Selena Gomez was joined today by key cast and creatives on Netflix’ new series 13 Reasons Why, the teen-centered program she’s exec producing about the aftermath of a suicide, based on Jay Asher’s best-selling book. The all-star team includes creator and executive producer Brian Yorkey, a Pulitzer Prize winner for his similarly themed 2010 Broadway musical, Next To Normal; director Tom McCarthy (Spotlight), leads Katherine Langford and Dylan Minnette and exec producer Mandy Teefey.
The 13 reasons cited in the title refer to the dead teen Hannah’s listed reasons for her suicide, which include bullying, abuse and block-headed adults – themes that resonated throughout the day at the Netflix conference, and with the 13 Reasons team as well.
“This book is not only an incredible read, it’s a lifeline that tells you that you are not alone,” Yorkey said. “The responsibility we all felt was how can we be as true as possible to this book?”
That notion of remaining true to the book’s dark center was high on the entire team’s list.
“We didn’t want it to come out as a PSA,” Teefey said. “I think the parents are going to have the hardest time watching, because they don’t want to see their kids being the bully or being Hannah.”
Gomez, who was once figured to star in a feature film treatment of the book, said the story and the series had personal resonance from her own very public adolescence. “I was going through a really difficult time when they started production,” he said. “I went away for 90 days and talked with a lot of kids. It definitely hit home, a very important part of me. Kids have to see something that’s frightening, I want them to understand I definitely relate to everything. I was a mess.”
“I’ve had these conversations with my fans,” Gomez continued. “They tell me these things. I can’t stand social media, I can’t stand what they think is reality.”
Langford, who plays Hannah, and Minnette, who plays her crush Clay, admitted that they hadn’t read the book before being cast. “About three weeks into the shooting,” Langford said, “I thought, It’s kind of heavy, isn’t it?”
One questioner mentioned that the show is coming at a time when a teen’s suicide figures in the hit Broadway show Dear Evan Hansen and wondered if there is a trend in popular entertainments confronting such tough issues.
“We’re dealing with things that are very difficult to talk about – really life or death topics – without having to start from a place of fear,” he replied. “Our series gets really dark in a way I think kids can recognize, but I think it’s ultimately bringing light to very difficult and dark topics in a difficult and dark time.”