Richard Thomas has been acting forever, or so it would seem. He was only 7 when he made his Broadway debut in “Sunrise at Campobello.” He’s appeared in numerous films and other television roles, including the iconic role of John-Boy on “The Waltons.” He recently wrapped a stint playing in Shakespeare’s “Timon of Athens” for New York Public Theater. Richard sheds all of those images to star in Hallmark Channel’s latest original movie, “Time After Time,” which premieres Saturday, March 19 (9 p.m. ET/PT, 8 CT). Richard plays Dick, a man who’s come home again by traveling back in time to rectify the mistakes he made as a youth — and hopefully to save the small town he came to love from corporate devastation.
Celebrity Extra: First, I wanted to tell you that I loved the movie; it’s really sweet.
Richard Thomas: It is very sweet, isn’t it?
CE: What I also like is that it’s not sticky-sweet — but it’s a nice family movie with a good message.
RT: Yeah, it’s rare. One of the reasons why I was so attracted to it was because they don’t make very many pictures like this for television anymore that have a kind of lightness of touch, and it’s funny and touching and not a hard-sell movie, but it’s human. I liked the characters. I especially liked the character I played.
CE: What did you like about your character?
RT: At first, I liked the idea of playing somebody my own age — although they actually ended up making him younger, because of the age that Kaj (Kaj-Erik Eriksen, who plays the younger Richard) was and then how old I would have had to have been. I would have had to have been closer to like 50 rather than closer to 60.
CE: Looking too young is not too bad of a problem to have these days, especially in Hollywood.
RT: I know, and it’s actually always been that way with me, even when I started “The Waltons.” John-Boy was 16 and I was 21. I have this illusion of youthfulness about me. Actually, it should be delusion. With the movie, I liked the premise. I liked what it said about big, generic, big-box businesses and what they do to local cultures. They do dissipate the local culture frequently, and things become generic. I also loved the idea of meeting my younger self. You know, what would I say? Rarely can you go back in time in a movie and meet yourself. So, that was fun. It rang very true to me. It’s unpretentious, simple and lovely. I just hope people enjoy it.
CE: Did you enjoy working with the cast?
RT: Everybody was great. It was a very well-cast, very friendly, very happy picture. We had a great time making it. This is the third Hallmark picture I’ve made, and it’s nice to do stuff that the family can enjoy together.
CE: Would you like to go back in time to change or fix anything in your past?
RT: Well, you know, I’m of two minds about that because, of course, I would like to go back and erase all the times where I did anything that was hurtful to anybody. My life is not perfect; there are always things that could be better and things that could be worse, but nevertheless, it’s not something that I would trade. If you go back and you change a bunch of it, how do you know if you would still be where you are today?
CE: For you, what is the movie’s central message?
RT: The most important message in the movie is to be very aware of what the present moment is bringing you, because in real life, we can’t go back and change things. We can make certain amends; we can change only so much in retrospect of what we’ve done in the past. And it’s amazing how much we actually can heal from the past if we want to. But we can only do it in the present — we have to make our choices now.
CE: You've done a few movies for the Hallmark Channel throughout your career. What keeps you coming back?
RT: Well, I just like making movies for that audience that likes the family pictures. I do a lot of other stuff and that’s great too, but I have a feeling for those audiences who loved "The Waltons," who loved John-Boy and want to see family entertainment. We are in a very good time of television right now, but much of it is much harsher and more aggressive, and that’s not for everybody. There are other audiences out there who want something a little different from that, so it’s nice to be able to give them something.
CE: You have such a diverse career — television, feature films, theater — how do you decide what project to choose next?
RT: It all depends on what comes up. I never know. I worry. All actors worry, but I’ve been doing it for so many years that I’ve learned that the next thing eventually comes up. I’m starting the last week of this Shakespeare production, and sure enough I have a script to read that starts rehearsing the day after I finish here, so who knows. I don’t know if I’m going to do it yet. When I get off the phone with you I’ve got to read it and decide.
And then there’s an offer to do a Broadway play in the fall. We’ll see if that comes up. I just never know what it’s going to be. If two things come up together, it’s like every other career — I think it’s like every other career, I don’t know — sometimes you make the decision to do something because you need the money. Sometimes you make the decision because even though there’s no money involved, it’s something that’s going to feed your creative energies and be satisfying and exciting to do. Sometimes it’s the people you are going to be working with. There are all kinds of reasons.
Doing "Time After Time" was a combination of things. I hadn’t made a television movie in a couple of years. I like the relationship with Hallmark, and when this script came I thought: “Oh yeah. This is just right for me.” And it turned out to be that way.
CE: There is still a huge "Waltons" faction out there, with fan clubs and appearances and such. Do you ever participate in any of the fan club events?
RT: The fan club came once to Hartford to visit me when I was doing a show, but (for most of the other events) I always seem to be doing something else. I’m always doing a play or I'm off filming somewhere, and I haven’t been able to attend any of those. But I do stay in touch with Carol, the head of the fan club and "The Waltons" family. Mary Elizabeth McDonough was just here a few weeks ago and we had dinner. Michael Learned and I are very close friends. We all keep tabs on each other. I saw Kami not long ago. We love each other a lot. We don’t all see all of each other all the time of course but there is a great deal of genuine fondness and familial feeling.