” saga. The 10 episode summer series also stars returning favorites Larry Hagman and Linda Gray, plus newcomers Jesse Metcalfe (as Bobby’s son), Brenda Strong (as Bobby’s wife), Josh Henderson, Jordana Brewster and Julie Gonzalo.
I spoke with Duffy last month in Los Angeles about the big return, how much “Dallas” will change on cable TV and whether or not we’ll ever find out what really happened to Pam.
Did you ever think you’d be back here, playing Bobby Ewing again and promoting new episodes of “Dallas”?
Until we got the script of this piece of iconic “Dallas” history—no, I never thought I’d be back doing “Dallas” again, especially as an ongoing series.
Right, how many actors actually get that chance?
Well, and how many writers and producers can duplicate something like a “Dallas,” you know. If it were possible there’d be a lot more “Dallas”-es out there. A couple of attempts were made over the years and they totally sucked in terms of the scripts. We just never thought it would happen until we read Cynthia’s script. And then you get Mike Robin to direct it and it looks like it belongs in 2012, and all of a sudden you’re thinking, this could be a serious job, and it is. We’ve done ten of them now and it’s serious, it’s good.
What’s the biggest difference for you between doing this “Dallas” and the old “Dallas”?
Maybe two different areas. First is the technical aspect. “Dallas” was done at the tail end of old school filmmaking—great big Panavision 35 millimeter cameras, big cranking things and all this kind of stuff. And the theory of television is establish a master, stop the camera, do close-ups, push in at the end of last scene, new scene. Essentially, if you look at all “Dallas” [episodes], that’s what they are.
I hadn’t worked on episodic television in—well, sitcom doesn’t count because it’s a different way of viewing it—so I hadn’t done anything in 20 years like this. And all of a sudden we have a camera that doesn’t even have cranks on it anymore, and it’s high-def digital, and it’s about the size of a loaf of bread. And when they change film it doesn’t take 15 minutes to thread the film; they just go blip, okay, good to go.
Was that an exciting change?
You get a new style of directing: moving cameras, pacing, never stopping, just finding actors, and doing all this kind of stuff. The dynamic was so exciting to me, so different than anything I’d ever done before. And the amount that you put in a one-hour show compared to what we used to put into a one-hour show, plot-wise and everything else-wise. It was exciting television for me to be involved in and completely different.
The other different thing about it now is to see where the three of us—Larry, Linda, and myself—are as 20-year-older characters, and then who this whole generation of other actors that fill out the show are; and working with a whole new group of people who grew up working in present-day television. It makes me feel old and rejuvenated at the same time, you know, and I’m not too old to not click into it. I totally get it now, and like it, and can work this way. But to realize that I span those two concepts and generations of filmmaking is really kind of fun.
And is there a difference for it being on cable? Does that give you any more freedom?
The nice thing is Cynthia and Mike don’t want to change “Dallas,” you know. The potential is to be a bit salacious, because we’re dealing with sex and betrayal and affairs and all of that kind of stuff. And because you’re on cable, in theory you could show more, do more, say more. But that’s not what “Dallas” is or what the viewing audience who used to watch “Dallas” expects, and they didn’t want to screw with that.
So yes, there’s a normal growing up. If your relationship is going to have a sexual contretemps…you’re not showing any more but you’re filming it in a way that suggests more, where they would have stopped you in the mid-80s on network television. They would go “No, can’t show that.” But now, yeah, you can, but we’re not going down the road too far because it’s just not what “Dallas” is.
One of the lingering questions from the original run of the show is where is Pam? Is that something that we’re going to find out on the new show? I know she’s mentioned in a few episodes.
A few of the episodes she’s mentioned and she has to be mentioned. Every original cast member is an integral part of the history of the new “Dallas.” They have to be. We’ve brought back, even though they’re just small vignette appearances, Charlene Tilton, Steve Kanaly, and Ken Kercheval. And Cynthia has said that any actor who’s still alive who was on “Dallas,” the potential is they could appear, absolutely.
Victoria’s character of Pam never died on camera. She was burned in a car crash and had a deathly disease and went off into the mist, but she never died on camera. So potentially, that character could come back.
The person who’s playing my wife now on the show, Brenda Strong, is phenomenal. I think it is a piece of magic casting to put her as the new Mrs. Bobby Ewing and the way that Cynthia has written that character. She fulfills the perfect wife, the perfect couple function, to the extent that I think she is the obvious iconic continuation of that idea. Mrs. Bobby Ewing can’t be a crazed, stalking, sex maniac, drug addict—that’s Sue Ellen! So [Brenda’s character] is the permanent, iconic other half of Bobby, but that doesn’t mean [Pam] couldn’t create a lot of problems by coming back.
Do you know if Victoria is interested at all? Is that something that you’ve heard?
Well, I’ve spoken to Victoria a lot over the years and she literally hasn’t worked as an actress in, I think, maybe 12 years, 11 years. The last time we spoke, maybe six months ago, she said she really has no desire to resume an acting career. She runs this empire that she has of self-help, cosmetics, all this other stuff that she’s doing, and that’s her full-time passion. Maybe as a lark, but certainly not in any discussion that I know of. It would be welcome!
And is there anyone else from the original show that you would particularly like to see come back?
Some of them, but they’re dead and it’s awful. I mean I would give anything to have a scene with Jim Davis or Barbara [Bel Geddes]. We have the picture that’s going to be above the mantel in the Ewing house of Jim and Barbara as Jock and Miss Ellie and it’s magic. You know, it’s a piece of our personal actor’s history that we’re able to see that. Those characters are the ones I’m going to miss.
The new “Dallas” premieres June 13 at 9 p.m. ET on TNT