Conversation with Richard Thomas
A generation grew up in the 1970s watching John Boy Walton, played by Emmy Award-winning actor Richard Thomas, and the rest of The Waltons and their family values. And although Thomas has moved on, performing on Broadway and in more than fifty television movies, he will always appreciate that role. Thomas comes to town this month to star in the touring production of Twelve Angry Men as Juror No. 8. His character forces the other eleven members of the jury to examine themselves before reaching a conclusion in this moving play centered on the American justice system.
Have you ever served on a jury? No, I haven't actually. When I was living in L.A., I would get the letter and would be filming or away on location, and it was something I've never been able to experience. I now live in New York and sure enough I got my first notice while I was on tour in Twelve Angry Men. When I go back home, I'll see if I get asked again. It would be very interesting to be a part of the process, but we'll see if I'd even get selected.
How has your role in Twelve Angry Men affected your view of our justice system? It deepens one's examination of [the justice system] and one's appreciation of the exquisite balance it contains of doubt and certainty. When you go in as a citizen to make these decisions, not just in a courtroom, but about casting a vote in an election or any time you cast a vote for or against something, you really need to know where you're coming from and what baggage you've brought into the room. We're a country of laws, but these decisions are made by people. The play really gives a terrific balance of that. It holds a mirror to who we are as flawed people and the good we aspire to be. It isn't an idealized picture of the justice system but it shows us a path that we can take to do our best.
Do you prefer theater to television? I've done both my whole life. I grew up on stage and in television, and my career and growth as an actor is inextricably bound up with both mediums, and most actors who work both will tell you they prefer the stage, and I do as well. There's nothing like working in theater, primarily because it's a live experience in real time and it's for the people. Doing the play from start to finish and doing it over and over to deepen your performance is a unique experience.
I admit, I grew up watching The Waltons. Do you ever get tired of being remembered for that particular role? Oh no. I'm very proud of that show and it was certainly one of the best dramatic shows on television, and I'm very grateful for that opportunity. Whatever gets fans in the theater is fine with me. If it's John Boy, that's great.
Are any of your children interested in acting? I have a twenty-two-year-old daughter in Los Angeles developing her acting skills waiting tables. She's also making an independent film. I have one daughter who's a post-production producer and a son who is a journalist. They're all kind of in the orbit of the business. Oh, and my eleven-year-old wants to be a fashion designer.