A chat with “13 Reasons Why” star Justin Prentice

REASON FOR RETURN. American actor Justin Prentice talks about playing Bryce Walker in “13 Reasons Why,” the challenges of nailing a villain’s character and the best parts of the show

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There’s a saying that goes: “No matter if you love or hate them, a good actor evokes emotion out of their audience.” If that’s really how the movie industry works, American actor Justin Prentice is definitely in a good place right now. His character Bryce Walker on Netflix’s teen drama “13 Reasons Why” was so disgraceful that everyone who watched the show absolutely hates him. But, of course, that’s just on the screen. In real life, Prentice is nothing like the sexual predator he plays on “13 Reasons Why.” As a matter of fact, he’s a cheerful, insightful and quite an inspirational performer with a tale to tell.

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DA MAN: Hi Justin, thank you for having us. How are you doing these days?
Justin Prentice:
I’m doing well, thank you! Can’t complain.

DA MAN: How was your overall experience shooting the second season of “13 Reasons Why”?
Justin Prentice:
It was a blast. It’s such a great group of people. We’re all one big family. Story-wise, there’s a lot more depth to all these characters in season two; so that was really enjoyable to bring to life.

DA MAN: In your opinion, what are the biggest factors behind the success of “13 Reasons Why”?
Justin Prentice:
This show isn’t afraid to tackle issues head on. It doesn’t shy away from anything. I think our viewers are glad that we don’t undermine anyone’s emotional intelligence. Kids in high school are already dealing with the issues we portray in the show, so I think they appreciate the realism with which the events are brought to life.

DA MAN: “13 Reasons Why” deals with some very heavy stuff. Has it made playing in the series more challenging?
Justin Prentice:
It’s certainly more emotionally taxing than any other project I’ve been a part of. But, there’s also the beauty part of it. As actors, we crave deep and meaty storytelling, three dimensional characters. This show offers that in abundance.

DA MAN: What do you hope people take away from “13 Reasons Why”?
Justin Prentice:
I hope people walk away with more empathy and a willingness to treat one another more respectfully. Our show offers perspectives of people who are very distressed due to how other people and other circumstances have influenced them. Hopefully, seeing the effects of the mistreatment makes viewers more mindful of their own actions.

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DA MAN: It’s safe to say that your character, Bryce Walker, is one of the “villains.” What was your reaction after reading the script for the first time?
Justin Prentice:
It was something along the lines of: “Wow, this guy really sucks. I hope I can portray him realistically. This is going to be a big undertaking.”

DA MAN: How did you get into the mindset of Bryce Walker?
Justin Prentice:
A lot of research. The more work you do to shred the character piece by piece together, the easier he is to jump in and out of. I also had a psychiatrist and a sexual assault preventative advocate on my side. Both of them were experts in understanding the minds of real people like Bryce. And, of course, Brian Yorkey, our venerable show runner, was always there to talk things over with me.

DA MAN: What do you feel is the best part about how “13 Reasons Why” has grown into its second season?
Justin Prentice:
Our show achieves quite a bit in season two. One of the things that I personally love is the added depth and dimension to the characters. There’s more room to explore these people in ways we didn’t see, or only saw glimpses of, in the first season. For example: Bryce. We see his life at home this season. More pieces are added to the puzzle of how he got to be the way he is. We also see a larger range of emotions from Bryce. We see him crack for the first time. He loses his grip on his empire for, seemingly, the first time in his life.

DA MAN: Besides “13 Reasons Why,” what else do you have coming up?
Justin Prentice:
I’m trying out my footing behind the camera. I’m producing my first full-length feature, so that’s pretty exciting. It’s a really cool, dark and gritty script.

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DA MAN: On an unrelated note, have you ever thought about what you would be doing if you weren’t an actor?
Justin Prentice:
When I was a kid, my dream was to be a paleontologist. I still fantasize about it from time to time. If this whole entertainment industry thing doesn’t pan out, I may just go grab a chisel and a brush, and get knee deep in some fossils.

DA MAN: What’s the one thing you’d say most people get wrong about acting as a profession?
Justin Prentice:
I suppose the most common assumption is that acting is majorly rote memorization, which is not the case. Acting is a complete embodiment and recreation of the most human interactions. However, our brains frequently work on autopilot. A lot of the things that we do as humans, we’re not consciously aware of. But with acting, you have to break down what it is to be human and then recreate it in new scenes and new situations. For instance, when you get mad, you just get mad. You don’t think to yourself: “How do I get mad?” or “What exactly made me mad?” or “What should I do with my body to portray that I’m mad?” But as an actor, these are all questions that pop up.

DA MAN: On that note, what has been the best acting advice you’ve ever heard?
Justin Prentice:
I’m not sure if you could tell from my previous answer, but I have a tendency to overanalyze. In the past, that has lead to me being too focused on periphery details and not being able to fully drop into the character. So. for me, one of the best pieces of advice was to just let go. Do the work, find the detail and then let it all go.

DA MAN: Looking back at your career so far, do you still remember what it was like the time you first went into acting professionally?
Justin Prentice:
Back in 2009, forCriminal Minds.” It was my first professional gig. I had recently fractured my ankle and therefore in a boot and on crutches. I hobbled my way out of the audition thinking: “Why would they hire me? The character isn’t supposed to be on crutches. They’ll find someone else.” But I booked it. I didn’t have any lines, but it was one of the most enjoyable experiences of my life up to that point. So, thank you “Criminal Minds.”

DA MAN: And looking ahead, what are your plans for the near future?
Justin Prentice:
In the near future, watching the newest “Jurassic World”—paleontology, remember?—and the season three of “13 Reasons Why.” Also, bringing great stories and characters to life. Last but not least, living, learning and loving!

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Photography Pedro Correa
Styling Tayo Fajemisin
Grooming Melissa Walsh