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How Jared Padalecki Changed From A Gilmore Girls Kid To Walker Season 4's Father - Exclusive Interview

Over the past 20-plus years, Jared Padalecki has been a staple on countless TV screens. From his early stint as Dean Forester on "Gilmore Girls" to monster hunter Sam Winchester on the long-running "Supernatural," many fans have grown up alongside the actor. Now, even as those original Team Dean members navigate adulthood, there's still a relatable Padalecki character: Cordell Walker on The CW's "Walker," which follows the Texas Ranger as he balances catching bad guys and being there for his children. 

For Padalecki, it's a similar feeling. Just as he could personally relate to his past on-screen personas, transitioning from a financially struggling teen while filming "Gilmore Girls" to a 20-something who was finding his footing in the world during "Supernatural," life is once again imitating art with Ranger Walker. A father of three, Padalecki is thrilled to be portraying a dad on television for the very first time, embodying all of the celebrations and stresses that come with parenthood.

In an exclusive interview with Looper ahead of the "Walker" Season 4 premiere on April 3, Padalecki shared details on the trials that the Rangers will experience this time around (especially regarding the Jackal), what it's been like serving as an executive producer, how the show emphasizes family over the martial arts-style action shots of "Walker, Texas Ranger," and what it means to have people still supporting his career after two decades. 

More than catching criminals

"Walker" is now in its fourth season. What about the show, and also the character of Cordell, has made you want to keep coming back year after year?

Well, so many things. But I think to answer your second question first, what I love about the character of Cordell Walker and what he is going through is that it feels, though very different, very similar to my own life. I mean, I am a father. This is the first chance I've ever had to play a father. So selfishly, I love exploring what that looks like. Our writers have been so diligent about making this show as honest as possible. I hope I don't sound like I'm disparaging the OG "Walker, Texas Ranger" in any way, shape, or form, but this is not a martial arts show as much as it's a human being show about adulting and about having relationships and having troubles, and things are dirty and messy and there's not always an easy fix. 

It's not necessarily get the bad guy and everything's good for the week. It's sort of like, get the bad guy, but in the process of getting the bad guy, you ignored your daughter, so how do you fix that? Or in the process of getting the bad guy, you skipped out on your son. Or in the process of getting the bad guy, you locked yourself in your room for three weeks straight and weren't available to anybody, and now you have some relationships to repair. So it's much more similar, in my opinion, to life. Life as I know it, at least.

And to answer your first question about Season 4, I'm really excited. We haven't really explored past traumas in the sense of the Ranger world. And so we have this serial killer, the Jackal, and it's very clear that the Jackal — before Captain James (Coby Bell) was captain, he was just Ranger, and Ranger James and Ranger Walker were partners — he really terrorized these guys, specifically Ranger James, then Captain James. And Season 4 has been a great kind of dark dive into what someone can do to you psychologically when it seems like they're playing with your emotions, and they're one step ahead of you all the time, and you just can't save those around you when your job is to protect and serve.

Working behind the scenes

"Walker" is your first dive into the world of executive producing. What has that been like for you? 

My trailer's bigger, I get to tell people what to do. [laughs] By the final seasons of a show I did before "Walker" called "Supernatural," Jensen Ackles and I both had a say in the storylines and in the scripts and the blocking. And then, to quote the Bard, "A rose by any other name would smell as sweet." We weren't executive producers by any means, we weren't involved in all the meetings that artists aren't necessarily usually involved with, but we were so passionate about our characters and about the story and about the canon and about the cast and crew that our vote was counted, even though we were never producers on "Supernatural." 

With "Supernatural," I think the executive producers were able to see through 10 years of example that Jensen and I cared about the story and the script and the characters, not about like, "Hey, it'd be cool if I took my shirt off. Hey, it'd be cool if I had leather pants and a motorcycle." They knew that we were doing what was best for the character. And so I think when you come in as the EP, that's assumed, and so that kind of bridge has already been passed, that speed bump has already been navigated. That's been wonderful. 

I have a wonderful relationship with ["Walker" creator] Anna Fricke. Funny enough, her husband Jeremy Carver was executive producer and showrunner of "Supernatural" for many years, and that's how she and I first met. And from day one, she and I have just been on the same page. We just talked this morning, as a matter of fact, about the finale that we're shooting right now. And so it's been nicely passionate. I think what I've found in my 20-something years in the industry is that, as an actor, what happens between action and cut doesn't really interest me all that much. It's fun. But what I'm interested in is being home with a script, with the puzzle of how does this work? Where does this not work? How can this work better? What else could we do? 

So to be a partner and trying to determine what storylines are most poignant and most pertinent along the way, and what works best for each character has been really special and I'm really excited about it. And even learning a lot about what happens, quote-unquote "behind the scenes," some of which is kind of unnecessary for me to know. "Well, hey, this location's going to cost $1,000, but this is going to be $1,200." I'm like, "Okay, well, what's better?"

I was a kid that spent time in my room building Legos, much like my middle son. I was just so fascinated by the way things work. And I think, frankly, for certain actors, that informs their performance as well, knowing everything that went into why a scene has to be a certain way. I can recall on "Gilmore Girls" or "Supernatural" reading a scene and going, "Well, wouldn't it be a lot better if we did this instead?" And now having been EP for years, I can read a scene and go like, "Oh, I know why this is inside, not outside. Oh, I know why they just push each other and don't get into a full-on fight. Oh, I know why this person has lines, or this one doesn't." So it kind of helps complete the puzzle, so to speak. 

From Dean to Cordell

Speaking of "Supernatural," you've had some really big roles in your career, like Sam, and Dean on "Gilmore Girls," obviously.

OG Dean! I like to say OG Dean because Jensen was Dean on "Supernatural," but I'd already been Dean on "Gilmore Girls" for five years. So I like to try and kind of wink and nod. 

What does it mean to have those fans that started with you on "Gilmore Girls" also embracing this newer character of Walker?

I can't put into words how grateful I am that people have enjoyed the work I do. And funny enough, even though it's scripted television, I feel like my work and career have been kind of like a journal. On "Gilmore Girls," I did the pilot when I was 17 years old and I was a kid fresh out of San Antonio, Texas, where the only apartment I could afford, the door didn't lock. It was in the parking lot of a liquor store. And then I grew up a little bit. And then at 22, I started "Supernatural" and I was still essentially a kid. But during "Supernatural," I became more of a man and an adult and a husband and then a father. And now on "Walker," I'm a father. And so it's really life imitates art. 

And so the idea that people have taken the time to listen to me, I feel listened to. Which is ironic because I'm playing characters. This isn't a documentary by any means. But I'm flattered and I hope they all understand that I would not be here able to tell stories if it weren't for them, period. 

Is there anything that you want the fans to know before they watch the "Walker" Season 4 premiere?

Yeah, we have a shortened season. We have 13 episodes. Jensen and I used to joke when we were doing a 23-episode season of "Supernatural," you're not going to win them all. If you go up to bat 23 times, you're not going to hit home runs every time. If you shoot 23 three-pointers, you're not going to make them all. But with 13 episodes, each one is wham, bam, don't miss, don't blink, don't walk away. We're bringing a lot of awesome, incredible, high-stakes stuff the audience's way, and I can't wait to watch alongside them. 

"Walker" Season 4 premieres on Wednesday, April 3, at 8 p.m. EST on The CW. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.