'13 Reasons Why' Star Christian Navarro Talks Tony's New Relationship & More Season 2 Details

Meaghan Darwish
Q&A Netflix

The highly-anticipated second season of Netflix's 13 Reasons Why debuts Friday, May 18, and ahead of the big premiere date, TV Insider had the chance to speak with actor Christian Navarro who plays the ever mysterious Tony Padilla.

Plucked from the pages of Jay Asher's 2007 novel of the same name, Tony's character played a vital role in Season 1, and Navarro promises there's plenty more of this intriguing character in fans' future.

The first season focused on the story of Hannah Baker (Katherine Langford), the reasons for her shocking suicide, and the turmoil Clay (Dylan Minnette) — the boy who loved her — faced after not being able to save her. In Season 2, even fans of the original source material will be surprised by the story, as these new episodes continue past the story told in Asher's book.

Below, Navarro talks about where the story is headed, why he thinks this season is just as important as the first, and what it was like working closely with co-star Kate Walsh.

Christian Navarro as Tony with Tommy Dorfman as Ryan

When does the story pick up this time around, since Season 2 isn’t based on Jay Asher’s book?

Christian Navarro: Season 2 takes place five or six months after the actions of Season 1, and we’re moving straight into a court case. Olivia Baker (Kate Walsh), Hannah’s mom, is suing the school district for negligence in her daughter’s suicide. Around the intrigue of that court case, we’ll be exploring all of the other character’s perspectives from some of the events that happened during Season 1, as well as continuing to tell the story. But you’re really spending a lot more time with the other characters, and not so much with Hannah this season.

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Will someone be held responsible for Hannah's suicide?

Tony Padilla is kind of an enigma in a lot of ways — he’s so cool. Was there anything that influenced your approach to the character — be it other actors or iconic characters?

Well, when we first started, I was presented a storyboard for the idea of Tony, and they had a lot of classic actors on there. They had some [Marlon] Brando, some James Dean. With that comes this teenage angst, specifically with James Dean, that he brought to all of his roles, and the mystery behind a person like James Dean and some of the characters he played.

But I just really try to stay true to what Brian Yorkey — the showrunner — what he created with Tony, which is this guy who’s really complex and multifaceted and multidimensional. [Tony’s] not any one thing, which is very important for all of us. We didn’t want him to be a stereotypical gay guy, we didn’t want him a stereotypical greaser. He lives as this complex individual and I think that’s more reflective of people in everyday life.

Navarro behind the scenes.

The first season really focused on the mystery around Tony. Will fans learn more about him this year?

Absolutely, I think we definitely explore a lot more about Tony’s life and why he was left the tapes and what it means for him to have the tapes and to be responsible for Hannah’s story. We also do a really good job of leaving just as much mystery as we did last year, hopefully generating a lot more interest moving forward. So that we get a third season or a fourth season and we can continue to tell this story.

Last we saw him, Tony seemed to have regret over not having shared the tapes with Hannah’s parents. Will we see this guilt continue?

One of the greatest pleasures [from my] time on Season 2 was getting to work with Kate Walsh, who plays Olivia Baker. So we really get to explore the aftermath of the Bakers having heard these tapes, what it means for Olivia, what it means for Mr. Baker, and how having confided this to Olivia deepens our relationship. She and I, we love to work together.

Kate Walsh plays Olivia Baker seen here in Season 2.

Tony’s part in Hannah’s story was huge, and based on teasers, it looks like that was only the beginning. Will Tony be as aware of what’s going on this time around?

Season 2 is what happens after they all go through something like [Hannah’s suicide]. Do they fall apart, do they grow apart, and then is it more difficult to come back together? Definitely. Tony starts off at a place of fear and feeling alone, so hopefully what you see during this season is him coming to terms with that and seeking help for someone who is generally helping others always.

What makes this role so important? Does it feel personal to you at all?

It definitely has special meaning because I think — particularly as a Latino — I think that this is one of the few roles on TV at the moment that is as complex and as vulnerable as it is. And I get to really explore lots of different stored aspects of humanity with this guy, and I’m really grateful for that.

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Is it personal? I think the relatability of the show is really the main factor of its success. And particularly with the #MeToo movement and the Time’s Up movement. All of that popped three months into filming Season 2, and it was apparent that the story we’re telling about sexual assault, bigotry, gender bias, and sexual identity bias, all of these things are very real and happening in high schools across the world. Everyone’s thinking and talking about it. I think that we’re lucky to be on a show that’s as topical as it is.

We’ve seen some images of Tony pretty roughed up. Should fans be worried about him?

I think they should worry about everybody – we’re not holding on to anything or anyone. [The writers have] done a great job staying true to the original story. We’ve got an incredible writing staff, so they expanded this universe, dug deep into these characters. I think Season 2 is really about everyone individually on this journey trying to find meaning and trying to find justice. So people should be worried about everyone.

Navarro with Alisha Boe as Jessica and Brandon Flynn as Justin 

Were you nervous returning to the show after its overnight success, or was it business as usual?

Maybe not nervous because of its success… I was definitely nervous about reprising a role, I had never done that before. The goal was to be as truthful as possible and to really honor Tony’s story and his character. So I was just nervous about the possibilities of where we could go, what it would mean for me depending on where we went. But I’m really happy with the story that the writers cooked up this year. I think in a lot of ways we have a better product — and I thought we had a great Season 1. I’m really excited for people to see it.

The show tackles some serious topics, how do you and the rest of the cast keep things light on set?

You know, we definitely hang out outside of set, we really are — it sounds cheesy but every single one of us has said the same thing — we really are a family. I think if you are working on a show with this sort of magnitude and the input that it has, I think it kind of bonds you in a way that’s irrefutable. So we take care of each other, we try to keep things light when the cameras aren’t on because we’re dealing with such intense subject matter. Then we also have our own things, I have a wonderful puppy that keeps me sane and reminds me of all good things in the world when I need to reminded, so that’s definitely how I cope.

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8 Burning Questions We'd Like to See Answered in '13 Reasons Why' Season 2

We have more than a few reasons to be curious about this show's second season.

Does Tony have a new boyfriend? There’s speculation about that, since in previews seen with Ryan (Tommy Dorfman) and a new character Caleb, but not Brad. Could there be any truth to that?

Henry Zaga — brilliant actor, great man — who played Brad, he’s no longer with us [on the show]… But we were lucky because one door closes and another one opens and we found RJ [Brown] who plays Caleb. And we really get to explore a beautiful friendship and relationship between these two characters. I’m so excited for RJ, for the world to see him cause he’s just a really quality actor and beautiful to work with. But the storyline between the two of them is one I think that everyone will relate to and hopefully will make people get the feels.

RJ Brown as Caleb comforts Navarro's Tony.

There are a number of new characters being introduced this season, who should we be paying attention to?

The beauty of a show like ours is that every role is integral to the story. So we do have a bunch of new characters coming on, they will all play integral parts, and you’ll feel for them. You’ll fall in love with some of them, you’ll hate some of them, but the writing staff’s done a really good job of making each of them just as important as all of the characters that are coming back. Good or bad, everyone will be getting the feels.

What should fans get out of this season, are there new lessons to be had?

Thematically we really explore community, and a sense of responsibility for community. At the end of this season, I hope they take away that we are responsible for each other and that being aware and listening attentively are some of the most powerful tools we can use in order to take care of each other. What it means for one person to heal isn’t necessarily what it means for another person… As well as a bunch of questions from what will no doubt be another gut-punching season.

13 Reasons Why, Season 2 Premiere, Friday, May 18, Netflix

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