When Richard Thomas first played the role of John-Boy Walton over 50 years ago, he thought that he would be the one reading the narration in the show. That turned out to be more of a dream, as it was quickly decided that the show’s creator and writer, Earl Hamner Jr., would be the one performing the narration. “However, 50 years later, I get to do the narration,” declares Thomas in an exclusive video interview with Gold Derby about “The Waltons: Homecoming.”
The CW Network film is a reimagining of “The Homecoming: A Christmas Story,” the 1971 television film that first introduced audiences to the Walton family. Thomas played the role of eldest son John-Boy in both that film and the subsequent long-running drama series that followed, “The Waltons.” The drama earned 13 Emmys over the course of its nine year run, including a Best Drama Actor win for Thomas in 1973. In the remake, Thomas serves as the narrator, telling the story of matriarch Olivia Walton (Bellamy Young) as she sends John-Boy (Logan Shroyer) on a mission to find his missing father (Ben Lawson) and bring him home to his family on Christmas Eve.
Hamner, who died in 2016, performed all the narration in both the original film and the subsequent series. In performing the narration for the remake, Thomas describes feeling Hamner’s presence. “Earl’s voice is always in my mind,” he says. “He was an enormously important person for all of us, and he was such a beautiful creator for that show. So he’s everywhere in my feelings about the Waltons, which are always fond and happy.”
Despite being associated with the role of John-Boy for more than half a century, Thomas had no qualms about passing the torch to Shroyer. “He’s a really good actor so he doesn’t my help or anyone else’s,” he argues. The actor draws parallels to all great roles that are eventually reinterpreted by other actors. “All you’re thinking is how wonderful that something that I did — the role that I did — could be handed down to another actor 50 years later. It’s a beautiful thing.”
Thomas sees a distinct correlation between the social climates in which both shows aired. “When ‘The Waltons’ first came on the air there was so much division in the country, and the country was going through so much because of Watergate and Vietnam,” he explains. “The show came on the air with a feeling of family unity and a sense that connection was more important than separation.” In the 21st century, Thomas argues, that need for unity is more important than ever. “We are in a disastrously fragmented and conflicted place in our country,” he says. “A show like ‘The Waltons’ really talks about feelings and relationships and a way of living that rises above those differences.”
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