In this Exclusive Interview, Jake Austin Walker discusses his experience playing Henry King Jr on DC’s Stargirl as well as his growing music career.
If you’re a fan of DC Comics or its television adaptations, you’ll undoubtedly recognise Jake Austin Walker. He stars as Henry King Jr in the ensemble cast of DC’s Stargirl, which recently completed its 13-episode first season run on DC Universe and The CW. Jake’s character, Henry, attends high school with lead character Courtney Whitmore/Stargirl, has a complicated past with Yolanda Montez/Wildcat and is the son of a respected local doctor, Henry King Sr.
Aside from acting, Jake is also a musician. His most recent single “Not OK” as well as older tracks are all available to access on Spotify.
This interview has been condensed for length and clarity. To hear the parts that didn’t make it into the transcription, check out the Courageous Nerd YouTube channel. The full, audio version of the interview is available there.
Welcome and thank you for taking the time to do this.
Jake Austin Walker (JAW): Yeah, absolutely, man. Of course. I’m sorry it’s such a conundrum on my end.
How has your experience been thus far, living in the pandemic?
JAW: It’s been an adjustment, that’s for sure. I think we all kind of expected 2020 to go a little differently. It hasn’t been the worst… I mean, it’s honestly been very good for me, for my mental state, just to be very introspective and have time with myself. You know, the social climate and everything else in the world, there’s been a lot that’s being figured out right now. I personally can’t complain about the year, myself. It’s been a really good year for me to just take time with myself and just relax, as much as you can. Just kinda be hopeful for the future. That’s been basically the process for me during all of this.
You’re an actor/musician. For anyone who might not know, when did you start pursuing those creative fields?
JAW: It’s funny, actually the whole reason I fell into acting was because I went to this talent search thing in Florida – Orlando, Florida. I went there to sing, I didn’t go there for acting. I was completely trying to do the singing thing. I’m from a really small town so it was my first time being remotely… you know, people in suits. You’d walk into a room and there’s like 20 people in there, just staring at you. I’d never done anything like that before.
So, when I went to sing, I just completely choked up. I couldn’t even get a word out and then they’re like: “Look, don’t worry. We really like your look. You don’t have to worry about singing. Take this thing, it’s called a monologue. Memorise this monologue as best you can and then in about 10 to 15 minutes, we’re going to have you come back in. If you want, could you read it for us?” I was like: “Sure, I guess.” For some reason, doing that didn’t scare me at all, that felt completely normal. So, the catalyst for both careers essentially happened at that talent search thing. That’s basically kind of what set it off from there, you know?
I just kind of followed whichever path seemed to be the smartest choice at the time, you know? If I was getting roles then I’d normally follow the acting path. Whenever acting was a little slow, I headed down to music. I believe they both can live in harmony so I never steer too far away from either of them. I definitely think they can be unanimous in execution and I love them both deeply. But yeah, that’s kind of where it all started, funny enough.
On the music side, you recently released a single titled Not OK. How different is your process for developing music compared to preparing to play an acting role?
JAW: Well, what’s great about music is the complete and utter freedom you have. I mean, when you’re creating your music, it’s completely up to you. You’re the leader, you get to control everything. When it comes to a character, depending on your status as an actor, you get more leeway. Obviously if you’re like Robert Pattinson or something, the director and everybody, they’re talking to you, to see what you want to do with the character. But when you’re still kind of making a name for yourself, you kind of have to work your character within the restraints of other people’s opinions on how this character would be.
And if you’re lucky, like I was, you’d have a great showrunner like Geoff Johns and amazing directors and such that allow you to have more freedom. I was very lucky in particular with Stargirl because I was given a lot of freedom as an actor. There’s a lot of choices I was just able… they allowed me to make. There was a lot of things I’d come and talk about that they were completely open to. So, in that respect, Stargirl was a lot like making music in the sense that there was a lot of creative freedom, which isn’t always the case. Especially when you’re still trying to make a name for yourself and that never really ends. I’ve been doing it for like 10 years and you’ll go from one set where they give you complete creative freedom to another set where they treat you like you’ve never been on a set before. So, it really just depends, hot or cold, depending.
That is the one thing I love about music a little more than acting. Acting is most of the time, you’re trying to fit in with what people expect or people want. Music, you can kind of always do whatever you want. I’d say those are where the two kind of parallel each other but at the same time, veer off.
What genre or style would you describe your music as?
JAW: Yeah, for someone who likes the simplicity of genres, I always say it’s kind of modern pop-ish. But, it also has a lot of elements of classic and soul style, R&B, a little Blues. I was always heavily influenced from Sinatra and the Rat Pack, Otis Redding, Sam Cook. Those are the artists I was listening to as a kid. I wasn’t really listening to anybody relative to my generation. Only the past 5 or 6 years that I started opening up my palate to other music. For a long time, I was heavily influenced from the classics. I’d say it’s a beautiful blend of ‘Then’ and ‘Now’, with your sprinkle of Modern Pop on top.
Over the past few weeks, you’ve become widely known for playing Henry King Jr on DC’s Stargirl. Before you started playing Henry on set, what most excited you about bringing that character to life?
JAW: What excited me the most… it was two big things. The first thing was knowing, kind of, that it was up to me to change the audience’s opinion by the time Henry had run his course. So, that was really exciting. Knowing that I was playing such a jerk in the beginning, that would soon become the guy that breaks your heart in the end. That was so exciting for me. He just completely flips on your head what your expectations are of him in the beginning. I’ve always loved that about the characters in movies and TV when they just do a 180 that you don’t expect. I love tricking the audience and that had me really excited. Also, the only other CGI work I ever was a part of was Fear The Walking Dead. It was a very small amount of CGI.
I was very excited to work with the telepathic powers, too. It was very daunting because I’d never done something like that. Everything Henry does when he’s using his powers is all on set, none of it is practical. You’re never really seeing anything that’s there, you just have to pretend. I’d never done that before, I was really intrigued to get that down. Those were my top 2. They all played out so perfectly, I was so happy with what happened and again, the freedom I was given. You felt so comfortable on this set too, you never really felt like you were making mistakes as much as it was like: “Let’s try this! Or, let’s try that.” It was really, really cool.
A defining part of Henry’s appearance is his Letterman jacket. In your real life, were you any kind of a jock, or was that completely foreign to you?
JAW: Oh no, that was completely foreign to me. I was actually… I don’t know what the right way to say this is… just blunt with it, I was a fat kid growing up. I mean, people say heavyset, whatever. All I know is, when I was getting bullied, I was called fat. I wasn’t getting called heavyset, just called fat. I was a fat kid growing up for most of my life until I was like 14. And no, I was definitely not the good-looking, jerkish, Jock guy, that was just not who I was. That being said, I was always really outgoing. I didn’t have a problem being in the skin I was in. I owe a lot of that to my parents just because my parents were just completely blunt with me. They’re like: “There are mean people in this world and there’s always going to be mean people in this world. You can either decide to take their words to heart or you can understand that words have no value unless you give them value.”
And so, I took that to heart and never really let it get to me, you know? I mean, when I was first younger, obviously you’re getting older and trying to understand the world, it was a little harder. But you know, I never really let it affect me because of my parents’ words and that being said, I did have a strong family to go back to. I had a good support system. Those words always kind of stuck with me. That was always kind of like, “You give yourself value, people’s words are empty unless you give them value.” So yeah, to answer your question, I definitely was not that Jock guy. I just kind of shot out a bit at 16 but that kid in me never really left, you know? I’m so thankful for those times in my life, I’d never take that back. But yeah, I was not like Henry growing up or even remotely close.
You’ve said in previous interviews that you were aware of Henry’s fate from the beginning. To what extent did that knowledge affect how you played him? Would you have done things differently if you hadn’t known?
JAW: It’s hard for me to say whether I would have done things differently. Funny enough, I never like to know too far in advance where my character’s going. It’s hard in general to keep up with emotions and stuff when you also know what’s happening in next week’s episode. How can you be affected by what’s happening now when you know that next week’s episode, it’s going to resolve or something? I never like to get too far ahead in my character’s stories anyway. It was a really smart way, the way Geoff did it. He kind of gave me bread crumbs of my storyline, right? He told me: “You’re going to help the JSA, you’re going to fight your Dad, your Dad’s gonna kill you, you’re gonna realise you’re Starman’s nephew.” He told me all that but he didn’t tell me when it was going to happen or how it was going to happen, which was really smart.
So I knew where Henry was going but I had no idea how he was going to get there. I think that helped a lot. I think if I would’ve known exactly verbatim how it was going to happen, I definitely think it probably would have changed the performance a little bit. How could you not have those thoughts floating in your head while you’re performing? But the fact that it was so cryptic really helped me give Henry a fun journey. So yeah, I didn’t know specifically that I was going to fight him [Brainwave, played by Christopher James Baker] after helping him find out who he was. I had no idea about that. Everything I knew was very, very linear.
Before Courtney Whitmore arrived in Blue Valley, what do you think Henry King Jr’s relationships to characters such as Rick, Beth and Cameron were like? Considering it’s a small town, they’re bound to have crossed paths.
JAW: Cameron [Gellman, plays Rick Tyler/Hourman] and I, funny enough, we talked about that a lot because Rick and Henry are cut from the same strand, basically, in a lot of ways. I’d like to think… we both talked about how we probably had a friendship when we were younger, in middle school. Then just as we got older, drifted apart, you know? But I actually, for the sake of character development, acted as if Henry knew everyone pretty well. The whole fiasco in the cafeteria was just another day for Henry. Before Courtney showed up, Henry messed with these kids all the time. You know what I mean? You don’t just build a hate for Henry like the kids had without a past of bullying and messing around. I definitely think they had a past. And I definitely think in some ways, it’s why it was easy for them towards the end to kind of help each other in the tunnels. I always like to think that was a resurrection of old friendship, in some ways, between Rick and Henry.
Cameron and I built this whole sort of story that we had together, that Henry and Rick had before things fell apart, just for fun. I’d definitely like to think it was an aspect of the characters.
It’s actually really interesting, the way you worded your answer. When I spoke to your co-star Hunter Sansone, he told me the way he approached it was that Cameron Mahkent didn’t really know any of the other main characters. You’ve said pretty much the exact opposite, for Henry.
JAW: No kidding! Yeah, I think it was really smart how he approached it. It makes sense for him to not have too much of a relationship. I remember when we were first talking about our characters, he’s like heavy, heavy loner. Just didn’t talk to anybody. Not on set, obviously [laughs], as his character. He didn’t talk to anyone really, growing up, I definitely think for the sake of Henry and Cameron. That’s what I mean, the world is so open, there’s… and who knows with the second season, they could do flashbacks of everything. That’s just wishful thinking, not me confirming anything. That’s like, you never know.
Something else that Hunter said was that he only auditioned for Cameron, not any other roles. Was that the same experience for you?
JAW: Actually, my experience was a bit of a roller coaster. I auditioned for Rick, yeah, I auditioned for Rick at first and his alias for the audition process was “Ryan”. I auditioned for Rick’s character and it was a great audition, has a great time. They called me and were like: “Listen, we don’t know if you’re a right fit for Rick. But Geoff’s writing a character with you in mind. So when that character’s written out, we’ll call you back in.” I was like: “Oh, okay, cool.” With most auditions, that’s how the audition process works. You go in for something and you don’t hear from it for a month and a half. Next thing you know, you got it.
Essentially, a month goes by and I’ve about given up on it. I’m focusing on some new projects and I get a call like: “Hey, we’re ready for you to come in for the other character.” So, I come in for this next character and his name alias is “Charlie Gates”. I read the character and some of the scenes are very similar to the scenes from the pilot and episode 2, with my Dad and I. And I do that whole audition and it goes great with them just because they’re sweethearts when it comes to everything – the environment, auditioning. They really make you feel at home, which can’t be said for a lot of casting. We do the audition and it’s another process of: I get a call and three days later, they’re like: “Look, they love it. We want to put you on hold.”
Funny enough, because we were talking about how music and acting always intertwine, I was flying to New York in a few days to meet with this label for Sony. I planned this trip a month and a half before this audition. Sony was paying for it and everything, so I was very at their mercy. I get a call and this is how it always happens, they want to test me on the same day that I’m supposed to meet with Sony. I’m like: “Look guys, I can’t. I can’t just ask Sony to buy another flight and book a different hotel.” It was already so nice of them that they did that anyway. I’m like: “I can’t ask them to do that.” On top of that, I had booked this flight a month and a half ago, way before [they] were even in my life.
It was a big thing where my reps where like: “You know you might be giving up a show if you don’t do this.” I’m like: “Well, I guess I have to. Just tell them I can’t test.” And so I told them I couldn’t test, I flew to New York and did all that. Then, I get back and they just didn’t test me. They said: “You got it, you got it. We don’t need to test you.” It was kind of a roller coaster, man. It was really scary. I’d never done anything like that before where I let go of a show… like, I knew in my heart that there was no reason I couldn’t do music and do the show at the same time. It just happened to be bad timing. So, I’m really thankful it worked out.
What’s even funnier is that when we were about to sign the contract, they wouldn’t tell me who Henry was. All I knew was that he was a bully, right? That’s all I knew. They didn’t tell me too, like, the extent of the character or how important he is. I basically told my reps because I just had gotten done doing a series [Five Points] where I played a bully. He was a cool character, much more than a bully where he had like a dark secret and once that came towards the end of the show, you really understood who he was and stuff. I hate one-note characters. I hate people that are just evil, I don’t like people that are just nice because that’s now how human beings work. We’re not a one-note species.
I was like: “I don’t know if I want to do this. I’ve got to be honest, I love superheroes. I grew up with superheroes. It’s been my life. Comics have been my life. I do not want to be part of a superhero show if I’m just playing a bully, I don’t want to do it. I was serious, I was like: “I don’t want to do it, I don’t want to do it.” And so, we told them that. I said: “Tell them if they don’t want to tell me, I don’t want to do it.” It wasn’t one of things where I’m like: “Tell them I’m all big and bad.” It was anything like that. It was just like, full transparency as an actor to a production. It’s like, I didn’t want to get typecasted. This is a career, you don’t want to get stuck playing the same type of person all the time. Geoff reaches out and he goes: “Listen, please come to my office, I really want to talk to you. I want to let you know about the character.” Obviously I’m like: “Yeah, let’s do it. Meet with Geoff Johns, are you kidding me?”
I go this office and that’s when he lays out it all out for me. That’s when he tells me who Henry really is, his powers, what’s he’s going to become. I shook his hand and we basically finished the deal, right then and there. It was a mega journey for me. It was like all over the place. But hey, the payoff was amazing.
Going off what you’re saying: As a comic book fan, did Brainwave mean anything to you? Or is that a whole area of DC Comics that you hadn’t heard of before?
JAW: Brainwave, I didn’t necessarily… well, actually no. I didn’t know about Junior. I didn’t know about Brainwave Jr. I knew about the ISA and the JSA. The big head and green cloak, I remember that through my uncle because he was a big comic book guy, just having old comics and stuff. I did not know about Brainwave Jr which is really cool and interesting as a comic book fan because when you find a character you don’t know about, it’s even more intriguing. Then I looked him up and realised how badass he was. He’s so cool. There’s part of me that wished I could’ve seen a costume. Just because I would’ve loved to see how Stargirl would have made a Brainwave Jr costume.
But at the same time, I also love how ridiculous it is to Henry. I love how he doesn’t care. He’s going to go underground and use his powers, he doesn’t need to dress up. I always thought that was really funny. I think it’s so iconic, that Dragon King fight where they’re all dressed up and Henry’s just throwing people around in his street clothes. I always loved that. It reminded me of when Peter Parker fights the New Goblin in Spider-Man 3, in his street clothes. There’s always something so cool about seeing heroes fight in civilian clothing. I’ve always been a sucker for it, I love it. But yeah, I didn’t really know too much about Brainwave Jr and now I know his entire history.
Other than Henry’s arc in Season 1, were there any other storylines that you enjoyed following, whether it was reading the scripts or watching episodes when they came out?
JAW: Yeah! I actually really thoroughly enjoyed Shiv’s story and Shining Knight’s story. I thought they were super strong arcs. I think the arcs as a whole are really great. There are just some things as a comic book fan that you read and get used to. I think Brec did a fantastic job with Courtney. But that story I’ve kind of heard of before, you know? Being the Chosen One and stuff. They definitely flipped it on its head with their chemistry. I think Luke and Brec’s chemistry was just amazing. The way they went about it, I thought was really really cool. Even if you’ve read the Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E comic, it didn’t play out exactly how the comics go and I love that. I love how different it was.
But as far as a fan, from a third person perspective in a bird’s eye view, I love Janitor Justin and Shiv’s storyline. I thought it was so sick. Her introduction and his introduction, you know, it was so good.
Before Henry met his end, there was a growing friendly dynamic between him and Courtney, as so-called “cousins”. How do you think that friendly dynamic would have developed if Henry had survived?
JAW: I had kind of two perspectives in how this would go. There’s part of me that’s like: “maybe Henry would’ve joined the JSA.” I also think it was a little too much for Henry. To me, Henry obviously has a slight more maturity to him than the rest of the team does. That’s not to say that they lack maturity, Henry’s arguably older. The things he’s focused on are, I think, a little different than the team. I only saw Henry, if the show kept going, not an anti-hero but someone that comes in and out of the team. He needs to go do something, to figure something out for himself, he’s gonna go do it. He doesn’t want to work with the team unless it maybe benefits him. I don’t mean that in an arrogant way. I saw if Henry kept going, Courtney and Henry… in the comics, Starman and Henry go to the Conscious Realm. I think it’s called the Conscious Realm, some kind of realm where he goes to find his father. And his father sacrifices himself to make Henry stronger and so he and Starman escape.
I kind of saw a story like that maybe happening where Courtney and I go to find the actual Starman. Now that Henry knows his mother was a hero, I feel like that would’ve been his next motive, to try to find his mother or to learn about his mother, or Starman. I didn’t necessarily see him working with the JSA. And then, in a different world, I thought maybe if Henry did survive, he would’ve worked with the JSA strictly to get through to his dad. To get payback on his dad, possibly kill his father. I could’ve seen that happening too but, you know, in another world.
According to IMDB, you have an upcoming role in 12 Mighty Orphans alongside Robert Duvall, Martin Sheen and a familiar face, Luke Wilson. How different were the experiences of working on Stargirl and 12 Mighty Orphans?
JAW: Definitely a huge difference in terms of scale. We had a very generous budget for 12 Mighty Orphans considering it’s somewhat of an independent film. But that being said, it’s a feature. It’s weird, it floats in that world of that it’s definitely big-budget enough, some heavy hitters and strong enough script to be more than independent. It’s not like officially, officially… it’s hard to explain. It’s basically Remember The Titans had a baby with Friday Night Lights and its based in 1939. It’s essentially about this team of straggling orphans and this coach, Rusty Russell, who basically created the widespread offence and it was really fun specifically just because of how practical everything was. I mean, we were genuinely playing football in leather gear from years ago. It’s the same gear they used for Leatherheads. Yeah, it was amazing, you’re on set with Martin Sheen. It was really great because Luke and I didn’t get much time to work together on the show but we were spending every day with each other on the movie. It was really cool being able to finally catch up about the show while shooting the movie.
It was definitely two Night and Day experiences. Just as far as like, in the movie, we’re in the mud, the heat, we’re really working, really playing football. It was very physically destroying for a lack of a better term. I love the movie and the experience, but it ended me. It took the life out of me. I don’t mean that in a negative way, just like everyone really gave it their all to do that movie. Stargirl was more of a luxury, I guess you would say. Not to say it wasn’t difficult at times, just two different type of sets, different type of experiences. I was so beyond lucky and thankful, to be able to do both.
If you could say one thing to fans of Stargirl, Henry, or you personally, what would you want to tell them?
JAW: Man, I’d wanna tell them, human to human, just take it easy on yourself. I think we live in a social media age where, I don’t know, there’s so much fakeness in social media. There’s just so much of people pretending to be what they’re not and it really affects people that live regular lives. Social media just causes so many people to second guess themselves and break themselves down based on lives that we glorify. We glorify so many people that don’t know what reality is and I think that affects, like, real people.
So I guess my thing is just enjoy being you and focus on yourself. If you aren’t productive this week or the week after or this whole year. If you got by, if you lived, if you found time just to smile and enjoy yourself, that’s enough. I feel like we’re just putting way too much pressure on ourselves. It’s hard to escape, it’s really hard to escape. So my biggest goal is that I really hope people take it easy on themselves, cut themselves a break. I have to remind myself to do it all the time, just because we get way too caught up in the fallacies of what we look at every day when we wake up and scroll through these feeds. It’s just not real life. I just want people to give themselves the benefit of the doubt. That would be my message, honestly.
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