Interview: Justin Johnson Cortez Talks ‘Walker: Independence’ and ‘Walker’ Season 4

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In 2022, fans fell in love with The CW’s Walker prequel, Walker: Independence, and its cast, which was an ensemble filled with so many talented and kind people. Part of that cast was Justin Johnson Cortez, who played Calian, an Apache tracker who became an integral part of the series.

At the end of the third season of Walker, which aired last May, fans were treated to Justin appearing as Detective Luna, who gave Cordell Walker a heads-up on a case that is setting up to be the arc of season 4.

We got the chance to talk to Justin about what he looks back on with Walker: Independence, his role in the upcoming fourth season of Walker, his new role in Ransom Canyon, and more.

Nerds and Beyond: I have to ask about Walker: Independence to start. Looking back on that series, now that it’s about a year removed from it, what did you learn most from it and what are some of your fondest memories or takeaways?

Justin Johnson Cortez: Oh, such a good question. I learned so much from it. Honestly, it was the most time I’ve ever spent on a set and kind of getting to see how everybody works together, [with] all the different departments, [and] how everybody’s job just ties into what we’re making. It was just really eye-opening. And it’s like this living thing that you get to be a part of, and I tried to soak up as much of that as I could. I was really, really thankful for that experience. And obviously, some of my favorite experiences were just making great friends on that show. Not just the cast members who I love so much, but the different directors and people on the crew and just building friendships. You go to work and you think it’s gonna be work and then you realize, we just spent six months together and I really, really enjoy these people and you just want to see them all succeed in their own ways. Getting back after the strike, just kind of seeing some of those people get back to work, it feels really good to see that, and rooting for that.

Nerds and Beyond: What was the most interesting thing you learned about the Apache culture or language when you were playing Calian?

Justin: Good questions [laughs]. So the Apaches do this ceremony called Go-Jii-Ya which is really fascinating. They’ve been doing it for so long, and it’s sort of sacred to them. I learned about it and I was told about it, and it was just something that really stood out to me. It’s this ceremony that has to do with the harvest that’s coming that year, and all these young men kind of compete against each other. It’s kind of hard to describe, to be honest, and I don’t want to get it wrong, but it’s just really beautiful, the whole tribe comes together and they feast and they celebrate and they just have this warrior spirit that’s still in them after a very long time. It’s just still a strong part of the culture, and that was just really beautiful to me.

When it came to the language, it’s so beautiful. It’s really difficult to speak when you don’t do it and your tongue hasn’t been trained that way, you haven’t heard it growing up. But, for us in English, when you want to say something there could be like, a whole slew of words to say one sentence and then Apache to get that same idea across with like two words, you know, I just thought that was so fascinating. It also was challenging at times because Calian would have this thing to say, but the amount of words you actually had to say it, the language was so short, and then the subtitles underneath would be like really long [laughs]. Which is… when you get the translation, you’re like, “Oh, okay, the timing is gonna be different here because it’s not as complicated as that, it’s very simple in some ways,” if that makes sense.

Anna Kooris/The CW

Nerds and Beyond: So you’re still involved in the world of Walker, because we saw you appear in the season three finale as Detective Luna. Can you tell me more about how that role came about? Did someone reach out to you specifically?

Justin: I believe how it happened was there was a breakdown for a certain character, and originally, I don’t think it was supposed to be tied to Calian’s character in Walker: Independence at all. But, the age and the character type made sense. And we’re like, oh, “This could actually work,” and, “What if we kind of tied the heritage back the same way Hoyt’s character ties to Independence?” And we kind of thought this would be fun to do. So Anna Fricke was like, “Yeah, this let’s do it,” and she’s so amazing, and she ran with it and we just had a lot of fun. I just pop in that last episode, briefly into little scenes, but that whole crew and everything they’re doing over there, they’re just so warm and welcoming and it felt like just kind of going to visit a relative when you’re working on one show. And then I’m like, “Oh, this is like It’s like going to your Aunt’s house or something.” It felt very familiar and it’s just very welcoming, and, so that’s kind of how it came about. Now we’re excited I get to go back and play some more with them, so it’s been great.

Editors Note: After the cancellation of Walker: Independence, Detective Luna’s storyline pivoted away from ties to Calian and has now become a standalone character recurring in Season 4 of Walker. 

Nerds and Beyond: We’re excited to have you on season 4!

Justin: Yeah, I wish I could tell you more about it, but I can’t because I would spoil it all for everybody, but I am gonna be back. You’ll be seeing me quite a bit in the new season.

Nerds and Beyond: Were there any big differences or similarities, since they’re connected, in going from Independence to Walker?

Justin: It was so much different just because of the time period. Independence was set in the 1800s, and this is contemporary and I get to wear sneakers and pants [laughs]. The whole thing… like, Independence, my legs were revealed most of the time, I had no pants on, properly, in the sense of the word. The setting made a big difference. Just everything kind of about being in that world, and also I play a Detective in Walker, so it’s kind of like… Calian wasn’t an outlaw, he didn’t feel connected to the town and as good of friends he was with Gus, he wasn’t a lawman, either. He had a sense of justice. He had a code that he worked by. So I guess that’s similar.

I think my character in Walker, Detective Luna, he as well has a code that he operates by and has a sense of justice as well. So, those are things that kind of tie the two together. But yeah, it’s it’s just a completely different time period, and it’s just fun to find to be able to play in in the modern times as well.

Nerds and Beyond: You attended a convention last year with Matt Barr in Dallas. What was that experience like for you and getting to see the Walker and Walker: Independence fans in person?

Justin: Oh, it was amazing. It was wild. I had no idea what to expect, and Matt didn’t either. I think that was the first time that Matt had done one of those. Jared Padalecki was kind enough to invite us along and have him join us on that and the fans are incredible, like they’re just absolutely incredible. They had so much insight into the story, they were invested. They had great questions, much like yourself, and they would ask us things and sometimes we’d be like, “Wow, you picked up on that. That’s really great.” You don’t quite know what’s getting across all the time, so it’s really refreshing when they’re following and actually watching and they care about the characters and care about the story. I had such a great time. I do hope I get to do some of those again because I loved it. I genuinely had a wonderful time, and loved meeting all the fans and I was glad that they enjoyed it as well.

Nerds and Beyond: You were also added to the cast of Ransom Canyon, congratulations! What can you tell us about that project?

Justin: I can’t say much outside of what you could read on Hollywood Reporter, Variety, or any of the others, what’s kind of been released. I play a Deputy Sheriff named Kai and it’s again a Texas town. We are filming now, and I’m jumping back and forth between shows and doing both at the same time, which is really fun. But just like Walker, the crew is incredible. There are actually a lot of people on the crew who worked on Walker: Independence, which has been great to see some familiar faces and and just feel that warmth again. Everyone behind this project, they have a lot of passion, and they’re really excited about the story that we’re gonna be telling and I’m just really, really thankful to be a part of it. I can’t wait for the world to kind of see what they’re putting together, it’s pretty incredible.

Nerds and Beyond: We’re also big fans of Larry Teng and we know you shot something over the summer. Larry previously said there wasn’t a script for it, and that was more of like a presentation project. But what was that like working with him again and doing a project like that where there’s not really a script?

Justin: I love working with Larry. I will work with Larry forever if he lets me. He’s just such a great person, and he has a clear vision, always. He has such integrity and care for what he’s doing and for the people that he’s working with. You really feel that when you’re with him and working with him, and it makes you feel safe. He’s such a great leader because of that.

There was no script, but he had a very clear vision and that’s the beautiful thing about this medium is we can tell things visually. You don’t always need words, right? You don’t always need to say everything if you’re capturing the feeling, but we did improvise some scenes as actors. We improvised some scenes together, me and the other actors, and it was just really freeing, I guess as an actor to be able to do that and kind of be like this is an idea. Let’s see what we can build out of this and what comes from this, start with this word and see what happens, and it’s just kind of built on the spot. That was just a different experience, a whole different thing. It was actually strange to be filming and I think multiple times we’re like, “It’s weird to not have a script.” Or even we were blocking the scenes we’re like, “Usually all that stuff’s on paper,” like so and so walks through the door and it gives you kind of a blueprint, but we had to just kind of figure that out on the fly and it was a fun challenge. It was really, really fun. That stuff looked incredible. If anybody wants to see kind of the stills, I think Larry did post some on his Instagram or Twitter, but he has some images of that, what we shot, and it looks really beautiful.

And Brooke, who was a DP on Walker: independence, also was a DP on this and they work so well together and Brooke, again, he’s just like Larry; has such a clear vision and he’s very, very talented.

Nerds and Beyond: As a last question, who were some of the actors that you loved watching when you were growing up, and did they influence your work in any way?

Justin: You know, to be honest, when I was growing up I didn’t even really realize these were people doing a job [laughs]. I think I just, I was so enthralled with it. I thought it was real. It was like magic to me, and I watched these things, and a lot of the actors I was drawn to, were so different from me. I think the people I really looked up to growing up, I don’t really see myself in them and I feel like they were doing something that I didn’t understand. I think that’s why I love watching it so much and to draw from them now is almost strange because I don’t think they influenced the way I work or anything because I think it’d be too clear that I was trying to do something that wasn’t me.

But as I got older… the people I’m drawn to are just the people who always bring a depth to everything they do. I guess that should be kind of a standard, but there’s some people who just bring an intensity and a depth and you can just see the story behind their eyes. There’s just one actor I really admire, his name’s Christopher Abbott, and his eyes are just so vulnerable. And whether it’s an intensity or a gentleness, there’s just a vulnerability behind it.

And I think I’m really drawn to that, those are the types of things that I try to bring; vulnerability and especially being a man. I don’t think we get a lot of that. Growing up, I don’t think I saw a lot of that, I guess because a lot of action heroes and a lot of men don’t show their emotions type of thing, and you got to hide it, and men don’t cry, but they drink type thing. So seeing that now, and seeing people do that well, is really, really inspiring to me. That’s always kind of something I go for. It’s just like showing the other side of being a man and how complex it can be. And then maybe just flipping kind of the norms around, if that makes any sense.

Make sure to check out Justin when he appears on Walker season 4, and the upcoming Ransom Canyon. You can stream all of the episodes of Walker: Independence on Max.

(Thank you to Marcy, Emmie, Suzanne, Jo, and everyone who submitted questions, too!)

Briar
Briar
Briar is the Editor-in-Chief of Nerds and Beyond. She has been running the site since 2015 with the goal of being a unique, professional news site dedicated to all the things she loved - and providing fans with the best content available. Briar oversees the day-to-day operations and runs all of the social media. She loves all things Disney, Star Wars, Supernatural and anything tech related. You can follow her @thebriarroseee.

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