13 Reasons Why: Get to know series star Katherine Langford
From the first episode of 13 Reasons Why, the audience knows how Hannah Baker’s story ends. The Netflix show, based on the book by Jay Asher, tells the story of Hannah’s suicide and the 13 tapes she recorded before her death to explain her decision. But for Katherine Langford, 20, portraying Hannah Baker is only the start of her story. Just a few years ago, Langford was a national swimmer at her high school whose top three job preferences were medicine, politics, and musical theater, in that order. Well, at least until she went to a Lady Gaga concert when she was 16. “I went to see Born This Way,” says the Australian actress.
“I don’t know what happened. It was like a spiritual experience, and I was so moved by her performance that I went home and that week I taught myself how to play piano.”
From that point on, a flip had been switched. For her final year of high school, Langford stopped swimming and started getting more into music and performance. She received a diploma of musical theater, at which point she decided to pursue acting.
“The next year, I got an agent,” she says. “I actually told my parents I was at university and I just worked and auditioned.”
And when the audition for 13 Reasons Why came her way, she read for the roles of Hannah and Jessica before eventually landing the lead.
“Luckily I think my high school experience was far better than Hannah Baker’s, but I think she’s a character that goes through so many things that I feel like all of us have felt,” she says. “In that way, I find her really personable.”
With each episode, the show digs deeper into the story of Hannah’s emotional undoing, which leads to her tragic end. And along the way, Langford had to film a number of intense scenes, which is where her love of music came back into her life: She’d often play the piano to help herself unwind.
“I don’t play professionally or very well for that matter,” she says. “It’s more of a comfort. The first thing that I bought in San Rafael, [California], because we were going to be there for six months filming, was a bed and a piano. And on set, we would sometimes have green rooms, which were houses, and those houses would have pianos and so I would play in between takes.”
Suffice it to say that she’d be more than willing to partake in a 13 Reasons Why musical, but until that’s an option — a girl can dream — Langford doesn’t know for sure what her future holds.
“It’s a weird point in my life right now because I just finished the most incredible show with the most incredible people and I kind of don’t know what to do with myself,” she says. “I just want to keep doing good projects with good people. I love the opportunity to affect change in people’s lives. That’s one of the greatest gifts of this industry and this job.”
When Katherine Langford took on the role of Hannah Baker in Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why, she knew she would have to go to some dark places. After all, the show tells the story of Hannah Baker’s life, and more specifically, why she decided to commit suicide.
In the show’s 13-episode season, Hannah’s struggle grows, with each designated “reason” for her death only getting more intense. While the beginning of the show focuses on things like high school bullying and friendship gone wrong, the later episodes deal with things like death and rape. And for Langford, the final two episodes presented her with her greatest challenges.
“The further you go along, the more involved you become with Hannah and the closer I felt to her. And also the acts that happen are increasingly harsh,” Langford tells EW. “Episodes 12 and 13 made me a little bit nervous because as a young adult playing a young adult, these issues are so relevant.”
The issues she’s speaking about in the final episodes are Hannah’s rape in episode 12 and her suicide in episode 13.
“I just wanted them to be told right because I feel so many TV shows and movies that have shown these issues either romanticize them or they use them as a plot device. I wanted this story to be truthful,” Langford continues. “12 was difficult because I put a lot of research into it. I spoke to Rebecca Kaplan from It’s On Us and I spoke to a psychiatrist who deals with adolescent development and there was a lot of conversation about why things happen in the way they happen, things like why Hannah doesn’t say no.” Langford adds: “There was a lot of discussion that went into that about how we were going to shoot it. When we did it, I felt super supported and absolutely comfortable on set, but it was very strange because that act makes me sick to my stomach. It’s so sickening and it’s uncomfortable and it’s ugly, but that’s also why we needed to show it.”
As for Hannah’s suicide, Langford says the acting wasn’t as difficult as the goodbye.
“That final scene with Hannah in a bathtub, that was tough and that stuck with me because it was the last day that Hannah lived,” she says. “Playing her for six months, you develop a memory and a history for what she’s gone through and by that point, I felt very close to her and I felt like she was a person. The story is so personal that when it came to that scene, not so much the acting side of it, but more the having to let her go was really difficult.”