Gentry Akens (‘The Waltons: Homecoming’ production designer): ‘It just feels like the way it ought to be’ [Exclusive Video Interview]

“It represented a kind of happiness that looked promising and real and accessible,” argues Gentry Akens about the appeal of “The Waltons.”  Akens served as production designer of “The Waltons: Homecoming,” a 2021 holiday film that is a reimagining of the original 1971 movie that introduced audiences to the Walton family. That original film spawned the classic CBS drama that ran from 1972 to 1981 and won 13 Emmys. This new television film stars Bellamy Young as matriarch Olivia Walton and Logan Shroyer as John-Boy. Richard Thomas, who won an Emmy for playing John-Boy in the original series, serves as the narrator in this film. Check out our exclusive video interview with Akens above.

In recreating the Waltons’ home, Akens wanted to honor the original series and yet still have something new and exciting. “I’m going to look at what was there,” he argues. “And there’s a little bit of that designer things that wants to kind of make your own stamp.” As a fan of the original series, Akens knew that audiences would be expecting certain characteristics for the sets. “I was very familiar with a lot of the areas where the family spent their time,” he says. “So the audience was going to be looking for the same thing I was looking for.”

When a house was finally chosen for filming, Akens and his team worked to create a space that provided a feeling of a family home. “I needed to make this intimate,” he says. “The important thing for me as a designer was to capture the emotion and the feeling to make the new audiences and older audiences forget that it’s not the same footprint.”

Along with the house, Akens describes the enjoyment of recreating Ike Godsey’s General Store. The challenge for Akens was not so much the space itself but rather the items that would sit on the store shelves. “We almost had more fun researching was, in 1933 and 1934, the kind of products and merchandise that were in Ike’s,” he explains. “And this was Christmas time, so we also had to have a little corner of Ike’s dedicated to Christmas and the kind of toys that they had.”

Akens is succinct in his explanation for why the Waltons continues to appeal to audiences. “It just feels like the way it ought to be,” he argues. “It’s not unrealistic. So this give you that opportunity to take that journey and spend some time with the Waltons, the way that all of us would like to be spending our time.”

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