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13 Reasons Why, Netflix’s forthcoming series adaptation of the best-selling YA novel, deals with difficult topics like suicide, depression, bullying and emotional abuse. Behind the scenes of the drama, executive producer Selena Gomez says she also was battling tough times.
“I was actually going through a really difficult time when they started production,” the singer-actress told reporters Wednesday at a Netflix press event. “I went away for 90 days, and I actually met tons of kids in this place that we’re talking about a lot of the issues that these characters are experiencing.”
The confession was not surprising, given Gomez’s announcement in late August that she was taking some time off to focus on maintaining her health and happiness. In a statement at the time, she mentioned panic attacks, anxiety, depression — all of which can be side effects of Lupus, which Gomez revealed she was diagnosed with in 2014.
In the time since, Gomez has been silent on Twitter, even as she has slowly stepped back into the spotlight: “It’s hard right now. I can’t stand social media, I can’t stand what they’re looking at. I can’t stand what they think is reality, and [this] show is real as it could possibly get.”
Premiering on Netflix in March, 13 Reasons Why centers on a high school student, Clay (Dylan Minnette), who discovers audio tapes from his classmate crush, Hannah (Katherine Langford), who killed herself two weeks earlier. In the series of tapes, Hannah attempts to reveal to Clay the 13 reasons why she took her own life. The series takes a tough look at modern-day high school life, something that Gomez believes is especially needed now.
“I want them to understand it,” she continued. “I would do anything to be able to have a good influence on this generation, but I definitely relate to everything that was going on. I was there for the last episode, and I was a mess just seeing it all come to life, because I’ve experienced that.”
When asked how her own high school experience — elevated by the fact that she was already a Disney Channel star during her teen years — Gomez discussed her past issues dealing with her other kids her age, but also adults in her life at the time.
“Whether it was just kids, or growing up in the biggest high school in the world, which was Disney Channel, it was also adults that had the audacity to tell me how to live my life. It was very confusing for me, it was so confusing. I had no idea who I was going to be,” she recalled. “It hits a very important part in me, and I think this is what they need to see.”
Although Gomez said her long time in the spotlight has been difficult, she hopes she can use the lessons she’s learned along the way and help others apply them to their own lives.
“Whether I like it or not, people have seen my mistakes, and I have to use that as a good thing,” she said. “It definitely hits home. That’s why I wanted to make sure I was still apart of this project in any way.”
Gomez has been attached to the project since 2011, when Universal Pictures optioned the Jay Asher book as a film for her to star in. However, her mother and fellow series exec producer Mandy Teefey said fitting the book into a film made it difficult to flesh out the supporting characters.
“It was meant to be a series,” Gomez said. “That’s why I’m glad it took this long to create something like this, because I think we held out for something great.”
Part of 13 Reasons Why‘s evolution also included the addition of Pulitzer Prize-winning author Brian Yorkey (Next to Normal), who penned the TV adaptation and serves as showrunner.
“Jay wrote this book that was incredibly, incredibly tragic and that was dark in so many ways, but ultimately was hopeful and ultimately I think about bringing light back into the world,” Yorkey said. “I think it’s an experience that ultimately is bringing light to very difficult and dark topics in a very difficult and dark time.”
Like Gomez, Yorkey is optimistic that 13 Reasons Why will have a positive influence on viewers.
“We have the ability through fiction, through art, to tell stories and talk about things that are very difficult to talk about in life. They are especially difficult for young people to talk about, they are especially for people to talk about with their parents,” he said. “My hope for 13 Reasons Why is … they can have these conversations about these incredibly difficult and really life-or-death topics without starting from the place of fear or having to protect their own secrets.”
13 Reasons Why is set to premiere March 31 on Netflix.
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