Richard Thomas is headed back to Walton’s Mountain. The Emmy-winning actor, who spent his young adulthood playing eldest son John-Boy on the beloved 1970s series The Waltons, is delighted to be voicing the narrator in CW’s television movie, The Waltons: Homecoming (airing November 28). “When you’ve had a show that you were a success in, and then several decades pass, and all of a sudden it’s back with a whole new cast, it’s very exciting,” Richard tells Closer.
It’s hard to believe that so much time has passed since The Waltons stopped making new episodes in 1981. “Some days, mentally, I still feel like a kid,” Richard, 70, says. But it’s hard to deny the passage of time. “When I get out of bed, it’s like, ‘OK, great, I’m here, I’m awake. I’m alive.’ But then it’s also, ‘That really hurts!’ ”
Richard, who makes his home in New York City, spent much of his second act in theater, but has frequently returned to the big and small screens in a wide range of character roles. In December, he will appear in The Unforgivable, a film starring Sandra Bullock as an ex-con.
“Here I am at 70, and I am like, ‘Yay, you are still in the game!’ ’’ he says. “Some would call it talent. I would call it luck — maybe a combination of the two.”
Humility aside, Richard has worked steadily since childhood. He gives credit to his parents, who were dancers with the New York City Ballet, for teaching him discipline. “You really get tested when you have a success — about your behavior, how to keep your feet on the ground, and how to not let success tip you right over the edge,” says Richard, who was just 21 in The Waltons’ first season. “All of this was a big lesson for me. Most of the time, I just felt lucky.”
And unlike a lot of former child stars, Richard never made headlines for bad behavior. “I was always very boring,” insists the twice-married father of five adult children. “I just wasn’t interested in drugs or anything like that. Not from any moral position, I was just kinda chicken.”
In person, Richard comes across as a warmhearted soul like John-Boy — something he hears a lot from strangers. “Fans come up and say, ‘Hey it’s you! I grew up with you,’ as if I were a childhood friend,” he shares. But in his post-Waltons career, Richard has gotten a kick out of playing some not-so-nice guys. “There’s nothing like playing a villain. That’s the delicious part,” he says. “I have played many of them: some of the greatest bad guys in history, like Richard III and [Othello’s] Iago.”
Still, it feels entirely appropriate for Richard to narrate The Waltons: Homecoming. The role was originally voiced by The Waltons creator Earl Hamner Jr., who based the series (and the book that inspired it) on his upbringing in rural Virginia during the Great Depression and World War II. “When I heard they wanted me to do the voiceover, it was so special. I get to keep carrying the baton!” says Richard, who admits he was always a little jealous that Earl got to do the narration on the show. “So now I will finally be able to do it! I only had to wait 50 years!” he says with a laugh.
Richard feels that even fans of the original series will enjoy the CW remake. “It’s a fantastic show. A classic,” he enthuses. “Viewers will love it; they will remember watching the original and enjoy this new one. It’s a good feeling.”
—Reporting by Susan Hornik
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