From a young age Genevieve Padalecki was a bit of a workaholic, going out of her way to find opportunities to act, to create. Every Sunday when she was growing up, she'd walk to get the newspaper to search for auditions or acting classes. She was determined to get her foot in the door. "I did a lot of community theater," Padalecki tells EW. "I went to middle school with Marla Sokoloff, who was just getting cast in Full House. She left to go to L.A., and I was just trying to figure out any way to be creative and figure out how it was going to work."

Padalecki was never not acting, from theater to that one abstinence commercial she filmed in high school and will never forget. But it was her college counselor who pushed her to dream big, and by the next year, she'd attend NYU's Tisch School for the Arts. But just being at Tisch wasn't enough. So she kept working. "On my weekends I was taking supplemental classes that I would just find around the city," she recalls. "I used the city to my advantage at the time and would take on-camera classes because I just knew it was something I really wanted to do."

It wasn't long before Padalecki landed her big break as Kris Furillo on the 2005 ABC Family series Wildfire. Kris had just gotten out of a teen detention center when she was hired to work with the horses on a family-run ranch. "I kind of looked at it as a master's degree," says Padalecki. "Because I was sort of thrown in there pretty quickly on my own. I had never been on TV, and suddenly I was number one on a call sheet." Wildfire ran for four seasons, wrapping in 2008, which is also when Padalecki joined the CW's Supernatural.

Credit: Everett Collection

Padalecki, who was then Genevieve Cortese, joined the show in its fourth season as Ruby, a character — a demon, to be precise — previously played by Katie Cassidy. It would become the role she's most known for, but it was also the place she met her husband, Sam Winchester himself, Jared Padalecki. In 2010, the couple were married, and suddenly she was considering pushing pause on the career she'd pursued her whole life. "I really am into accomplishing things and having goals, so it was something that was, at the time, really challenging to think about," Padalecki says. "But I felt like I needed to either nurture my relationship or do the grind. I really wanted to be a newlywed and figure out that journey, and Jared was in season 5 of a show that was going really well. So it kind of all happened, certainly not in the way I would've planned it but in the way that was best for us and our relationship. It was challenging I think more mentally than anything else, but it was the best decision for us."

Credit: Katie Yu/The CW

Although she might not have been acting, Padalecki never stopped working, from launching her blog to starting a book club and of course, raising three kids. But when her husband's post-Supernatural gig Walker started to come together, it was showrunner Anna Fricke who had the idea for her to return to the small screen after nearly a decade away. "Jared had been developing the show and we were celebrating our 10th wedding anniversary in Park City, and his phone kept ringing at dinner and it was Anna," Padalecki remembers. "So he stepped outside and he came back and said, 'I have something really interesting to ask you. How do you feel about playing my wife?' The story didn't matter. I was able to be a part of that journey and also be alongside my husband, so it really felt like a no-brainer."

Then the nerves set in. How easily could she return to the world she left behind? Thankfully, before Walker started filming, Padalecki was asked back to Supernatural to reprise the role of Ruby for an episode in the long-running series' final season. But even that didn't totally eliminate the nerves surrounding creating a new character from scratch. "I felt insecure about it," Padalecki says of playing Emily on Walker.

But that all disappeared the moment she looked the part. "Once I stepped in to Emily's shoes and sat down in the makeup chair and then got on set, it was like, 'Oh my gosh, I remember how to do this. I love this so much.'" she says. "I was so surprised with how much I'd missed it."

Now, with Walker already a big success for the CW — "I wish I could say I'm surprised, but I'm not, because I think my husband is a total badass," she says — and a second season guaranteed, Padalecki is dreaming of more ways to stay in front of the camera. "I would really love to keep working. I really enjoy it; I love being on camera," she says. But that's not all she's doing. Just this week she launched Towwn, a community focused on sustainability and rethinking the way we live and interact with the planet. "I hope I can create an empire, one where we learn from each other," Padalecki says.

All in all, Padalecki, now 40, hasn't changed much from that little girl who'd go out of her way to stay busy. If anything, she's now finding new ways to push herself even harder. "I know I have a problem," she says with a laugh.

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