Toast of 2017: '13 Reasons Why' star Katherine Langford reflects on the teen drama's big impact

Kelly Woo
Writer, Yahoo Entertainment
Katherine Langford in “13 Reasons Why.” (Photo: Beth Dubber/Netflix/courtesy Everett Collection)

Not bad for a first job: After training in Australia, actress Katherine Langford hopped on a plane to the U.S. for her first major role — as the center of the Netflix teen drama 13 Reasons Why.

Not only did the show generate a ton of buzz and debate for tackling suicide and bullying, but now Langford can call herself a Golden Globe nominee. As the deceased Hannah Baker, she had to juggle lighter moments playing the spirited girl Hannah once was, as well as heavy scenes, including her rape and suicide. Speaking with Yahoo Entertainment for our Toast of 2017 series, the actress discussed the challenges of the role and looked ahead to Season 2.

Yahoo TV: Congratulations on the Golden Globe nomination. What was your reaction when you heard the news?
Katherine Langford: Oh my goodness! Just excited and super grateful. It’s so funny — when the news broke, we’d had our wrap party the night before and I’d ended up going to bed super late, and I got this call at 5:30 in the morning from my publicist with the news [laughs]. It was just the biggest surprise — and I was still half asleep! I was very excited and super grateful to be nominated in such a competitive category with such a great group of other women.

How did your fellow cast members and the crew respond?
They were super supportive. The cast and crew, and the creators and producers on the show — it was so wonderful to share in that news with them the next day. We’re all very close; the cast is almost like my family. I know some of them posted on social media congratulating me. And a few of us went out to dinner last night to celebrate and hang out, and also to celebrate the wrap of Season 2.

The show got such a massive response online when it came out. Were you expecting that?
It was overwhelming. When we made the show, I definitely don’t think we set out to make a show a hit or anything. I don’t think we fully realized the full potential of the show until it was released. It was overwhelming, but also really eye-opening to see the response from not only a large number of people but also from a really diverse age range. It wasn’t just young people watching the show; it was also adults and parents and teachers. It was really interesting to see how it resonated with them.

Do you have a favorite scene or episode?
That’s tricky. There are so many special moments in Season 1, and they’re memorable for me for different reasons. Obviously, Episode 13, my final scene, is a very poignant moment. That was a very intense scene to shoot, not just acting-wise but more so because at that point I’d been playing her for six months and it was the moment of having to let her go.

Another one of my favorite scenes is on a lighter note — all the scenes from the dance that Kyle Patrick Alvarez shot. Actually, he shot both Episode 13 and Episodes 5 and 6. He shot the most beautiful light moments in the dance and then that final moment in [Episode] 13.

What was the biggest challenge for you in Season 1?
As a young actor and having this be my first show, the most challenging aspect had nothing to do with shooting. It was just the balance. You take on these characters that are incredibly well-rounded and full of life and they’re real people. The longer you get to sit with them — especially if you do it for 16 hours a day and five or six days a week for six months — it becomes a big part of your life and it becomes a dominant presence in your thoughts and your body physically.

Now, I have so much more admiration for actors who take on these kind of intense roles, because it does put a weight on you and on your body. It’s incredible how they can take on that kind of excruciating pain.

You didn’t just carry that weight, but also in a way as Hannah, you’ve become the face of teen suicide and bullying, which is also a heavy responsibility. What did you think about the discussions that the show provoked?
When the show came out, there were differing opinions, and I personally think that’s good — when you make a show like this, that’s definitely expected. The show, where it’s helpful, is in provoking discussions, because people are able to talk and learn and share.

When the show came out, I heard a lot of positive responses and how the show helped people, and I had different fans come up to me and say how it affected them or a loved one. And that’s a really special place to be in. That’s what I loved about the show, and I’m so happy to be a part of telling that story.

At the end of the day, Hannah was a really hard role to play, but you want to do it justice because you know when you have a role like that, it’s going to mean something to so many people. Hannah’s story is so many people’s stories.

How has this show and response changed your career?
I think we’ll see! [Laughs.] We’ll figure that one out. I definitely feel very lucky to have been able to come into the industry and have this essentially as my first-ever job. It’s really wonderful for your first job to be with so many incredible and talented people, like Brian Yorkey, a Pulitzer Prize winner. And for your first director to be Tom McCarthy, an Oscar winner. And working with Netflix and Paramount and really wonderful and dedicated creatives. It’s been such a privilege. It’s set the bar really high, but it’s given me such great experience, which I’m very thankful for.

What can you tell us about Season 2?
I can say Season 2 takes place five months after Season 1. And this season follows a lot more of the recovery of the other characters in the show. We see Hannah, but she’s not really the same Hannah as we see in Season 1, which I think fans should prepare for. But ultimately, we can continue the discussion and dialogue and issues we presented in Season 1.

13 Reasons Why is streaming on Netflix. Season 2 will premiere in 2018.

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