[Warning: This story contains spoilers from the first season of 13 Reasons Why.]
13 Reasons Why isn’t just another teenage drama.
Netflix’s newest original series, created by Brian Yorkey and based on Jay Asher’s best-selling novel by the same name, explores the dark traumas facing teenagers today.
Told from the eyes of Hannah Baker (Katherine Langford) and Clay Jensen (Dylan Minnette), the series explores why Baker decided to end her life. Baker uses 13 cassette tapes to reveal the reasons that led to her suicide.
In sharing Hannah’s story, the series shines light on socially current topics including harassment, bullying, rape, mental illness and teenage suicide.”It’s bizarre that we haven’t had any TV series or film that actually addresses these issues in a way that is parallel to people’s current knowledge of them,” Langford tells The Hollywood Reporter.
Executive producer Selena Gomez shares that sentiment. The singer and actress was originally attached to star as Hannah in a movie adaptation of the best-seller when it was first optioned by Universal Pictures in 2011 before she decided to stick solely behind the camera on the project. “I see myself as Hannah so much,” she says. “I wanted it to feel like anyone can see themselves in this.”
THR spoke with Gomez and Langford about relating to the show’s lead, Hannah, and what a second season could look like.
Can you talk about the challenges of adapting and bringing Asher’s best-selling book to the screen?
Gomez: A book is frightening for me because I know the cult following it has, which is the reason why I didn’t want to be in it. Originally, my mom and I found the project because I wanted it to be a transition piece. From that point on, a lot of people wanted to make it something that it wasn’t. It can teeter on the line of being a little too preachy. Jay knew that my mom [exec producer Mandy Teefey] and I would be behind it for years, no matter how long it took to take it to that place.
Langford: The novel has such a huge fan base that Brian Yorkey and Jay Asher worked really closely making sure the show adheres quite strongly to what is in the book. We also expand on that world that Hannah Baker lived in, and we’re able to see more of what happened around Hannah and not just what happens between Hannah and Clay. When we were cast, we were told we could either read the book or we didn’t have to. We were told that the show is going to expand and be different. In the show, we cover a lot of really personal issues that are relevant to people today. In doing that, I hope we can further the dialogue about why this stuff is happening. And also bring across the message that the smallest thing you do can affect someone so significantly.
Katherine, what were your conversations with Selena like?
Langford: When I met her, it was the last day of set and she had just flown out from the AMAs, where she did that incredible speech and she said something about, “The people that know me, what they know about me is that I care about people.” And that sums up Selena in a very truthful way. You can tell this story means a lot to Selena, and it means a lot to her fans. Even though Selena is Selena Gomez and ridiculously busy, Mandy and Selena were always there for us. They sent us emails and checked up on us and made sure we were OK. I give them so much praise for holding onto this story until they were absolutely happy with how it was going to be told. With Netflix, we were able to tell this story in a way it needed to be told.
Do you personally relate to these stories?
Gomez: I see myself in Hannah so much. Seven years ago I did and even more so today, which I think is funny because it’s backwards. The older I get the more insecure I get, which is odd. But that’s something a lot of people can relate to. Her personality is a quiet strength. I’ve never really been the one to be in anyone’s face. A lot of girls feel like they have to be a certain way for attention. Social media has amplified all of that. I get that she didn’t want that to be what her life was.
How does the show address these issues compared to other shows geared toward young adults?
Gomez: I wanted it to feel like anyone can see themselves in this.
Langford: A lot of shows and a lot of films prior have tried to tackle these issues, but often end up romanticizing them or using them in a throwaway way as a plot device. The big difference with this show is that we’re showing this in a really authentic and unflinching way. Something I’m really proud about is that there was a choice to respect the intellect of the audience. Sixteen- and 17-year-olds are not idiots. You know what sex is, you know about drugs, your friends are going through mental illness. It’s bizarre that we haven’t had any TV series or film that actually addresses these issues in a way that is parallel to people’s current knowledge of them. We’re not sugarcoating it. The thing I’m proud about is in respecting the intellect of the audience [and] people who may be going through depression, mental illness, bullying, anxiety — whatever they may be going through — for once it’s going to be addressed in a way that’s direct. Those people who may not know they may be going through mental illness, it might encourage them to speak out or ask for help. Or on the reverse side, it may prompt people to be more aware of what’s going on around them and how what they’re doing is affecting the people around them.
Katherine, what were some of the hardest scenes for you to shoot? Hannah faces a lot of traumatic events, including being raped.
Langford: To do them was tricky. I took a pretty heavy hit physically and emotionally. But I wanted to make sure that I did the character justice. I know there are so many girls out there who are Hannah. For me personally as someone who has never done a show or anything before, it was hard for me as an actor doing scenes like episode 12 and 13. They were challenging because they are issues that are so potent and intense and agonizingly painful to even think about. The scenes that we deal with, there was so much discussion about how to do it safely and making sure I was comfortable.
The series shows Hannah’s suicide in a graphic way. How important was it to show it in such detail and not glorify her death?
Gomez: You can either go really extreme with it where it’s just vulgar and pointless, or you can go really cheesy. I’m somebody who is that audience that reads [and sees] that more than anything.
Langford: Everyone really wanted to show it as truthful as possible. We realize that it is an important issue. The way it’s being represented in past popular TV shows, it has romanticized it and used it as a plot device. When we shot that scene in particular, I had been playing her for six months and had gone through everything she had gone through up until the point, and I realized that this isn’t just a story about Hannah. This girl represents so many people. And this story belongs to everyone who is watching it. It is confrontational and it is ugly, and we needed to show that because we needed to show the truth. I was also at the point of having played this girl for 16 hours a day, six days a week for six months, and when episode 13 came around, doing that scene was hard for me because I had to let her go. I grew so close to her as a person, and she’s not just a character — this happens to people every day. I didn’t want to let her go.
The first season runs 13 episodes, with each episode focusing on a different tape Hanna left behind, but it seems as if there could be more stories. Could there be more episodes?
Gomez: We don’t know what is going to go beyond it, but we know there are so many stories that lie beneath each character. That’s why it became a series in the first place. So we’ll see.
Langford: There’s definitely more story to tell. It would be cool to continue the dialogue of this story. There are so many cliffhangers at the end of the season. At the end of the season, I had to sit back. I didn’t think about what happens next. It’s more of this feeling like, “Oh my God, that’s the story that needed to be told.”
What do you think will happen if there’s a second season? Did the series impact you emotionally? Sound off in the comments section below.