Justin Johnson Cortez is on a mission to learn — no matter the situation.
The actor believes he can take something from each lesson.
He’s currently learning what it’s like to live in the late-1800s as he stars in the new series, “Walker Independence.”
“The world that we’re portraying, we want to do it authentically and accurately,” he says. “We have people coming form all different backgrounds.”
“Walker Independence” is the prequel to The CW’s hit series, “Walker.”
The series is set in the late-1800s and begins with Abby Walker, played by Katherine McNamara being left for dead after her husband is murdered.
She survives thanks to the Apache tribe who tend to her injuries and Calian, played by Johnson Cortez, her Native guide who takes her to Independence, Texas, and an uncertain future.
Calian is a member of an Apache tribe living outside of Independence, and he works as a scout for the town while holding mixed feelings about the influx of the white settlers out West.
On one hand, Calian is curious about their innovations, music and culture but he remains wary about losing his tribal lands.
On her quest for revenge, her path crosses with Hoyt Rawlins, played by Matt Barr, which ultimately leads to an entangled relationship for the three characters. The series premieres at 8 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 6, on the CW, and then joins the Thursday lineup for the network.
Johnson Cortez takes on this role with the weight of his ancestors on his shoulders; a Native Yaqui, he learned to speak Apache through an Apache translator on set.
He also did the majority of his own stunts, including some impressive ones on horseback.
“When this opportunity came up, I was a bit nervous because I wanted to make sure that the character was going to be represented in a positive way,” Johnson Cortez says. “I didn’t want to represent the same old image of Native American characters on screen, assimilating into Western culture, so I’m excited to dive in deeper and show the complexities behind this character. There is a way to tell this story by sharing his interests and curiosity in the town in the expansion of the West authentically. That’s going to come out when exploring his past through his history and experience in the world up until that point.”
Johnson Cortez is grateful for the diversity on set for the series.
“When I read the script, my Native side is heartbroken,” he says. “At the same time, I have all these people to figure out. Life in the 1800s is a complex situation. America is a melting pot and the West is the first example of that. The show is going to represent diversity through ethnicities and orientations. Hopefully with the show, we’ll be able to expand on what a Western series is about.”
Johnson Cortez has also been impressed and immersed himself into living in Santa Fe with his family.
The pilot was filmed months before the series got picked up by The CW.
“When we shot the pilot I fell in love with all of the cultures in New Mexico,” he says. “I’m a Native American and I’ve been looking forward to exploring more with my family. My kids saw Indian Market in the summer and it’s been amazing.”