Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Interview: Jared Padalecki Talks What’s Next on ‘Walker’, Working with Jensen Ackles Again, and More [EXCLUSIVE]

This past week, Walker saw the reunion of two actors who spent a lot of time together on sets previously — Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles. Padalecki, the star and executive producer of The CW’s Walker, was joined by his Supernatural TV brother of 15 years, Ackles, as Ackles directed his first episode of television outside of Supernatural.

We got the chance to talk to Padalecki about the reunion, including having Kansas as a special guest on the episode. Not only was this episode talked about, but we dove deeper into the season and the storyline as a whole, where Padalecki gave us a bit of insight on just what’s to come in the rest of the season.

[Note: This interview was edited for clarity.]

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Nerds and Beyond: First, we have to ask about working with Jensen again, which I’m sure everyone is doing. So, to be a little bit different, what’s a memory from this episode you loved most or something you enjoyed most about having him direct Walker?

Jared Padalecki: Well, the one that sticks in my mind … I don’t know if anybody’s talked about this, but he was filming on his birthday. He was directing, so we kind of laughed, and we thought about how we filmed on his birthday in 2005. We’re like, “Man, we can’t get away from it, can we?” And we had gotten him a cake, we had lunch and sang him “Happy Birthday.”

So, the way that schedule worked out there were two days that I was not in, and actually requested for those two days to be his first two days of directing. [It] kind of sounds odd but my thinking was, I want him to meet my crew and my crew to meet him as director-actor Jensen Ackles, not director-actor Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki’s friend. So I was like, “I don’t want to be there.” He’s been on plenty of sets, he can hold his own, and he certainly didn’t need me there. So I’d like them to meet him and to see that this guy’s great, he knows exactly what he’s doing, he knows how to set up shots, he knows how to talk to actors.

So I came in on day three and it was like old times. He was a guest director, but it felt like family. The family’s there and I was able to tell the crew, “Hey, we were kind of ‘The Little Engine That Could’ [on Supernatural]” and Walker was as well because we were starting [on] October 27 of 2020. We were kind of one of the first shows out of the gates after the pandemic and so we were like, “We don’t know if we’re gonna film for a day and then get shut down again. Are we to film for a week and get shut down again? Or are we getting shut down every five days because of positive tests?” So, we just kind of put our heads down and put a lot of people back to work who hadn’t been working because nothing had been shooting. And I was like, “So you know we built this family together, this Walker family … For whatever it’s worth, I hope you all know and realize that when I talked to The CW about doing a show about a tall, white, male, heterosexual law enforcement official in Texas, they probably would have laughed if weren’t for Supernatural. And if it weren’t for all the blood, sweat, and tears that Jensen and I put into Supernatural over 15 and a half years, then there would have never been a Supernatural either. We all, in part, owe this job, this family, and this story that we love to Jensen, as well.” It was nice to [give] that kudos that he rightly deserves.

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We all applauded for him and then he kind of said a few words for the crew and then [he] threw the cake into his own face [laughs]. He was in his day’s outfit, he [did not bring] a change of clothes. He was just like, “Alright, well, this is what I’m gonna do,” and he just faceplanted himself right into the cake, so that made the crew love him even more if that was possible. But, it felt like a series of moments like that.

He and Odette [Annable] were already friends. He and Mitch [Pileggi] were obviously already friends. So, a lot of the people that he was working with he had either known or worked with before. It just felt seamless. It felt awesome. It felt like I was proud to be showing off my brother, so it was fun. I think a lot of my crew got a sense of how I might have ended up the leader that I am on Walker because I’ve been learning from this guy as well. So it was nice to have that one kind of come full circle.

Jared Padalecki as Cordell Walker and Jensen Ackles — Photo: Rebecca Brenneman/The CW

Nerds and Beyond: What was it like having him solely as a director on Walker versus acting alongside him? With you two knowing each other so well, was it easier having him direct or more intimidating?

Jared Padalecki: Well, it was easier. And also again, when he was directing Supernatural we were acting together. Not that I needed to look out for him while he was acting, but just naturally, I knew that in his head he was directing as well. So I had another responsibility when we were acting in scenes together because I did make sure that he was there as Dean and not looking around to make sure that the rest of the scene was going the way it’s supposed to on the camera.

Now … he got to come in and he still speaks to me like a fellow actor, which is kind of his directing style. When he’s dealing with the camera setups, the lighting, the sound, or the set decorations, then he’s certainly a director, but having come from decades of acting he knows how to talk to the actors, [and] he certainly knows how to talk to me. That was, again, just more seamless. He’s watched the show, so he knows Walker’s different than Sam. He knew that there are things that I did as Sam that I don’t do as Walker and vice versa. So sometimes he’d come up to me be like, “Hey, this last take I noticed you did something like this. Is that something you want to do on purpose, or do you want to do it again?” And I’d be like, “No, I kind of like that.” [and he’d say] “OK, cool.” He’s like, “That was a great performance and you were in focus, I just want to know if you were shooting for that, or if that was a happy accident, or if maybe you’d like to go again.” And sometimes I was like, “Yeah, you know what … let me dial that down a little bit.”

Walker’s a bit more fumbly than Sam, and on purpose, but Walker, when he’s talking, he talks more like Jared talks and kind of searches for words and finds them on camera, as opposed to Sam who is a little bit more maybe deliberate.

Nerds and Beyond: There were a lot of Supernatural Easter eggs in this episode – the green cooler was added, and the auditorium was named Novak … What was it like planning those and adding those in? Were they scripted, or were some inserted as filming happened?

Jared Padalecki: A lot of them were scripted and a lot of them were just gone over in meetings between Jensen and the writers. But then some got thrown in and also they got thrown in during the writing of the script because we were [going] from white draft to blue draft and yellow draft or just page revisions. We’d add some in, but they were on purpose.

I know a lot of the Supernatural family migrated over to the Walker family as well. So I wanted to make sure that they know that they’re seen and hell, it’s fun for us too. I love Supernatural as well. So it’s kind of fun to go, “Oh, I like that.”

One of the beers that we use in Supernatural as well is making its way onto the camera, and it’s actually a beer that I have. I have one as well sitting in my office. I just asked if I could take one home, so it’s just sitting there unopened on my office desk. So it was funny watching dailies and going like, “Oh, I didn’t realize they got that.”

Nerds and Beyond: Was that the one that Liam pulled out of the cooler?

Jared Padalecki: Yeah, yeah [laughs].

Nerds and Beyond: I noticed that and it was the one you superglued Dean’s hand to in Supernatural.

Jared Padalecki: [laughs] Oh, yeah. I have a pristine copy unopened in my office with no superglue on it.

Rebecca Brenneman/The CW

Nerds and Beyond: One of the biggest surprises was having Kansas join in on the episode and they played “Carry On Wayward Son.” A lot of us know that they were supposed to be in the original ending of Supernatural pre-COVID, and this was such a great little nod to fans. What was it like having them there, and how much did it mean to you that they were able to do it?

Jared Padalecki: It was so cool. We had met the band before when they played us on stage at Comic-Con in San Diego. So we had met them and we had kind of been ships in the night, always talking about trying to see when they’re touring up in the northwest, and if they can get over. And inevitably it was like, “No, shoot, we’re gonna be playing Seattle, but the next night we’re headed back to Nevada or Idaho or wherever.” So it never worked out and then yeah, you’re correct, they were supposed to be in heaven playing [on Supernatural] and we were going to try and have as many of our old cast members there as possible there in the bar area with us or whatever the set would have ultimately been. You’re also right, it couldn’t happen because they would have to quarantine, and sticking eight people and whoever their guests are, and their roadies, in a hotel for two weeks didn’t sound like something anybody would enjoy.

Luckily when Jensen and I quarantined, we’re quarantining in the places we both lived for several years. I had all my stuff, I had internet, I had a patio, and I had books. I could stream Netflix if I wanted to, get a little workout in, and I had some weights and stuff. They would not have had that. So, it didn’t work out, and then when we found out they were coming and playing Austin we were like, “Wait a second.” I think Clif and I were talking, and it was like, “Well, what if we could have them on the show?”

So we brought it up to John Patterson, a producer of ours here in Austin, and he gave us a look like, “Seriously, you think you can have Kansas play on our TV show?” And we were like [laughs], “Give us a day, we’ll call you back.” Sure enough, they were like, “That’d be a great idea!”

It initially was not supposed to be the episode that Jensen was directing. It was going to be directed by Austin Nichols, who is directing as we speak. But we told Austin the situation and Austin lives in Austin. And so it wasn’t like a logistical nightmare for him because he was here anyway, so it wasn’t like, “Oh, but I already had plans to do this or make my flights or whatever.” He was like, “Yeah, sure. That’s badass.” So he gave Jensen his episode. Jensen, I guess, gave Austin the episode that he was gonna do after he had to, unfortunately, not do episode seven earlier this season.

Nerds and Beyond: There’s a really fun scene where you do an obstacle course blindfolded. How difficult was that? Were you really following Odette’s directions or were you able to see a bit of where you were going?

Jared Padalecki: Oh, you know what’s funny is they made the bandana in such a way where there was a part where I could see through. It’s still really blurry; it’s translucent, you can make out shapes more than you can make out facial details. So the first take we did was a wide, and I was like, “I don’t want to hurt myself.” So I did it, and then I realized, “Man, it’s really difficult to act like you don’t know where you’re going.” I think I was doing a bad job acting like I didn’t know where I was going. I was like, “You know what, maybe I’m gonna bang into something, but it’ll look better and maybe even be funny if I [don’t] look.”

I had already done it once. So, the rest of the [time] I just keep my eyes closed, because it makes for more natural moments if you do drop the ball and you can’t find it and you’re fumbling around as opposed to just pretending like, “Oh, I can’t see.” So I kept my eyes closed for the rest of the time and I would follow [Odette’s] direction. At that point in time, I had done it and so I kind of knew how many steps it was between the cones and how far until I got to the little tunnel to crawl through.

Actually, I did take a good little wipe on the tires one time, I didn’t lift my foot up big enough. My boot is size 13 and they weren’t giant tires. So it’s kind of a snug fit in them [laughs]. One of the times my momentum was going too far forward and I didn’t get my boot all the way out. So, I think that’s the take they use in the show in the final edit.

Rebecca Brenneman/The CW

Nerds and Beyond: This episode was a lot of fun, and was a bit of a lighthearted episode after the last few, where some really bad things happened to the Walker family. However, we do see more of Cassie’s story, and we find out about Miles’ case. At the end, we see a shadowy figure – who we presume is probably Miles – and he’s still alive. How much is that going to play into the rest of the season’s storyline?

Jared Padalecki: That all plays into the rest of the season’s storyline. We do find out that there are some unanswered questions in the Miles case and Captain Fenton Cole does seem a little shady. Is he hiding stuff from us or is he hiding stuff because legally he has to? We do realize at the end, that whether or not it’s Miles, it seems like it’s certainly somebody who would be connected to the Miles case. So we have to try and figure out …

We don’t know this person yet. Walker doesn’t, [Captain] James doesn’t, Cassie doesn’t. So we end up relying on the kind of good fortune to figure out that someone might know that someone is staying out in a trailer, and maybe they pass on some information for us to go try and sleuth it out and decipher who this person is and what they know about the disappearance [and] presumed death of Miles. We’re into that right now in this episode [we’re filming], as a matter of fact.

Nerds and Beyond: I do have to ask, because I read something in a recent interview with Jensen. Was he the shadowy figure at the end, like was he the stand-in actor for it?

Jared Padalecki: You know what, I don’t know. [laughs] I wasn’t there.

Nerds and Beyond: Yeah, he said he inserted himself as a shadowy figure, and I thought that maybe it was that one.

Jared Padalecki: Well, I think he could have been … I didn’t even ask him. I would have thought that he was kind of hinting that he’s somewhere in the crowd at Kansas.

Nerds and Beyond: Yeah, that makes sense.

Jared Padalecki: I know he did sneak into the background of a few of the shots, so he’s going to have options. He didn’t want to be super obvious because he’s expressed to me and to Anna [Fricke] that he would love to come do some episodes. So, I don’t think he wants to [be] like … “Well, now that I’ve been on camera, I can’t go be another Ranger or a bad guy or good guy or whatever.” [laughs]

I don’t know what the editors ultimately decided to do. But I watched the edit, I figured I’d be able to see bow legs. Maybe I’ll go back and watch. [laughs] But you know, Jeffrey Dean Morgan was the shadowy figure in our pilot [on Supernatural] that was standing over my crib. It was him in that trench coat outfit. So maybe that was another little Supernatural-esque easter egg.

Nerds and Beyond: We also see a lot of turmoil with Cordell and Geri, after Geri is trying to come to terms with the fact that she’s a Davidson. In the past, Geri was always the rock for Cordell and now the tables have sort of flipped. Viewers have watched their relationship grow out of so much history and loss. Can you talk about that relationship and what it has been like exploring that with Odette Annable?

Jared Padalecki: First of all, I adore Odette. She and her husband Dave are friends of Gen and mine, and their daughter, Charlie, with our kids. So it’s really nice to do scenes with somebody who I know as a friend, especially when you’re gonna do something romantic. God forbid it’s like, “Hey, nice to meet you. I’m Jared. Now give me a hug and a kiss.” I always feel for the poor little starlet that has to come in and go like, “Okay, who am I having on-screen kissing scenes with?” So this is like, “Oh, okay, it’s Odette, cool.” So it’s much more comfortable.

She’s such a strong, wonderful actress and she has such a great way to portray and manifest that deep strength and that deep love for Cordell and the Walker family. She’s funny and she’s friendly. She always has been Cordell’s rock. Emily, obviously when she was alive of course, was his rock. But Geri’s always there and I’m sure Cordell would go to Geri and talk about life as much as Emily would go to Geri and talk about life. They’ve known each other for a long, long time. So now, Geri is going through an existential crisis, finding out that the dad that raised her, that she thought of as her father, was a murderer, and killed the person that brought her into this world. Now she’s trying to figure out … she has a sister, her mother is alive, she knows them, and she kind of dislikes them because she was siding with the Walkers. So she has to have a really deep, deep conversation with herself about what she wants.

Cordell, I think he’s like, “Oh, man. You know, I was with Emily and only Emily for so long. And it took me so long to get back on the horse and I only kind of wanted to do it with somebody I trusted and loved. Now she’s going through something, and I have to be conscious of that. And I have to be sympathetic to it. And just let her choose the pace.” Cordell is not a player. So he’s not like, “Well, this girl tonight and that girl next week and a different girl the month after that.” He’s kind of like, “Okay if I’m doing this, I’m all in.” He has grown kids — well they’re teenagers — but he has to take them into account as well. And so he knew that they would be not only just fine with him and Geri getting together, but be really happy about it.

His work keeps him very busy, so it’s not like he’s always out on dating apps or at bars trying to meet the right one. But ultimately, Geri’s got to be spiraling a little bit, both in her head and her heart, and so Cordell has to be there for her and let her suss out how she wants her life to look moving forward. It’s certainly difficult for Cordell, but as difficult as it is for Cordell, he realizes that it’s even more difficult for Geri.

Rebecca Brenneman/The CW

Nerds and Beyond: One of the things I love most about the show is the storytelling, and how the writing is so intricate. There are always little seeds of things that are planted in earlier episodes that come around to mean something later. What’s been your favorite storyline or plot twist so far?

Jared Padalecki: Oh, good question. Well, I do think the Geri one was huge. Not just because it’s on my mind and because you just asked a question about it, but for many reasons. For the majority of season 1, Odette was just a recurring guest star. We hoped that she would stay around; we love the Geri storyline and the character. She was having a great time and we were having a great time with her. We were hoping that she would stick around for a while.

It’s not Supernatural, so Emily can’t come back to life and marry Cordell again [laughs]. It was like, well, this kind of seems like it makes sense. So I got to see it from both sides, both on the page in the script, but also even before that in my capacity as a producer. Where do we want the storylines to go? What do we want to lean into? What do we want to lean away from? What can we wait on and decide later? And so we were all like, “Yeah, let’s go ahead and lean into that.”

And I love this … what’s that saying? Wabi-Sabi, I think? I think something once broken and put back together is even stronger. And it’s that theory that if glass shatters into 100 pieces and you take the time to pick up each individual piece and find where it goes correctly and put it back together, then the time or the energy or effort you spend building something back up is now saved in that glass forever, as opposed to it just being something you bought at Pottery Barn.

So, whatever happens with Cordi and Geri, they’ll be stronger on the other side, whether as friends or as partners. And so her becoming a Davidson is really … I remember when Anna brought that up and I was like, “You jerk!” [laughs]. Kind of my same reaction when she killed Hoyt. Though, I guess that’s all working out in a different way since he’s starring in Walker: Independence. But yeah, that was one of my favorite reveals [and] certainly recently. What about you?

Nerds and Beyond: I think Stan being Emily’s killer was a pretty big one. But definitely Geri’s reveal as well. Honestly, aside from this episode tonight, that was probably one of my favorite episodes when everything got revealed about Geri.

Jared Padalecki: Yeah, yeah, that was good. Well, we have another big reveal, a couple more that we have. Another big reveal [is] coming up in the last few episodes of this season as well [laughs]. It’s pretty exciting.

Rebecca Brenneman/The CW

Nerds and Beyond: Cordell was very unhinged in the first season and bent the rules a lot. Now, he’s become more professional and responsible. Even during the horse race, he’s struggled with being the better person and the aftermath of what that meant. What do you love most about his growth and in what ways do you hope to continue to see him grow as the series goes on?

Jared Padalecki: I’m glad you noticed that. One of the major foundational elements of who we wanted Cordell to be before the first word was written about him was that he’s imperfect, but he’s trying to be better. I’ve tried to be very careful about Cordell … we saw [how he] dealt with his wife’s death, he still knew there’s something going on about her murder. He felt guilty about being away from his kids and he was drinking it away and maybe misbehaving, not being a jerk by any means, well, sometimes maybe, but not trying to hurt others necessarily.

In season 1, he wanted to turn off his caring because he cared so much about losing his wife, about not being there for his kids, going undercover, and doing things with Twyla that he wouldn’t have thought he would do in the short months after his wife’s death. So, he dealt with a lot of guilt. And I think the way he dealt with it was how a lot of humans deal with it like, “I’m gonna turn off all caring. Because once I start caring, then I’m gonna realize how much I care and I’m hurt by these other elements.” Whereas now he’s coming to the realization.

Jared’s favorite thing, I know I spoke in the third person but I wanted to be clear I wasn’t talking about Cordell, but my personal favorite thing is, “Pain is mandatory, suffering is optional.” And so I think that’s kind of where Cordell is starting to land. As we go deeper into season 2, he realizes that things suck, like we just talked about with Geri. Like, it sucks, man. He waited so long, he already loved her as a friend and they’d already kind of been dancing around the idea of it. And finally, he’s like, “Okay, I care. I’m going to tell you I care about you, and I want to go all-in because that’s the only way I can do it.” Then this happens, and she needs a break, at least for a while. So, it causes pain. But the only way Cordell has figured out how to deal with it is to go like, “Okay, well, this sucks … but I’m not going to go make it worse.” So just to give her the respect, and give her the time she needs, and if they get back together, great. If they stay apart, then they can be friends again.

I like that progression because we still could see Cordell is an imperfect person. We didn’t want this Cordell Walker to be just a bastion of perfection who always does the right thing, never messes up, and never shows any feelings. We wanted the opposite. We wanted a flawed man trying to do his best and losing his way at times, but trying to get back on the horse.

Nerds and Beyond: I think that’s what makes his growth so special, too. You see how flawed he is, and you see how hard he’s trying to be a better person.

Jared Padalecki: Yeah, yeah. I like to think that about all of us, right? We’re all gonna make mistakes. We’re all gonna have moments where we score an own goal, so to speak. And just learning to forgive that and try and move forward and try and do better the next time and try and be better.

I felt another, it was a much more minor plot twist, but I did love that Cordell was the bigger man in the horse race. That was all just within the episode, but that he chose to go check on Dan … I think Cordell is very much like, “I want to win because I’m better, I don’t want to win because you lost.” And then there goes Dan Miller speeding on past him after the saddle breaks [laughs]. We’re going to look into that as well. We’re gonna look at just how that saddle broke or why, whether it was an accident or whether it might have been something more nefarious.

Rebecca Brenneman/The CW

Nerds and Beyond: So, kind of going into what you just said: We’ve seen the Walkers apparently lose everything, but I think that they’ve still got some fight left in them. What’s next in the efforts to kind of restore their homestead?

Jared Padalecki: First off, we’ve got to find a place to live that’s not the Side Step. [laughs] … I know Cordell lost the race, but it was a freak accident … or was it? Either way, it was an accident. So, no matter where it is, as long as the Walkers are there, it may not be a house, but it’s home.

So first, they have to rebuild and make sure that they all still have each other’s back and no one’s pointing fingers. We’re trying not to say like, “Hey, it’s August’s fault because you found the lantern. Hey, it’s Bonham’s fault because he didn’t tell us about the lantern. Or, hey, it’s Abby’s fault because she didn’t tell us about the baby. Or, hey, it’s Cordell’s fault he fell, or, you know, Stella’s fault for letting August climb in the barn. Liam’s fault for not drawing up different paperwork or for not offering Dan 100 acres instead of 30.” So first things first is to kind of heal the wounds within the family. Then, to really buckle down and see if there’s something that the Davidson’s did either in the contract or in the drawing of the papers, or maybe during the race or before, after, that’s unlawful.

Nerds and Beyond: Walker is known for having this exceptional culture on set that pretty much every actor talks about. So as an executive producer, as well as being in it, how important was it to you to foster an inclusive and positive culture onset?

Jared Padalecki: That was, and remains the important aspect. Supernatural was also a set that people loved working on and we had a good time, we got our work done. Here in Austin, between Steve Robin, John Patterson, and me, and the rest of the gang, we’ve all been able to say, “Hey, this is life first.”

I think back to what Kim Manners told Jensen and me way back in the day, when he said, “You know, I’m gonna spend more time with you guys than I do with my wife, my kids, my dogs, my boat, whatever. So, if I’m not having a good time, then what the fuck am I doing here?” And so that doesn’t mean we want to fool around and not get to set on time or not come to work prepared and professional. But it’s just … it’s vitally important to me.

Nerds and Beyond: Last question. A prequel pilot for Walker, Walker: Independence, has just finished filming, which you are executive producing. How excited are you to potentially expand more into the story?

Jared Padalecki: It’s phenomenal. The writing is fantastic. I’m half jealous that I don’t get to be in it [laughs]. But again, I do get to be home in Austin. It is a great set of characters that Seamus [Fahey] and the gang put together, and they fleshed it out so well. The build-up to it … I mean, it’s no joke. There are Zoom calls every day and the casting sessions are crazy. Trying to cast an ensemble from a series of tapes because you can’t do in-person meetings has its own set of difficulties.

You want to get a sense of somebody and is this person, A) Kind? Are they curious? Are they willing to take direction? Are they attentive and they seem like they’re hardworking? Are they gonna show up on time? Are they gonna treat each other nicely? Then, B) Are they going to have good chemistry with this person? They’re not going to meet in person till, basically, they want to film it. So, I would say that having seen dailies now, it’s incredible. They already all seem close and friendly and they have great chemistry together between all of them. I cannot wait to see … it’s going to be a huge success. Larry Teng did a phenomenal job with the pilot and we’re going to beg him to come back for more. But I can’t wait for the world to see the show.

Thank you again to Jared for talking with us! Walker airs Thursday nights on The CW at 8 p.m. ET/7 p.m. CT.

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