Trigger Warning: This post contains language about sexual assault and suicidal ideation that some readers may find disturbing.
During season 1 of the Netflix drama 13 Reasons Why, the scene showing Hannah Baker's death by suicide sparked controversy among viewers, critics, and mental health professionals for its graphic portrayal. Among those detractors was actor Bex Taylor-Klaus, who stars in season 3 of the series.
“When I heard they were going to be changing what was depicted in season 1, I was really glad,” they told Teen Vogue. “It made me feel better about being a part of this. I believe in redemption. I believe in giving someone the chance to right their wrongs. That’s what season 3 is.”
In fact, redemption is a major theme of the new season, which focuses on the murder of serial rapist Bryce Walker (Justin Prentice). Bex plays Casey, a sexual assault survivor and student activist. Of course, Bex is no stranger to Netflix, having starred in its hit 2018 movie Dumplin’, alongside Danielle Macdonald. Other memorable gigs on their resume include playing Bullet on AMC’s The Killing and a role in the upcoming movie Blackbird, with Kate Winslet and Susan Sarandon.
Teen Vogue chatted with Bex about the latest season of 13 Reasons Why, how they channel anger on-screen, why they had so much fun shooting Dumplin’, and more.
Teen Vogue: I heard you read 13 Reasons Why when you were young. How old were you and what resonated with you about it?
Bex Taylor-Klaus: It was junior high or high school. I’ve always struggled with depression and anxiety. I struggled with suicidality and self-harm for a long time. When I read that book, what resonated with me was what she left behind. Hannah’s parents never recover, and everything starts to fall apart with the people who loved her. My brain hadn’t hit on that before. All of a sudden, all I could see was my family and what would happen to them if I left. It would destroy them.
TV: What did you think about the first season?
BTK: It triggered me. I had to stop, and I couldn’t go back for over a month. I had to get myself to a safe place, mental health-wise, before I could finish. And I never got around to watching season 2.
TV: What drew you to the role of Casey?
BTK: It’s so honest about humanity. Casey believes that, if she’s right, everyone else is wrong if they don’t see it exactly her way. I think that’s a dangerous way to think, and that’s a way a lot of people think today without realizing it.
TV: Even though Casey and fellow student activists don’t eradicate rape culture from Liberty, they do have an impact on survivors. What message about activism does this convey?
BTK: Human interpersonal change is just as important as societal and institutional change. Helping one person can be just as meaningful as changing a system.
TV: Casey is angry – and understandably so. What did you tap into to convey that anger on-screen?
BTK: I was in a manipulative and abusive relationship, and this person did things without my consent. Tapping into the anger and betrayal and violation of that – my story isn’t the same as Casey’s, but there are emotions that are the same.
TV: This season questions whether redemption is possible for someone like Bryce. What do you think?
BTK: Redemption is possible for anyone if they’re willing to do the work to their core and not just the superficial work. I’m not sure Bryce did that. Unless you feel real, lasting guilt about what you’ve done and your impact on another person, you’re never going to redeem yourself.
TV: The question of redemption made me think about “cancel culture.”
BTK: I’ve been canceled, like, three times. That’s another thing about Casey. She will cancel anyone for nothing. That’s the kind of culture we have on the internet right now. You disagree with me? You’re canceled.
TV: And there’s a part of everyone that revels in seeing someone’s downfall, right?
BTK: Oh my god, yes. Schadenfreude. It’s human nature. It’s something we have to actively fight within ourselves.
TV: Another theme of the season is recovery – from trauma, from addiction, etc. What do you think the show says about that?
BTK: It’s possible. It’s hard. It’s not linear. You’ll have your ups and downs. You’ll go backward and forwards. You just can’t give up.
TV: In the case of Tyler, the message seems to be that you need other people to recover, too.
BTK: Oh yeah. I love that moment when the curtain falls [and Tyler reveals the photo exhibition of everyone who helped him recover]. It’s an important lesson that Tyler learned, and it’s important for others to learn. We tend to push away to protect ourselves when, in fact, it’s doing the exact opposite. We’re hurting ourselves further.
TV: How are you dealing with criticisms of you being on the show from people who don’t approve of how it handles sensitive topics?
BTK: I’m ignoring them. The people who post comments saying, ‘I can’t watch this show for my mental health’ – those are the comments I’m replying to. Because I’m proud of those kids for saying, ‘I know my limits and am not pushing it.’
TV: On the show, it’s unclear whether Casey identifies as non-binary. In speaking to you, now I know she identifies as female. But I didn’t catch any pronouns used for her.
BTK: Casey is not referred to using pronouns, and I think that is freaking awesome. From a character standpoint, I designed her as identifying female.
TV: What’s it like auditioning for a female role as a non-binary person?
BTK: I hate having to put on a bra. That’s about it because, at the end of the day, it’s someone else’s brain that I’m borrowing. Not mine.
TV: Dumplin’ was such a great movie. Can you share a fun memory from filming?
BTK: When we were shooting that dance sequence, those costumes were so frustrating – and there were like five layers. So we had to hold our pee. So all of us were sitting there, wiggling and trying to cuddle to keep our minds off of having to pee.
TV: It’s been a little over a year since you came out as non-binary on social media. What has your past year been like?
BTK: Surreal. From coming out, saying it out loud for the first time to starting to audition for masculine characters and playing a couple of non-binary roles, it’s been definitely one of the coolest years of my life.
TV: What are you working on now?
BTK: Deputy, this show on Fox, playing a sheriff’s deputy and driver/aid/bodyguard. They call them the driver, but they do so much more than just drive. It’s gonna be really fun.
TV: Is there anything else you want to add?
BTK: It’s hard to stay positive right now. There’s a lot of negative going on. So, if you can just find one reason to smile every day, that makes it a little easier. Doesn’t make it easy – but it does make it easier. That’s all you can ask for, right?
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Originally Appeared on Teen Vogue