Patrick Duffy Interview: "Dallas" Star Talks Hallmark's "The Mistletoe Secret"
Image attributed to Hallmark Channel
Patrick Duffy is best known for his role as Bobby Ewing on the CBS primetime soap Dallas. He played the youngest son of Miss Ellie and the nicest brother of J.R. Ewing from 1978 to 1985 and from 1986 to 1991. Duffy returned to reprise his role as Bobby in a continuation of Dallas, which aired on TNT from 2012 to 2014. He is also well known for his role on the ABC sitcom Step by Step as Frank Lambert, from 1991 to 1998.
Duffy stars with Kellie Pickler, Tyler Hynes and Christopher Russell in a new Hallmark original movie, The Mistletoe Secret, which premieres on November 10, 2019. The movie is based on the novel by Richard Paul Evans.
“In those Christmas movies, we’re doing them in September and some even earlier than that, and every room on every set is just packed with Christmas stuff. So by the time I was done, I thought, ‘I don’t think I want to do Christmas this year. I think I’ve already done it.’ So, I’m going to go to London for Christmas to see if Dickens knew what he was talking about.”
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Patrick, what interested you in the Hallmark movie The Mistletoe Secret?
Patrick Duffy: Listen, I am an actor for hire. What interested me was that the phone rang and they asked, “Do you want to come and play this character in a Christmas thing?” I said, “Of course, I do.” The Mistletoe Secret, I found out later, is a sequence of books. A good friend of mine is one of the execs on the show, and he established a relationship with that writer. So it really was just the fact that I got to go to Vancouver, and I got to work with Hallmark. You don’t ever have to question the quality level of a Hallmark Christmas movie, and I knew it would be a great two weeks, so I said, “Count me in.”
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Well, you certainly play a wise dad, and I’m sure your own kids would attest to that.
Patrick Duffy: (laughs) I’m not sure they recognize the wiseness though. We’ll hope so anyway.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Playing Kellie Pickler’s father, you didn’t share her North Carolina accent.
Patrick Duffy: Well, this is the way I looked at it. I can justify anything if you give me enough time. I figure that I fell in love with Kellie’s mother who was from there, and I didn’t necessarily need to be from there. So that justified an ever so slight, if you’ll pardon the expression, Bobby Ewing twang every once in a while. And that is about all I dared because I thought her accent was so adorable, and she was the focus.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: It’s certainly a movie that can be viewed by all members of the family.
Patrick Duffy: Absolutely.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Is it difficult getting into the Christmas spirit filming several months in advance of the premiere?
Patrick Duffy: The difficult ting is to get into the Christmas spirit when it’s Christmas after you get so inundated with it. In those Christmas movies, we’re doing them in September and some even earlier than that, and every room on every set is just packed with Christmas stuff. So by the time I was done, I thought, “I don’t think I want to do Christmas this year. I think I’ve already done it.” So, I’m going to go to London for Christmas to see if Dickens knew what he was talking about.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Sounds like a wonderful trip!
Patrick Duffy: Yeah, It’ll be fun.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: You’re also in another Christmas movie for Lifetime.
Patrick Duffy: Yes, Random Acts of Christmas. There’s nothing nicer than being continuously employed. A lot of the actors are literally under contract to Hallmark, and if not, certainly emotionally they are. But, I’m not. I just randomly take jobs whey they show up. The interesting thing was that these were two jobs in a row in Vancouver, one for Hallmark and one for Lifetime.
The Lifetime one was actually first. So I did that one up there and then took a week at the ranch in Oregon. On my drive from the ranch back to Los Angeles, my manager called and said, “You want to turn around and go back to Vancouver? Hallmark wants you.” I said, “Absolutely!” So that was it.
Random Acts is with Erin Cahill, which is wonderful, and Kevin McGarry, and I fell in love with both of them. That’s the other thing about the cast, not just Hallmark but also Lifetime, that these people all know what they’re doing when they take a movie like that, and it becomes less than 50% a job and the rest just having fun. They’re fun scripts because, like you said, they’re very family based. There’s no heavy bad guy or heavy drama involved, and so you literally do have two weeks of just looking forward to going to work every day because you get to laugh with your newly made friends. I had that experience on both of them.
Erin and Kevin have become very close to me. Again, it’s the same kind of movie. I wasn’t the dad in Random Acts, but I was definitely the sage, older, wiser person trying to navigate the two love interests back together. So these are fun parts. I’ve done all the swashbuckling I need to do, and I’ve done all the heroics I need to do. It’s kind of nice to just be the voice of reason. At 70 years old, if nothing else, I’ve learned to be responsible.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: I’m definitely heading in that direction, Patrick, if all goes well. You know what I mean?
Patrick Duffy: Yeah, I do. And if you ever need news from the front, you can give me a call.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: I’ll keep that in mind, thanks (laughs). Jaclyn Smith’s in Random Acts of Christmas also. You did an episode of Charlie’s Angels where your character was romantically involved with both her character (Kelly) and Kris (Cheryl Ladd).
Patrick Duffy: It was so lovely to see her again. About the first year after I did Charlie’s Angels, we’d seen each other a couple of times. My wife and I actually bought one of her dogs. She always had these gorgeous Royal Standard Poodles, and we fell in love with it. We picked one out at the house, and that became our dog.
But I had not seen Jaclyn in about 35 years. I’m sure this isn’t your first time at the rodeo, but it was literally as if no time had passed. It was great seeing an old friend again, and we’d both been around the block a few times. We only had one day working together, but it was very comfortable and very easy. We didn’t have to introduce ourselves to each other. I got to remind everybody on set, who wasn’t necessarily aware of it, that I’m the only actor in town that went to bed with two of the three Charlie’s Angels.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: (laughs) Why did you want to get into all of this back in your younger days?
Patrick Duffy: My goodness, it started in junior high school as a hobby, but it became a major in my college education in 1967 when I went to the University of Washington. I was going to be an architect, and I had a certain capability for it. But my high school drama teacher said, “There are people making a living at what you’re having fun after school doing.” She wrote a letter of recommendation, and I got into a special program. From that moment on, I considered myself an actor.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: And you’re also an author. Is the novel Man from Atlantis part of a series?
Patrick Duffy: Yeah. Well, it’s the first of a triptych, and it depends on how well the first one does whether I do two more. It stands alone as a story, but I do have two other stories that can come off of the original. I felt the TV show never really pursued or captured the character or the history, or it just became slick and sort of an underwater Batman or something like that. It was always in the back of my mind.
This was maybe 12 or 15 years ago, I wrote the book, and once I wrote it, I just left it on the shelf. It wasn’t until about six years ago that I was talking to somebody about it, and they said, “You should see if somebody wants to publish it.” Therein lies the tale. It got published. I don’t really consider myself an author. But I have to admit that yes, I wrote a book, and yes, it’s out there. And if I needed to, I could break out those old storylines for part two and three, and I’ll do it again.
But I have no plans to actually do the next two until I get asked to, which would come from the publishers. So far, I’m not setting the world on fire. I keep looking at the New York Times list. I’m just never there (laughs).
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Perhaps a book about Bobby Ewing?
Patrick Duffy: The character would be okay. I’d have to figure out what happened to him after the second series was cancelled. But I’m not a passionate writer. So I don’t look for things to write about, and I think that might have been sitting on a very high shelf for a while.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: What about writing your memoir?
Patrick Duffy: Oh, no, for two reasons, quite honestly. My life is pretty much an open book. My opinions are my own. My very personal life with my family I guard very protectively. So I really have nothing to say in terms of a memoir. I’ve done God knows how many interviews, and everybody knows the fun and games and the relationship with my best friend Haggy. Linda and I are dear friends. You could look up 95% of what would be in a memoir, so there’s really no reason to do it. A few things that are my personal memories will stay personal and precious.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Maybe you should’ve written one before Google (laughs). Speaking of that, it was much easier in those days to conceal secretive storylines such as “Who Shot J.R.?” and the “Dream Season.” Is it true that the entire cast was in the dark with those two plotlines?
Patrick Duffy: That’s absolutely true, and you’re right for the very reasons you said. But it wasn’t for lack of trying. There were spies. But it was easier to keep a secret. For “Who Shot J.R.?” they literally shot him without knowing who it was going to be. They knew they had the entire hiatus to figure it out. When CBS asked for additional episodes, that’s when they decided to shoot it. They said, “We’ll figure it out during the hiatus, and we’ll start writing the scripts.”
The only person who knew in advance, other than Leonard Katzman and another writer at that time, Bernard Lewis, was Linda Gray. The reason she knew was she had to record a single line when they were going to cut in the “Who done it” part. It was, “Kristen it was you who shot J.R.” She had to go to her grave with that. She didn’t tell her children. Larry, Linda and I were as close as people could be, ad we didn’t know. Larry had no idea who did it.
As a matter of fact, the cast was the last group of people on the planet to know because Lorimar had a special private party at a restaurant in Los Angeles, and they cut out all communications. This was before cell phones. No communication with the outside world was allowed. We did the party, and then they put up a screen and ran a VHS copy of the episode at about 11:00 at night, so the east coast knew, you knew, but the Dallas cast was the last group of people who knew who shot J.R.
The same thing was true with the shower sequence. Leonard and myself and the unit production manager were the only three people who knew I was coming back in the shower. We literally went to a special filming company in LA, not the Lorimar Dallas anything, that only did commercials. Even the crew there thought we were filming an Irish Spring soap commercial. We spent the entire day doing the commercial as if it were a commercial just to get that one line where I turned and said, “Good morning.” They literally cut that in just before it was transmitted on air out of New York. So those were the two big secrets.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Along with millions of others, my family was thrilled to see your return.
Patrick Duffy: And I was thrilled to come back. My goodness, I had missed exactly all the reasons that I loved being on the show, which was working with my best friends. I was thrilled to come back.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Step by Step was a successful sitcom. Do you enjoy comedy as much as drama?
Patrick Duffy: I don’t have a preference. They’re both really enjoyable as far as I’m concerned. The interesting thing about the two being different is the work schedule. I really love half hours because of the work schedule. It is a set schedule and iron clad almost without exception. You know the entire year’s schedule of your show. You know what days you’re working; you know when you have the week off every three episodes. Whereas, a one hour is according to the scripts, the locations, the weather and all of those things, so it is a lovely schedule to do a half hour. It’s just terrific. But I do love the drama and the schedule of a one hour plus I love directing. I directed 30 Dallas episodes and 50 Step by Step episodes. Again, it’s a different beast. But it’s so gratifying and so rewarding.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: You also directed several episodes of Major Crimes.
Patrick Duffy: Yeah. Procedurals are also different. That was an education curve for me. But it’s an interesting thing. I get it. So it doesn’t really matter what the format is once you know what is needed and you have the vernacular. In over 40 years, I’ve figured out how the thing works. The Major Crimes episodes I did for my friends Mike Robin and James Duff, and I could’ve done two more seasons and been an alternating director had they asked and had it not been cancelled because it was stress free and enjoyable.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: What has kept you going over 40 years in show business?
Patrick Duffy: It’s the best job that you could possibly imagine. I wake up filled with so much gratitude every day I get to go to work. My wife, there for over 13 seasons of Dallas, seven years of Step by Step and then the new Dallas, wouldn’t make fun of me but always observed how I left for work early every morning. It wasn’t that I wanted to beat the traffic. I just couldn’t wait to get to work. I couldn’t wait to drive on the lot, pull in, park and then walk on the sound stage and know that I was home. All my friends were there. We’d do our work as fast as we could and get home to our loved ones as quickly as we could. I can’t think of a better way to make a living. I literally can’t think of anything I’d rather be doing.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: I want to say how deeply sorry I am for the loss of your wife, Patrick.
Patrick Duffy: Aw, thank you. Thank you. That was a tough one. I’m still married for all intents and purposes, and I’ll be married the rest of my life. But we were just one-month shy of our 47thanniversary when she passed. She’s still there. I hear her voice. The only thing I don’t get to do is put my arms around her, so I’ll have to wait for next time on that, I guess.
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