The star of "13 Reason Why" could have been Selena Gomez.
Instead, the most followed person on Instagram stuck to working behind the scenes, signing on as executive producer for the Netflix drama, alongside Pulitzer-winning playwright Brian Yorkey and her mother, Mandy Teefey. The mysterious miniseries follows Hannah, a timid high school student who leaves behind 13 cassette tapes, each explaining how the person listening contributed to her suicide.
Gomez explains her decision to stay off-camera, how she related to Hannah in high school and why you won’t be able to just watch one episode when the 13-part series drops March 31.
You first thought about making the story into a movie. What made you change your mind?
I think it works better as a series. To be honest, we started to meet with people who could be interested in this type of project, based on a novel and aimed at young people. But once we got to Netflix and talked to Tom [McCarthy, the director], and they proposed the idea for the series, I thought it was a great way to do it.
The book reads like a series, and if we had done it like a movie we wouldn’t have been able to explore the characters with depth. Thanks to this format, we’ll see them in a three-dimensional way and we can have the context of the main participants of the story.
At first you wanted to play the main character, right?
Yeah. Well, it was my mom who found the book. She’s the one who spends hours in the bookstore looking for what to read; so one day she came home with this novel. I was about 16 or 17 when that happened. When I read the book, I saw that I could perfectly relate to the story. And above all, my fans could connect with it. They’re incredibly authentic with me and tell me what they think and feel in a super honest way.
But now that time has passed, I think there’s no better person to play Hannah than Katherine [Langford]. I mean, you see her and it's her. I think she works perfectly for the character.
It's a super intense story to binge-watch.
The first episodes are really captivating. [They] clearly explain the relationship of the characters and what happened to Hannah, but it gets more and more dark. I think you're progressively seeing a side of Clay (Dylan Minnette) where he shows that he's a guy that’s confused, sad and maybe a little shy, who transforms into... I'm not going to reveal anything else. But I think you can see these arches and I feel it's something that will captivate people.
I don’t know, I would watch it all in one sitting. Maybe there will even be someone that will watch it more than once. Everyone will enjoy it in their own way.
Did you see yourself reflected in Hannah in any way?
I think my high school experience was, so to speak, amplified. I’m not going to say it was worse, but it definitely made it more difficult.
I must say that yes, I had to deal with that on a different scale, with the guys who were my classmates in the world's largest high school called the Disney Channel. But I also had to face adults who had the audacity to tell me how I should live my life. It was very confusing at the time. I had no idea how I should behave or how I would be when I grew up. It definitely hits you at your most vulnerable time.
That's why I wanted to make sure I was part of this project in some way. My mother helped me because she knew that it was very important for me. That’s what kids have to see. They do not want to see false speeches of empty optimism, because that does not matter to them. They have to see something that moves them, something that scares them, and all these people that will instantly connect with the characters.
I would do anything to be a good influence for this generation. It was difficult, but I did everything possible to get involved with every aspect of the series. I was there when they were shooting the last episode and it was really touching to see how everything came to life.
Do you think that your presence in the series helps it reach a bigger audience?
I hope so. I think the connection I have with all those people who saw me grow up will help. Because I really feel connected to my fans. I've had super honest conversations with them because I've never wanted to be an inaccessible person or to look like I have everything under control. On all my tours I always have a space before and after the show to meet my. They trust in me things that they’re going through because they feel that I am honest — and because people have seen me make mistakes.
I want to do something that people can identify with because they’re going through very difficult times. For my part, I'm going through a moment where I can’t stand social networks. I can’t stand what they believe is reality. This show, on the other hand, is as real as it gets.