‘13 Reasons Why’ stars talk about why Selena is cool and bullying isn’t
NEW YORK—More and more teenagers are getting detached from the wired but increasingly apathetic world they inhabit—and Netflix’s eagerly anticipated coming-of-age dramatic thriller, “13 Reasons Why,” inspired by Jay Asher’s young-adult fiction of the same title, is bold enough to dig deep into the whys and wherefores of teenage angst stemming from bullying and depression, heightened dysphoria and suicide.
This irony isn’t lost on Dylan Minnette and Katherine Langford—cast as the production’s beleaguered teen characters, Clay Jansen and Hannah Baker, respectively—who belatedly realized how well-loved the award-winning book was three weeks into their bruising six-month shoot last year.
“Like Dylan, I didn’t get to read the book until much later,” Katherine told us when we met her and her handsome costar last month for this Inquirer Entertainment exclusive. “This is my first professional acting assignment and, at the time, I didn’t realize what I was in for until three weeks into the shoot. I was like, ‘This is kind of heavy, isn’t it?’—and it’s great. In the writing, you get that wonderful joy about the high school experience, mixed with what eventually happens to Hannah.”
The 13-episode series, which begins streaming its pilot season today, follows Clay after he finds a mysterious box on his porch containing cassette tapes recorded by Hannah—his classmate and crush—who tragically committed suicide two weeks earlier.
On tape, Hannah explains the 13 reasons why she decided to take her life. The inclusion of the name of Clay, whom the troubled adolescent refers to as “the nicest person I ever met”—compels the latter to conduct an investigation to find out why he made Hannah’s infamous list.
The show doesn’t condone bad behavior, Dylan stressed: “The idea isn’t to romanticize or make excuses for the characters’ [bad decisions],” Dylan mused. “Everyone involved in the production operated with the intention of getting its message across—about the evils of bullying.
“Anyone who watches the show can take away something that could be helpful for them or other people. I want them to realize that, sometimes, the smallest, seemingly inconsequential things they do—whether they’re acts of kindness or meanness—can have an impact on someone else’s life. What’s important is for us to be aware that our actions have repercussions.”
The 20-year-old former child actor is best known for his roles in the TV series, “Saving Grace,” “Lost” and “Goosebumps”; the big-screen comedy, “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day”; and the creepy horror flick, “Don’t Breathe.”
For Katherine, “13 Reasons Why” offers a platform for young people to discuss issues that are relevant to them. “I’m not qualified to dispense professional advice, but it’s normal for teens to feel left out when they’re in the final years of high school. There’s enormous pressure to do well, to fit in, to understand who you are, and to know what you want to do for the rest of your life. It’s a difficult [formative] stage.
“But there’s a difference between feeling intense pressure and being depressed, and that’s where we need the education—to be aware of the situations that lead to [suicide] and how we can prevent it from happening, because not everyone goes down the path that Hannah took as a consequence of her inability to deal with her problems. I think everyone can agree that a person who takes his life is a tragedy—and that’s something we need to fix.”
Katherine, now 21, hasn’t always been the conformist the public thought she was—in fact, it took her a while to discover acting.
She recalled, “I’ve always been a little left-of-center at school. I loved music, acting and drama, but these weren’t something I pursued until I was 19.
“I spent a year going to acting classes, found my American managers, was asked to test for two projects, and somehow ended up back in Australia with no job prospects. Then, ‘13 Reasons Why’ came—and that was when the pressure kicked in.
“But the pressure was alleviated quickly when, on the first day of shooting, (novelist) Jay Asher came up to me and said, ‘You are the perfect Hannah!’ (heaves a sigh of relief)—and that just made me feel like, ‘Thank God’ (laughs).”
Asked if it was essential for them to like their characters to portray them well, Dylan said, “You have to like them enough, but you don’t have to agree with them all the time. Nobody’s perfect. Every character in the show makes mistakes, but you have to be able to call your character out and be aware that what they’re doing is right or wrong.”
Kath agreed, “No one is consciously playing a hero or villain here. Dylan’s character is so endearing but, at the same time, you also want to slap him silly for his actions. It isn’t that easy to drop character, especially when you shoot for 12 to 16 hours a day for six months. You go home, work on the script for the next day, sleep for a few hours, then go back on set.”
“It consumes your brain the whole time, even if you have the weekend off. You can’t escape, but you gotta try,” Dylan added.
Two other reasons that attracted Dylan and Katherine to the project are Oscar-winning director Tom McCarthy (“Spotlight,” “The Visitor”), who helmed the series’ first two episodes, and co-executive producer Selena Gomez, who almost portrayed Hannah in a proposed movie version of the book years ago.
What was it like interacting with the pop star?
“Selena is passionate about what the series tackles,” Dylan replied. “She doesn’t necessarily like too much of the attention she’s getting, but she’s appreciative of her popularity—because she can use her position of influence for the better. She brings with it a sense of empowerment. She’s genuine, and she doesn’t take herself too seriously.”
Wasn’t Katherine, a first-time actress, intimidated by Selena?
Katherine said, “Selena’s super busy, so we didn’t physically meet her until toward the end of shooting. More than anyone, she knows how to live one’s life in the public eye. It’s weird now, because when I say, ‘Oh, I’m going to have lunch with Selena,’ people freak out.
“I still have this message from Selena when she texted me her number. It came up on my screen, and she said, ‘Hey, it’s Selena’—and I’m just looking at it, like it doesn’t feel real. But, at the same time, she’s as real as you can get.
“We went to have dinner the other night, and she was just like another girl in the room. It’s cool when you get to that point, especially for someone like me who comes from Australia—where you’re more likely to meet a wombat than someone as famous as Selena Gomez (laughs)!”
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