Jared Padalecki Says Goodbye to ‘Walker’ and Blasts the CW’s ‘Cheap Content’ Strategy After Show’s Cancellation: ‘F— It. They Can’t Fire Me Again’

SPOILER ALERT: This interview contains spoilers from “See You Sometime,” the series finale of The CW’s “Walker.”

In 2000, at the age of 17, Jared Padalecki landed the role of Dean Forester, the first love of Alexis Bledel’s Rory Gilmore, on the hit family dramedy series “Gilmore Girls.” Originally contracted for only four episodes, Padalecki went on to appear in the first five seasons of “Gilmore” and then booked “Supernatural” — both of which debuted on The WB before surviving the transition to The CW in 2006.

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For the better part of the next two decades, Padalecki would emerge as the face of The CW. After playing Sam Winchester — one-half of a dynamic duo of monster-hunting brothers — for 15 seasons on “Supernatural,” the actor became the star and executive producer of “Walker,” a modern-day reimagining of the hit ’90s series that featured Chuck Norris as a high-kicking Texas Ranger. But following the cancellation of “Walker” last month, Padalecki is bidding a bittersweet farewell to the network that made him a star.

On the June 24 Season 4 finale, which now doubles as a series finale, Padalecki’s Cordell Walker decides to take a step forward toward repairing his relationships at home. After apprehending the father-daughter duo known collectively as “the Jackal” and solving the yearslong cold case that nearly cost him his life, Cordell decides to take a leave of absence from the Rangers and leaves for a long-awaited family vacation with his two children, college freshman Stella (Violet Brinson) and recent high-school grad August (Kale Culley), and his girlfriend, Geri (Odette Annable), to whom he seemingly plans to propose in the near future.

Walker -- “See You Sometime” -- Image Number: WLK413_0005r -- Pictured (L-R): Odette Annable as Geri Broussard, Jared Padalecki as Cordell Walker -- Photo: Rebecca Brenneman/The CW -- © 2024 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved.
Odette Annable as Geri Broussard, Jared Padalecki as Cordell Walker.

In a wide-ranging interview with Variety, Padalecki opens up about saying goodbye to Cordell Walker, what led to the cancellation of his iteration of “Walker” (which he is still grieving) and what showrunner Anna Fricke had planned for a possible Season 5. He also discusses the biggest lesson he’s learned after starring in over 450 episodes of network television, and his plans to reunite with “Supernatural” creator Eric Kripke in the final season of “The Boys.”

The writers first introduced this Jackal storyline at the end of the third season as a way to excavate more demons from Cordell and Captain James’ (Coby Bell) shared past. What did this storyline help you unlock in terms of your understanding of Cordell? What were you most interested in exploring from a character perspective?

I’ve been fortunate enough for many years, many decades, to play characters that are in situations where the story is not about the situation necessarily: It’s about what’s going on with the character. On “Supernatural,” we fought God, we fought Lucifer, I was Lucifer at one point, we fought demons — but it was really about the brothers. It was about a bond; it was about the tropes of sacrifice, loyalty, determination, discipline and so many more things.

So when the Jackal storyline first occurred to the gang, [a serial killer storyline] was something that we hadn’t approached yet on “Walker.” And it’s something that the real Texas Rangers actually get involved with: They do hunt down and investigate serial killer allegations. So it was a fun template with which to play out past traumas, [as well as this idea of] trusting those close to you and them trusting you back and getting out of your head.

I don’t want to say I suffer [from this], but I’m in my head a lot. Partially that’s my nature, just the way I was born; and partially that’s my nurture, being an actor. You have your script, you read it, and you’re like, “OK, now what can I add? What does this mean?” So I just spend a lot of time in my head, and oftentimes it takes somebody beloved that’s part of my circle to go, “Hey, you all right?” And I’ll be like, “Oh shit. Yeah, sorry, I’ve been kind of elsewhere.” So [I enjoyed] playing that role this season, and understanding how the rabbit hole of emotions in your mind can sometimes affect more than just you.

Walker -- “See You Sometime” -- Image Number: WLK413_0645r -- Pictured (L-R): Keegan Allen as Liam Walker,Violet Brinson as Stella Walker -- Photo: Rebecca Brenneman/The CW -- © 2024 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved.
Keegan Allen as Liam Walker, Violet Brinson as Stella Walker.

This iteration of “Walker” has always been about Cordell’s neverending internal struggle to find the right work-life balance. For me, he seems to finally recognize that he’s done plenty of great work as a Ranger, but he has yet to really fulfill his duties as a father, even though he is about to become an empty nester. What is your take on where we leave him in the finale?

Yeah, it’s exactly that — and kudos to Anna and the rest of the writing gang. It was a lot of what I was going through [in real life]. It’s a lot of what I’m going through now, having worked since I was 17 years old when I started “Gilmore Girls.” There are a lot of things that you miss when you’re acting — a lot of graduations, camp drop-offs, kids’ games, whatever. It’s a wonderful job, and I’m so grateful to have been able to do it for so long, but there’s a lot that you give up.

So I think where we find Cordell in the finale is exactly in that spot where he’s no longer anxiety- or panic-driven about having to do the next job, having to get up and find somebody to arrest or find something to fix or investigate. He has realized — much to the credit of Jeff Pierre’s Trey, Ashley Reyes’ Cassie, and obviously Coby Bell’s Larry James — that, “Hey, the world goes on without you.” I think Cordell was in his own head for a lot of the episodes, and afraid that if he wasn’t around, things would fall apart. I think he found a place where he is like, “The world was here before me. The world will be here after me. And what I need to do for those around me is spend time with them.” So he’s come to a realization that there’s more than just the next job.

I think it took him — I don’t want to call it rock bottom, but getting out of control with his obsession with the Jackal to realize, “Oh, wait, maybe I need to step away from this for a little bit, and when I come back, I’ll come back stronger and more clear headed.” There will always be another job, but the family is growing up. August is graduating, Stella is in college, and he and Geri are working through some stuff. So I think he realized that, “Hey, I need to put my energies elsewhere.” It’s told in TV form, but it’s a really universal lesson. Sometimes, just doing something different, just changing your routine, can open your eyes to not only the positives of the routine — but also the drawbacks.

The writers have put Cordell through the wringer over the years, but this is the closest that he came to dying. The idea of mortality becomes even more intense when you become a parent — and, in Cordell’s case, a widowed single parent — because you have to think about what you’re leaving behind for your children.

Great point. [My wife] Genevieve [who played Cordell’s late wife, Emily] and I talk about that all the time, as parents. I think this is one of the lessons that both Gen and I hope to give to our kids, and for them to grasp as well. As kids grow up — and even adults — they will often deal with and question: “Is what I’m doing right? Should I be doing something else? If I’m not important here, then am I important at all?” I think part of the reason Cordell makes the decision that he does at the end of the finale is to show his kids: “Hey, I know I’ve been doing this, and it is very important. But so are you. It’s not a ‘no, but.’ It’s a ‘yes, and.’” It takes courage to leave routine, to leave habits, and I think he wants his kids to know, “Hey, it’s OK if y’all have to pivot, if y’all have to change. Do what you know is right, not what you think other people think is right.”

Unlike some other shows on the bubble, you and the writers elected not to shoot an alternate ending. That means you’ve left the audience with a couple big cliffhangers: In addition to taking a leave of absence, Cordell is also planning to propose to Geri; and James Van Der Beek was going to play the Walkers’ new (and potentially nefarious) neighbor. Did you and Anna discuss what next season would have looked like?

Yeah, there was so much to deal with, now that Violet and Kale are both young adults. They’re not children like they were four years ago, both literally and metaphorically. So there was a lot that we were going to explore with them — like, how much the sins of the father can carry down to the progeny, and how much Stella and/or August had, unfortunately, [inherited] their father’s bad qualities as well, which we dealt with this year with Stella. She’s very much like her father in the good ways and in the bad ways.

But we were very excited to have James on the show. He’s a personal friend, and he lives here in Austin. It wasn’t going to be like the Walker-Davidson feud necessarily [from Season 2], and the fifth season was certainly not written by any means, but I think there was going to be a very interesting dynamic that Cordell was maybe not anticipating, because he was taking a backseat on his law enforcement duties. We thought that James and his crew were going to be maybe up to no good, and Walker was just blinded to it.

Walker was a “Hell yes” or “hell no” kind of guy; he was either all-in on something, or he was kind of oblivious to it. And that was good when he was all-in on a job or all-in on trying to work with his family. But it was bad when he was oblivious: “Oh, no, the kids are fine. I’m fine. They’re nice. Don’t be suspicious of this person, or that person.” And he kind of got stuck in his own head, as we all often do at times. So we were going to explore that.

Walker -- “See You Sometime” -- Image Number: WLK413_0969r -- Pictured (L-R): Jared Padalecki as Cordell Walker, Molly Hagan as Abeline Walker -- Photo: Rebecca Brenneman/The CW -- © 2024 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved.
Jared Padalecki as Cordell Walker, Molly Hagan as Abeline Walker.

Is there something that you would have personally loved to have explored further with Cordell, if you had been given more time?

Oh my God. How long do you have? I really would’ve done the show forever. I just loved my character. I loved that I got to be in Austin with my family. I loved my cast and loved our crew. Maybe this is what ultimately was our downfall, but we weren’t ever seeking like, “Oh, here’s the explosion. Oh, here’s the wild cliffhanger where the aliens come down. Oh, here’s the next hot reality star that comes in and takes their clothes off.” It was never about sensationalism. It was more about life. When Anna and I first talked about the show many years ago, one of the reasons [this reboot] was called “Walker,” not “Walker, Texas Ranger,” was because he’s a widow and a father who happens to be in law enforcement. It was an exploration of everything that life could have to offer — heartbreak, disappointment, shame, love, becoming an empty nester — and I’m worse than heartbroken that we are not going to get to explore all those storylines.

You’ve developed a tradition, on both “Supernatural” and “Walker,” of being the one to deliver the news of a renewal or a cancellation to your cast and crew. How did that happen this time around?

Yes. I talked to David Stapf at CBS [Studios] and Brad Schwartz at CW before the announcement was made. And when Brad and I were talking, he was wildly flattering of “Walker” and what we had done, and he has his directives as well. He asked me, “Hey, how would you feel if we release the news or if you release the news? Do you have a preference? You’re CW royalty. You’ve been here since Day 1. How do you want to do this?” I thought about it, and I was like, “You know what, man? I think it might be best if I go ahead and make the announcement.” He was like, “Cool. Just go ahead.” And I asked him, “Do you want me to send what I’m going to post to you first, or do you want me to just go and post it?” And he goes, “We know you. We love you. We trust you. You don’t need to double check it with me. Just go ahead and send it when you’re ready.”

It was not easy to see the keyboard on my phone through the tears in my eyes, but I was grateful that I was allowed to [do that]. So often, when these big announcements are made, it’s like, “OK, here’s what’s going to happen. Don’t say anything until 1 p.m. in three days because we haven’t called all the outlets yet.” It felt like a very human send-off to go, “OK, do what you need to say, and we will reiterate it.” It felt like a great part of the closure that I’m still seeking.

Did The CW ever give you a reason for the cancellation? Did it come down to budgetary reasons? Do you know any of the particulars?

Yeah. I talked with the head of CBS [Studios] and the head of Nexstar/CW, I talked with the other [executive producers] on “Walker,” and I think it was a multivariate kind of issue. My understanding is — and again, this is just what I’m told — that Nexstar is going in a different direction with The CW. I mean, they have an hour of “Trivial Pursuit” and an hour of “Scrabble” coming up. I don’t know why you wouldn’t just download the app or grab a board game and play with your friends, but they’re clearly just — what’s that great quote? It’s like, “If somebody tells you who they are, ask questions. If somebody shows you who they are, believe them.”

I feel like The CW that I was a part of last year is not The CW that I was a part of under [former chairman and CEO] Mark Pedowitz for that entire, almost 20-year stretch. They’re just changing the network around, where it’s not really going to be a TV network as much as it’s going to be, “Here’s something fun for an hour that you’ll never watch again, but hopefully you watch it. And it’s cheap!” And I hate to say that, but I’m just being honest. I mean, fuck it. They can’t fire me again. I’m just being brutally honest. I think it felt to me like they were looking for really easy, cheap content that they could fill up time with.

You’ve only had a few weeks to process the cancellation, but have you given any thought to what you will do next?

I left two days [after the cancellation was announced] to go to Europe for work and then for play. My wife and kids met me out there, and we took a little vacation that was already planned. It was strange, and it was both horrible and wonderful. It was horrible because I really wanted to grieve. I really wanted to sit there and grieve, and call my cast. But here I was, eight or 10 hours ahead of their time zone, and I couldn’t make a phone call to everybody I wanted to make. The texts would come in when I woke up in the morning, and I just wanted or needed a personal connection with everybody who I had worked with for so long. But it was great, because I had a lot of distractions.

But I haven’t taken a whole lot of time just yet to think about what’s next. I kind of said this at the end of “Supernatural”: I wasn’t interested in acting [again], per se. I do love producing. I love the production aspect, and I love the problem-solving that comes with it. So there are a few things that my wife and I are in the process of developing that I would love to produce and act in. But beyond that, I still feel like I haven’t grieved the loss of “Walker,” so I don’t know yet if I trust my feelings. That sounds like a cop-out. I’m so sorry.

No, that’s a totally valid answer, considering that you openly spoke about how you hoped “Walker” would last just as long as, if not longer than, “Supernatural.” It’s natural that you wouldn’t necessarily know where to go from here.

Yeah, I don’t want to disappear into the bushes by any means, but I kind of want to disappear into the bushes. But hopefully, at this point in my life, and much like Cordell realized at the end of Season 4, I need to take a good, long, hard look at my personal life and the time I spend with my family and my friends, and I need to stop being so aggressive and obsessed with work. I still want to work, but for now, you’ll find me in and out of the bushes, hanging out with family and seeing friends. If a project comes up and I don’t care about it, then money doesn’t matter. But if a project comes up and I love the story or there’s somebody I really want to work with, then all right, [I’ll do it].

One of the people that you presumably want to work with again is Eric Kripke, who already recruited your former “Supernatural” costar Jensen Ackles to star in his current show, “The Boys.” Now that your schedule has opened up, are you officially joining the final season of “The Boys”?

Well, I’ll say this: Kripke and I texted today. It’s not been written yet, but I think he was saying [the final season] doesn’t even film until 2025. So yeah, I’m going to go play in Kripke’s newest playground. I had a great time the first time around, so I’m sure I’ll have a great time here again. I love the show. I think it’s hilarious and exciting. But you were asking what my plans for the future were — and I love Jensen and Eric Kripke. Obviously, I’ll be indebted to [Kripke] and entangled with him forever. I met my wife because of him. I was Sam Winchester because of him. “Supernatural” happened because of him. So working with him on a show that I enjoy, I’m like, “Yeah, when do I fly out?” But I don’t think we would film until at least January.

Your body of work has spanned so many genres, but is there a specific genre that you are looking to explore next?

I thought “Walker” was kind of a mixture of “Gilmore Girls” and “Supernatural.” It was a family show with excitement and stunts, and macro storylines married with the micro. You know what? There’s a script that I love, and if we can get it turned into something, then I’d love to be a part of it. It’s actually a sitcom, but not a slapstick or knee-slapping sitcom. It’s kind of like a family-esque sitcom. It could actually be an hourlong show that you’d kind of define as a sitcom.

One of the things I really enjoyed about “Walker” was the humor that I was able to try and bring to screen, because my characters on “Gilmore Girls” and “Supernatural” were more stoic and serious, and I am by nature a much goofier person than the characters I’d played for 20 years. It terrifies me, because I think I’m funny among friends, but I don’t think I’m a funny person. I just think I’m goofy.

I’d like to explore that. It’s scary. It’s something I haven’t done, and I think I’d be very intrigued.

It seems very difficult for dramatic actors to make that transition to comedy.

It’s so difficult!

You’ve now starred in over 450 episodes of primetime network TV, which is no small feat. What is your biggest takeaway from the time you’ve spent on The WB and The CW? When you think back to your biggest aspirations when you began on “Gilmore Girls,” how did your dreams ultimately compare to your reality?

Yeah, it’s been a long time. I think there’s some form of the saying, “If I only knew then what I know now…” Oftentimes, [this is] such a cutthroat industry. I think I spent so long in my adult life trying to get to a point where I could live my life, where I felt comfortable, where I felt safe and secure. I love storytelling. I love storytellers. I love raconteurs. I love that friend we all have that can just talk for an hour, and you’re laughing, you’re crying, you’re interested, and you’re learning. I love being able to pretend to be one of those characters on screen.

But I think along the way, it feels like I really learned, “Hey, don’t work to earn. Work to learn.” And at some point in time, you’ve got to look in the mirror and go, “Hey, you’re working towards some ever-moving goalpost. Why don’t you try and enjoy it now?” I think that’s kind of where I sit now. We’re just about a month [removed] from the announcement that we weren’t picked up again, so it’s kind of funny how life imitates art, or art imitates life. What Cordell went through in the finale and what I’m going through now are mirrors. I’ll be 42 next month. Am I waiting until I’m 60 and I have 800 episodes of television or something? I have to live my life now. I’ve got a 12-year-old, a 10-year-old, and a 7-year-old.

I think, ironically, in trying to tell somebody else’s story for so long, I’ve realized that my story has value too.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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