SPEAKING OUT. As the third season of “13 Reasons Why” creeps closer, DA MAN chats with Michele Selene Ang about her character in the show and representation in Hollywood
Hit TV show “13 Reasons Why” is full of shocking surprises. More importantly, however, are some of the happier threads woven into the story, such as the tale of Courtney Crimsen. And the driving story behind her is Michele Selene Ang, who has quite an interesting tale as well—one of the support and struggle for representation of minority groups in the entertainment industry and—surprise, surprise—a deep-seated connection to Indonesia.
DAMAN: Hi Michele, thanks for having us. First and foremost, we’re definitely still excited (again) for “13 Reasons Why” after the third season has been confirmed. If you could take us back to the start for a bit, what was it that drew you to the series at first?
Michele Selene Ang: Thank you for having me. I submitted through an open call for “13 Reasons Why” in my last semester of college. When I got a callback, I was excited and immediately read the entire book and felt initially drawn in by the mystery in the original story. I felt connected to my character from the start
DAMAN: Your character, Courtney Crimsen, underwent quite a dramatic personality change during season two. What was it like from your point of view?
Michele Selene Ang: I don’t think she underwent a personality change. Rather, I think she found a change in perspective. When we pick up in season two, I think she realizes that trying to hide her true self is not only becoming increasingly fruitless, but it also means further dishonoring Hannah and her memory. She knows that she is going to have to come out somehow, sometime, although she probably did not envision doing so in front of a jury and audience in court. Ultimately, it came down to either letting the lawyer spread more vicious lies about Hannah or to own up to her own truth and thus bring justice to the kind soul she really was. Thankfully, Courtney finds the courage to choose the latter.
DAMAN: What was it like trying to get into the shoes and head of Courtney?
Michele Selene Ang: I have a whole actor process that I go through for each character. I went to theatre school, so thankfully I’ve had a lot of practice with this kind of preparation. In that sense, it was relatively easy to find her characteristics, qualities, motives and physicality.
DAMAN: What do you think is the one thing that many people still get wrong about Courtney?
Michele Selene Ang: That she’s completely heartless. She’s not. She was a coward, she will do almost whatever it takes to get what she wants. She’s unapologetically ambitious and sometimes that can come across as arrogance.
DAMAN: One of the sweetest moments at the finale of season two is when Courtney introduced her girlfriend, Tamika. It’s the kind of happy ending that is—unfortunately—still rare for LGBTQ characters in film. What are your thought on this?
Michele Selene Ang: I feel incredibly fortunate to be able to tell her narrative and I love that she got a happy ending. While LGBTQ characters, actors and people definitely still need more representation in the media, I feel hopeful about the prospects of a changed industry. “Love, Simon,” for example, is a fantastic movie featuring a gay male character. So, for Courtney to get to be a small part of that narrative is very special to me.
DAMAN: On a slightly related note, we often hear from actors we interview about the lack of representation for Asian Americans in Hollywood. Have you had any personal experience dealing with this subject?
Michele Selene Ang: Yes, and this is a topic that I have been occupied with for years. When I came to New York for college, I was simultaneously astounded by the scarcity of Asian artists at my program, but also by the invaluable training that very same program afforded me and the warmth I felt in our community. We held many symposiums at our school about the need for representation and diversity in the theatre industry and, by extension, the entertainment industry. There was a string of whitewashing incidents both in theatre and film throughout my four years at school, and our little group of Asian student-artists were continually distraught. But we taught ourselves and each other how to address such matters, equipped with new terms and vocabulary to discuss what was happening and how to stay hopeful. Now, with the success of “Crazy Rich Asians,” and a slew of many other equally worthy projects featuring Asian/Asian-American artists, I feel more hopeful than ever and even more fervent for this cause. We will keep fighting and our Asian/Asian-American stories will be seen.
DAMAN: In your opinion, what would be the simplest thing that producers, directors, actors—everyone—can do to resolve this issue?
Michele Selene Ang: Be an ally. Meaning, take the time to understand why it is so important. There’s so much literature on the subject out there now. Do yourself a favor and read up. And I truly believe that, unless a character’s race is an integral part of the storyline, audition actors of every color, especially if it’s the leading role. It’s awesome that I’m seeing so much more “open to all ethnicities” next to the roles on casting notices, but when I see the casting announcement, the lead is almost always white, as well as most of the supporting cast. We need to push for more diversity on screen, and to do that, we need to actively push to cast actors of color.
DAMAN: All in all, though, do you feel that things are changing for Asian-American talent in Hollywood?
Michele Selene Ang: Absolutely yes, honey, we are here and we are golden.
DAMAN: On a lighter note, we heard that you’re going to Indonesia in September. Can you tell us a bit about what your plans are while here?
Michele Selene Ang: I was born in Surabaya. My family moved to the U.S. when I was four. So, while I am fully American, most of my extended family is in Jakarta and I come back to visit every few years. It’s a family trip, my cousin is getting married in Bali, I’m visiting my father’s mother in Jember, we are going to Mt. Bromo for a bit and then spend time with my mother’s side of the family in Jakarta before flying back to the States. I plan to eat all of the nasi lemak when I’m in Indo, lah.
DAMAN: Final question: We understand that season three of “13 Reasons Why” is under heavy wraps. That being said, is there anything you can tell us about what to expect next year?
Michele Selene Ang: I can’t say much, but I can tell you to expect more suspense and big revelations. It’s going to be super intense.
Photography Mitchell Nguyen McCormack and Jalen Turner
Styling Ty Headlee
Make Up Elie Maalouf
Hair Patricia Morales
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