Interview: Jared Padalecki on the ‘Walker’ Finale, What He Learned as an Executive Producer, and More

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Jared Padalecki has been a staple on The CW/WB for over 20 years, having appeared on Gilmore Girls for five seasons before Supernatural, which ended in 2020 after fifteen seasons. After the conclusion of Supernatural, Padalecki took the reigns with Walker, which he starred in and executive produced.

The show quickly became the highest-viewed show on the network, amassing a dedicated fanbase and a reputation around the business as being an efficient, welcoming, and inclusive set.

With the purchase of The CW by Nexstar in 2022, the company has since shifted to more reality programming and low-budget acquisitions, getting rid of most of its original content. Thus, the series finale of Walker aired on Wednesday night, much to the disappointment of cast, crew, and fans alike.

We got the chance to talk to Jared all about the Walker finale, what it was like being buried in episode 12, what he’s learned as a producer, and more.

Editor’s note: this interview was edited for length and clarity.

Nerds & Beyond: Episode 11 was one of my favorite episodes, it was just incredible. What was it like having Genevieve [Padalecki] and Matt [Barr] back for that episode? Can you talk more about it?

Jared Padalecki: I mean, selfishly as Jared, I was thrilled to have Matt back. I adore Matt Barr, I love him with all my heart. It was so great to have him in Austin. Again, selfishly as Jared, I was happy to have Gen there and we brought our kids to set and they got to hold the markers and clap us onto a scene, which was really awesome.

Then selfishly as Cordell Walker, or as an actor, I got to do some weird, cool stuff that not a lot of projects give you the opportunity to explore. Damn, I mean, I’m kind of feeling this way right now… if I could go back and redo it… like if this never happened, how would I do it? How would I feel? What would it be? Would it be closure? Would it be even worse? Would it be just a further tease? There were a lot of storylines that I got to tell within that one episode. I felt really grateful for Anna [Fricke] and for our run on TV to be able to do. So, all around, I was just really excited to go play in that playground.

Nerds & Beyond: Then in episode 12, we see Cordell get saved by the team after being buried alive. What was that process like?

Jared: You know what’s funny, is that on Walker, I’ve done a lot of great, fun, kind of random or strange stunt sequences, like driving a truck full speed up a parking garage, and being in fight sequences in strange areas. There have always been these things like racing horses with Dave Annable around the barn… there have been times where it’s like, “Okay, well, there’s probably some danger here,” and they’re gonna come and say like, “Hey, do you feel comfortable? We’re gonna be here. Just say if it doesn’t work for you.”

That scene specifically was probably the most they’ve ever come up to me and been like, “Hey, sorry, we’ll have a straw for you. You can breathe. We’ll do this, we’ll do that.” They were really concerned. I am not claustrophobic, thank God. So, I didn’t have some of the concerns that a lot of the other producers, stunt coordinators, and safety coordinators did. I was like, “This kind of sounds cool, this is gonna look fucking cool.”

I actually talked to [Jensen] Ackles, because he had done “Lazarus Rising”, the premiere of season four [of Supernatural], where he was buried in a similar situation, and got his two cents on it. And I was like, “I’m kind of excited.” To have an episode like 411, you can’t just all of a sudden [go], “Oh, Cordell is back, here we go.” There needs to be some drama. There needs to be some cool stuff. It was one of the few things that I don’t think I’ve ever done before. I’ve done plenty of stuff in my career, but I don’t think I’ve been buried alive. And so I was like, “Cool, let’s go ahead and get this Boy Scouts badge.”

For the buried alive part, they dug a grave and they first buried me up to my shoulders. Coby [Bell] was having some back issues, he had been on a flight and he had just kind of tweaked his back. We’re like, “Well, Jeff Pierre’s here, so guess what, Jeff? You’re carrying Padalecki.” I’m 205-210 pounds, and that’s not an easy way to pull somebody out of a grave, there’s no leverage. But Jeff Pierre is a king among men. And, he’s like, “Alright, I got him.” So between Jeff and Coby, they lifted me out and wiped the dirt and blood off my face. That was exciting.

What I enjoyed less, was spending all day in that makeup because then we had the sequence where Captain James walked Cordell over to Cassie and Trey, and so I kinda just stayed in that makeup and outfit for twelve hours. The actual doing of the acting was amazing, but trying to go to lunch with all that stuff on your face… you don’t want to wash it off, it’ll take an hour back on. So it’s just sort of like, I want to scratch my face, I’m sweaty and hot and nasty. But all in all, I knew it was gonna be something that, until the day I die, I’ll be proud to have been a part of. So, you kind of grin and bear it.

Nerds & Beyond: That sounds intense, though!

Jared: It was yeah, it was, in a great way. It looked intense.

Rebecca Brenneman/The CW

Nerds & Beyond: When you got the official call that Walker would no longer continue, what was that call like?

Jared: I did have some version of a heads up, but it still was like we didn’t believe it or understand it. The heads up was obvious when they put out their upfront list of shows they were intending for the ’24-’25 season, and we weren’t listed. You didn’t have to be a producer on the show to go like, “Well, this is strange.” There were obvious hints and clues both publicly and privately that kind of leaned toward, “This doesn’t look good.”

But the strange thing is that’s been my life, that’s been my career. Gilmore Girls was on the bubble for many years. Supernatural was on the bubble for many years. And the season three, season four, kind of world that TV shows live on, it’s like, well, if you do five or six, you can probably do twenty-five or twenty-six. But you’ve got to get to five or six. We all just kind of were like, “Well, let’s look at the numbers.” And, the show would air, it would be the most watched show on CW, and we’d be like, “Okay, cool. Brad Schwartz said if the performance maintained, then we’re gonna go again. Well, we’re maintaining, we’re still the most-watched show on the network.” We were worried privately, but then we were like, “Well, shoot, we’re fulfilling our obligation. Why would they possibly not pick us up?”

It’s really funny, I find myself talking about the show [and] I’m having a tough time saying canceled. I’m kind of saying, just, we weren’t picked up for season five, which I guess is one and the same. I’m finding it a bit easier to just say we weren’t picked up instead of saying we were canceled. Just semantics.

I didn’t find out officially until probably an hour before I made that post. So, I legit didn’t know officially until… I’ve learned in this industry until it’s official, it’s not official. We always joke as actors, It’s like, you get a job, and they’re like, “Well, how do you feel? Are you excited?” You’re like, “Well, yeah… I’ll be excited when I get my first paycheck.” When they aired me on television, I was the third or fourth Dean on Gilmore Girls. So, you shoot the show, you get your paycheck and then they recast and they shoot again, they get their paycheck, then they recast again, you get your paycheck. So you never really know, you kind of live in this limbo of like, “Well, is it gonna air? Am I going to be on more?” I finished the episode and I got the paycheck, but it hasn’t aired yet, so they can still recast me. It happens more often than I think people realize.

I maintained hope and to this day, sitting at the Side Step with John Patterson today, I still have this weird hope in my head. Like you know Wednesday [the day of the finale] is gonna happen, and they’re gonna realize how amazing the show is, how little they pay for it, and how high the quality is, and they’re gonna come to their senses. The way my day worked out, I think it was May 22 or 21, whatever that day was I made that post, I got a call from David Stapf at CBS and he gave it to me straight. He’s like, “Hey, man. Here’s the deal. Walker’s not gonna go season five.” I was sort of like, “Okay, thank you for calling me.” By the way, somebody like David Stapf doesn’t need to call me, his assistant can call me, he can send me an email, they can post it on his own through CBS channels. But he gave me the quality character move to go, like, “I want to call Jared. I don’t want it to be announced until I talk to Jared and ask him how he wants to announce it.” Then he said to me, “Hey, if you want to talk to Brad, he’d love to talk to you as well.” I was like, “Okay, of course. Yeah.” Brad and I have worked together for a year, and, you know, I was still super confused. I’m super confused now. So I was sort of like, “Okay, I don’t know what to say. My head’s kind of spinning, I leave in three days for Europe for a month. But yeah, I’ll absolutely talk to Brad.” So then David and I hung up, and it was a great conversation. I mean, he was very flattering of the show and the family we have and sort of himself seemingly kind of confused about the way it was all going down and the linear TV world that we live in. But he was like, “This is where we kind of sit,” and I just was extremely grateful for the conversation.

I called Brad and Brad kind of said the same. Brad reiterated, “Hey, dude, you know, you’ve been on CW since its inception. We’ll follow your lead here. Do you want to announce it yourself? Do you want us to announce it? Do you want to avoid it entirely, or do you want to be a part of it? We’ll go with your gut.” And my gut was, I have a great relationship with the fandom, to use a generic term, and I was like, “I actually would love to be the one that kind of says it.” So they obliged and I scrambled together a quick post, just being as honest as possible, and sent it out there. There was zero time between finding out and announcing it. It took me half an hour or whatever to try and figure out how to try and communicate how grateful I was, and how much love I had for everybody before sending it out, but it was a quick turnaround.

Nerds & Beyond: The finale has moments that seemed to leave the characters in a good space. Was that a conscious choice to sort of wrap things up on the off chance there wouldn’t be another season?

Jared: 100%. We talked, because at the time when we were shooting 12-13 which we cross-boarded, we didn’t know if we were picked up or not. We kind of assumed we were judging by the numbers and what we had heard from the network prior about if the numbers remained, and they did. It didn’t feel like it was something you could appropriately wrap up in an episode anyway. Like, we didn’t want to deliver a bad episode just for the sake of ‘wrapping up a storyline’. So I think what we wanted, not just if there would have been seasons five through fifteen, but if there would have been season four and done, was this idea that all the characters still had hope. I mean, it’s difficult to wrap up a TV show, right? You can do the whole they’re at a diner or you can do the whole ‘everybody dies’, but neither felt appropriate for Walker and the cast of characters. So, we kind of talked about what is something that if we end here, we’re happy with, but if we carry on, it’s seamless to go forward. And everybody, every character has something that we want to watch. So we left it there and there were back and forths. There were conversations, obviously, but ultimately, it came down to every character has something in their life that they can look forward to. They also have problems and that’s life, you have problems and you have opportunities, but I’m very happy with the finale.

Rebecca Brenneman/The CW

Nerds & Beyond: How do you feel about Cordell’s decision to take a leave of absence and take his family on vacation?

Jared: I think it’s been a long time coming. I think it’s a great statement on mental health and work-life balance, and it’s something that I’m kind of in the process of thinking about myself right now. Twenty-four years in the industry and nineteen years as number one on the call sheet, it takes a lot out of you and you sacrifice time with your kids, with your spouse, with your friends, with yourself. And I think it can at times not only be beneficial, but it can be necessary. So, I was proud of Cordell for making that decision, and I was excited to see how he came back after he had some time, but that’ll live in our imaginations, I suppose.

Nerds & Beyond: Cordell has made such incredible character growth from the first season to now. What has been your favorite part of getting to play him over the last four seasons?

Jared: What I really loved about Walker, and Cordell specifically, is that we got to see somebody who was flawed and who made mistakes and was humble, who tried. Sometimes he was a little slow to learn, but ultimately he tried to learn, he was eager to learn, eager to humble himself and be humbled around people he loved and trusted. So, that was a good reminder in my own personal life of like, “Hey, when someone says something a thousand times, maybe just listen, give it a shot. Why not?” You know, life happens… and it’s about what to do, what we can do better, what others can do better, how to ask, how to accept help. And so Walker remained as open-minded as a flawed human being could remain. I really appreciated that.

Nerds & Beyond: Do you have a favorite memory or moment from this last season?

Jared: Gen and I, during the ceremony/funeral scene in 411, had our kids there. Just the way it worked out, they hadn’t been able to be there a lot even though ironically, it was shot in Austin. But we shoot during the school year so they’re in school, or even season one, it was the COVID protocol. So if you weren’t vaccinated and didn’t have a mask in season one, it would have been that they’re twenty feet away in a mask, swabs up their nose, and wouldn’t have been a great experience anyways. So by the time 411 came and Anna [Fricke] was there directing and you know, she created the characters in the show, that was really special.

I think the speech that Cordell gives at August’s graduation was one of those moments… we’re at Storm Ranch, hadn’t been there all season, and the majority of the cast was there, and we got to hang out and laugh. It was this beautiful night in Austin, Texas. It was just one of those feelings… I had that feeling every time we shot a dinner table scene or breakfast scene where when we got everybody on set… it was just a great time and we did work I’m really proud of. It was just great to see everybody’s face and everyone working together cohesively, so I think those two, just offhand, stuck out to me the most.

Nerds & Beyond: After the news of the cancellation, were you able to take anything from the set?

Jared: Yeah, I took some of the clothes that meant something to me and a four-season show, several changes a day, there were racks and racks and racks of clothing. I went back to certain things that really are kind of like hallmarks for me. I have Duke’s outfit, I have his Texas Rangers hat, I have that blue suit I wore with Twyla, I have a few things that really just meant a lot to me wardrobe-wise. I have my boots, I have a couple of cowboy hats, and set-wise I have the Texas mug from the Side Step and I grabbed the pool cue from the Side Step. I was laughing, in season one or two, I brought my own pool cue from home to use in the show, and then I think I went home and forgot that I’d taken it, so I was like, “I donated one so now I’m just taking it back.” I have a few little knickknacks that are special to me. One of the things that I received as a gift was my Ranger belt. I wore it all the time and it was both the bane of my existence because they’re not super comfortable, but also just something really special. That will sit on my desk in my office forever. I also have my Ranger parking Cordell Walker little emblem that I’ll put somewhere in my garage.

Rebecca Brenneman/The CW

Nerds & Beyond: Walker was your first Executive Producer gig. Is that something you want to continue with further?

Jared: That’s kind of all I’m interested in. Acting is fun and can be fun at times, but I love the nuts and bolts of it, of trying to figure out several characters, how it all works together, how it all affects each other. I would happily just EP forever. I think acting is a bit more of a commitment. Again, I don’t not enjoy it. It’s fun, I love it, but I like exploring scenes. I love trying to go through different iterations of characters or their motivations, figuring out why they would make the decisions they make.

I would love to keep developing. You know, if a role comes up that makes sense, and it’s exciting or it’s somebody I want to work with, or a project I’m excited about, or a director I’ve never worked with that I want to then, yeah, call me up and I’ll see if Gen doesn’t mind watching the kids for a couple of weeks, or a couple months. But in the meantime, I like reading a book more than telling people what book I read, if that makes sense.

Nerds & Beyond: Everyone I’ve talked to about Walker has said that it has an exceptional set atmosphere. A lot of people attribute that atmosphere to you, as well. Why was it so important to foster that kind of environment where there’s a real work-life balance?

Jared: That’s the intense loss I feel. As much as I love Walker, the character, and Walker, the show, I feel a deep loss about what happened that didn’t make it to a television screen. The relationships that were built and fostered, the work atmosphere… I think over many years and almost 500 episodes of television, I’ve seen firsthand how a toxic atmosphere doesn’t save time. The more you yell, the more you gripe and bitch, and blame doesn’t mean that you’re gonna go faster and higher quality. Set people up for success, and hopefully, they set you up for success also. And then all of a sudden a day that could be twelve hours is nine hours. Like, “Wow… I’m home three hours earlier.”

I certainly cannot take credit for it. I mean, I’m sure I had a heavy vote in that arena. Kim Manners said something to Jensen Ackles and me many, many years ago. I think it was season one. In a True Kim Manners attitude, it was something like, pardon my French, “I spend more time with you fuckers than I do my wife, my kids, our dog, and my home. So if I’m not having a good time, why the fuck would I be here?” And it just made sense. No one’s holding a gun to our head telling us, “Hey, you better go act.” So if you’re not having a good time, then, “Hey, go find something and I wish you well. And if I’m not having a good time, then what am I doing here?” So I think we all reached that place on Walker.

I loved the Supernatural set, and I love it to this day and I hope we get to see each other again. The Walker set was just even more of a family. We’re all at home, we all went through horrible, horrible situations as far as people getting sick or in car accidents or pandemics or strikes, and everybody just felt like family.

Nerds & Beyond: You can tell just how much of a close-knit family you all were, so I can’t imagine how hard that loss is. I know it just finished airing and you’re not that far removed from it yet, but looking back, what are you going to take away from your experience on Walker?

Jared: It can be done. I think that’s going to be a message that sticks with me in all aspects of my life, til the day I die. It can be done. Surround yourself with good people and positivity. When you start thinking about like, “Oh, I’ll never be able to do this. Oh, this will never happen.” Walker was proof that it can be done. When you allow yourself to… I’d rather trust and have my heart broken than never trust and never fall in love. I trusted Walker and I fell in love and it was gone too soon. And it will be, to quote Jeff Buckley, “the tear that hangs inside my soul forever.” But, it can be done and it reignited my belief in people and storytelling. Best idea wins. Be honest and be humble. So to your point, I’m still fresh off and I haven’t yet really swallowed all my feelings and emotions enough to digest them, but just thrilled that we proved it could be done. And we’ll always know it.

Nerds & Beyond: Be proud of it, for sure. I love that there’s been a theme in the last few episodes about not being sad that it’s over, being glad that it happened.

Jared: Yeah. I’ll take that as well.

Nerds & Beyond: Fans have built an incredible community within the Walker family. Is there anything you’d love to say to them?

Jared: So many things I’d love to say. First and foremost, thanks for the trust. Thanks for the passion. I know that when Supernatural ended a lot of our Supernatural family trusted enough to kind of come give Walker a try. I feel like maybe after Supernatural ended many probably felt that it was gone too soon, but they trusted that life went on and came over and it’s really special. That’s where I find myself right now.

And so seeing their example, I’m just grateful. I’m just a guy who happens to act, and it’s an honor when someone’s interested in what you do creatively. Thank you, now and always.

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 & Walker. You can follow her @thebriarroseee.

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