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Mark Sheppard Gushes About Walker Independence, Katie Findlay, And The Supernatural Family - Exclusive Interview

This interview contains major spoilers for the fourth episode of "Walker Independence."

No one plays mildly shady characters with surprising hearts better than Mark Sheppard — just don't tell him you called his onscreen counterparts shady. Sheppard recently reunited with "Supernatural" co-star Jared Padalecki to play Hagan on "Walker Independence," and like many of Sheppard's characters, Hagan is larger-than-life with a massive personality. In last week's episode, fans bid Hagan farewell, and we glimpsed the selflessness hiding under Hagan's rugged demeanor. 

Before his stint on "Independence," Sheppard played roles like Crowley in "Supernatural," Romo in "Battlestar Galactica," Jim Sterling in "Leverage," Badger in "Firefly," Ivan in "24," and Willoughby in "Doom Patrol." Looper spoke to Sheppard during an exclusive interview where he gushed about all things "Walker Independence," the cast and crew, and his goodbye to the show and Katie Findlay's character Kate. He also praised Padalecki and the "Supernatural" family and revealed whether or not he's game to appear in Jensen Ackles' "The Winchesters" or Misha Collins' "Gotham Knights."

We all need more Mark Sheppard

Did you write the [Looper] piece? Kat McNamara comes up to me in the middle of a street and goes, "I did an interview with Looper, and this is the takeaway. Kat McNamara says, "I need more Mark Sheppard in my life."

[Laughs.] Oh yes, that one. I was so excited to write that piece.

"I gave a whole interview, and that's the takeaway?"

I wrote eight pieces from that interview. That was one of eight takeaways. [Laughs.]

Yeah, that one is running around the world. That's being reposted by every single news outlet. I was cracking up laughing.

I don't think fans expected to say goodbye to Hagan so soon. Did you know about his departure when you signed on, and if not, how did you react to the script?

I'm lucky enough to be great friends with Larry Teng, Seamus Kevin Fahey, Anna Frick, and a multitude of wonderful people at The CW who I've worked with on and off for many years. Eight years of "Supernatural" makes me a little biased toward The CW family, and there's a certain really tall person that's involved in this that I was like, "I'm definitely going to get into this. [It will be] fun."

I got a call during the making of the pilot, and it was like, "Call me." I called Larry, and I'm like, "I'm in." He goes, "You don't even know what it is." And I said, "I don't care. It's going to be great." He said, "I'm doing 'Walker Independence."' I'm like, "I know what this is. This is great." And he goes, "And we have this character, we have this centralized character and it's one line in the pilot." I'm like, "Great." He goes, "But we've got this little plan. We're going to tell you what this plan is, and this is how we're going to do it."

I got all excited, and I texted Jared, and he goes, "I'm so happy to have you there." We got all really clever, and I took my name off the pilot. I didn't want anyone waiting 38 minutes for me to show up and go, "Right, he gives us one line, and that's it." As much as I love CW in all their wisdom, [they] put me in the trailer. At the Upfronts, all three of the boys were there, and then my voice [shows up in the trailer], and I appear, and Jerry's like, "Yeah, Sheppard's in the pilot." That was that. The surprise was blown, but in a very good way.

The Independence family

I've done a lot of shows in my time. I've worked with a lot of people in my time, and this has been oversaid by so many, but I have never experienced a cast and a crew so integrated and so kind and so talented and brilliant and good to each other. I walked there and they were like, "We're so happy to have you." It became this giant love fest. It [felt] like I was walking into something where people wanted to make the best possible show that could be made, and I love it with all my heart. 

I've been lucky to be on a lot of great shows in my time, but this is something special. I'm looking at beautiful people, too. I feel like a hobbit in the gene pool there. It's anamorphic widescreen. It's 2.2:1, which, to me, as [someone] who loves film, gives us this look. The lenses are very special lenses that have been made for Larry for this show.

I can't tell you how excited I am without [saying], "We're a family." I'm playing cowboys. It's the dream job. What a phenomenal cast, crew, everywhere, top to bottom. It's lovely. It's a lovely place to be. You've been watching [Katie] Findley. Oh my gosh, [Katie] is something else — something incredible. The moment they established the relationship between Katie and I, it was a truly ... I love the way that Katie works. [Katie is] electric. [Katie is] a person who is so good at what they do and is so brilliant. I'm so proud of [Episode 4].

A stellar cast

I'll tell you a little story [about this episode] with Kate and Hagan. Hagan decides to sell to the Davidsons because they're going to kill Kate. Hagan has been there for 35 years, and he built this town with the founding fathers, and it's the central post. It's what he believes in. It's the core of Independence to him. While Teresa Davidson's poisoning me, Kate is doing this incredible dance number. The show [with Kate] in drag as Tom Davidson, the new Sheriff, is incredible. Shel did an amazing job shooting that. 

Kate [had] enthusiasm to come upstairs and share that moment with me, and there's Tom Davidson with feet on the desk. "He's sold. He's done. He's gone." Kate's betrayed, and we could not rehearse that scene. It was impossible to rehearse. Sheelin [Choksey], the wonderful director, is a brilliant man. He said, "Do you want to shoot your close-up first?" I could barely get the words out. I was in buckets of tears. It was like getting stabbed in the heart. 

We shot the close-up first, and we did three passes. The first two passes, I couldn't breathe. I genuinely couldn't breathe. It was huge to have somebody who loves [Hagan] and cares about [him] feel that betrayed, and [he's] lying, and cannot tell the truth. If [he tells] the truth, [he] can't protect her. The lie is the most painful, awful, tragic thing I ever had to do. It's both one of the highest and lowest spots in what I'd like to call my career. It was devastating to do. On one of the takes, he turned and looked at me and says, "May you die on a bed of white feathers."

Was that scripted?

It's a version of what's scripted. I was looking at the crew, [and] everybody was in tears. We were done. We could not do more. [There's] this incredible piece of the end where Kate goes into the room and the hat is on the end of the bed with the note. There [are] some great Western series: "Justified" and "Deadwood," and this is a very different thing — not because it's on The CW, but because of who created and who's done it.

Representation matters

In these times, with what is going on in the world, you can't come up with a solution, but the least you can do is try to tell some stories that might provoke some thought — the ability to empathize, the ability to maybe want to understand more of what goes on. I'm a very proud American. We tend to forget what we actually come from and who we come from, and what we were. We like to talk about what [could happen] because this is the great land of potential, but if you don't look back and look at your history, you're condemned to repeat it, as Santayana said. Through these small stories of people forming a part of America, we're telling some stuff that it's a good idea to tell right now.

It's phenomenal. I got to the end of that day and I was like, "We're doing something really good here." I'm gushy about this. It's so exciting. Matty Barr is wonderful. Kat [McNamara's] wonderful. Phile [Chambers is] wonderful. Everybody — Justin [Johnson Cortez], Lawrence [Kao] — everybody is so on their game, and they're all so kind to each other.

We have some fantastic storytellers, and [we're] drawing from a fascinating time in American history of cultural diversity and the times we're in now and the need to tell stories that we haven't told properly. You've got such a wonderful, incredible, multicultural society that was evolving and growing itself and trying to create itself, and being able to tell those stories of how these people come together — it's a beautiful signpost for our times. We tend to forget in our own little isolated worlds that every inch of this West was found or taken.

I don't think these stories are shying away from any of this, and I'm proud to be with such brilliant writers and producers who are like, "How do we try to tell this right? How do we try to get these characters to not be a bunch of pretty people sitting in a western town?"

Getting the Supernatural gang back together

Now that you've done a new project with Jared Padalecki, would you be game to appear in [Jensen Ackles'] "The Winchesters" or Misha [Collins'] upcoming show, "Gotham Knights"? What would you most like to see from Crowley, and is there a "Batman" villain you'd love to play?

There are so many I would love to do. Let's put it this way: We had a wonderful weekend [in] Vancouver for a "Supernatural" convention. Jared was sick, so I went up to go take care of that. We had a meeting. We never had a wrap party for the end of "Supernatural." [It was] another opportunity to see everybody and come together. We realized I only did eight years on the show, but I knew the boys before they had kids. I knew [them] before marriage, before all these things. It's a phenomenal thing.

We talked about possibilities of doing stuff, and nothing pleases us more than making the "Supernatural" family happy, genuinely — but without always having to be about that story. There's a lot of trusts and a lot of love between these actors and these writers and people. We've worked together over many years, so why shouldn't we work together again? Why shouldn't we try? Why shouldn't we feed this wonderful machine of [the] worldwide "Supernatural" family?

I hate the word "fan." That's why we came up with "'Supernatural' family." Fan is [short for] fanatic, [which] implies something wrong with being passionate about, caring about something. It's awful to us. This incredible group of people, we all have causes — Jared, Jensen, our families — we all have these things that we really believe in. This "Supernatural" family [stands] behind what we do and makes it a thousand times bigger. 

They support us in the most wonderful ways. They support each other in the most wonderful ways. It's a shining light for how we should [behave]. It never ceases to amaze me, the power [this] little show [that started]on The WB. I came into it on The CW. It's a beautiful phenomenon, and I'm very proud to be part of [it.] ... They call me, I'll come.

["Supernatural" was supposed to end about ten episodes after they brought me into it for one episode (in Season 5)]. Eight years later, here I am. It is a wonderful thing. I've always been fascinated [by] the fact that The CW, under its various tutelages, has always managed to find something that is very audience-centric, and that's why I've always liked the network.

Reuniting with Jared Padalecki

You worked with Jared Padalecki for years as co-stars on "Supernatural."

[Jokingly] Are you calling me old? He calls me old.

[Laughs.] I'll call [myself] old because I've been watching it the whole time, too. What was it like to reconnect and work together again, this time in an EP capacity? And then Jared also gave Kat a 411 spiel on the Davidson rivalry when she got the part. Did he do the same for you?

No. He never tells me anything. We've spent many years together — Jensen and Jared, Misha, myself. I got to be honest with you, any opportunity you get to play with your friends in something that's good, why would you turn it down? Why would you say no? Jeremy Carver called me for "Doom Patrol." Somebody once asked him, "Did you think it was weird to hire Mark Sheppard?" He said, "Why wouldn't I hire him? He's good at what he does, and he fits what it is that I want him to do."

Any opportunity to play with my friends and play cowboys with my friends ... Seriously? I went there on day 17 of 18 of the pilot, and I'm like, "Oh my God, these people are phenomenal."

The way they treat each other is beautiful. There's so much passion in what goes on there. We have the same manager, believe it or not, but I didn't know Matty Barr at all. Jensen was like, "You'll love him. He's amazing." Kat I knew from being on "Arrow" and being around that. I was like, "Oh my word. I didn't know she was that good." I found out the other day she was on Broadway with Elaine Stritch, Angela Lansbury, and Catherine Zeta-Jones when she was 14. [The] crew in New Mexico, [a] huge chunk of them [did] "Better Call Saul," back to "Breaking Bad."

The greatest showman

There's almost a World's Fair and circus component to this episode. Did any characters or historical figures help inspire your take on Hagan's showmanship qualities?

Seamus gave me a great note. Seamus Fahey and I worked together on "Battlestar [Galactica]" back in the day. He's a wonderful writer, and I love him dearly. He's [an] amazingly smart man. He said, "It's pretty much P.T. Barnum meets Sir Richard Burton." I'm like, "Whoa, that's a hell of a ... " Aim a little high there, son. The truth is, Hagan is a founding father of the town of Independence, and Independence is nothing. It's nowhere. It's post-Alamo — [the] early foundation of Texas' independence.

He's building this brick-and-mortar thing. He's a man who loves theater, and he's a man who loves art. The thing about Kate and Hagan is that Kate is very much Hagan's conscience and constantly helps steer Hagan into not doing the wrong thing. The railroad's coming, all these things are changing, all these people's stories are starting to converge in this little town.

I really like [the show]. I'm glad you like it. That makes me happy.

I do. I love the show so much.

What do you like about it?

I love that it's a refreshing, modern take on the story we've seen a million times. It's really lovely to see.

I think it is. There are so many stories. My family being Irish, we have that same issue when telling our history. There are so many stories. You can't have one definitive story about anything. The greatest way to tell these stories is you find these small pieces that shine a light on a particular area that means something to us. I hope we get to continue to do that. As they say, you catch more flies with honey than vinegar.

There [are] a lot of reasons to be uncomfortable and angry about a lot of things in the world. It's nice to be part of something that's trying to find the love and the positives [of] the journey and honoring the journeys that people have taken, which is fantastic.

A love for sketchy characters

What draws you to some of these grandiose and a little sketchy characters like Hagan and Crowley in "Supernatural"?

How dare you.

Don't deny it. You know it's true.

How dare you.

Do you have any highlights from any of those projects?

I've been lucky enough to tell stories on television since "X-Files." I've always said there [are] two types of characters that are worth playing for me. The first is the guy that sells them out before they've left the planet, which can be Dr. Zachary Smith in "Lost in Space." In the original pilot, he's actually a terrorist who destroys their chances before they leave. Then, it became high comedy after a while.

You can take that as far as William H. Macy in "Fargo." They're great characters to play, wonderful characters to play. The other great character to play is the last sane man in the universe, which is Eddie Albert, in "Green Acres." A lot of the characters that you say are — people have called me grouchy or grumpy or staunchy.

[They're] people who've got their own set of rules and are extremely annoyed that people aren't listening to them. I think of Gert Fröbe playing Goldfinger. This James Bond guy keeps irritating him and gets in the way of him doing what he wants to do. I've always loved those characters. I've always loved the ability to tell stories, and I've been lucky enough to do that for a long time.

I'm grateful to genre as well as mainstream for the opportunity to do so. I'm very grateful to The CW for going, "This is Mark-shaped. Let's see what we can do with that. Let's throw this at him and see what he does with it." Moose [Jared Padalecki] is one of my favorite people on the planet. It's a labor of love. I hope the show goes for long enough that people get to experience that feeling they've had while being there.

Getting swindled by grifters

I love that despite Hagan's clear intelligence, he's still swindled by elixirs and grifters. What do you think makes him, and people as a whole, susceptible to those kinds of snake oil scams?

We're never tall enough, pretty enough, thin enough, happy enough. That's the human condition. The human condition is when we start looking for things outside ourselves to fix us. I'm sober a long time, 32 years. While I giggle, or you may giggle at the Hagan drinking elixirs, to which Kate is like, "You're out of your mind. Why are you doing this? You're an idiot." He also buys a lot of hats [but] never wears them. It's the human condition. We're wired that way. It's what we are — the fragility of the human condition. Hagan wouldn't be interesting if he was a winner. He's been a winner in his time, but he also understands the nature of loss.

Do you think that there might be a chance that we'll see Hagan again?

I don't know. That's a question for Seamus more than anyone else. If they ever asked me to do it, that'd be there.

If this ends up being his swan song, how do you feel about his redemption and heroic moment where he lets Kate think the worst of him in order to protect her from the Davidsons?

That's what love's all about.

New episodes of "Walker Independence" air Thursdays on The CW, with episodes streaming for free on the The CW website and app.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.