9 Questions With ’13 Reasons Why’ Star Justin Prentice

13 REASONS WHY - Justin Prentice
Beth Dubber/Netflix
Justin Prentice

A little show called 13 Reasons Why landed on Netflix a few weeks ago and it seems like everyone has been talking about it since. The story of Hannah Baker’s (Katherine Langford) suicide and the 13 tapes she left behind to tell why she did it, has become the streaming network’s most social show… ever. (Think about that for a second: It beat out series like Orange Is the New Black and Stranger Things.)

With enormous buzz behind it, not to mention the important topics the story covers like sexual assault, depression and more, there’s no surprise viewers are anxiously awaiting the announcement for Season 2.

[Spoiler alert: Spoilers ahead for those who have not watched 13 Reasons Why Season 1.]

TV Insider reached out to Justin Prentice (who you may have recently seen on Those Who Can’t and will be in the upcoming season of Preacher) to chat about his role of Bryce “Frat boy Darth Vader” Walker, the high school jock who rapes both Hannah and Jessica Davis (Alisha Boe). While Bryce doesn’t even seem to see his actions as rape, Prentice worked to make sure Bryce’s story helps inform others about sexual assault and the impact it has on victims.

We asked Prentice some serious—and seriously fun—questions about his on and off-screen self.

What made you say yes to playing Bryce Walker?
Well, as an actor, it’s always fun to be employed. Also, when my reps sent me the breakdown for the audition I saw that Brian Yorkey and Tom McCarthy were attached and Selena Gomez was attached, and I was like, Oh, this is one of those special projects that they’re going to go all out on.’ And of course, I thought it was a wonderful place to be because of the artistic freedom that comes with being on a new media platform like Netflix; it checked all the boxes.

And then the character, of course, was interesting. I always loved playing characters who aren’t me, so I can really sink my teeth into it and do some deep research. Across the board, it was something I was really excited about, but I did the audition and I didn’t hear back—I think it was like three weeks—and I was like, ‘Well, there goes that one!’ I had already moved on and everything before I got the callback.

You mentioned research for the character. I read that you spoke to a psychiatrist for the role.
I did. Her name was Rebecca and I spoke with her in-person first and then when we went up north to shoot, I had her on speed dial. I’d call her occasionally for any questions that would pop up.

I was also talking with Alexis Jones of the I AM THAT GIRL foundation, which raises awareness of sexual assault. She’s got like locker room talks, where she goes around the country to boys’ locker rooms at high school and college sports teams and she educates them on what rape is, what consent is, and that sort of thing. Between the two of them, I would call back and forth to get a lock on Bryce. If there was something in the script that didn’t quite make 100% sense to me in terms of the character that we established I’d call and ask, How do we make it work because Brian Yorkey is a genius and it needs to be in there? So, we would all work together to form Bryce and who he is.

If there is a Season 2, where would you like to see Bryce’s story go?
I think it’d be interesting to see his parents. That’s one of the things I’d be excited to see, which I feel like is very much the scenario of “the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree” with Bryce’s father. It’s also very relevant with the white-collar family and the power that comes with that, and the powerful attorneys that come with that, and the fight that could ensue. You could have a full-out brawl with attorneys that are very passionate–on one side with the Hannah Baker case, and then the really powerful attorneys on the other side with the name and the money.

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Have you had any strange or perhaps funny fan encounters since the show premiered? I hope fans aren’t reacting badly because of your character!
A lot of them are very good at differentiating between the actor and the character; that helps. I’m in New Orleans right now for another project and I’ve had a couple of encounters. We were just standing in line at Café Du Monde to get beignets and there was a high school choir group in front of us that were like, ‘Oh my gosh, are you Bryce?’ They all came up and swarmed us and they were just really happy and cool people. It was wonderful. I think they all have been so far. No one’s throwing anything at me as I cross the street, so that’s nice.

Have there been any times when you were the starstruck one?
There’s people whose work I respect, people I grew up watching, but I don’t usually get too starstruck myself. I’m from Tennessee, and I did this show called Malibu Country, and Reba McEntire played my mother, and Lily Tomlin was in it as well. So that was kind of a big deal because Reba was on the radio everyday when I was a child. That was one of those ones too where everyone in my family was like, ‘Holy cow, you’ve made it! This is amazing! It’s Reba!’

If you weren’t an actor, what would you be doing?
When I was a wee little tyke I wanted to be a paleontologist, which I feel like might have satisfied me. Something in law maybe–there’s a little bit of acting that comes into the courtroom–or the medical field would have been fun. I love science, so maybe something in that realm. It’s so weird, I’m split halfway. If I weren’t an artist, I’d be completely on the analytical side of things.

What was the last book you read?
The book I’m currently reading is “Biocentrism” by Dr. Robert Lanza. [Laughs] Yeah, I’m a weird guy. Oh, and also the Preacher graphic novels, which are amazing.

If your television only had three networks on it, what would you be watching?
Well, it’d probably be Netflix, HBO and something cable. I haven’t watched too much network in awhile except for This Is Us, which is amazing, but probably another cable channel like FX or AMC.

What are you currently bingeing, since your show is so binge-able?
I think all my recent binges were probably through Netflix like Black Mirror, The Crown–I finished both of those in two to three days, which isn’t even close to a record for some people. I’m not that hardcore.

13 Reasons Why, Streaming, Netflix