Jared Padalecki has been playing the good guy since he was a teen, beginning with his portrayal of flop-haired, square-jawed Dean—every mom’s vision of the perfect boyfriend on the beloved dramedy Gilmore Girls—and continuing to demon hunter and reluctant hero Sam Winchester on Supernatural, the longest-running fantasy series in American television. Now, the thirty-eight-year-old father of three is taking on the titular lead in Walker, a reboot of Walker, Texas Ranger. The role is close to his heart—the series, filmed in part in his current hometown of Austin, tells the story of the state he adores. “This Walker, he toes the line a little more than Chuck [Norris]’s Walker did,” says Padalecki of his embrace of another upright-gentleman role, adding, “Those are the characters I’m drawn to. Men who are flawed but trying to do the best they can.” Men, in no small way, like himself.
You were born in San Antonio.
My parents still live in the house I grew up in. I loved my childhood. I’d bike, skateboard, play basketball, skin my knees, and jump fences. I was outside all the time. You’d play for an hour and then go drink some water out of the nearest spigot on the side of the house and go back to playing. We lived by a train track, so we’d go out there and try to set up a penny and let it get smushed or throw rocks at passing cars, which probably wasn’t intelligent, but there wasn’t a whole lot to do. My mother and father came from pretty simple upbringings, and they built a life and had some kids and now my brother is a surgeon, my sister is an architect, and I wear makeup for a living. [Laughs.]
What was the worst rule to break in your family?
If you were rude or misbehaved, you were going to be in trouble. My parents, understandably in my opinion, would punish us for that. My parents were at our plays and basketball games. They were very supportive. But they also refused to do everything for us. My household had a lot of discipline. What we call “Texas values.”
Treating people right, being kind. In Texas, possibly because of that heat, we do things at our own pace. It’s not New York, where it’s bang, bang, bang, get this done, get that done. When I did Gilmore Girls, I was working in L.A. It’s beautiful and full of promise, but you’ll see somebody and you’re like, “Hey, how you doin’?” And they’re like, “Good.” And they move on. In Texas, you’re crossing the street and you’re like, “Hey, how you doin’?” You’ve nev-
er met this person and they go, “Well, as a matter of fact…” You end up having a conversation. I’m not saying everything Texas has been in its past—and even is currently—is perfect by any means. But the good I got from Texas I hope to instill in my children and keep with me for the rest of my life.
You moved back to your home state ten years ago.
Yeah. My wife [actress Genevieve Cortese Padalecki] and I settled in Austin. Other places certainly have a lot to offer. But they were never home for me. Here you know your neighbors. They drag our garbage cans back up to our house if they notice. We pick up their packages. There are always two kids from the neighborhood in my living room playing with my kids. “Hey Mr. Jared!” It feels like a family.
Do you see Texas as its own thing, Southern-wise?
I do. Most Texans I know, we call ourselves “Southern,” but we don’t say we’re “from the South.” Texas is almost its own country. If you go to Europe and you say, “I’m from Oregon,” they’re like, “All right, I don’t know what that is.” But if you say, “I’m from Texas,” they’re like, “Ooooh y’all, yeehaw, cowboy hats!” You tell somebody you’re from Texas, they feel like they know you to some degree, and that’s a cool feeling.
What do you want to teach your children?
That you can compete to win every basketball game, to book every audition, to get the highest score on the test, and you can still be kind. You can be a gracious winner and a gracious loser. I don’t think they need to learn two plus two right now. They’ll learn that eventually. But they do need to learn how to be respectful to their teachers, how to show up on time, how to get along with friends in social circles, how to coexist. Because life is difficult, even when life is great.
What’s something your father taught you about being a man?
My dad was always very quick to admit when he was wrong. Every time you can say, “That was my fault” or “I was incorrect,” you are actually becoming a better person. Being quick to accept culpability is a big part of who I try to be. There’s something so wonderful about the feeling you get when you can say to somebody, “I’m sorry, no excuses, I won’t let it happen again.” There’s something very freeing about taking responsibility. I falter, but I really strive to be a good person. And I try to forgive myself when I am not the person that I want to be.
Are you optimistic about the future?
Extremely. I feel like the entire world has been through something so unexpected and tragic. We have all suffered together in our own ways. And this is going to sound weird, but in a wonderful way I think a lot of us learned what we can still be grateful for. When everything is crashing down around you, you have to find purpose. And I want to keep on searching for that purpose. The way I see it is, if you think you have all the answers, then what’s the point of living? I believe that if you haven’t learned from whoever you’re talking to, then you haven’t been listening.