"I was very loyal to the project for 7 years," Gomez, an executive producer of the series, told CNN at the show's Hollywood premiere. "I got a little controlling."
Gomez's mother, Mandy Teefey, is also an executive producer, having first discovered the book back in 2009.
"13 Reasons Why" follows the story of a young girl named Hannah (Katherine Langford), who leaves behind a series of audio recordings that explain why she committed suicide.
While Gomez claimed she was "not a boss" on set, she did take a firm hand in the making of the show.
"When we first started working on this, I told my mom that I'm definitely harder at being a producer. I was a little more defensive," she said.
It stemmed from a desire to do the source material -- and the book's author Jay Asher -- justice, Gomez said.
"You get nervous, you don't know if people are going to like something," she said.
Thus far, the reviews have been largely positive for the teen drama, which is streaming now on Netflix.
Gomez said the importance of the show's subject matter -- about bullying, depression and suicide -- is what helped her stay the development course for seven years.
"People -- no matter what age -- you can relate to this story," she said. "Everyone has gone through this. And more than ever, this should be talked about today."
Dylan Minnette, who played President Grant's (Tony Goldwyn) ill-fated son Jerry on "Scandal," takes on the role of shy Clay Jensen in "13 Reasons Why." He's one of Hannah's classmates and the recipient of the audio recordings that put the viewers in Hannah's shoes.
Minnette, who interacted with Gomez on set, called her "the warmest, nicest person ever" and praised her skills as a producer.
"If she keeps producing, she's going to be a favorite producer for everyone, I'm sure," he told CNN.
Review: ‘13 Reasons Why’ She Killed Herself, Drawn Out on Netflix
A note to adults in the audience: “13 Reasons Why” is not Netflix’s next “Stranger Things.”
Based on Jay Asher’s 2007 novel of the same title, the series, available Friday, should be of interest mainly to the same age group that put the book on the children’s and young-adult best-seller lists. It’s unlikely to cross over to their parents.
In tone and style, it resembles a more serious, grimmer cousin of Freeform (formerly ABC Family) series like “Pretty Little Liars” and “Twisted.” Like them, it literalizes the idea that teenage life is a mystery, one that adults can’t hope to solve.
Young viewers may find the combination of thriller and morbid teenage melodrama in “13 Reasons Why” addictive, though parents should be aware that it contains startlingly naturalistic depictions of rape and suicide.
The rest of us won’t have as much patience for the show’s excessively convoluted, repetitive and unlikely story, or for the narrative gimmick reflected in its title.
The action begins a few weeks after the death of Hannah Baker (Katherine Langford), a junior at a suburban high school. Clay (Dylan Minnette), a socially awkward classmate who had a crush on her, receives a shoe box full of vintage cassette tapes (Maxell 60s, if you’re a nostalgist).
They contain Hannah’s descriptions of 13 traumatic events that led to her decision to kill herself, each addressed to the schoolmate or adult who caused that particular trauma. She’s left instructions that the box be passed from one tormentor to another, and Clay is late in the list, so most of the other people she accuses have already heard the tapes before he receives them.
The novel began the same way but took place in one night, as Clay listened to the tapes while visiting the scenes of Hannah’s downfall. The TV show’s developer, the screenwriter Brian Yorkey, has expanded the story to 13 hourlong episodes by beefing up the present-day portion of the narrative (which continually shifts between the past as seen by Hannah and the present as experienced by Clay).
Clay now becomes a detective and avenging angel, confronting other students in a campaign to get to the truth and, in the process, repair Hannah’s reputation. The show also makes more room for adults (goosing the drama by having Hannah’s parents file a lawsuit against the school), which means that the largely anonymous cast can be supplemented with more familiar and accomplished performers like Brian d’Arcy James, Steven Weber, Keiko Agena and Kate Walsh.
You can understand why the book would, almost inevitably, become a 13-episode series, but the inflation has several unfortunate consequences. Reading a young-adult novel in one sitting, it’s easier to suspend your disbelief regarding Hannah’s copious misfortunes, which include broken friendships, a fatal auto accident and sexual violence.
We’re meant to see that there’s an emotional and practical order to these events — Hannah’s diminished standing and waning self-confidence lead to new incidents of bullying or abandonment. But the show doesn’t make her downward progress convincing. It too often feels artificial, like a very long public service announcement.
Another problem is a storytelling contrivance that quickly becomes irritating. To parcel out the surprises and stretch the drama, the Netflix Clay, unlike the novel’s Clay, chooses not to listen to the tapes in one sitting — as any normal teenager would, and as the other fictional teenagers in the show do.
Instead he listens to the recordings one at a time, and keeps confronting the other characters — quizzing them, arguing with them, fighting with them — without knowing the whole story, or his own role in it, even though he could find out with just a few hours of binge listening. It makes no sense as anything but a plot device, and you’ll find yourself, like Clay’s antagonists, yelling at him to listen to the rest of tapes already.
If you stick with “13 Reasons Why” — and the watchful, smart performance by Mr. Minnette (“Scandal,” “Awake”) is one reason to make the effort — it builds up some cumulative force. In the last four episodes, two directed by Carl Franklin, one by Jessica Yu and one by Kyle Patrick Alvarez, it achieves a momentum and gravity somewhat equal to its subject matter. (It also throws in a groaner of a pretext for a possible second season.)
You might find yourself skeptical, though, despite the undeniable veracity of some of the show’s depictions of high school angst. The overall message — one that probably appeals to teenagers — is that it’s possible to figure out why someone takes her own life, and therefore to guard against it happening to others. But the beleaguered school counselor played by Derek Luke may have it right when he tells Clay, you can just never tell.
Ross Butler on ‘13 Reasons Why,’ ‘Riverdale’ and Why There Are ‘No Asian Leading Men in Hollywood’
Ross Butler has been busy.
Back in January, “Riverdale” — the CW’s “Gossip Girl” meets “Twin Peaks” adaptation of the famous Archie comics — debuted with Butler playing Archie’s (KJ Apa) bully Reggie. On Friday, Netflix released the highly anticipated “13 Reasons Why” — an adaptation of the popular book by Jay Asher, courtesy of Selena Gomez — with Butler playing Zach.
Variety spoke with Butler about “13 Reasons Why,” “Riverdale” and playing parts that aren’t necessarily “Asian roles.”
How was working on Selena Gomez’ passion project “13 Reason Why”?
It was amazing. It was not a show I was expecting of Selena. This seemed like a complete 180. When I heard that she was a part of it, it was really interesting and drew me to it. After I got to work with her, I have some much more respect for her and the message she’s trying to put out there.
Tell me about Zach. How does he fit into the mystery?
He’s one of the reasons. He’s one of the jocks — there are a few that are involved — and he’s not the smartest guy, but he definitely has an emotional side to him that people don’t expect because he puts on this front.
Both “13 Reasons Why” and “Riverdale” share a lot of similarities. Both cover modern issues faced by high schoolers like bullying and depression, and both end up with a student at the school dead. What was different about “13 Reasons Why,” or Zach compared to Reggie, that drew you to the show?
With “Riverdale” it’s a murder mystery. You don’t know who the killer is, and you don’t know why. Over the course of the season you’re meeting new characters and you’re learning new information about them. With “13 Reasons Why” you start off knowing that the girl Hannah (Katherine Langford) committed suicide, and you know that there are 13 reasons. It unfurls through the season which I thought was a super unique way of telling a mystery.
In terms of Reggie and Zach being different, I’d say Reggie is a jock through and through. He’s loud, and obnoxious, and doesn’t care what people think. With Zach he’s much more grounded, for me, in reality. He’s a jock that has very dark and lonely feelings, and throughout the first season you really witness what happens with him.
Jumping over to “Riverdale,” how has it been working with material as iconic as Archie comics?
It’s really interesting, and not what I expected. When I first saw the breakdown for the characters, I didn’t know it was going to be a murder-mystery. They were keeping that a secret. Reggie was originally Caucasian, and when they brought me in I got very excited thinking, Yes, we actually get to do the reverse of what’s usually done in Hollywood. That personally was really fun to get some ethnicity in there from the Asian-American side.
It was also fun to take this family-friendly comic and make it super dark by throwing in a murder. There are all these characters that you associate with being colorful and happy, and you get to see their darker side. The writers did a great job making it current and gritty.
There’s been a lot of talk about the lack of Asian actors in TV and film. As an actor playing a character who was originally Caucasian, what’s your take on it?
It’s something that we’re all aware of and something that’s really talked about. There are no Asian leading men in Hollywood. There’s not an Asian Ryan Gosling or an Asian Brad Pitt. Reggie was important to me because he isn’t seen as an Asian character, because he wasn’t. He’s just known as one of the guys, and in a comic that was based in American culture. The show is no different. I’m not the Asian kid of Riverdale; I’m Reggie and I just happen to be Chinese.
It’s important because it’s telling the story that Asian-Americans are in American culture. They’re a big part of our population. It’s a stepping stone to helping find our Asian-American leading movie stars. That’s the next step.
The show just got renewed for a second season. Is there anything that you’d like to see happen to Reggie in Season 2?
I think that Reggie needs to have a dog. Reggie’s dog has been a big character in the comics. Archie has a dog in the show, but I don’t have a dog. I want a dog. I’d also like to explore more of Reggie’s family life. We don’t really get to see them at all, and in the comics there are some interesting stuff about them and how they’re never really there. That’s definitely something I’d like to explore.