For producer Selena Gomez, shepherding Jay Asher's 13 Reasons Why from page to screen as executive producer was a labor of love years in the making. The story, which follows a group of students and their parents in the wake of a 17-year-old classmate's suicide, left a lasting impression on Gomez when she first read it — and she knew that the only way to do it justice was to make the project as real and unflinching as the source material.
"I understood that we were going into something that is difficult, but these kids today are so exposed to things that I would never even comprehend when I was 8," Gomez said on Elvis Duran and the Morning Show on Monday (June 5). "I feel like if this is what we are going to talk about, we might as well do it in a way that's going to be honest, it's going to be real, and it stays true to the book."
When Gomez and her mom, Mandy Teefey, bought the rights to the novel eight years ago, the Wizards of Waverly Place star was originally attached to star as the ill-fated Hannah Baker, branching out from her Disney Channel days. But plans for a feature-film adaptation fell through. Still, as Gomez made the transition to global superstar, she never forgot about 13 Reasons Why. In fact, the importance of Hannah's story was amplified by her own stint in a rehab facility last year. But even she didn't anticipate the fervent fandom surrounding the series, telling Duran she was "overwhelmed by the reaction."
In response to the controversy surrounding the graphic depictions of rape and suicide in 13 Reasons Why, Gomez said she "understands it," but at the end of the day, she and the writers remain committed to telling an authentic teen story. "This is happening every day, so whether or not you wanted to see it, that's what's happening," she said.
She also hopes the sensitive subject matter helped to spark important conversations among teens, parents, educators, and mental health professionals. "I think that stuff is uncomfortable for people to talk about," Gomez said, "but it is happening and hopefully it opened the door for people to actually accept what's happening and actually go and change it, talk about it."
As for the second season, which is currently in preproduction, Gomez confirmed that on top of answering a lot of outstanding questions, Season 2 will also be as "encouraging and empowering" as the first.
"I went to the writers' room the other day and I felt like I was watching a movie because I was freaking out on where they're going [with the season]," she said. "It's actually really encouraging and empowering and so we’re going to take a little inspiration from the first and bring it into the second."