Katherine Langford talks to Awards Daily TV about how working with specialists helped her with playing Hannah on Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why.
When 13 Reasons Why dropped on Netflix earlier this year, it became a topic for conversation. Based on the best-selling YA book by Jay Asher, the story took us deep into a conversation about adolescence and suicide. In the show, Hannah (Katherine Langford) records 13 tapes about the people she felt were to blame for having a part in her ultimate suicide.
The show shed light on mental illness in teenagers, rape, and suicide. It started a conversation. The show’s material was solid, the performances were stellar. I caught up with Katherine Langford recently to talk about playing Hannah and what she had to tease us with for Season 2.
With Emmy® voting under way, the Australian Katherine Langford delivered an outstanding debut performance in the show and needs to be considered for your vote.
13 Reasons Why has really started a conversation. What is it like for you right now?
It’s a really good question. We shot this last year, and it was under the radar. We’ve gone back to work on the second season, and it’s been a bit of a different beast. Now that the show is out and people have seen it, I think it’s been really great just to hear the different reactions and responses. I was surprised by how as a story and how some of the issues have affected people.
What was also surprising to me was that the issues that we cover in the show are a lot more prevalent than I had thought. I think it’s been really cool to hear the discussions that were sparked from the show.
I spoke to Mandy Teefey recently about how the show is resonating. Why do you think it’s resonating not just to the teens, but to the adults?
There are so many issues we cover, things that are very personal and so relevant. I think part of why it’s affected so many is because of the issues that we cover, and the way we told the story.
One thing I’m really proud of about the show is that we approached it with the mindset of wanting to tell the story in the most authentic way possible. It’s a piece of entertainment, but by not glamorizing it or romanticizing it makes it feel real. I think that aspect is where it’s affecting people so deeply.
I’m also really proud of the show in that, as a young adult playing a young adult, we really respected the intellect of the audience. Sixteen and 17-year-olds are a lot smarter than we give them credit for. It definitely doesn’t feel like it’s a show made for young adults. If anything, it feels like a show made for adults. In respecting the intellect, it’s really watchable for both adults and teenagers.
Going back, what did they tell you about your character when you got the part?
When I auditioned for 13 Reasons Why, I hadn’t actually read the book. I didn’t really look anyone up or read the book because I didn’t want it to affect the way I auditioned. It wasn’t really until I was cast and I had met with Tom McCarthy and Brian Yorkey that I had a better understanding of the story that we were telling.
We live in a world of social media and you only need to look at Twitter to see bullying, but what research did you have to do?
13 Reasons Why was my first job, and it was a bit of a baptism by fire. I think it was the best first show to have. I say that because everyone around me was super supportive. The characters in this show are so well written and they’re so real.
Part of what I did for Hannah, a lot of what she said resonated with me, personally I wanted to be informed. The producers put us in touch with psychiatrists and psychologists from different organizations which I thought was really brilliant.
The two people I spoke to were Rebecca Kaplan from It’s On Us and a psychiatrist who specializes in adolescent mental ill health. I spoke to them a lot in the lead up to Episode 9, but also for myself in Episodes 12 and 13.
Speaking to them helped me fill in the experience side of things and that was really helpful.
Here you are having to film a very dark scene, what did you have to do to prepare for the suicide scene?
I think that scene was something that I thought about, but it was one of those scenes that, when we got to it, it happened and it wasn’t cognitive. It just happened.
By that point, I had been playing her for six months, and I had seen all of Hannah’s journey and gone through what she had gone through. On top of that, I had done a lot of research and spoken to specialists.
I did homework in speaking to people who have worked closely with adolescent suicide. When it got to it, the producers and directors let me do what I needed to.
There are a lot of dark moments, but there are some good moments. What were some of those for you?
Oooh, that’s a nice question.
We go from dark to light.
It’s good because it’s heavy, but the whole show isn’t heavy.
The whole mood on set was lighter, and there was a great environment. One of the nicest episodes to shoot was Episode 5 where we did the dance. As an Australian, I had never experienced prom.
We don’t right?
But you grow up seeing it. So, it was cool for me to experience that and do that.
It was a beautiful episode. Playing Hannah, for me, the times she has the most fun are with Clay. In Episode 5, it’s just a beautiful moment, and I remember it because I credit that to Kyle Patrick Alverez who directed Episodes 5, 6, and 13. He did such a great job.
Dylan Minette and you are great. What was that like working with him?
It was really fantastic. When we were cast, Dylan had been working longer than I had. He was so welcoming and supportive. I feel he’s the best co-partner that I ever could have worked with. He’s so generous and really kind. He’s such a talented actor and really gracious.
Going through what I went through as Hannah, I really appreciated doing scenes with him because he gave everything.
In Episode 11, that scene where Hannah and Clay were together is when they come together and fall apart. Shooting that scene was one of the most incredible moments I’ve ever had. It was a moment where I will always cherish.
How do you rinse Hannah out of your hair at the end of the day?
To a degree, you can’t be fully immersed in what you do, especially with Hannah. She wasn’t a character I could just pop in and out of. The further we got, the more I hung on to her because I wanted to do justice to the performance.
I realized the show was going to have an impact and so I thought about her a lot, even when I wasn’t on set.
Season 2 is under way, so what can you reveal.
We’re keeping the story under wraps. I’ve read the first two episodes. I think the important discussion will continue. Hannah is in flashbacks, and we’ll be seeing a bit more of Hannah that we didn’t see before.
13 Reasons Why currently streams on Netflix.