TNT’s “Dallas” just finished its first season with three big revelations: Cliff Barnes is Rebecca’s father (!), the mastermind behind her scheme (!!), and the owner of a really cool jet (!!!). Ken Kercheval, Cliff’s real-life alter ego, graciously spoke to me this week about his iconic character and what the future might hold for the Barneses and the Ewings.
So tell me: What’s it like to be playing Cliff Barnes again after all these years?
Same old, same old. I know this guy pretty well so it’s just like putting on the same set of clothes that you wore a few years back.
When the producers invited you to reprise the role, did they talk to you about the direction they were planning to take Cliff?
The only thing they said is that he had gone off and become very, very, very rich. Richer than the Ewings. That’s it. That’s absolutely all I know.
Cliff has done a pretty mean thing, using his daughter to get back at the Ewings – including his nephew Christopher. What do you think of that?
Damned if I know. I swear, I don’t have a clue. [The producers] are very, very close-mouthed about where they’re going with it.
Will you be back next season?
I will be. So far they only have four episodes written and I know I’m in the fourth one. I’ll be filming that at the very beginning of November, and then I go to England to do the Irving Berlin musical “White Christmas.”
Maybe you’ll get to work with Linda Gray again. You two always had great chemistry.
She’s always fun to work with. She knows what she’s doing. I think [the writers] should rekindle Cliff and Sue Ellen’s love affair.
I think that would be great.
I do too!
You two filmed a scene this season that was cut before TNT showed the episode [“The Last Hurrah”] on television. Can you tell us what we missed?
There’s a scene outside the opera house where we’re walking along [and] I’ve offered [Sue Ellen] my financial support for her running for governor. And she says she has to turn it down. And I [say], “Why? Have you got a better offer?” And I just stop her and say, “J.R. is absolutely never going to change. Don’t bank on [him] because the man will never change.”
It’s a shame we didn’t get to see that. Hopefully when the first season is released on DVD, the scenes that were edited out will be included as extras.
Maybe. I never could figure out why they were cut. To begin with, the one scene was replaced by the birthing of that calf.
What did you make of that?
I thought, what’s that relevant to? I didn’t understand it. But, you know, it’s not my place to understand it. I think the writers are extremely clever. And I know that Cynthia [Cidre, the executive producer] told me that her team of writers sat down and watched every single episode that had ever been filmed of the [original] show. I said, “I hope they got paid well.” That’s a lot of work.
What was it like to film the airport hangar scene where Rebecca is revealed as Cliff’s daughter?
Cold. Very, very, very cold. But it was nice working with Julie [Gonzalo, who plays Rebecca]. She’s so good! Among the younger cast, she’s the only one besides [Jesse Metcalfe, who plays Christopher] that I’ve done a scene with.
You think highly of Cynthia Cidre, too.
She’s fantastic. Oh, she is one smart woman. She really knows what she’s doing.
If we can go back in time for a minute, you and Larry Hagman are the only actors who were regulars during all 14 seasons of the original “Dallas.” Do you have favorite scenes from the old show that stand out?
When I first reunited with my mom [Rebecca Wentworth, played by Priscilla Pointer], I think, is my favorite scene.
The “licorice scene” where Cliff tearfully offers his mother her favorite candy. I love that one too.
That was a powerful scene for me.
You also had one with Barbara Bel Geddes, where Cliff sits with Miss Ellie on a park bench and basically makes amends for the whole Barnes-Ewing feud.
Oh, definitely. I remember that scene very well because we almost never worked together. [Before filming] I went to her trailer and we were going over the lines and I said, “Well, right here, when I say this line, can you turn and look at me?” And she thought about it and said, “Well, I don’t think that would be right, Kenny.” So then when we filmed the scene, I delivered that line and she didn’t look at me so I didn’t say my next line. And so finally she looked at me. And when the scene was over, she said, “You dirty dog. I told you I didn’t want to look at you and you tricked me into looking at you!”
Barbara was my best friend on the show, off stage. My very best friend. She’d say, “Kenny, if you were just a little bit older or I was a little bit younger….”
When you were playing Cliff the first time around, did you like him?
Yeah, I did. I really did. I thought he was a nice guy too. J.R. was coming after my ass all the time, so I was always had to defend myself. If I did something that wasn’t quite right, it’s because I had to.
Well, now Cliff seems to have the upper hand. I’m looking forward to seeing what his next move will be.
I am too!
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