Netflix star: ‘I would change a lot of things’
WITH the second season of hugely popular Netflix drama 13 Reasons Why dropping this weekend, we picked up the phone to speak to cast member Brandon Flynn.
Flynn, who plays Justin on the show, opens up about the controversy around the show's depiction of youth suicide, how 13 Reasons Why fits into the #metoo movement and his regrets about his own experiences in high school.
[Edited for length and clarity.]
13 Reasons Why became such a talking point when its first season came out, partly because of the backlash from organisations concerned about suicide contagion. Did the writers talk to the cast about how you would tackle that in season two?
We're all very aware of the controversy. I think for the most part, in a smart way, we didn't ignore the controversy but used it as fuel. I think it's good that what we're doing is a little bit wrong because, partly, it keeps viewers coming in. To me, the first season was not about that one moment when she takes her life - the whole show deals with why someone would do it, which I think was more important and relevant than that one, as people say, graphic depiction.
We have not skated around anything but be realistic. I think people have odd expectations with television shows where they expect us to be doctors. We're making a show, hopefully, for relevant and impactful reasons, but also for entertainment. Not to say that's why we made it that way, but it is a story and we're trying to be honest with it. I think if you talk to people whose children have lost their lives or have witnessed someone who has lost their lives, it is anything but not graphic. It's not easy so it shouldn't be easy to watch either.
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Why do you think the show was so resonant with the audience - and not just teenagers but people in their 20s, 30s, 40s and even older?
I think it's hard to deny that the story has a beating heart with what's relevant and happening right now in our world. Not just with teen suicides but also with sexual harassment and the drug epidemic, it's really hard to deny those things are not happening in our world and we see it every day and we read about them every day. I think we're expanding the conversation right now and I think that's something to be looked at and that's why people are looking.
After the show went to air, did fans or people from your own life reach out to you reach out to you with their experiences, seeing the show as a conduit to talk?
It definitely became a huge conduit for people who were close to me and people who were reaching out to me on Instagram. People would stop me in the street and ask for a hug, which is interesting because I always thought I played a bad guy in a way. I think there's a universal understanding for everyone involved that they must have had some sort of heart in it and heart in the story. We all want to continue this conversation and we all want to be there for people who are dealing with tough times, especially the youth.
Did working on the series change your perspective on our own high school experiences?
In many ways, I wish I could go back and change a lot of the things I said to people, change how I dealt with certain situations. In many ways, high school was amazing for me - I went to an art school so it was only 400 kids in total. It wasn't so polarising for people, we were a lot more together than we were apart, which was awesome for me. Still when you're young and insecure, you tend to do things. I don't always look back with pride. I think going forth, I can be a lot more kind and understanding of people, which has been an excellent and beautiful result of working on 13 Reasons Why.
The second season is returning on the back of the #MeToo movement, was that something you guys thought about when you were performing these stories about sexual harassment and sexism?
We were about three months into filming when Ronan Farrow's article came out on Harvey Weinstein. I was living with Alisha Boe (who plays Jessica) and we both woke up simultaneously and we were went, 'ohmigod, did you read that article?' I got to go to work and talk about these stories in a way that's relevant and going to continue a conversation come May 18. Knowing the show had such a relevant heartbeat with what was happening in the world, it was a special thing. I think once again we're going to start that conversation back up and keep it going, it really has to keep going, for all workplaces, just for the industry and not just because actors are talking about it, it's a problem that's happening. It needs a result.
What do you hope audiences will take away from the show's second season?
I hope they take away an understanding that not one person walking around this world is without dilemma or issues. We all have them. I think if we had more love and understanding - I know it sounds so cheesy - it's so much easier to be kind and try to understand that everyone is trying to get through this world with happiness. Everyone wants to be happy but we're an overpopulated world, we're a tech-obsessed world, we're a social media-obsessed world and we just keep making it harder for ourselves and I think one of the easiest ways to solve things and, I think 13 Reasons Why talks about it a lot, is that human interactions are so important. Making a friend instead of an enemy is something that could change your life.
13 Reasons Why season two is streaming now on Netflix.
If you or anyone you know needs help, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14, Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800, Headspace on 1800 650 890 or visit 13reasonswhy.info.