Hailed as ‘the most tweeted series of 2017,’ 13 Reasons Why, based on the YA novel of the same name, stars Aussie newcomer Katherine Langford, who plays the central figure, Hannah. This highly controversial and disturbing series also stars the beloved Kate Walsh (Grey’s Anatomy, Private Practice) who takes on the role of Hannah’s grieving mother as she comes to grips with the torment her daughter endured which led to her suicide.
Walsh, 49, is in her New York hotel room where we will chat about her latest TV show which is quickly becoming a phenomenon all over the world. Alarmingly, suicide is on the rise in Australia (and ranks as the biggest cause of death in the UK for men between the ages 20 and 24).
Created by Brian Yorkey and executive produced by Selena Gomez, other than Walsh, most of the cast are unknowns (though not for much longer). Much of the criticism surrounding the show has derived from the idea that it glamorises teen suicide. Walsh refutes this theory. “Well, Brian was adamant that there was nothing romantic or gothy or sexy about this suicide. And when we finally got to that scene, that there wasn’t going to be anything beautiful,” she says. “He was very concerned that it not be romanticised in any way by teens or an audience. I think he got it right.”
Although Walsh has made a career of starring in dramatic fare, playing the mother of a suicidal daughter brought about some unique challenges.
“I didn’t read the book because I didn’t want to get too much information. I spoke with a psychiatrist at Stanford [University] who deals with families and kids that have died by suicide.
“I also spoke to a very generous mother and father who lost their son to suicide. They gave me their time and allowed me to ask them questions, which was a very heavy and delicate conversation to have” she says. “In this case, it was a very specific time period, three weeks after Hannah died, other than the show going back and forth in time.”
Is there anything she gleaned from these conversations?
“Well, for one, there are certain things that we take for granted, like graffiti on bathroom stalls and people saying terrible things. That on top of a lot of other things can mount up and add to the pressures that kids experience.”
After a day’s shooting such emotionally grueling material, how did Walsh leave the darkness on set?
“I do a lot of yoga, meditation. Sometimes a glass of red wine.” She laughs. “I mean, we did shoot at Napa [Valley]. I am not going to lie to you.”
Looking much younger than her years, this afternoon she’s dressed in an elegant, slim-fitting white lace dress by Amur, accompanied by Saint Ann jewellery. In contrast to her elegant ensemble, she takes regular sips from a rather huge plastic bottle. “Oh, this is my giant middle-aged sippy cup,” she laughs. “I know it’s ridiculous but it’s how I make sure I drink enough water in a day if I get to the bottom I know I’m doing alright.”