Jake Austin Walker | Integrating the Old with the New

Photographed by

Rowan Daly

Styled by

Monty Jackson

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DIOR coat, shirt, and pants.

Jake Austin Walker is the kind of guy who can spin garbage into gold, is someone who finds that he’s come across unfavorable odds yet still ends up winning. His career was born out of a scam, and one of his spotlight moments on National Treasure: Edge of History was saved by his preparation and a quick crew, despite the main prop being broken at the last minute. He somehow harnesses the energy of both a Southern gentleman and an Old Hollywood heartthrob, and like many in Los Angeles, has a dream to turn his personal passions and talent into a successful business. 

Originally from Hickory, Mississippi, Walker came out to LA with his mother in pursuit of a career in Hollywood. He’s an actor who's been in quite a number of TV series and movies: DC’s Stargirl, the Sundance series Rectify, and movies like 12 Mighty Orphans and independent film Butter. He’s also a singer and guitarist, who is toiling to be more involved in the music scene this upcoming year with an LP in the works. His latest job is on Disney+’s National Treasure: Edge of History, which exists in the same universe as the original 2004 film, National Treasure. Jake Austin Walker plays Liam Sadusky, the grandson of Peter Sadusky, the FBI agent who orchestrates the main heist in National Treasure. 

Walker spoke with Flaunt about how he got into the entertainment business, his time on National Treasure: Edge of History, and what it’s like to bring new characters into an already-beloved storyline. 

DIOR shirt and pants.

Why do you love what you do and how did you get into your career? 

I love the curiosity of what it would be like to be in someone else's shoes, live someone else's life. I grew up in a very, very small town in the middle of nowhere, kind of in the Mississippi, Louisiana areas. LA and that big world lifestyle seemed so foreign to me, so I was always curious and playing make believe with my mom and stuff. We'd always be playing ‘Power Rangers’ in the backyard or something like that, or doing school plays. I'd be lying if I said I didn't love making people laugh at family gatherings, it was always really fun to get a giggle out of someone or see what I could do. I think I just kind of fell in love with it after that. And the way I got into it was kind of random. I do music as well, but as a kid I was absolutely terrified-terrified when it came to being on stage in front of too many people. But singing never freaked me out in front of people, it felt almost easier. I went to this thing with my mom and her friend and her daughter to do this kind of talent-search thing, and when I was there, I went into sing, but it was all these people in suits and it was very, very scary for me. So I completely choked up-I wasn't able to perform anything. They were basically like, “Look, don’t go yet. Here's a monologue,” which I had never heard of before. I didn't even really know what it was. And they're like, “do this and come back in and we'll see how it goes.” So I went back in and it ended up working out. We went and met with managers and agents at the thing, and they passed us through the ranks and stuff like that. Eventually we took the jump to fly to LA and give it a shot. It turned out that the manager we met there was a complete fake, a complete phony.  We thought this was just a complete loss. We were hanging out at Universal City Walk, and we were sitting down and this lady comes up to us and she's like, “Hey, are you an actor?” Which people just did during that time, I guess. We're like, “We actually just got screwed over.” And she's like, “Well, don’t leave yet. I know this is gonna sound super weird, but please stay. I'm a manager.” By the luck of it, she sent us out on a few things-she didn't end up taking us on, but what was really cool is I booked a few things through her and she was so sweet and selfless and really kind of a guardian angel. From there I was lucky enough to have parents that fully supported me all the way and it wasn't easy, especially getting here.

Both yourself and your character in National Treasure: Edge of History have a connection with music, with this similarity, was it easier to get into his headspace? 

Yeah, for sure it helped. I know it helped a lot. What was actually super interesting is I think Liam, funny enough, is more sure of his music than I was as an artist because he's rooted. He's going to keep playing the stuff he loves to play, whether people pay attention to him or not, which I admired a lot about his character. He'd sing and play to an empty room-I'm so fragile that if I played a song to a room and got the type of reactions he did, I don't think I'd ever, ever pick up guitar again. I've gotten better at that sort of thing in this industry. But I always loved how much he was full confidence in what he liked to play, and that was actually really fun to do. But curiously through Liam, actually- I really started my music career in 2018, is when I really did like a big launch. I was in the studio, we did an EP, but all of that was from the studio. We were doing releases and doing little shows and stuff, but then I went and did Star Girl and 12 Night Orphans for all of 2019. So I was only really able to release music, I didn't have time to go play really anywhere. Then, the pandemic hit-2020 was going to be a music year, but I didn't get to play live much at all. So to be able to play live on the show and play in front of people, and I mean, I had to know these songs. For example, the Elvis song, the Suspicious Minds-I was practicing that song so much cause I knew I'd have to be walking around a crowd of people and it was going to be a whole thing. Typically, we go and record the track in a studio and then I have an earpiece in and kind of syncing to it while playing.  I was starting to freak out because we were getting so close, and I want to make sure I'm syncing up, I really care about that. So the day comes and we get to set- it's hectic. I think we have like 50 extras, and most of it was one shot. The song originally is like three minutes, almost four minutes. Our director comes around and she's wanting to shorten the bridge, and because it’s a recorded track, it changes everything-the tempo, the syncing. We go to the audio engineer and see if they can create a track that makes sense. So while we’re doing that, we’re rehearsing the scene, and the extra actor that was working with us that I grabbed the guitar off of, bless his heart, it wiggled off his back. So the guitar I was supposed to use shattered, during rehearsal, completely busted. So not only are we trying to get a new track, we're also worrying about this guitar. This taught me so much about being prepared for anything to happen because essentially what happened is the director comes up and tells us that we need a new guitar, and that we can't actually use the track anymore. She asked if I knew the song, and I did. She goes, “Great. We're gonna go record a whole version in the pool house across the way. It has good acoustics and the sound team can do it. We're gonna go record a version real quick.” I was like, oh, okay, cool. Yeah, let's just, let's give it a shot- I was scared shitless. We go in there and I record the whole song with a shortened bridge. So the version you hear in the episode is the version where we recorded on set that day and not the prerecorded track version we had done. I never experienced anything like that in my music career. So yes, through Liam's character and through all those situations, not only was it kind of easier to dive into, but he taught me a lot, especially as a musician, especially about being prepared and playing in front of people. And it's given me a newfound confidence in myself with my music that I don't think I would've had, had I not been able to do this character. 

How would you describe everyday life on set and what's the relationship between the cast? Are you guys close and how do you think that translates onto the screen? 

I've just never been so close to a cast in my entire life. I've been so lucky to work with so many amazing casts throughout my career. I think it was just the idea that we were all coming out of this pandemic and had been in our houses, and then 2021 is kind of our regroup here, and then 2022 is kind of a little bit of normalcy. But here we are, especially right before we were shooting, Omicron was happening. So we were all kind of bundled in again and stuff like that. I mean, we just became so, so tight. We'd spend these 13, 12-hour days together. And then immediately after-since Baton Rouge is the downtown we stayed in, it's pretty small-we had these few cafes and bars we'd go to and just hang out throughout the night. I mean, we have a group chat that we started the minute we all got booked, and we still have it to this day. We text all the time and we have our own shared photo album-I think we're at like 2,000 pics now. We're always talking to each other. It’s super exciting too, because we've all come from different walks of life in this career. In this industry specifically, but this was a first for so many of us in so many ways. So we all got to experience things together and there's nothing more exciting than being the biggest fans of your castmates. Half the excitement of walking on those stages or doing the comic-con is looking down the panel and seeing all these people that put in so much hard work, and then seeing them there and seeing their excitement gets you excited. I think it's why I also just hope we get to go back and do it all over again with this newfound experience, new found wisdom. I mean, everyone brought so much of their characters. They cared so much about the process and what they were doing and I want to see them be given opportunities to do that more.

So when the cast was getting scripts, you guys were never given the direct answer to the mystery.  Do you think that it helped with the chemistry on screen, that you truly did not know where the plot was going just as the characters wouldn’t? 

Oh, totally. I know at some point I was probably becoming really annoying too. Every time a new script would come out, I'd text the group and be like, “Okay, so this is probably what's gonna happen.” Or, if we were on set, I'd have all these theories and everyone else is like, “Jake, just let it write out.” The thing is, I got a lot of them right. Not to pat myself in the back, but I did. I definitely think it builds to the mystery of everything as well. Also, with Disney and their safety of scripts, they're very secretive with so many projects. They don't want you to know, they don't want them getting out. Also, everything's so, so specific there's a lot going into the script, especially with the history aspect. Sometimes they didn't want us to get the scripts because maybe there was a factual thing they had to go and talk to the experts and get back and make sure it all lined up. When we're figuring it out on the show, we're also just as much figuring it out as actors and figuring it out as people, it was our own little hunt in itself. 

DIOR jacket, shirt, and pants.

How would you describe this show and what part of our collective imagination do you think it fulfills?

I describe the show as-it's just fun, you know? It’s obviously mysterious. What's funny too is watching it with family and watching it with friends. I didn't realize just how much it was going to be this really big rabbit hole. I knew obviously at its core it was a treasure hunt. There's going to be clues, there's going to be mystery. But watching it with friends and family and them having all their theories and really not knowing where it's going to go next has been a lot of fun. I especially think towards the second half that we're about to get into, six through ten, it's interesting because I think we're kind of cut down the middle. I think in the beginning our show is kind of a slow burn character adventure, and then towards the end it just becomes a high act, octane action adventure. I think also with the imagination of everyone in this world, there's a few things-everyone has always been curious about what we'd love to do. I mean, it's like being an astronaut, being a spy, you know, a superhero. And then treasure hunting- your Indiana Jones, your Laura Crofts-they’re iconic. I think we're all suckers for a treasure hunt, I think if we were to be given a treasure map, we'd be pretty hard pressed not to go after it. I think that's the fun thing to indulge in in our show is, no matter what you wanna see, if they find it, you wanna see what it's all about. And I think that's what really keeps fans going as well.

What is it like to take on a story that already has a pre-existing universe? You did this with Stargirl too, DC has a big fan base- is it intimidating? Is it more pressure? How do you approach that?

I've come to realize that the one thing we had in our favor with Star Girl was that it's a part of the DC family, but it's a character that’s never really been touched on in the way it was done in that show. Geoff Johns had free reign to really go off the original comic and create his own universe and add little twists and spins to it. National Treasure has been a different thing because you're basically, literally taking the torch from that original cast that was established, people have an image in their head when they think of those films, right? So I think the challenge there was to show old fans that we're still the same world, we're still the same universe. We care about what came before us. We're not one of those franchises that tries to smother out the magic of what made the franchise what it is, but we're also trying to usher in this new group of treasure hunters. I think that, at its core, what made National Treasure what it was is its wacky, whimsical, adventuring. That's what it was. When you go back and watch those films, obviously there's magic with Diane and Justin and Nick. They made those films just as special as they are-at the end of the day it was the Wibberley’s writing, where they go, the set pieces and the clues-that at its core is what's so interesting. I think the hardest part about taking up the mantle for National Treasure is making sure that you do right by the fans, but you also do right by these new characters. You usher in new treasure hunters that could potentially meet up with Ben Gates. We already met up with Riley, and that integration was so smooth and so much fun. I've realized that's probably the hardest part, finding that balance of giving old fans what they love while also making sure you don't take away from creating something new and special at the same time. Sometimes you can just be too much of the old and you're not moving anything forward as well. I'm super proud of us and what we've done, especially because we're not done yet- especially because of what we end up accomplishing in the later season. And it's been super fun too. All these new fans talking about how they're loving the integration, it's been really cool to see. I think when taking on any franchise with new faces you have to be prepared for the love and the burn. It's part of the job. I've been very thankful for the new fans and the old and their response to the show. It feels very special and I feel very honored to be a part of the National Treasure universe, and I want to continue it. I want to keep going with these treasure hunters as long as we can. I think also being a part of something you watched growing up so much and knowing it-that's a huge and exciting thing and you want to do right by it. 

How are you keeping yourself inspired these days?

Definitely reading. I find that to be one of my huge, huge resources of inspiration. Also, I mean I guess it can be a catch-22, but I do think social media in some aspects has amazing vessels for inspiration if you look in the right places. I've been writing a lot more. I think everyone should give it a shot. I think journaling, writing about what you see throughout the day and genuinely writing about what you feel has inspired me in a lot of ways. Also, I heard this amazing quote today that I wanted to keep using moving forward. I was watching, I think it, a trailer for the Tyler the Creator documentary. He’s like, “When people come up to me, I don't want them to just tell me like they like the music. I want them to tell me what they really, really like about it. What do they really like about my stuff? Because when you start to figure out what you really, really like, you find out what inspires you, and you start getting rid of what you don't really care about, and it really forces you to be introspective in yourself and your interests.” I thought that was such an amazing perspective and I think moving forward I'm gonna use that to find more inspiration.

Photographed by Rowan Daly

Styled by Monty Jackson

Groomer: Kachay Dorsey

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Jake Austin Walker, National Treasure: Edge of History, Disney+, Franchesca Baratta