AGE OF REASON
Katherine Langford’s mission for troubled teens in 13 Reasons Why
TWO years ago, Katherine Langford was hidden under an Easter bunny costume making shopping centre appearances in Perth.
Now 22 and a Hollywood TV star, she has a very different view of the world.
Having auditioned ad nauseam in Los Angeles since making the move two years ago, Langford’s very first job immersed her in headlines – after landing the lead role in the controversial Netflix drama 13 Reasons Why.
Sparking international debate about its graphic depiction of sexual assault, substance abuse and teen suicide, the first season was truly a whirlwind for Langford.
Cast as bullied student Hannah Baker, she is central to the storyline after her character takes her own life, leaving behind 13 damning tape recordings, which point the finger at those she blames for pushing her over the edge.
Both the series and her performance resonated deeply with the show’s young audience but its explicit content drew widespread criticism; with some advocacy groups concerned the plotline not only glamourised suicide but it made it seem as if this was a way for bullied teens to get revenge on their tormentors.
Pop star and the series’ executive producer Selena Gomez, who has been candid about her own mental health struggles, has especially been the target of considerable backlash.
Season two does not revisit the suicide but rather deals with the continuing fallout from Hannah’s death, as well as a shocking sexual assault and confronting bullying. It finishes with another hugely controversial sexual assault scene that has kicked off more criticism.
With teen suicide statistics on the rise, Langford feels strongly about the show’s powerful voice in popular culture.
“When we were making it, no one fully realised the impact the show would have, but I think what is important is that we’re having the discussion and that’s what rose from it. It goes one deeper than just entertainment,” she says.
With many of her fans fighting their own depression and suicidal thoughts, Langford still feels a responsibility to the audience.
“I do hope to be there for them if they need it,” she says.
“Obviously I am still young myself and I don’t know everything, so I try and be there in a capacity that is useful, and whether that is using my social media platform or just using my voice in particular, it all helps.”
Although Langford’s own high school experience did not bear much resemblance to Hannah’s, she admits those years are “tricky regardless of where you are or where you live or what school you go to.”
“Growing up I have to say that I, for the most part, was lucky and enjoyed most of my high school experience. I went to a gifted and talented school for the last three years of my high school [Perth Modern School] and I had a really supportive, very liberal friendship group,” she says.
She admits finding her voice took time.
“I didn’t start acting until I was 18 so I still have a lot to learn,” she says.
“My parents aren’t in the business [both are doctors], and actually, it took me until I was 19 to say out loud to them that I wanted to act as a profession. It was frightening because I didn’t know if I’d succeed and once you put it out there that you want do something, if you don’t succeed, you’re a failure.”
Far from a failure, Langford earned a coveted Golden Globe nomination for her role.
“It was such an honour and to be recognised at event like that!” she says now, with a huge smile.
“People have said, ‘ It was the right thing at the right time’, but it wasn’t an easy pathway. There was a lot of work that went behind it. I worked three jobs to pay bills, and there were many setbacks. I had a huge setback at 19 when I auditioned for drama schools, which I’d been trying to get into for three years, and I was knocked back every single time.
“I also saved up all my money, went to LA for pilot season, auditioned but didn’t get cast. So I had to return to Australia without a job.
“Looking back, I knew there would be peaks and lows. Now I realise that the lows are where you learn the most.”
Still plenty young enough to pull off playing a high- schooler, Langford starred as another in the acclaimed film Love, Simon, which tells the story of a closeted gay teen.
“I’m not worried that both characters were in high school,” she insists.
“I feel very privileged and lucky to be able to be part of this show and of a film that I’m so proud of.”
13 REASONS WHY
NOW STREAMING, NETFLIX