AGE OF REA­SON

Kather­ine Lang­ford’s mis­sion for trou­bled teens in 13 Rea­sons Why

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - TV Guide - - Front Page - If you or some­one close to you has been af­fected by the show: https://headspace.org.au/13rea­son­swhy/ https://13rea­son­swhy.info/ Life­line 13 11 14 or life­line.org.au BeyondBlue 1300 224 636 or beyondblue.org.au

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

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