I was beyond excited I had the opportunity to interview Ken Kercheval who played the iconic Cliff Barnes on the original Dallas and is one of the cast members returning as a special guest star on the continuation of the show airing on TNT Wednesdays. He and Larry Hagman were the only actors to stay with the classic series during its entire 13 year run (Kercheval also appeared in 1996’s JR Returns and 2004’s Return to Southfork specials). Ken was added to the famous opening sequence during the 1979-80 season. I spoke with him on the day Episode 3 of TNT’s Dallas aired and he was very enthusiastic about the new series.
Dallas TV World: It’s such a thrill to be talking to you on this very special day for us Dallas fans. Not only is the series back on our television screens but you will be appearing in tonight’s episode for the first time. The news about your appearance broke last September in a TV Guide article by William Keck and the announcement made many fans of the original show very happy. How did you get involved with the new series?
Ken: I did not hear about it until very very late. People would ask me “Are you going to be on the new show?” and I said “I have no idea”. They would say “They can’t do the show without you” and I would say “Yes they can!” [Laughs] Finally the producer (Cynthia Cidre) called me to have lunch and she wanted me to be involved. She said it was given from the very beginning; it seemed like everybody knew except me and in the end it was nice to know they wanted me back. It was probably a couple of months before they started filming. I was glad to be back.
Dallas TV World: What do you think of the new show? Did you watch the premiere last week?
Ken: I watched the first one which is unusual for me because I don’t really watch them but I thought it was wonderful. The photography was really marvelous, the show had an entirely different look, the young people were great, and the storyline was good. I heard it premiered to 6.9 million viewers and is going around the world soon. It will be shown in Australia, Iceland, Sweden, all over the world.
Dallas TV World: I recently finished watching the first seven episodes of TNT’s Dallas and the show absolutely blew me away, especially episodes 6 and 7 are full of unforgettable surprises and twist turns and I was also very impressed with the supporting actors who do a wonderful job along with the principal cast. What can we expect from Cliff on the show this time around?
Ken: Wait until you see the last episode, which will be the real surprise and a bombshell to end all bombshells! I don’t know much about his back story and what he has been up to since the original show ended. All I know is that wherever he was, he made an enormous amount of money and now he has wealth that almost surpasses that of the Ewings’. I will have to get back to the producers and ask them how he made all that money.
Dallas TV World: What was it like meeting the young generation for the first time and sharing scenes together again with Larry Hagman, Linda Gray, and Patrick Duffy?
Ken: Meeting the new cast was very pleasant. I don’t know if they ever watched the show before. When we got introduced in the hotel, I thought not all of them knew right away who I was, which I found kind of cute. Working with Patrick, Larry, and Linda was like it never ended. On the set we know each other so well, after 13 seasons we kind of knew how the other person would respond.
Dallas TV World: What did you think of Brenda Strong as Bobby’s new wife?
Ken: Wasn’t she on the original Dallas once or something? She is very good in that role but I do not have a recollection of the particular scene we filmed together back in 1986.
Dallas TV World: The original Dallas has been such a worldwide phenomenon and the new series is expected to be shown in 170 countries around the world. Where do you think you have your biggest fans?
Ken: I think in the UK and Germany. People still recognize me there and it has been 30 years since Dallas. 90% of my fan mail comes from Germany and Dallas is very big over there and I worked on stage in the UK doing Irving Berlin’s White Christmas in various cities. People mainly recognize me from Dallas and it is nice.
Dallas TV World: I know some fans in Germany who are curious about when you might visit there again and whether you have a favorite city in Germany?
Ken: I have a publicist in Munich and there might be something coming up I heard pretty soon. I really enjoy Germany a lot. I think it is my favorite country; I’m particularly fond of Munich and Garmisch-Partenkirchen (a mountain resort town in Bavaria).
Dallas TV World: In 2010 you were reunited with Larry Hagman during filming of a commercial near the city of Dresden for the SolarWorld AG Group in which JR steals a company investing in solar technology right from under Cliff Barnes’ nose. Larry has been extensively working with SolarWorld for the past couple of years, how did you get involved?
Ken: I remember it well, it was quite something. I was in Sunderland, England and my German publicist called me and asked whether I could come over there on Wednesday to shoot a commercial. I said I can’t since I am working on stage; I’ve got a matinee on Wednesday. Most importantly I also had a contract prohibiting me from leaving. I couldn’t do it on Saturday either. Finally after the Saturday evening performance I let the company manager go home in my car and I got into a big black limo and they took me to the airport where I boarded a private plane which at first could not take off because it had to be de-iced but eventually took us to Berlin where I spent the night. I had to get up very early the next day and was driven to Dresden. We did the commercial near Dresden with Larry and the next morning I was driven to Düsseldorf to board my plane back to England. Unfortunately there was some delay at the airport and I became nervous that if I don’t walk the stage that day, my career is over. The whole thing was very nerve-racking but in the end I got to Newcastle and the theater just in time. I made very good money but it would have meant nothing, had I not been able to walk on the stage that night. I actually never got to see how the commercial turned out to be.
Dallas TV World: It was widely shown on German television during prime time and was quite successful, fans enjoyed seeing Cliff Barnes again with arch nemesis JR Ewing. You mentioned in several interviews how passionate you are about your stage career and it is what you prefer to do. You acted in over 50 theater productions on and off Broadway, one of them being the original Broadway production of Cabaret in 1966 in which also Joel Grey starred (before the film adaptation in 1972). Did the two of you act together back then? He was of course later on the last episode of Dallas.
Ken: No, we did not act together but I remember he was on the last Dallas episode; I loved that original Cabaret production.
Dallas TV World: You directed the penultimate episode of Dallas called “Decline and Fall of the Ewing Empire” in which Cliff ends up with Ewing Oil and JR has the worst day of his life. Do you have any special memories of that show?
Ken: I directed two episodes of Dallas but don’t remember that penultimate episode too well unfortunately.
Dallas TV World: Speaking of directing, do you have any memories of “In The Heat of the Night” from 1993?
Ken: I guest starred in an episode and Larry directed that one actually, he was a very good director. It was a lot of fun working with Larry again so soon after Dallas ended, I did not even have to audition for the part, he asked for me specifically. It was a great show.
(Note: The episode was called Judgement Day, and it was just shown Monday on WGN America and also starred Lois Chiles who played Holly Harwood on Dallas).
Dallas TV World: You recently filmed a movie called “This Promise I Made” back in your hometown in Clinton, Indiana. What attracted you to that project?
Ken: I have a few scenes in the movie, I did it primarily because I had not been home in a long time and I had great ties to my hometown. I applaud the producer for wanting to even attempt to do a movie there. It was a pretty low-key movie; I certainly hope it will find its own success. I also got to hang out with one of my best friends, so it was a lot of fun.
Dallas TV World: I saw you last time at the Hollywood Show in Chicago in 2010, where you actually ran into some fellow Dallas cast members such as Morgan Fairchild, Barry Corbin, and George Kennedy. I took a wonderful photograph of you and George Kennedy, you were so delighted to see him.
Ken: Yes, what a marvelous man George is! He is just a dear sweet human being. He used to play some pretty tough characters on film but he was always the nicest guy. I have a real warm spot in my heart for George.
Dallas TV World: The Hollywood Show in Burbank is putting together a special Dallas Reunion for early August featuring Steve Kanaly, Morgan Brittany, Jenilee Harrison, Charlene Tilton and several others. Any chance we might see you there?
Ken: I have not heard anything about it but I enjoy meeting fans and it would be great to see everybody but they have to contact me first.
Dallas TV World: Any special message to the fans who are watching Cliff Barnes’ return to Dallas tonight?
Ken: I hope the audience is saying “Oh good, Cliff is back!” That would be nice.
Dallas TV World: Maybe you even get JR this time!
Ken: You better believe it!
Catch Ken Kercheval again next Wednesday, June 27 in Episode 4 “The Last Hurrah” in which Cliff reunites with Sue Ellen (Linda Gray) much to the chagrin of JR (Larry Hagman). I am unsure whether the above scene actually made it into the final cut of the episode as it is not featured on the rough cut DVDs TNT sent out but they released it recently as a promotional still. I certainly hope it will be added as a bonus deleted scene on a future DVD release, should it not be featured next week. You can catch the first four episodes of Dallas again back to back Wednesday, July 4 before an all-new episode 5 at 9PM/8CT!