‘Walker’ Star Genevieve Padalecki Talks Acting, Austin Life and Sustainability
The actress and environmentalist on the power of story and the mission behind her latest sustainability project
By Tolly Moseley
Photos by Skylar Reeves
Editor: Didi Gluck
Stylist: Cristina Facundo
Makeup: Lauren Andersen
Hair: Ange Bebbington
Location: Two Wishes Ranch in Lockhart, TX
Gen Padalecki picks up the phone to chat with me, and I can tell she’s smiling. “Mommy,” I hear in the background, a common reflection of post-COVID life: lots of us are combining work and home. But for an actress like Gen, whom you know from “Wildfire,” “Supernatural” and now “Walker” on The CW (where she stars with her husband, Jared Padalecki), work itself is a sprawling, creative endeavor. You could say she’s married to it.
“I fell in love with my husband working alongside him,” says Gen. “We’re both really type A personalities, so our biggest challenge is turning our ideas off.”
On “Walker,” Gen plays the late wife of the show’s title character (and if you’re wondering if it’s a reboot of the ‘90s Western, you’re right), who’s played by none other than her IRL partner. But the ideas Gen’s talking about aren’t just between their fictional characters; Jared and Gen actually have three show concepts in development at the moment. Two are being scripted as we speak.
“The stories that excite me run the gamut,” Gen tells me, when I ask her what tales she wants to tell. “Even if it’s an epic book or film, what I most enjoy is the human element. What drives us, what we love. We crave human connection, and through story we get to explore it.”
Stories are a driving force of Gen’s life: over COVID, she started a book club (currently reading “On Animals,” by Susan Orlean). She rhapsodizes about “Pony,” a YA book by R.J. Palacio where a young boy is startled in the night to the sounds of his father being kidnapped. When he sets off to find him, he’s helped by Mittenwool … who, btw, is a ghost.
“I honestly cannot stop talking about this book,” Gen gushes, excitement in her voice. “And it’s slightly supernatural and YA, but it’s that human thing, you know? You’re right there with the boy, who just wants to find his dad. And he does this incredibly brave, scary thing, going into the woods to find out what happened, and confronting all these secrets from the past. It’s unbelievable.”
We nerd out about books and our mutual fondness for Susan Orlean, the author who turned orchid thievery into a thriller, and the author whose collection of animal-focused essays is lighting Gen on fire. You can tell that this is a person who loves being immersed in worlds beyond this one, which makes sense (Gen got her bachelor’s degree in English). But that isn’t to say she’s disconnected from this world, right here. Quite the opposite.
“I was born in California, but when I was growing up my family moved to Montana, then Idaho,” says Gen. “And in high school, we were all taught survival skills, like how to build a snow cave. I was taught to pack out, to treat the natural world with respect. And I wanted to integrate this way of being into my daily life.”
She’s talking about Towwn, a community she launched earlier this year to help folks (in her words) “to rethink the way we live and grow together.” It arose out of a shocking realization, one she witnessed with her own eyes.
“I love being outside and have always found comfort in nature,” Gen wrote on her popular blog, “Now and Gen,” upon Towwn’s launch. “But, perhaps naively, I always assumed nature would be there for me — and my children.”
She goes on to describe a trip she took with her family in 2019, to Nimmo Bay Resort in Canada’s Great Bear Rainforest. They were excited to see grizzly bears, salmon runs and orca whales, “a place ripe with wildlife,” as she puts it. But what they saw was something quite different — and diminished. A salmon run had gone extinct, due to deforestation. Bears were sparse. Seeing 50 is the norm, but in 2019, only six or seven roamed the area. Gen was inspired to create a community, starting with a newsletter, that helped people embrace environmentalism in a new way — one that transcended politics.
“I was tired of all the doom and gloom, the ‘we’re all going to die’ message,” says Gen. And to be clear, her eyes are open (see: extinct salmon runs), but the conversation she wanted to start was one that was more hopeful, more inclusive. I laugh with her at the phrase underlining Towwn’s newsletter sign-up: “no patchouli, granola or Birkenstocks required.”
“Yes! Communing with the natural world is pleasurable, and I want to help folks feel that. I want them to know that everyone is welcome,” says Gen. “How can we invest differently, how can we shop differently? We can’t give up everything, but we can do more things to nurture our planet. I just want to make environmentalism more accessible.”
I remark to Gen that this ethos, of living a sustainable life, also seems to extend to her family’s chosen home: Austin. We’re green around here, sure, but what I really mean is that they chose a place to live that isn’t our country’s showbiz capital (Los Angeles). And that choice seemed to be a deliberate one, based on sustainable joy.
“We thrive here,” says Gen. “When Jared and I were dating, we’d come to Austin for family gatherings, for fun. It was a blossoming city, alive with ideas, and once we got pregnant we knew it was the home for us. I was almost looking for excuses not to come here, since my family is in the mountains of Idaho … but I couldn’t come up with a single excuse. I couldn’t!” she laughs.
Turns out, we’re all glad she couldn’t.