‘The Waltons’: John-Boy Walton Actor Richard Thomas Said the Dinner Scenes Were ‘A Nightmare to Shoot’
Those who grew up in the ’70s adored The Waltons. The TV show followed the Walton family from the 1930s up until World War II in the mid-40s, and it showcased family values and what it was like living in rural Virginia during this time.
Richard Thomas played John-Boy Walton, the oldest of his six siblings and the most notable of the show. Looking back, Thomas has fond memories of working on the show and collaborating with his fellow actors — but he once talked about how difficult the dinner scenes in the show were to shoot. Here’s what he said.
Richard Thomas played John-Boy Walton on ‘The Waltons’
Casting John-Boy Walton was quite involved, as the character was created after series creator Earl Hamner Jr. When Hamner saw Thomas read the lines for John-Boy, he knew the actor was the perfect fit for the role, as he saw a lot of himself in Thomas.
“He was marvelous, and as it turned out, he was perfect in the role,” Hamner said in an interview with the Archive of American Television, according to MeTV. “I often said he made a better John-Boy than I did being me.”
Thomas liked the role of John-Boy, too. MeTV notes he said his character had the “soul of an artist,” and the differences between himself and his father created notable distance. While John-Boy adored his parents and siblings, he still felt the need to escape his rural upbringing and experience life, Thomas added.
“He’s not only in it, he’s observing it,” Thomas said of John-Boy’s family, culture, and surroundings.
Thomas noted dinner scenes were ‘a nightmare to shoot’
Dinner scenes were paramount to The Waltons. The family often crowded around the dinner table, and it gave the comforting feeling of home to viewers. But Thomas noted shooting the dinner scenes was no easy task.
“Dinner scenes are wonderful in theory,” Thomas said during an interview published by Archive of American Television. “They were at the heart of the show.”
Thomas then noted that the scenes “can be a nightmare to shoot,” especially because “they take a long time.” And by the time they were finished filming the scene, the actors were in a “foul mood.”
“You just want to get out,” Thomas added.
Just like a normal family dinner table, the actor also noted everyone on the show chose their spot at the table. “I made the incredibly naive mistake of placing myself between Will Geer and Kami Kotler,” he added. “I got between an adorable and beautiful child actress and a scene-stealing machine. And it’s a wonder that I managed to survive any of that, that I was even noticed.”
The actor said some directors made this major mistake with the dinner scenes
It seems not every director for The Waltons was thinking about real-life dinner-table dynamics. In the same Archive of American Television interview, Thomas talked about an incident where a director came in and had the cast sit at different spots at the table than usual, and the cast had to correct.
“There would be directors who would come in for the first time, and they could come to a dinner scene and have it all figured out in their heads,” Thomas noted. “But they’d have everybody sitting in different places. And we always had to say, ‘You can’t do that.’ Because this is where we sit. This is our home. This is our dinner table. And this is where we sit.”
While it wasn’t easy for every director to understand how the dinner scenes should work, Thomas felt very protective of the scenes. “These were the patterns of life and home,” he added. “And we held on to them.”
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