13 Reasons Why is Netflix’s newest show to take over the world. (It hasn’t really taken over the world, but you get what I mean.) People, old and young alike, love this show. People are making Facebook statuses about it, tweeting about it, walking up to strangers on the street to talk about it. I don’t actually have confirmation on that last one, but it wouldn’t surprise me.
Obviously the premise of the show – a teenage girl kills herself, leaving behind tapes to those who have wronged her – is controversial, but the thing is it’s really, really controversial. In fact, a teen drama has never sparked this kind of attention before. Schools have even warned parents against showing it to their children, fearing it will actually promote suicide. Does 13 Reasons Why promote and glamorize suicide? That question is for another article at another time. Right now, we’re here to talk about behind the scenes secrets of 13 Reasons Why. Regardless of your personal feelings about the show, all audience members have to admit that it’s a well made television show, and it’s always fun to find out how a well made show was made, right? The performances, script, direction and even soundtrack were all top notch, and now it’s time to find out the secrets behind the performances, script, direction, and soundtrack.
Below are 15 things you probably didn’t know about the making of 13 Reasons Why, like which actors actually read the book, what a suicide expert told Netflix about the show, why Selena Gomez is attached to the project and exactly how Katherine Langford scored the role of Hannah Baker.
15. How Katherine Langford Became Hannah Baker
It’s safe to say that Katherine Langford’s life will never, ever be the same. Before starring in 13 Reasons Why, she was in two short films. TWO SHORT FILMS! That’s basically nothing. Her rise to fame has been fast to say the very least, and she can thank 13 Reasons Why for that.
So, how did someone who was virtually unknown get the role of Hannah Baker? Well, Katherine Langford actually auditioned for the roles of both Hannah and Jessica, which makes sense as they were both challenging, complex roles of girls dealing with major issues. Langford’s Hannah and Jessica auditions were conducted via Skype, which led to her landing the role of Hannah. A Skype audition literally changed Katherine Langford’s life.
Casting an unknown can be a dice roll, but it worked well for the role of Hannah, as Katherine Langford brought a fresh, vulnerable vision to the character. Also, the audience was able to watch without having any preconceived notions about the actress. All in all, it worked out for both the show and for Katherine Langford.
14. How Katherine Langford Calmed Down
Throughout the course of the 13-episode series, Katherine Langford plays a girl who does a complete 180. Hannah Baker begins as a vivacious young girl. She’s lively, full of energy and just a tiny bit snarky. She’s a mixture of Ellen Page in Juno, Julia Stiles in 10 Things I Hate About You, and a dash of Sarah Michelle Gellar in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The audience watches as Hannah then, through a series of events, slides into depression. The edgy, energetic, funny teenage girl becomes listless, introverted, and hopeless. She’s quiet, no longer had a sense of self-worth, and no longer defends herself when wronged. She had crumbled.
To show the deterioration of Hannah Baker, Katherine Langford had to act her heart out, and she did. Katherine Langford’s portrayal was impressively spot-on, especially considering that she’s just a 20-year-old. Showcasing this tragic character arc was understandably very difficult for Katherine Langford. It was so difficult that she bought a piano and would play it during down time to comfort herself. That kind of makes you love Katherine Langford and Hannah Baker even more, right?
13. How The Rest Of The Cast Comforted Themselves
Katherine Langford’s Hannah Baker’s suicide was the main focus on 13 Reasons Why, but the other characters were also in dark places. In the series, we follow Dylan Minnette’s Clay Jensen as he listens to the tapes. While Hannah admits that Clay isn’t really one of the reasons she killed herself, he is still extremely distraught about Hannah’s suicide. Clay even ends up having hallucinations and lashing out physically.
Dylan Minnette wasn’t the only cast member who had to portray a character dealing with heavy issues. Alisha Boe’s Jessica Davis acts erratically as she deals with the fact that she was raped while she was unconscious at the party. Justin, Alex, Zach, and Tyler also deal with their emotions over Hannah’s untimely death and the events surrounding it. All of these young actors had to portray characters dealing with heavy things. In order to help the cast calm down after filming particularly difficult scenes, the production team had therapy dogs visit the set. They had puppy parties, guys! Dylan Minnette even said that “there was a puppy per hour” on set.
12. A Suicide Expert Told Netflix Not To Air The Show
A month before the release of 13 Reasons Why, Netflix had Dan Reidenberg, a suicide expert, screen the series. Reidenberg reportedly told Netflix not to air the series because he feared how teens would react to the show. It was then made clear to Reidenberg that not airing 13 Reasons Why was simply not an option. To their credit, Netflix aired the show with warnings before the most graphic episodes, but it’s still alarming that they went against the advice of a suicide expert.
In creating 13 Reasons Why, Netflix’s goal seems to be opening up a dialogue about suicide, rape, drug use, and drinking. The show aspires to get parents, teens, schools and mental health professionals talking about the real issues the show portrays. Has it been successful in doing that? Of the show, Reidenberg stated, “Although it’s created a conversation about suicide, it’s not the right conversation.” (Ouch.)
Many viewers, as well as Dan Reidenberg, fear that it will do more harm than good. People are concerned that 13 Reasons Why actually glamorizes suicide, though that is an opinion that is hotly debated. So far it seems that the show has done a lot of good, but Reidenberg fears that we will see copycat suicides. Like the high school portrayed in 13 Reasons Why, Netflix could, in my very not-an-expert opinion, be facing big lawsuits if copycat suicides took place.
11. About The Source Material
The well-developed characters on 13 Reasons Why may feel so very real, but they are just fictional characters – like all the characters on Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, and whatever other show you’re obsessed with. That reminder should make binge-watching the show for the third time, like, 10% less emotional, right?
Jay Asher, who penned the 2007 novel, was inspired to write the book when a close family member attempted suicide. The character Hannah Baker, the tapes, and the events of the story, including the two rapes, are all completely fictional. However, Jay Asher did interview his wife and many of the women in his life to find out what things they felt were challenging or what things they never got over in life. He took their experiences and created the chain of events that led to Hannah’s suicide.
13 Reasons Why is a perfect title, albeit a little too on the nose, but – fun fact! – it was going to be named “Baker’s Dozen: The Autobiography of Hannah Baker.” Because a baker’s dozen usually has 13 instead of 12, this would fit with the 13 tapes.
10. Selena Gomez’s Relationship To The Project
Because Selena Gomez has been very vocal about this project, you may already know that she serves as a producer on the show. But, way back in 2012, she was going to star in the film adaptation. Yes, in 2012, 13 Reasons Why was being developed in a very different way. Set up at Universal, 13 Reasons Why was being adapted as a film with Selena Gomez set to star as Hannah Baker. Nothing against Selena Gomez at all, but after seeing Katherine Langford, it’s hard to imagine anyone else as Hannah Baker, right?
The adaptation faced many delays – because, y’know Hollywood stuff – and Selena Gomez grew too old for the lead role, or any role really. At this point, Gomez – along with her mother Mandy Teefey and producer Kristel Laiblin – brought the book to the production company Anonymous Content, with plans to develop it into a series for Netflix. So, Selena Gomez ended up stepping behind the camera and serving as an executive producer on the project.
13 Reasons Why holds a special place in Selena Gomez’s heart not only because she worked on the project for so long, but also because she’s been very open about her struggles with mental health. In fact, Selena Gomez was in a mental facility when the show began filming and commented that the show is “mirroring what was going on in [her] life” at the time.
9. The Other Reason Selena Gomez Wasn’t On The Show
The other reason Selena Gomez wasn’t Hannah Baker, or another character, is because she felt she was too famous for the role. A statement like that almost makes you want to roll your eyes, but she’s kind of right. In an interview with Vanity Fair, Gomez stated, “To be honest, this book has such a huge following. I wanted it to be credible. If I’m a part of it, that’s going to cause a whole other conversation.”
In the same interview, Gomez then went on to say that she would have been a distraction on the screen. While we don’t live in a world where Selena Gomez was on 13 Reasons Why, the fact that a group of unknowns were cast in the roles certainly helped audiences believe all the actors as their respective characters. So, maybe Selena Gomez truly would have been a distraction on the scene. Also, just imagine having to accept the fact that you’re too famous for a role you really want. I supposed that’s one of the downsides to immense fame, success, and fortune – one of the very, very few downsides.
8. Langford And Minnette Didn’t Read The Book
Before their auditions, neither Katherine Langford nor Dylan Minnette had read the book. Yes, before they were cast in the roles of Hannah Baker and Clay Jensen – THE STARS OF THE SHOW – Katherine Langford and Dylan Minnette didn’t read the book. Katherine Langford explained, “I hadn’t read it before, but what was really cool was that we were told when we got the role that the show was going to expand quite significantly on the book. So I think that was good because if I’d had a preconceived idea I might have approached things differently. After reading the book, and as we started to get into rehearsals, I was like, “This is a really life-changing story,” which just made me fall in love with the project even more.”
Before the actual filming began, both Katherine Langford and Dylan Minnette read the book to better understand their characters. But still, they got their roles without reading the book first. That’s like going into a job interview under prepared, right? Well, it all worked out for the best.
7. The Show’s Color Scheme
Since the target audience of this show skews younger, the crew wanted to make it very clear that certain scenes were in the past and certain scenes were in the present. So, during the production of the show, the crew faced the problem of how exactly to differentiate the past scenes from the present scenes.
One way of solving this problem was to have Clay Jensen, the character who gets the most screen time, wound his head in the first episode. This wound, which took forever to heal, served to tell audiences that they were in the present timeline.
Another way they differentiated past and present scenes was to use a very distinct color palate. Scenes in the past were brighter and warmer in color, while scenes in the present were cooler, blue tones. This worked to create a happy, lively, warm feeling in the scenes in which Hannah was still alive, and a lonely, sad, cold feeling in the present scenes after Hannah had killed herself. It’s amazing how much color can affect our perception without us even noticing, right?
6. All The Television Connections
By now, you’ve probably scene the funny memes about Dylan Minnette’s appearance on Grey’s Anatomy. If you haven’t, Dylan Minnette appeared on Grey’s as a boy who needed new ears so he could hear. At the end of the episode, he gets his new ears and can hear, which is hilarious because of all the hearing he does on 13 Reasons Why, right? Because Kate Walsh (Hannah’s mom) is best known for her role as Addison Montgomery on Grey’s Anatomy and the spin-off Private Practice, there have been jokes about how Meredith Grey gave Clay Jensen ears so he could hear the tapes left by Addison’s daughter. That is probably an old joke to some of you, but you may not have realized that Mark Pellegrino (Alex’s dad), Wilson Cruz (Dennis), and Ajiona Alexus (Sheri) all also appeared on Grey’s Anatomy. It was basically a Grey’s Anatomy reunion.
The other fun television connection is that Keiko Agena, who plays Mrs. Bradley, is best known for playing Lane Kim on Gilmore Girls and the Netflix revival Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life. Miles Heizer, who plays Alex, is known for his role on Parenthood. What do these two have in common? Lauren Graham! In Gilmore Girls, Keiko Agena played Lauren Graham’s daughter’s best friend, and in Parenthood, Miles Heizer played Lauren Graham’s son. Netflix gods, what are the odds of Lauren Graham appearing in season two of 13 Reasons Why? THEY BETTER BE SO HIGH. (Also, that’s assuming there will be a season two.)
5. All Of The Actors Had Professional Help
Kate Walsh has been very vocal about her commitment to her character on 13 Reasons Why. Playing the mother of a girl who killed herself is not only a challenging role to take on, but it’s also nerve-racking one. Mothers who have actually lived through the experience would be tuning in and judging Walsh’s performance. That’s a lot of pressure. In order to prepare, Kate Walsh went the extra mile and sat down with two sets of parents who had lost a child to suicide so that she would know the emotional toll it took on them. Walsh also spoke to therapists specifically dealing with families who had lost someone to a suicide.
It’s been reported that mental health professionals actually met with many of the actors who were going through difficult events on the show. This may be why the performances and characters feel so authentic to the audience.
4. Selena Gomez Spent Only One Day On Set
Due to the amount of publicity Selena Gomez has done for the show, it may surprise audiences to find out that she was only on set during the very last day of filming. Yes, Selena Gomez, who had been attached to the project in some way shape or form since 2012, was only actually on set one, single day. Selena Gomez has a good excuse, though – she was one her world tour at the time of shooting. That’s probably the best excuse, right? Dylan Minnette and Katherine Langford said that Selena Gomez was still very active through email during the filming of the show and when she was finally on set, it felt as if she had been there the whole time.
3. Katherine Langford’s Dream Was To Be An American Teen (No, Really)
Isn’t it refreshing to see a teen show in which the teen characters actually look like… teens? Mind blowing, right? I mean, no teenager ever looked as hot as Blake Lively looked on Gossip Girl, though Blake Lively probably never looked like a teenager even when she was a teenager. I have the feeling that she went from looking like a 9-year-old to looking like a 22-year-old.
The cast of 13 Reasons Why was generally younger, but the only actual teenager was Devin Druid, who played Tyler. The oldest “teenager” was Ross Butler, who played Zach. He clocks in at 26 years old. Australian Katherine Langford, who is 20, had this to say about playing an American teenager, “This may just be me, but I feel like everyone’s dream is to live as an American high school student. There are so many teen films set in America that you live vicariously through them, anyway. But it was totally different. I got to experience Halloween, and prom, and cheerleaders… And the Fourth of July! It was crazy.”
2. The Semicolon Tattoos
Brandon Flynn (Justin) started the semicolon tattoo trend among his cast mates. After he got a semicolon tattoo, then Tommy Dorfman (Ryan), Alisha Boe (Jessica), and Selena Gomez all also went and got semicolon tattoos together. The semicolons are a sign of Project Semicolon, a non-profit group which aims to promote suicide prevention. The semicolon is their symbol because a semicolon splits a sentence that could have otherwise ended. This mirrors the way someone preventing a suicide can keep a life alive that could have ended.
Fans of the show have started sporting Hannah’s blue nail polish seen in the show, to show their support for suicide prevention. The nail polish is a less permanent option, but also much cheaper and much less painful.
1. The Book Ending Was Changed
In the book, Hannah swallows pills and kills herself by overdosing. The scene isn’t even overtly described in the book. The show majorly changed this, to very vividly depict Hannah slitting her wrists in the bathtub. Why the change? Creator of the show Brian Yorkey says, “We worked very hard not to be gratuitous, but we did want it to be painful to watch because we wanted to be very clear that there is nothing, in any way, worthwhile about suicide.” The depiction of Hannah in the bathtub was, maybe, the most graphic suicide scene ever shown, but it did certainly work to get the point across. There is nothing glamorous about suicide, even if you’re Hannah Baker.
There you have it, some fun facts about a show that is, uh, not that much fun to watch, but we all still love it.