How ‘Walker’ Changed Jared Padalecki’s Mind About Retiring After ‘Supernatural’ (VIDEO)

Jared Padalecki has put his demons behind him.

But instead of riding off into the sunset after 15 seasons as demon hunter Sam Winchester on Supernatural, the lanky, lovable Padalecki is getting right back in the saddle. Literally. 

“I’d often say I wanted to retire, especially from the acting portion of the business,” he admits of his original post-hit plans. “I was like, ‘I’m tired of people looking at me. I’m tired of setting alarm clocks.'” Then, in 2019, as filming of the final season of his record-breaking series on The CW got underway (the finale aired in November), the chance to reimagine the Chuck Norris action classic Walker, Texas Ranger came his way. This reboot is more of a family drama than the testosterone-heavy casserole of kung fu and car chases that ran on CBS from 1993 to 2001.

“At first, I just really wanted to develop this story about this version of Cordell Walker,” Padalecki says of the grieving lawman who, in the premiere, returns home from the yearlong undercover mission he accepted after the murder of his wife, Emily (played by real-life spouse Genevieve Padalecki). In fact, the initial idea was for the actor to executive produce with Supernatural brother Jensen Ackles in the lead role. Then, says Padalecki, “It kept looking like something I really wanted to be a part of.”

The CW and CBS Studios, which owns the Walker property, felt the same, so Padalecki signed on to star. The chance to play a truly adult TV role wasn’t the only appeal for the devoted husband and father of three (sons Thomas Colton, 8, and Austin Shepherd, 7, and daughter Odette Elliott, 3). “It’s the first time I’ve ever filmed in a place I considered home,” says the Austin resident, who’s shooting on location all over his native Lone Star State. “Now I get to be here with my wife and kids. I get to work with Gen. I don’t think I dared to dream this big.”

Kale Culley Jared Padalecki Violet Brinson Walker Stella August

Rebecca Brenneman/The CW

Now if only some of that good fortune could rub off on Cord. Before he’s even at the town limits, the returning mess of a man is drinking and on the wrong side of the entire Walker clan. That includes the two teenage kids he abandoned, Stella and August (Violet Brinson and Kale Culley); his gay assistant DA brother, Liam (Pretty Little Liars Keegan Allen), who stepped up in his absence; and his rancher parents, prickly Bonham and no-nonsense Abeline (The X-Files Mitch Pileggi and Molly Hagan). In other words, this isn’t the Walker you remember.

“I certainly watched it growing up in Texas. It was on a lot,” Padalecki says. Although he hasn’t heard directly from Norris, “He was one of the owners of the property, so he had to sign off for us to be able to do it. I hope to meet him someday. Maybe he can give me some tips on how to roundhouse.”

Until then, Padalecki and writer–executive producer Anna Fricke (Wayward Pines) remain focused on forging their own way. While there are Southern-fried action sequences and cases of the week, there’s an ambling, homey feel to the many scenes set against the open sky of the Walker ranch, where the heart of the new series truly lies.

“The arc of this first season is about a man not just coming home and healing and dealing with his own grief, but also realizing what it is to be the parent and to have to hold up an emotional end of the bargain with his kids that he didn’t have to before,” explains Fricke, who teases “bustling” mealtime conversations. “The center of the show is definitely the Walker family and the found family he has with his partner.”

In the opener, Cord is teamed with Micki Ramirez (Lindsey Morgan) to investigate a roadside robbery — but don’t expect the widower and the straight-shooting female to pair up in that way. “It’s been done, that romantic partnership, blah, blah, blah,” Morgan dismisses with a laugh. Still, she notes, the Micki-Walker relationship comes with plenty of sparks. “Jared has such a strong sense of play, and he brings it out in me. I want to dish it out as much as I’m getting it.”

Lindsey Morgan Coby Bell Jared Padalecki Walker Micki Larry

(Rebecca Brenneman/The CW)

Indeed, in the early episodes, the duo establish a rapport that’s both got-your-back and bust-your-stones. “Two people with a strong dynamic can be platonic but also obviously care about each other,” she says. “People in law enforcement and armed forces trust the other person with their life, so that is a unique bond. And I love that they’re equals at the end of the day.”

Much like Padalecki, the Houston-born Morgan is also moving on from a long-running CW role: From 2014 to 2020, she starred on The 100 as badass apocalypse survivor Raven Reyes. Preproduction training to play what she describes as “one of the first females and one of the first Latinas to have ever been part of the Texas Rangers” helped ease her transition. “I got to Texas about a month early, and since then, I’ve been riding horses and shooting guns. It’s been really, really fun.”

“She’s so the part,” Padalecki raves. “She’s a Texan, she’s Mexican American, she’s strong, sharp, funny, hardworking and talented.”

As for locking in a certain other CW vet, Padalecki is already in pursuit. “Oh, Jensen will be on the show,” he guarantees. “We were hoping he would direct [an episode] and be in one. He will be in the show in some way, shape or form, even if I have to drag him kicking and screaming.” Spoken like a Texas Ranger who always gets his man!

Walker, Series Premiere, Thursday, January 21, 8/7c, The CW