‘The Waltons’ Star Richard Thomas Speaks on How He Avoided Being Typecast

by Craig Garrett

Richard Thomas became iconic starring in the classic tv series The Waltons but fought hard not to be defined by the role. Many actors that have success at a young age find it difficult to shake out of an early role that the public identifies them with. However, The Walton’s actor has played many roles since leaving the series in 1977. Thomas recently opened up about sidestepping type casting in an interview with Gold Derby.

“Well, the first thing about it was it wasn’t my first barbecue,” Richard Thomas explained. The actor had already appeared in high-profile shows like Bonanza and The F.B.I before playing John-Boy. He had also appeared in a few films. “I was making movies before I did the Waltons. I wasn’t sure I wanted to do a series because I was starting to make movies and [I was] enjoying it and doing well at it,” he said.

To top it off, Thomas was a trained theater actor from New York City. “I had my work in the theater and I had always worked,” he said. Doing tv seemed like a daunting task for the young actor. “Do I really want to take myself out of the running for a period of time? Then, of course, I read [The Waltons] scripts that came in and they were so beautiful,” Richard Thomas reflected. “I thought how could you possibly do this? I mean, in the infinite wisdom of a 21-year-old,” the actor joked.

Richard Thomas fell back on his acting experience prior to his Waltons role in order to push forward

Even though Richard Thomas enjoyed his Emmy-winning Waltons role, he knew it was time to move on after several years in the part. He was prepared to battle the stigma of having played John-boy for so long. “So I knew I was an actor before and I knew that I had done other stuff before,” Thomas explained. His time acting before The Waltons proved invaluable. “I knew I’d do it again, and you just have persistence. And you have to understand that when you decide to make the turn, you can’t expect everybody to make the turn with you,” Thomas said.

Richard Thomas had to be selective in the choices he made, especially if the role resembled John-Boy too much. “You’re going to have to balance the scales and you’re going to have to turn down some parts that people just offer you because you’re like what you played yesterday,” he said. He sought out roles that went against type, “you’re going to have to look for things that are different.”

Finally, Thomas noted his time in the theater as a saving grace during tough times. “The theater has always been a great consolation because the repertoire and the ability to play many, many different things and types of roles is always there for us,” he said. “It was always helpful but I managed to play a lot of different things. My commitment to the theater and to the classics and to doing new plays has never waned.” Richard Thomas urged other actors to stick with it and push through barriers. “You got to play the long game. You got to just stay in it and think of it as work just as work actor for hire,” he said.