Speaking with PEOPLE recently, the actress opened up about the difficulties she faced playing a mother who lost a child to suicide. Walsh also discussed how important it was for her to honor real-life parents who’ve gone through this traumatic event.
“It’s an important project and one that I wanted to be involved with,” she told PEOPLE of joining the cast of 13 Reasons Why. “As heavy and dark as it is to play, I was interested in the use of time and mystery aspect of it.”
13 Reasons Why is an adaptation of Jay Asher’s young adult book of the same name. Walsh plays the mother of central character Hannah Baker (Katherine Langford), a teenager who commits suicide after experiencing prolonged bullying at her new high school.
“I really wanted to honor and shed light on the parents that have had to go through this awful and horrific event in their lives,” Walsh said. “I wanted that challenge. It’s a great thing as an actor that you can do something that’s not only interesting, but is relevant and necessary and this is very necessary in our culture.”
In researching the role, Walsh spoke with parents who had experienced the loss of a child through suicide and a doctor who deals with families that have lost children.
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“I wanted to have my own take on it,” she said of not reading the book. “I talked to some parents who experienced losing a child by suicide. I talked with an amazing psychiatrist at Stanford who deals with families that have lost children. So being able to talk to parents and also a doctor who could sort of get into details and particulars about personality stuff and emotional arcs, that was really helpful. I wanted to do my own interpretation from that.”
“I broke down multiple times as Mrs. Baker. Towards the end it just gets exhausting … it’s a lot to carry,” Walsh added. “I think it’s very realistic. I think that’s what Brian [Yorkey, the creator] tried to communicate and certainly I did. It was very important for me to honor two people who have gone through it.”
After playing such a dark character for a long period of time, it was hard for the 49-year-old actress to leave it all on set.
“It was challenging. I would get a little sick to my stomach when I got on the plane to go back to Oakland every time,” she explained. “But you get into a rhythm and it works.”
“We shot it up in northern California, so I went back and fourth from L.A. For me, it was like I could leave Mrs. Baker up in the Bay Area and go back to L.A. and do something that made me happy,” Walsh continued. “One of the things I was preparing for and was conscious of and worked on was how to open her up and then close her back up again and sort of not carry that around with me.”
Walsh went on to stress that education is key in dealing with the issues that surround today’s youth and avoiding further tragedy.
“Like with this show, unfortunately, we wait for terrible things to happen to get framework and education on how to prevent this stuff from happening,” she explained. “It’s up to us to educate ourselves, police ourselves and to put limitations on ourselves. For me, that’s sort of the lesson these days, not only educating, but having conversations about what it’s like to be LGBTQ these days or talking about sexuality very honestly to prevent sexual assault.”
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“We need to educated boys and girls to talk about race, suicide, all these things and it starts with communication,” Walsh continued. “We have to make up that conversation.”
13 Reasons Why begins streaming Friday on Netflix.
If you or someone you know is struggling with depression, please call 1-800-662-HELP (4357) or visit the National Institute of Mental Health online at nimh.nih.gov. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is open 24 hours a day. Call 1-800-273-8255.