Interview Date: 07/20/2011
Run Date: 07/26/2011
Sure, most people know Patrick Duffy for playing Bobby Ewing on “Dallas.” You know, the dude who turned up in the shower and revealed that his death the season before, not to mention everything that had happened on the show since then, had all been a dream…? Or, if you’re a little bit younger, you may know him for his comedy stylings on “Step by Step.” But there’s a small but vociferous portion of the populace who still sees Duffy and thinks, “Hey, it’s the Man from Atlantis!”
In his pre-Ewing years, Duffy played Mark Harris, whose ability to breathe underwater coupled with his webbed fingers and toes led scientists to suspect that he might well be the last survivor of Atlantis, but after four TV movies and a single 13-episode season, the series was sunk and, for most, forgotten. Last year, however, Warner Archive released the first “Man of Atlantis” movie on DVD, and after its tremendous success, they decided to go ahead and play to the show’s fanbase, releasing a set containing all four movies as well as a set with all 13 episodes.
Bullz-Eye was fortunate enough to chat with Duffy about the days when he spent most of his time in swim trunks, but we also got the details on his semi-infamous web series (“Patrick Duffy and the Crab”), his appearances on some of the unlikeliest of shows, including “South Park” and “Family Guy,” and, perhaps most importantly, what we can expect from this “Dallas” revival that, even though it isn’t set to premiere until next summer, is already getting people excited to see the Ewing clan in action again.
Bullz-Eye: When you first got the word that Warner Archive was going to be releasing “The Man from Atlantis” on DVD, were you, like, “That old thing?” Or was it more a case of, “At last, finally”?
Patrick Duffy: Oh, it was a case of “at last, finally.” I have great love and affection for that show. First of all, it was my very first show, so how can you not love it? But it’s the show that never goes away, in the sense that I’ve done a gazillion interviews over the years for “Dallas” and “Step by Step,” etc., etc., and retrospectives for all those things, but the question inevitably comes up about “The Man from Atlantis.” For an unsuccessful show that only ran a season, it seems like everybody has a contact point in their lives about that show. They were imprinted by some aspect of it, and for that reason, I just feel like it’s a crazy old aunt who lives in the attic or something, and I take care of her. (Laughs)
BE: Well, I was born in 1970, so I was just starting to pay attention to live-action television when it first came on.
PD: Yeah, and that’s probably why it stuck. You probably were imprinted just by a superhero, the underwater stuff, the webbed hands. Did you ever try to swim like that in a pool?
BE: I did. I failed.
PD: (Laughs) See? There we go! That’s what I’m talking about! I love this show because of that. So when Warner Archive let me know that they were gonna do this…well, first they just released the pilot, and it got such a response. And I think it’s because of people like yourself, or people that just remembered it and thought “whatever happened to that show.” But it was never syndicated. It never went anywhere like that. But those who remembered and wondered about it, when it came out, it was a huge success, and that’s why they went back and re-mastered the other movies and the 13 episodes and they’re releasing them now .
BE: It’s been ages since I’ve seen it – my copies are still en route – so I’m ecstatic to revisit it, and yet I’ve also got that nagging, “Is this going to hold up the way I remember it as a child?”
PD: Well, you know, first of all, you’re not a child anymore, of course. And the second thing is, we’re so used to technology that allows science fiction to be done on such a level now that if you watch “The Man from Atlantis” with the mind of someone in the early to mid-1970s, it holds up. And I think it holds up because it was done quite seriously. The first four movies were done as seriously as we could do them, given that they’re science-fiction, they were filmed in the environment where we were working around water, which is extremely difficult to do, and the technology we had at the time. If you can watch them that way, you’ll be right back in there with them.
BE: Have you yourself had the chance to check out the new discs?
PD: As a matter of fact, I’m sitting here looking at them right now, and they’re still shrink-wrapped. I haven’t broken them out. I got them as we were starting to do these two days of letting people know that they’re coming out, so I haven’t had time. But I’m going to sit down and watch all four movies and the series, absolutely.
BE: So had you been a science-fiction fan when you first started the series?
PD: A fan? No. Knowledgeable about it, yeah. One of the things that intrigued me…not that I would’ve turned it down under any circumstances, but I had read (Robert) Heinlein’s “Stranger in a Strange Land,” and it always intrigued me that that character was right in line with my age and who I was at the time. As an actor, I thought, “God, what a great part that would be to play!” And Mark Harris is essentially that stranger in a strange land, so I was ready to do that, and I was young enough to do all the stuff that they wanted and needed me to do in terms of the technical parts. It was the perfect marriage for me at that time in my life.
BE: I understand that the show is still hugely successful even now overseas.
PD: Well, again, it’s that same thing. It touches people’s imaginations in a real… (Hesitates) If I say “child-like,” I’m not speaking disparagingly. I mean the joy aspect of your imagination when you’re a child. That’s universal. And it was also the first American television show purchased by the Republic of China! I think it’s ‘cause there was so little dialogue. They didn’t have to dub anything! But, anyway, it’s universal. I think that nature that people have of being intrigued by science fiction and underwater stuff is universal, and that’s why it was so popular there.
BE: Understanding that you haven’t had a chance to revisit it yet, are there any particular episodes that still stand out in your mind?
PD: Well, not so much of the 13 episodes, because by then we had gotten into cranking out one a week. The TV movies were so individual and were…we took such great care with them, the directors and the producers, trying to get concepts across and having enough time to do an in-depth thing. So those stick out in my mind very much. We did one which I thought we could’ve pursued more in the series, which was the origin of the Man from Atlantis. It was called “Death Scouts,” and I remember that very well because it intrigued me playing the character, to think, “Oh, I’m not alone in this world,” and what would other people like me be like? And that was fun to do, fun to pursue. There was always derring-do and underwater gymnastics and all that kind of stuff. (Laughs) It was the subject matter of the plots in the first four movies that were quite wonderful, I think.
BE: Do you have any specific recollections of working with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in the episode “Giant”?
PD: Well, that was huge for me…and no pun intended. (Laughs) It was amazing. “Atlantis,” actually, if you think about it and go through the casting, I worked with Kareem, who was iconic…and still is, but then he was truly iconic, and all over the world. And Neville Brand, who I’d watched in movies and on television shows, and here he was guest-starring on “Man from Atlantis.” It was an embarrassment of riches, the people walking through there, as it was on “Dallas.” Kareem was fun because it was such a weird episode anyway, but talk about working with somebody bigger than me. Good lord, he’s a big man…
BE: Now, what I want to know is if “The Man from Atlantis” was where you first met The Crab.
PD: (Cackles) It’s where I learned to speak crab. No, but things do come full circle, and now The Crab is being resurrected. We’re going to do more with The Crab now, with my son and his wife. There’s quite a bit of interest in doing more, a much more involved series of episodes with The Crab. Seems like nothing in my career ever goes away entirely. (Laughs)
BE: What did you think when your son and his wife first pitched you the idea of that series?
PD: What, “Patrick Duffy and the Crab”? Well, if it had not come from my son… (Starts to laugh) And not because he’s my son I’d do anything for him, but, literally, for the past 20 years, anything that gets pitched to me, I ask both my sons first. I am so out of the mainstream of what’s…not what’s hot or cool or any of those things, but just what’s normal. What’s considered normal now? What’s considered the right thing to do? And when he said, “I’ve got this idea…” ‘Cause my other son had done a play, and that’s where the crab came from in the first place, but he said, “Here’s what we want to do…” And I said, “Are you serious? Is this really a good thing? Would this be a good thing for Patrick Duffy, having been on ‘Dallas’ and ‘Step by Step,’ to do?” And he said, “Yes, Dad. Trust me. It wouldn’t destroy your career. This is cool.” And I trust him. So I go to my sons for everything, and they’ll tell me…many times, I’ll say, “I don’t think this is very good,” and they say, “No, you have to do this.” Or I’ll come to them and say, “This sounds pretty good. What do you think?” And they say, “Are you out of your mind?” (Laughs) So I go to them with everything. They’re my touchstones to the 21st century.
BE: In that case, their comedic sensibilities must run toward “South Park,” “Party Down,” “Tim & Eric,” and so forth.
PD: Absolutely. All of which I did, and all of which I asked them first. Especially…what was it? “Tim & Eric’s Crazy Adventure”?
BE: (Laughs) “Tim & Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!”
PD: When they approached me of the idea doing the “Patrick Duffy Man Nip” or whatever it was, I said, “Let me get back to you.” (Laughs) I asked the boys, and they said, “Are you kidding? That’s, like, the show. You’ve got to do that.” So, yeah, I did that. They think that being Scuzzlebutt’s left leg is one of the high points of my career. So these are all things I’m learning anew. I come from the era of three networks, and it’s a learning curve I’m on now.”
BE: How did you find your way into doing the live-action cameo for “Family Guy”?
PD: He had called…what’s his name? Seth MacFarlane. Seth had called, he’s a huge “Dallas” fan. Again, “Dallas” opens these doors! I mean, he was just a rabid “Dallas” fan, and he had this idea of doing it. I was okay to do it once I talked to my son. I wasn’t sure that Victoria (Principal) would do it. The reason being that, when she left the show, she had such a huge industry of her beauty products and books and all that stuff that she pretty much drew a line through her “Dallas” connection in order to establish Victoria Principal as opposed to the Pam Ewing perception of who she was. So I thought, “I don’t know if she’s going to do it.” But she jumped at it. She loved it. So we had the best time resurrecting our scene for them, and to this day, “Family Guy” fans think that’s the funniest thing I’ve done. (Laughs)
BE: Speaking of that famous shower scene, I know you stepped out of TV to do the feature film “Vamping” in 1984. If that film had been more commercially successful, do you think you would have returned to “Dallas”?
PD: Um… (Long pause) That’s good. Nobody has ever asked me that. You get a prize for asking me a question I’ve never been asked before!
PD: That’s intriguing, though. I think it might’ve been slightly more difficult to come back to the show. I had left “Dallas” in order to do different things, but…I’m trying to remember the chronology of it. I’m very bad at that. I think I did…yes, I did “Vamping” before I left the show, but had it been popular when I left the show in the seventh year, and if I’d had offers of doing other films, I probably would’ve stayed away. But, you know, the phone was not ringing off the hook. (Laughs) “Vamping” did not set the world on fire. And I actually…at that point, it wasn’t that I was starving to death, because “Dallas” had been very good to me, and I was working. But I wasn’t having the fun I’d been having on a daily basis with my best friends. And coming back on the show was, again, a no-brainer.
BE: On a related note, you’re getting to have fun with those friends again.
PD: Exactly. That’s the beauty of my life. (Laughs) We actually went to the screening of the pilot last night. None of the actors had seen the pilot, but last night they had a screening and we went to see it, and Larry (Hagman) and Linda (Gray) and I went out to dinner afterwards, and we said, “Can you believe this? We are the luckiest actors on the planet.” We’ve always been friends. We get together all the time, and there’s never been any time that we haven’t been together, but we never thought we’d be together under those circumstances again. But here we go! (Laughs) And the pilot is absolutely splendid. I defy anybody who ever watched “Dallas” not to just love this pilot.
BE: I’m curious to see how well they mesh the old and new cast members. I know a lot of times that actors don’t like to reprise their roles because they feel like it’s little more than a glorified cameo.
PD: Right. Well, the cool thing, which we knew going in, is that Larry, Linda and myself are the returning cast members, and we’re in every episode. It’s not like we’re only here to launch the show. And “Dallas” is a family drama. It’s a drama about family and the relationships of the family. And the scripts – the pilot and the future episodes – will be about the same things that the original “Dallas” was about: how the family interacts when they’re such desperate characters. That part never changes. So Larry, Linda and I are there and integrally involved in the plots and the formulas of the entire series, along with this new group of family members that…I mean, if we have a gathering at Southfork Ranch, it’s got to have everybody, you know? And that’s the way it’s going to be. And that’s why we’re so happy with the result of this pilot. Cynthia Cidre wrote a script that’s to die for, and I have a new favorite director, which is Michael Robin. I’m ready for another 13 years!
BE: Now, the big question is if there’s been any way to figure out a way for Pam to return. (Laughs)
PD: Well, of course, the character of Pam is deceased on the show. And…I’m not sure we could survive a second shower scene. (Laughs) So I have a feeling the character of Pam is gone for good. Bobby is remarried. I have a new wife on the show…well, I say “new,” but on the show we’ve been married for 15 years, so we’re an old, established married couple. Brenda Strong plays my wife, and she’s fantastic. And one of the tallest actresses I’ve ever worked with. (Laughs) So we’re the new patriarch and matriarch of the Ewing clan, and that’s how the show goes.
BE: They’re certainly giving the show enough buzz, releasing the teaser trailer almost a year in advance.PD: Uh-huh. And I’m hoping we can maintain that buzz for a year. (Laughs) But it’s actually a little less than a year. I think we’re set for either late spring or early summer of 2010…so we’re getting closer all the time!