Kate Walsh is feeling the weight of her role in the second season of 13 Reasons Why.
“It’s still very intense,” Walsh, who plays Olivia Baker on the Netflix series, told PEOPLE during a photoshoot for the relaunch of her fragrance, Boyfriend. “The season deals with a lot of heavy issues with bullying, what happened to Hannah. My character is searching and seeking justice and it really deals with people and their perception with truth. It deals with sexual assault and very dark subjects that people are not going to be comfortable watching, but at the same time there’s a real message of healing. I think you see how the community starts to move forward and move through not only Hannah’s death but all these experiences.”
She added, “I really wanted to portray as accurately and as realistically as I could and do honor to parents who have gone through an unimaginable experience of losing a child. I wanted to do the best job I could so that they could feel like they were seen and heard. There’s still such a stigma of shame in our culture. There’s a lot of not wanting to talk about it still. Season 2 deals with how it continually affects those when someone dies by suicide and how it affects the entire culture. As painful as that is I think it’s important to deal with that and look at. I wouldn’t say I feel an added pressure, but I want to serve that story accurately.”
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The television adaptation of Jay Asher’s 2007 young adult novel — which tells the story of high school student Hannah Baker, who left cassette tapes for each of the people she blames for the events that lead to her death by suicide — provoked outrage for its graphic content when the first season was released on the streaming service in March 2017.
In response to criticism of the show’s graphic portrayal of suicide, sexual assault, substance abuse and bullying, season 2 of the controversial series begins with cast members Dylan Minnette (who plays Clay Jensen), Katherine Langford (Hannah Baker), Justin Prentice (Bryce Walker) and Alisha Boe (Jessica Davis) warning viewers about the heavy content.
“13 Reasons Why is a fictional series that tackles tough, real-world issues, taking a look at sexual assault, substance abuse, suicide, and more. By shedding a light on these difficult topics, we hope our show can help viewers start a conversation,” the cast members explain, taking turns delivering the message.
The disclaimer also comes with a recommendation that some viewers consider either not watching the show, or not watching it by themselves.
“If you are struggling with these issues yourself, this series may not be right for you or you may want to watch it with a trusted adult. And if you ever feel you need someone to talk with, reach out to a parent, a friend, a school counselor, or an adult you trust, call a local helpline, or go to 13ReasonsWhy.info. Because the minute you start talking about it, it gets easier,” the cast members added.
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Netflix has added trigger warnings before episodes containing graphic scenes. Additionally, at the end of each episode, viewers are directed to visit 13ReasonsWhy.info, where they can find contact information for crisis prevention centers and helplines.
“I think parents feel so like I don’t know how to deal with this,” Walsh said. “They want to have a solution before they even start a conversation, but it’s just the whole point, just start talking and listening.”
She later added, “What I did learn was very humbling because I used to pride myself on being this actor that could turn it on and turn it off and do a scene and whip up some tears, cry then shake it off then go have a great dinner,” she said. “This was an oppressive role to play. It was sort of unending and really hard. So much of it was this simmer and the challenge of wanting to show her now, where she is after Hannah’s gone and her search for justice and accountability and responsibility. The writing is so good and there are so many levels to play so I just wanted to make sure I hit all of them. It was exhausting, but exciting.”