Netflix has been on a roll when it comes to their originally-produced shows— one of which is the highly talked about 13 Reasons Why. Based on the novel by Jay Asher and adapted by Brian Yorker, the series revolves around Hannah Baker who recorded seven cassette tapes, specifying 13 reasons why she killed herself. Gaining controversy for its depiction of teenage suicide, bullying, rape, and peer pressure, one of the show’s highlights was Justin Prentice, who played the show’s main antagonist. At 23, he has already appeared in shows like Malibu Country, Glee, iCarly, iZombie, and Awkward before landing the role of Bryce Walker, a seemingly innocent character who has dark secrets of his own.
“We’re all important; we’re all human beings trying to make the world go round.”
Growing up in Tennessee, his family moved to LA, so he could fulfill his dreams of becoming an actor. “I think I was six years old when I first told my parents that I wanted to get into acting. As for what led me to it, I wish I could say something like watching Citizen Kane or Daniel Day Lewis in My Left Foot, but I think it was watching Full House and seeing the Olsen twins in that show that made me realize that I wanted to act,” quips Justin. His parents brushed his idea off until he got into his school’s drama club and community theater, which helped them realize his passion. “Acting allows you to find versions deep within yourself you may not have known existed to begin with. And I also like storytelling. I like being able to tell stories in an intriguing fashion,” he explains.
“Suicide is rough, tough, and jarring. The show wanted to present it as such and not to shy away from showing it because the writers didn’t want to make it an easy thing or look like an easy way out.”
Justin is nothing like his character in 13 Reasons Why, and he wants people to be aware of that. While he thinks that they both share a little bit in the confidence aspect, he’s fast to clarify that Bryce is absolutely more confident than him, but he did enjoy playing the role and was very effective doing so. “Bryce was one of those characters that allowed me the chance to stretch as an actor, because he’s very different from who I am in real life. It was one of those roles wherein when I read the script, I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I really want to be a part of this,’” says Justin. He had to play the waiting game and do several callbacks before he got the role but the wait was definitely worth it. “It was a privilege to be a part of such a cool show. To get a job as a series regular is no easy feat,” he adds. In preparation for his role, Justin did a lot of research concerning rape and sexual assault. “I read news articles on real life cases and watched movies and TV series with similar characters. I also worked with a psychiatrist and sexual assault expert to piece things together to make sure that we could make him as accurate as possible,” shares Justin. “Sometimes guys in high school—mostly athletes and jocks—feel like they’re above the law. There’s this arrogance that’s almost an ode to them in terms of treating women because of who they are, and a lot of that is due to the lack of education on what sex and consent is.” He goes on, “At the end of the day, it was important for me to portray Bryce as an ordinary kid because that’s what a lot of these cases are. A lot of them are date rapes. One of my goals was to make him as realistic as possible that people would recognize the Bryces in their own lives.”
“At the end of the day, it was important for me to portray Bryce as an ordinary kid because that’s what a lot of these cases are. A lot of them are date rapes. One of my goals was to make him as realistic as possible that people would recognize the Bryces in their own lives.”
Despite the criticism the show has received for its portrayal of teenage angst and controversial issues, he says that he was already expecting it to happen but stands by the show’s producers and writers, believing that they did justice to the series. “The people who speak against this show are probably bothered about how the suicide of Hannah was portrayed,” he says. “But I stand by their choice because suicide is rough, tough, and jarring. The show wanted to present it as such and not to shy away from showing it because the writers didn’t want to make it an easy thing or look like an easy way out. The way that it was shown was so heart-wrenching.” He recommends that parents watch 13 Reasons Why with their kids, so that they’ll have an understanding of what their children are going through since bullying has changed through out the years. “I know it’s very cliché, but hang in there. It’s important to realize that there’s a whole universe outside the four walls of high school,” advises Justin. “Also know that how people treat you is by no means a reflection of yourself. We’re all important; we’re all human beings trying to make the world go round. Hopefully from the show, people will take away that actions have consequences, and that sometimes, they’re severe.”
Excited to be working on the show’s second season, the cast and crew have already begun shooting. Justin hopes that in some ways, the show can delve into Bryce’s life more closely into his past. “I’d love to meet his parents at some point to see where he probably gets all of these issues from,” he shares. Motivated to portray his character again and to see its progression, Justin is on his way to continue the storylines that were left open-ended.