Stepping into the boots of an iconic character for a new TV reimagining, the Texan star aims to retain Lone Star authenticity while exploring more modern-day subject matter.
There’s a new sheriff in town. Or to be more precise, a revised version of a familiar Texas Ranger.
Walker, the new CW series starring Jared Padalecki, is — yes, you guessed it! — a reboot of Walker, Texas Ranger, the action-adventure drama that ran for eight seasons (1993 – 2001) on CBS with Chuck Norris in the title role of a Lone Star State lawman who spoke softly and carried a big kick. But be forewarned: There is a pronounced lack of martial artistry in this version.
As Padalecki recently explained during a rare day off from his hectic shooting schedule in Austin, “My Walker, the Cordell Walker that I play, has nothing in common with Chuck Norris’ Walker — other than the name. And so our show is a reimagining more than a remake. And it’s very timely. It exists in our current moments, in our current state of political dichotomy and awareness of racial inequality. And it has a socially conscious way of asking, ‘Hey, is everything working the way it should be?’ From the top down and from the bottom up. And so, while we’re similar in name, I suppose this rose smells in a completely different way.”
Then, laughing at his Romeo and Juliet allusion, he added, “Just trying to sneak in some Shakespeare there.”
But did Padalecki hesitate while deciding whether to be or not to be Walker? After all, he has some mighty big boots to fill in this reboot.
“There was no hesitation at all,” Padalecki responded.
“I’m a proud Texan, born in San Antonio. And while I was growing up, I would actually see Texas Rangers now and then. And I always thought they looked so cool when I’d see them in their white Stetsons at a pizza place or whatever while they were on their lunch break. And now I’m thinking, Wow, I get to portray that.”
Better still, in Padalecki’s view, the new Walker is set in Austin, where he has resided for more than a decade. “So making a show about Texas, that’s a source of great pride for me,” he said. “I’m trying to do right by the original show, but I’m also trying to do right by our wonderful law enforcement figures who continuously risk their lives and their health and happiness, and that of their family and friends, to try and make this place a safer place. It’s a lot to take on, but it’s an honor. It definitely comes with responsibility, but it’s a great honor.”
It’s also a dramatic change of pace from Supernatural, the weirder-than-life TV drama that, for 15 seasons, provided gainful employment for Padalecki and costar Jensen Ackles as they portrayed Sam and Dean Winchester, brothers who battled demons, ghosts, and assorted other paranormal pests. Because of production delays caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the final episode of that cult-fave series didn’t air until November 19 — just as Padalecki was revving up Walker for a planned January premiere. To make that date, he says, most of his waking hours have been a warp-speed blur of roping and riding — his Cordell Walker owns a horse ranch with his family — and protecting and serving.
But, mind you, he’s not complaining. When the day’s work is done, and on his days off, he can spend quality time with his wife, Genevieve Cortese, and their three children — two boys and one girl, ranging in age from 3 to 8 — at their home near Austin. That’s where we caught up with the 38-year-old TV star and devoted family man.
Cowboys & Indians: Do your children have any idea yet what Daddy does for a living?
Jared Padalecki: You know what? That’s a really funny question. There’ll be times when Genevieve and I have to get some work done. And so we’ll stick them in front of a YouTube video or something. And then suggestions come up onscreen. And so they have seen that I’ve been in different things — and I’m sure they’ve seen different scenes that I’ve done that I would probably rather them not see at their age. So we decided to kind of go ahead and show them a little bit of what happens, and tell them, “Hey, it’s scary — but it’s fake.” Like, “Here’s Dad, he’s in a fight. But you have to remember that Dad, he has professional people that put fake blood on him, just like we do at Halloween.”
Funnily enough, we talked about this just yesterday. And my wife and I told them: “This is just pretend. No one’s in danger, no one’s hurting each other. We’re just pretending, just like when we’re playing chase and I growl at you and you run away.” And so, they kind of have an idea what I do. I think they’re a little bit too young to understand exactly what’s going on. But they know that Daddy goes to work and plays pretend.
Along those same lines: I remember once I shot this scene for Supernatural where my character had been kind of beat up. And I had a black eye, and I had blood on my lip and blood coming out of my nose. Well, I got a FaceTime call from home while we were shooting in Vancouver, so I just picked it up, thinking it was my wife. But it was one of my kids on the phone. And the first thing they see is Dad looking all beat up. And I had to kind of go, “Hey buddy, this isn’t real.” And they were like, “Well, I don’t want to see you with blood.” So I said, “Well, I have to wear this blood for a couple more hours. But after you go to bed and I’m done working, I’ll do a video of me getting the blood washed off so you know it’s fake.” And that’s what I did. I shot the video and forwarded it to Gen. And in the morning, she was able to show it to him and tell him, “See, Daddy wasn’t really hurt.”
C&I: Have they ever been around you when you’re approached by fans who’ve seen you in Supernatural — or, before that, when you were a series regular on Gilmore Girls?
Padalecki: Oh, sure. Pre-COVID days, if we’d be out at a restaurant or at an airport, sometimes people would come up and take a picture. And my kids would be like, “Is that your friend?” And I’d say, “Well, that’s my new friend.” And fortunately, the people that know my work are usually fans of it. They’ll come up and say things like, “Hey, I really like that movie. My buddy and I watched it the other day.” [Laughs.] Or some guys might say, “Hey, I hate to admit this, but I watch Gilmore Girls.” And I’ll say, “That’s all right, man. It’s a good show.”
C&I: About a year after the release of Forrest Gump, I interviewed Tom Hanks on the junket for Apollo 13. And we agreed that while he could look forward to enjoying a long career with many other rewarding roles — which, hey, he certainly has — he almost certainly would never again be part of a phenomenon as huge as Forrest Gump. Do you find yourself thinking the same way about Supernatural?
Padalecki: I can 100 percent see that. I’m not trying to channel Tom Hanks here, and I don’t know him, but I can understand what he’s talking about. And one reason why Supernatural might be my Forrest Gump is, this was its own conception. You know, people always say about anyone who plays Superman, “Well, now he’s Superman forever.” But Superman already existed. And so you’re jumping into something that you didn’t create from the ground up. Whereas with Forrest Gump, Tom Hanks was introducing a brand-new character. And Forrest Gump as a whole felt like it was telling you, “Hey, we’re going to create this new story. We’re going to create this world, this character, this art, and hope that y’all enjoy it as much as we did.”
And not to brag, but that’s very much how I felt with Supernatural. I was, I suppose, Sam Winchester from the first time they ever called action on Supernatural. And so, I feel like I was there from the ground up, saying, “Well, we’re kind of creating this weird new world together. There are these brand-new characters, and you don’t know what’s going to happen to them. Let’s just go with the flow.”
C&I: And your audience did go with the flow — for 15 years. That’s pretty remarkable.
Padalecki: Fifteen years is a lifetime — literally, sometimes lifetimes don’t last 15 years. And right until the end, we were very aware of that, and tried to honor that, and tried to respect that. And understand that hey, these characters have been with people for a long time. Look, I’ve met people who come up and kind of hit me on the shoulder and go, “Dude, I grew up with you.” And I look at them and I’m thinking to myself, Well, you’re an adult. But then they’ll say something like, “Yeah, I’m 22, but I’ve been watching you since I was 7.” And that’s when I’ll think, “Oh, my God. They really let me grow up with them.” From afar, of course. And maybe I didn’t really know them. But it’s like you went to school with somebody, starting in kindergarten, and went all the way through elementary school and middle school and high school. And even into college. And you’re the same person all along. That’s what Supernatural has been like for me.
To get back to your question: Yeah, I feel like I’ll never experience a phenomenon like that again. I started the show when I was 22 and I finished it when I was 38. And so, even if Walker goes 15 years, it really won’t be the same because I’m now a grown man. I’m a husband, I’m a father of three. ... Frankly, if Supernatural is the show and the role which I hang my hat on until my last days, then I’ll be very proud. I gave it everything I got. And often I gave it more than I had. We all bled together and sweated together and cried together. It’s a real honor to look back at it now that it’s done, and think, Man, and I was a part of that. That’s really powerful.
C&I: By the way, speaking of Tom Hanks: He often talks about his massive collection of typewriters. I understand you have your own obsession — watches.
Padalecki: I think obsession is putting it mildly. Is there a more intense word than obsession? Yes, I am fascinated by watches and timekeeping, and the mechanical, magical aspects of the idea of somebody sitting down and creating something that can be wound and keep time. And I love them for what that means. Some of the best gifts that I’ve ever received have been watches. And when I try to find a good gift for somebody for something, for some type of event in their life, I try to make it a watch. But, yes, I am head over heels obsessed with horology.
C&I: Do you own an Apple Watch?
Padalecki: Yes, but I do tend more towards the analog watch. It just feels like I can hold a piece of history on my wrist. And it’s almost like a little charm or something that kind of resets you. You can look down and you have that moment just to yourself. You’re not looking around at this crazy world. You’re not looking at your phone; you’re not looking at your iPad or your computer or your TV. It’s the moment with yourself to look down and check in. And hopefully appreciate to some degree the level of technical mastery that was required to put that little thing together. And that’s one of the many reasons why I’m into watches.
C&I: Your home certainly has a distinctively Texas flavor. And I’m not just talking about architecture.
Padalecki: [Laughs.] I think that goes back to the watch thing. I do have a great appreciation for history and tradition. And I would much rather have artwork from 80 years ago than artwork from eight months ago. So we do have some great Texas paraphernalia on display. And we have some replica letters from the Alamo, original old Texas maps. And old Texas railroad bills of sale, original currency from the late 1800s, and whatnot. That’s what I like to surround myself with. It gives me a calm feeling. It reminds me to be reverent of what came before me. We have the limestone exteriors. And we got a big old steel bull out in the front yard that I’ve been practicing my roping on. But, yeah, I’m a big fan of classic Western art and memorabilia. We have some Edward Curtis photographs. Like I say, it gives me a great calm, peaceful feeling when I get home from a hectic day.
C&I: A shelter from the storm in more ways than one these days, right?
Padalecki: True. We live just a 20-minute drive from downtown Austin. But we’ve got a couple acres, and we have chickens, bunnies, bees, dogs, and we have a garden. So it feels like we live on our own little ranch. But we can hop in the car and be downtown for dinner in 20 minutes. Of course, we haven’t been able to do much of that lately. But it’s been great to have this place during the quarantine. We can just be a family on our property.
C&I: Finally, getting back to Walker: Just how intense has your work schedule been as you approach your premiere date?
Padalecki: Very. We were originally supposed to finish Supernatural the first week of April and then start Walker two weeks later. And so, I knew my lines for the pilot in March. And then March 13th — Friday the 13th — we got sent home from Vancouver because we had this looming pandemic, and no one knew what things were going to look like. And so there’s been such a buildup. I feel like I’ve been on a bull sitting behind the gate, going, “Let me out, let me out, let me out, let me out! Let me work! Let me do my thing!” There’s been such anticipation and I’ve been so eager to start.
You put a lot of demands on yourself, you put a lot of expectations on yourself, and you just want to get out there and do it. I love developing a show, developing a story, but I’d been ready to film the pilot for eight months before we finally started shooting it.
But I have to admit: I’m having a great time. Just think, I’m playing a character who needs to be on horseback, roping and galloping. And then the next day I’m doing a fight scene. So you get done with the day of horseback riding, and then you have to go to stunt rehearsal and go through those motions. We have to start early because the sun comes up at 6:30 or 7, and we need to be ready to shoot [then] because the sun’s going to go down around 5:30. We have 12 hours of work we have to fit into 10 hours. So it’s sort of an all-hands-on-deck situation. But it’s wonderful. I feel like it’s an embarrassment of riches. My cup runneth over. And I’m so excited to do all of this. I feel like I need 36-hour days to get it done sometimes. And then I go home, and I’m a husband and a father.
Walker is scheduled to premiere on The CW January 21. Find out more at cwtv.com.
Photography by Mike D’Avello
From our February/March 2021 issue.