Tuesday, July 5, 2022

‘Walker: Independence’: Series Cast and EP Jared Padalecki Talk Reinventing the Western at ATX TV Fest

Fresh off The CW’s 2022 upfronts, ATX TV Fest presented audiences with a first look at the pilot episode for the upcoming series Walker: Independence, a spin-off of the highly successful show Walker. Following the pilot, which I can only say is a modern-day wild west vibe that fans are going to love, attendees were treated to a panel with not only series stars Kat McNamara, Matt Barr, and Justin Johnson-Cortez, but also moderated by Executive Producer Jared Padalecki. Showrunner and EP Seamus Fahey was also expected to attend the event but had to drop out at the last moment.

Anna Kooris / The CW

Padalecki asked Fahey if he had anything he’d like shared with the audience, and boy did he. Padalecki whipped out at least four pages of printed notes from between his legal pad pages and began reading the showrunner’s own inspiration regarding the origin story. Fahey always wanted to do a western and upon writing for Walker, he wrote and then killed off a quickly beloved character (Hoyt Rawlins) and everyone was mad at him for it. Fahey met with Walker writer Anna Fricke about a prequel to explore not just the history of Walker’s family but other characters within the world. Who was the first generation?

Padalecki elaborated that this prequel series is highlighting a burgeoning town on the cusp of becoming something else with great change happening. The show’s goal will be to explore how people discover their town and themselves.

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On her role as Abby Walker, McNamara shared that her dream role has been a period piece. Upon reading the script she shares that she quickly realized this isn’t your typical western but one for a new generation. Abby as a character has her entire life turned upside down in the first fifteen minutes of the pilot episode, and she chooses to have more agency over her life and build a new one in Independence. McNamara added that the cast and team have clicked from day one and she’s excited to remain part of The CW family.

Anna Kooris / The CW

What’s surprising about Barr’s own rough and tumble outlaw character is his empathy for Abby, and this was something that spoke to the actor. The nobility within those outlaw characters has always been a draw for Barr, “you see them searching for their moral compass and it’s endearing and you root for that.” His more dangerous version of Hoyt is one of the things that drew him to the role. Barr is also excited to work again with Fricke and still recalls his offer to play present-day Hoyt, “I remember she called me and said ‘Hill country Han Solo and his name is Hoyt’ and I was like ‘Yep. I’ll be there, tell me when.'” Barr elaborated on his love for telling a story set in the past when the priority was survival and no one escaped unchanged from the wild west. Barr’s request of any one story plot he can do would be to rob a train, which given the Hoyt we see in the pilot, wouldn’t be all that far-fetched for the gunslinging outlaw.

Johnson-Cortez spoke on his portrayal of Calian which he was initially nervous about because native roles aren’t always shown in the best way. “A lot of the time my characters, it doesn’t end well for them,” he shared. “I loved the script and thought it was great, but wanted to make sure we were doing it right. After meeting you guys, the team, you really solidified that idea in me that you are going to do it right.” He plans to do all the fun stuff that cowboys do if the writers allow for it. Shoot bows, jump on trains, but also get real with everything and confront new content.

Anna Kooris / The CW

For historical buffs such as myself, Padalecki made clear that much research was done for the show in an effort to accurately demonstrate what a small Texas town might have looked like. “There is a town in Texas called Independence. This is not that town, this is a composite of Waterloo which became Austin, Independence. There were places we found where 30% of the cowboys were African American,” said Padalecki. “So we’ve got Gus, our deputy. Calian finds himself between his tribe and what we now call ‘the west.'” On that note, Johnson-Cortez stated it’s not unlike the world he lives in now as a person of mixed descent. Calian finds allies in situations that might be uncomfortable, one of which is Gus who is a “great ally” according to the actor. Abby will also likely become an ally for Calian who seem to find familiarity in each other in the pilot. On the diversity of the cast, Johnson-Cortez said he is excited to see representation of stories for African American, Native, and Chinese American individuals and see how the show expands on those characters we meet in the pilot.

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From Fahey, Padalecki shared that they wanted to tell the western story not previously told. The goal is to balance the various views in this “remix” of the known western. All our main characters are trying to escape their troubled pasts and reinvent themselves alongside the growing town.

Fahey also added a playful question, asking each of the actors how much they’d like to know about their characters ahead of time. McNamara immediately said she wants to know all the details as they often inform the acting choices she makes even if she can’t share those secrets right away. Barr loves discovering things alongside the audience and prefers to stay in the dark until the script is in his hands. Johnson-Cortez sided with McNamara in knowing as much background as he can ahead of time but does enjoy being along for the ride of the story.

Barr turned the questions on Padalecki and asked what it’s been like to step behind the camera into the development role for Walker: Independence. “It’s been amazing,” said Padalecki of watching the process from casting to script creation and learning the background of those involved in the project. Watching the magic happen in just nine days of filming the pilot was a favorite of his. “You had to have your characters down pat and that’s why we went with the dream team.” With the uncertainty of the show’s run, given the nature of shows getting picked up and dropped rather quickly, Padalecki shared that they do have a general plan for the storyline already. However, he likened it to a road trip in which he is sure there will be pitstops and exits, shifting and changing the story as they go. An audience question, “Is Abigail pregnant?”, sparked a smile on Padalecki’s face, “I know the answer, but I can’t say.”

“Discovery” was the key word of the day for everyone on stage as they elaborated on their dreams for the show and these characters. It’s clear each and every one hopes to give a modern audience something recognizable in these characters. The setting may be historical but the story will be universal.

This panel was in the unique situation that they have yet to see any more of the story that is to come than what the audience witnessed in the pilot. Independence will be a town that grows alongside the colorful characters in a way that is unique in television. The town can and will go wherever the creators deem best. The possibilities are clearly endless with the fast-paced story and many fascinating characters that Abby meets upon first arriving in Independence. From the vivacious Kate to the caring Kai and the obviously crooked Davidson, wherever the writers go with the story I am certain that fans are going to be in for one amazing ride.

Walker: Independence will air this fall on The CW.

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