Justin Prentice may be cast as the ruthless villain of “13 Reasons Why,” but he, too, had to cope with mental health challenges when younger, including thoughts of suicide, the actor told Variety at the Monte Carlo TV Festival on Tuesday. As Prentice gets ready to film Season 3 of the hit Netflix show, he talked about the impact the first two seasons have had, and his debut feature film as a producer.
“13 Reasons Why” centers on the suicide of a high school student and the reasons why she took her own life. A major factor was her rape by Prentice’s character, Bryce Walker, an entitled jock. The show has sparked discussion about sexual violence and mental health issues.
Did Prentice ever have suicidal thoughts himself when he was younger? “When I was a kid, I was very much a perfectionist, and I had a bunch of different compulsions. And so through all of that I had high anxiety and high stress, so I did, actually,” he said. “I brought it up with my mother because I was very fortunate to be close with my parents. And she was instrumental in helping me through it, which was awesome.”
Suicide and sexual assault have affected those close to him. “A buddy of mine took his life in high school; [there were] similarities [with the show’s storyline] there,” he said. “There are some people very close to me who were sexually assaulted or raped when they were young.”
The show contains some difficult scenes, and leaving that behind afterwards was a challenge. “It’s hard sometimes to jump in and out of [such scenes]. Sometimes after the very dark scenes it kind of stays with you for a little bit. But the cast…we are all a big family, so we will usually get together after the very dark scenes and just decompress, and take a breather for a second, and all have each other’s backs, which is nice,” he said.
Prentice said that the show’s willingness to tackle tough issues head-on set it apart from many others. “It’s not afraid to really dive into the heart of the issues. We’ve seen a lot of these issues portrayed on screen, but our show doesn’t shy away from the brutality of them,” he said. “I think [it’s] a beneficial way of showing things. It’s a mirror to society saying these are the issues in America right now. Let’s fix them because it is absurd that some of this stuff is still going on.”
The show has been popular worldwide and generated a great deal of coverage in the media, but Prentice has shielded himself from any remarks about his own performance. “I try not to read anything [about myself]. In terms of looking up articles and press stuff, I try to avoid it for my own sanity,” he said.
Even if he did read those articles he’d be at a disadvantage, as he admitted that he has only watched the first two episodes of Season 1 but not the rest of the show. “I don’t like watching myself, so that’s why. Otherwise, I would very much watch the show. But I’m an insecure actor I suppose. I’ll just shred apart my performance. It would be like, ‘Why did you make that choice?’ and ‘Your face looks weird’ and ‘Why are you doing this?’”
Alongside “13 Reasons Why,” Prentice has also had a recurring role on AMC’s “Preacher.” “I also played a rapist in that one,” he said. “So the next role that I do is going to be a very lovable, sweet person….I have to be very particular now with what I do next.”
Apart from Season 3 of “13 Reasons Why,” which will probably start to shoot in the next couple of months, Prentice said, his focus would be on producing his first feature film, which his girlfriend, Annika Pampel, will be directing with the working title “Odium.” “It is a very contained psychological thriller that takes place in one house and the periphery of the house in Sequoia National Park,” he said. “It’ll be interesting. It’ll be fun. Hopefully we’re going to film it, maybe, in March of next year, if not earlier.”
Prentice and Pampel previously worked together on the short film “Crossing Fences,” also as producer and director, respectively.