They had her at, “Goodnight, John-Boy.”
Marcelle LeBlanc knew she had heard of “The Waltons” when she began auditioning for “The Waltons’ Homecoming,” but she couldn’t quite place it until she asked her mother.
“She asked if I remembered that line,” LeBlanc recalls. “Then I put together all the pieces, and I was like, oh, my gosh, I can’t believe that I’m auditioning for this right now, let alone the part of Mary Ellen. So I was really, really excited about that.”
She landed the role, and “The Waltons’ Homecoming” airs Sunday at 7 p.m. on the CW. It’s a remake of “The Homecoming: A Christmas Story,” which first aired in 1971 and launched the nine-season run of “The Waltons” on CBS.
“I was going to go back and watch the original movie and the series, but the creative team encouraged us not to because it was so iconic,” LeBlanc says. “They wanted to make sure that we were creating our own versions of the characters.”
LeBLanc has been doing that from a young age, catapulted on stage, in a strange way, by Hurricane Katrina. She and her family fled New Orleans and came to Birmingham because of that storm, and soon after, she auditioned for the musical “Annie” at the Virginia Samford Theatre.
“I wound up getting cast as Annie in the production,” LeBlanc says. “I was so incredibly shocked, and I was like, ‘Mom, I’m so excited, but I need help, because I don’t know what I’m doing.’”
That’s when she began working with acting coach Meg Deusner at Acting Out Academy and voice coach Amy Murphy. Other roles followed in “Peter Pan,” “The Music Man,” “Gypsy” and “Shrek: The Musical,” and by age 12, LeBlanc had signed with an agency.
Her first major booking was a role on the second season of Netflix’s “Stranger Things,” and she’s since appeared on “Criminal Minds,” “Just Beyond,” “False Profits,” “Fear Street,” “Cobra Kai” and “Pen15.”
At the same time, LeBlanc was attending Briarwood Christian High School and is now a freshman studying accounting at Auburn University.
She’s also a reigning national pageant queen.
“I heard about Miss America’s Outstanding Teen and thought I could possibly walk away with some scholarship money,” says LeBlanc. “Lo and behold, I was crowned Miss Coosa Valley’s Outstanding Teen.” That led to the state crown and, after COVID-19 put a halt to the pageants for a year-and-a-half, she won Miss America’s Outstanding Teen in July.
“It was the craziest whirlwind,” LeBlanc says. “I had no idea what I was doing. I just knew that I was putting my best foot forward and giving it my all, and luckily my plan lined up with God’s and I was able to walk away with the title.”
That came a month after she filmed “The Waltons’ Homecoming” in Georgia.
“We definitely take some elements of it and make it our own, but it’s pretty similar to the original ‘Homecoming’ movie,” LeBlanc says.
The movie introduces us to the Waltons, a salt-of-the-Earth family including grandparents, parents and six, not seven, children (alas, son Ben has been written out of the new movie). Richard Thomas, who memorably portrayed John-Boy in the original series, narrates the CW movie.
LeBlanc plays Mary Ellen, the eldest Walton daughter.
“She’s a very fierce character and doesn’t let anybody in her family tell her that she can’t be who she wants to be, and that’s something I really admire about her,” LeBlanc says. “She’s very much a tomboy. She’s kind of an emerging feminist, which is really something that is interesting to see in a character in a movie that’s set in 1933 in the Great Depression.”
LeBlanc was able to meet Judy Norton, who played Mary Ellen in the original movie and series, at a screening of the new movie.
“She was incredibly emotional because, obviously, 50 years later, a character that she created from the ground up and portrayed so beautifully, now she’s handing that off to someone else,” LeBlanc says. “So it was really special to be able to meet her, and we were able to talk about ‘The Waltons’ and the character of Mary Ellen and how special she is. … She’s a very nice woman, and I’m very grateful to have connected with her.”
Those associated with “The Waltons’ Homecoming” are hopeful that it will launch a series just as the original did in 1971.
“That is our goal,” LeBlanc says. “There have definitely been talks … about the possibility of taking this to a reboot of the series.”
In the meantime, LeBlanc will continue her reign as Miss America’s Outstanding Teen and also continue studying at Auburn and enjoying college life.
“The entertainment industry is 100% my intended career choice,” LeBlanc says. “I know that’s what I want to do for the rest of my life, but I also value education. … I landed on accounting because I knew in my career there’s always going to be that financial aspect of signing contracts and working with a legal team, and I’m not as well versed in that as I would like.
“But I fully intend to stay in the entertainment industry,” she says.