Friday, December 2, 2022

Interview: Philemon Chambers on ‘Walker: Independence’: Getting the Role, Diversity, Augustus and Calian, and More [EXCLUSIVE]

INTERVIEWSInterview: Philemon Chambers on 'Walker: Independence': Getting the Role, Diversity, Augustus and...

Walker: Independence, the prequel to The CW’s Walker starring Jared Padalecki, is set to premiere this Thursday, October 6. The series is a western that follows Abigail Walker in the 1800s as she arrives in Independence, Texas.

We got the chance to talk to Philemon Chambers, who plays Augustus in the series, the deputy sheriff. We talked about getting the role, diversity, Augustus and Calian’s relationship, and much more.

Editors note: This interview was edited for length and clarity.

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Nerds and Beyond: How did the role of Augustus come up for you? What was the audition process? Was it all virtual because of COVID?

Philemon Chambers: Yes. It was virtual, which virtual … sucks. [laughs] My manager was looking for something different. I had just come off of Single All The Way, which was Netflix’s gay holiday rom-com, and I just wanted to show that I could do something else. There were a couple of different roles that I was in talks for, then Independence came along, and I was like, “Hmm. I love a Western. My dad loves a Western, and I know how to do a country accent very well.” [laughs] But then honestly, I read the script, and I read the character briefing, and I got a sense of who Augustus was, and I was like, “Yo, this is good.” From there, it was virtual callbacks. Fun fact, my mom actually did a virtual callback with me, and she was more nervous than I was [laughs]. She was literally behind the camera like, “You do this?!” I was like, “Yeah, yeah, this is my life.”

Then I got to meet our show creator, Seamus Fahey, and I got to talk to our director, Larry Teng, and I got to meet Laura … our producers and everybody was so welcoming, so nice and so kind, and just wanted to make sure that I was comfortable with not only where they wanted the story to go, but also just to get my perspective on it. So that sold me. I used to tell Larry all the time, “You do not have to sell me anymore. I have a part. I’m on board. Leave me alone.” [laughs]

Nerds and Beyond: In the press conference last week, you talked about watching The Harder They Fall and bringing characters to light in Independence. So can you talk more about the importance of doing that and how Independence is changing the landscape of Westerns, specifically with diversity?

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Philemon: The Harder They Fall is one of my favorite movies because you had this ensemble cast, from Jonathan Majors to Idris Elba to Regina King. I mean, there were so many different people that played these characters that were in history, that did have a place but have never seen the light of day. The notable one is Bass Reeves. Now, I’m not sure if you’re familiar with Bass Reeves. But Bass Reeves was basically the only African American cowboy to really be doing the damn thing. I’m gonna just say it how my mom would say it. But honestly, he was one of the most prolific people back in that time. And there has been nothing about him. They’re just starting to do things that consist of Bass Reeves. And it’s a shame that we had to come to now to get to this place.

So for me, with Walker: Independence, it’s so refreshing to talk to Seamus, or talk to Larry, and air out ideas. And Seamus, he knows that I love The Harder They Fall. So anytime we have a talk, he’s just like, “So you want to do something like that?” But it’s so important for minorities to see themselves in westerns being authentic to that. There’s so many times that me and Justin [Johnson Cortez] talk about it. Me, Justin, and actually Lawrence [Kao]. We talk about it all the time, where our characters were more so sidekicks; we didn’t really have those backstories. We were in service of other characters, versus what we’re doing with Independence is we are all our own characters. And it does a lot for me because now I get to feel some fulfillment from it.

My dad is a real big Western fan, and it’s so nice for him to see a character be portrayed authentically and have a backbone. I hope I’m explaining that well because there’s so many thoughts that are going through my head. But it’s very important. There was a young black boy that was on set, and his name was Elijah, and we were over there by crafty. We were talking for a second, and I was just like, “It’s so nice to meet you.” And he’s like, “Yeah, it’s so nice to meet you too.” And I was like, “Are you excited?” He was like, “I’m so excited.” I used to watch Walker, Texas Ranger, and now I’m here, and just to see the excitement in his eyes. I was like, “Okay, this is why we’re changing that narrative that Hollywood has laid down for us.” It wasn’t by us, but Hollywood has laid it down for us. So it’s nice to have that shift.

Richard Foreman, Jr. /The CW

Nerds and Beyond: I spoke with Justin also, and he talked about having the chance for kids to want to be like his character. So kind of speaking along the same lines, what part of Augustus do you hope will most resonate with people?

Philemon: I would say the one thing that I would want them to take away would be … Augustus has a backbone. And I say the word backbone. I’ve said it a couple of times now. But he does. He won’t let anyone just talk to him a certain way. He demands respect, [and] as long as you give it, he will give it right back to you. And I think especially for me when I was growing up; I always wanted to see people like that. That’s why I love The Harder They Fall because you had strong black characters who didn’t take shit from anybody. And Augustus, in that way, is the same. For me, if I would have had that when I was growing up … I was the bullied kid. I didn’t stand up for myself. I let people talk down to me, and I took it. I didn’t say anything. And the one thing that I have made very clear with Seamus and with Larry is that he is going to be a strong character. And if you want him to bow down to somebody, you are going to have to put him in a situation where he’s going to have to do that. I would just want them to be sure of themselves. To take away the surety that Augustus has in himself and the confidence, and … I don’t want to say pride because pride can be confused with being prideful. You get the gist.

Nerds and Beyond: Walker has an established audience already, and you’ve been so interactive with fans online, which they love. Were you a little nervous coming into a prequel of a series that already has an established audience?

Philemon: No, I wasn’t. Jared Padalecki, I love him so much [laughs]. I was even nervous to meet Jared. That’s the one thing I was nervous of because I’m like, “You’re Jared. I don’t know how this is gonna go.” And then, I was like, “Oh my God, you’re just like me.” And honestly, we have these really, really sweet conversations and the fans are the same way. I mean, me and you, we interacted on Twitter before we even got on the phone. And it’s a beautiful thing, that everybody is so nice and so warm and so welcoming. I was not nervous at all. I actually count it as a joy.

Nerds and Beyond: Augustus is obviously working with the new Sheriff, Tom. How are we going to see that relationship explored?

Philemon: Well, I can’t give too much away. However, I will say that there are definitely going to be a lot of things in this season that tests Gus’ suspicions with Tom. There will also be a lot of things that test Tom’s suspicions with Gus. Their relationship is definitely going to evolve, to what I will not give away, but people just have to watch.

Anna Kooris/The CW

Nerds and Beyond: Augustus and Calian also have a long-standing relationship as well. Are we going to see more of that backstory? I know a lot of people are going to wonder how they met.

Philemon: Yeah, me and Calian’s relationship in the show is definitely going to be explored, and they are going to get the backstory, and they’re going to get even more backstory as the season progresses. I love what Seamus has done with our characters, especially with our backstory, because me and Justin’s character, Calian, are the longest-standing friendship on the show. So it’s interesting, even when we’re in scenes together, you know to explore that relationship that we’ve known each other for five years. We’ve done certain things together, and we’ve stood together, so it’s interesting to play that dynamic. And let me just say, I will not give anything away, but there is going to be a moment when fans will really get to see just how much we both mean to each other. I will say that.

Nerds and Beyond: What’s something you love most about Gus?

Philemon: Gus is very noble. He is very noble, and we’re pretty much … we are the same with certain aspects, but I would say the one thing notably that I do love about Augustus is him just standing his ground. I feel like that’s so much more empowering because it doesn’t have to be a screaming match. It doesn’t have to be this argumentative thing. It’s just you standing your ground and just being there and saying, “I see what you’re doing. It’s not going to affect me, and let’s go for a ride.” I love that. I feel like with human nature, we would want to be that. But also, too, we’re only human at the end of the day. I would get it if somebody would just want to get into a yelling match. But I find it so much more impactful that he really just keeps calm and just stands his ground. I love that.

Nerds and Beyond: What are you most excited for fans to see?

Philemon: Independence. That is, I’m excited for fans to see Independence because there are so many different levels of representation. True representation and authentic representation that Seamus has created and that our writers are doing in each and every episode, and honestly, when I tell you, every episode gets better and better and better. And it makes me excited every time I get a script, every time we film. I am just so excited for fans to see it. I’m telling you, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 … it gets so much better because now the stories are evolving, you get to see the characters live out in this moment, and I’m really excited for fans to get to see that. And I mean also, our sets are just so breathtaking. Everybody from our costume designers to set decoration, they have done an amazing job at Independence, and there is this richness to Independence that you are going to get off the bat. And I’m really, really excited. I’m just excited for them to see Independence; like I said, that encompasses everything.

Nerds and Beyond: Yeah, and watching it feels cinematic. You get so immersed in that kind of world. It gets better and better; it just keeps building because, like you said, you’re diving more and more into the story.

Philemon: Yeah, and the one thing I can say about our cast is we all stick with each other. If somebody feels different about something or you know if we want to have a meeting with Seamus, not only is Seamus willing to have that meeting with all of us, but he’s willing to go individual if need be because we just want to make this show the best that we can possibly make it for for the fans. That’s why we’re doing it, not only for the existing Walker fans, but we’re doing this to bring even more fans into the family. Like I said, you have a Black character, you have a Native American character, you have an Asian character. So, there’s this richness, and there’s this authenticity that honestly is just going to be showcased, and I’m just so excited.

Walker: Independence premieres Thursday, October 6 on The CW at 9 p.m. ET/8 p.m. CT.

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