The trauma of playing a rapist broke me: Justin Prentice of ‘13 Reasons Why’ makes intimate revelations
In his first and exclusive interaction with an Indian publication, Justin Prentice aka Bryce Walker talks about the struggle of being the most hated characterUpdated: Oct 23, 2017 12:42 IST
If you binge-watched 13 Reasons Why, it probably didn’t take you more than three episodes to start hating Bryce Walker more than anyone you know, and you weren’t the only one. Actor Justin Prentice, 23, was also the subject of thousands of hate tweets. Which explains why Justin will make you realise that the struggle to be Bryce was probably way more than he signed up for.
Still, Justin says, he loves how much he is hated. “When this role came to me, I was immediately intrigued. I mean look at the way the character is written! I know he (Bryce) is not a good person on the show, and I thought that would be interesting to play,” he says.
How to be bad
Bryce is mean, he’s hard, and he is a bully. Playing him definitely needed a lot of rehearsal – and there had to be a therapist and an advocate on set. “I did a lot of research to be Bryce, and having access to a therapist really helped,” says Justin. “The role was so intense, I needed that kind of reassurance. Also, we focused a lot on making sure he doesn’t come across as a sociopath, because it’s easy to paint him like one. We didn’t want to do that.”
We felt we owed it to rape survivors. It’s our responsibility to tell people how terrible this is. I can’t even imagine what these girls go through, their ordeal...
In the series, Bryce rapes his friend Justin Foley’s high-school girlfriend Jessica Davis when she’s too drunk to even react. He is Hannah’s 12th reason to kill herself when he rapes her too. Both the scenes are hard-hitting because even though we talk about rape, the graphic representation of the act by two young people is too much to deal with. So how did Justin get into Bryce’s head?
“Alisha and Katherine (Jessica and Hannah) are like sisters to me. They showed immense trust in me, and I did in them too. We rehearsed quite a bit, and the crew was really helpful. I rehearsed after going home as well,” he recollects. “Simulating rape is tough, really tough. You’re naked there, in front of people, and there’s a girl with you. It’s intense pressure. But also, it was important to do it. After the first scene with Alisha, she kind of broke down. I also wanted to break down, because I felt it was my fault she felt like that. It took us time to pull out of the scene.
“However, it was an emotional scene and an important topic. We felt we owed it to rape survivors. It’s our responsibility to tell people how terrible this is. I can’t even imagine what these girls go through, their ordeal,” he says.
Justin flinches as he talks about the scene where he rapes Hannah. “That scene lingered on; I had to take a break to let it go. I took the weekend off after that scene. Kathy also took time to pull out of it. In the rape scene, the camera is on her face after a point, just to capture her reactions, and the discomfort. It showed how she stopped resisting the attack after a point because her soul was crushed,” he says.
Anger and hatred
People often forget that there’s a line between fiction and reality, but in a way, this works for the actor. “In person, people have been nice to me. They want to take pictures with me, want to take autographs. But on social media, the hatred pours in! I actually like it. When people say hateful things about Bryce, it means I’ve done my job,” Justin smiles.
Justin doesn’t want to justify the negativity Bryce has, but he has logic behind it. “Bryce has a back story, like everyone does. It’s not so much in detail on screen, but he has issues. His parents are never there, he’s practically raising himself. He’s a wealthy guy with luxury, the kingpin of high school. But still, he’s just the kingpin of high school. He’s a teenager. There’s a lot that goes into making up that kind of mentality,” he says.
Justin says the good part about having to prepare for a role like Bryce is that he is nothing like the character. “Bryce assumes he can take whatever he wants, he doesn’t think of consent. He thinks women are inferior, and doesn’t respect them. I’m nothing like that in real life. Respecting women is something I’ve imbibed since childhood,” he says.
This is exactly what made him take on the role. “Devaluing women that way and embracing the character’s mind was a challenge. I think I took on the role because in real life, I’m not an asshole!” he laughs.
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From HT Brunch, October 22, 2017
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First Published: Oct 21, 2017 22:56 IST