Warning: spoilers ahead for 13 Reasons Why.
The focus of 13 Reasons Why may be framed around the events that led to high school junior Hannah (Katherine Langford) decision to commit suicide, but the new Netflix series tells more than just Hannah's story. Based on Jay Asher's acclaimed YA novel, the show peels back the curtain on teen life to reveal some uncomfortable truths.
While everyone on Hannah's list is at least a little guilty of causing their deceased classmate pain, one character seems more complicated. Portrayed by Devin Druid, Tyler, the school photographer, is in love with Hannah. Yet he also terrifies and stalks her, taking photos of her outside her bedroom and eventually capturing a kiss between Hannah and Courtney (Michele Selene Ang), a classmate struggling to confront her sexuality.
Like Hannah, Tyler is the victim of bullying for most of the series, and ends his time on the show in a particularly shocking way: With the reveal that he has a collection of weapons stashed away in his bedroom. I spoke with Druid about playing the complicated Tyler, and where he hopes the story would go should Netflix greenlight it for a season 2:
How did you prepare to play Tyler? Did you read Jay Asher's novel?
"I hadn't read the book because I was afraid that I would get confused as to which version of the character I should portray. I actually went online and I looked up the character, and I found a bunch of middle school and high school English projects where they had to summarise the characters and talk about what they learned from each one, and how they feel about each of the characters. That really gave me some insight into Tyler and how the reader perceived him. I worked with a really close friend of mine, an acting coach named Mark Joy, he's phenomenal, and he helped me tonally with the audition, and bringing aspects of my life into the scene as to make it be more grounded. [That way] I could pull from real-life experiences to make the experience more real."
What was the most challenging part of filming the episode about Tyler's tape?
"Not only is Tyler dealing with the fallout and the grief and the self-hatred and the regret of what he did to Hannah, he's trying to protect himself and his future like everyone on the tapes are... Tyler dealing with that as well as living with the loss of the girl he was in love with, being bullied by the people outside of the kids on the tapes, and being ostracised by the people on the tapes and shunned away... It's a really interesting combination of emotion because he's taking all of this harassment and bullying on top of what he's already going through. That can be incredibly overwhelming for someone to feel that much, and the difficult part was trying to portray all that.
"Dylan [Minnette, who plays Clay] and I have a dark room scene, and that's where I kind of unload and tell the reasoning of why I did what I did to Hannah, and I know that I shouldn't have done it, but I couldn't help myself. That was a really emotional day for Dylan and I to get through. We just had an overwhelming flood of truth being poured out... That's kind of the point when Tyler begins to understand his role in things... From there he thinks, maybe I'm not the one who did the worst, maybe we should go after the real bad person."
Do you see Tyler as a victim or villain of this story?
"I think it's very much a combination of both. I don't think that anyone in the world can ever justify what Tyler did to Hannah: Taking away her privacy, making her feel forever uncomfortable in her own home, it's a horrible thing to do and I would never condone it and the writers never condone it. There's nothing Tyler could say [or do], including being in love with this girl, to justify it. At the same time, he's getting so much from everyone else. There are people who have done such incredibly terrible things... It's really interesting that he alone takes on so much of the blame from everyone else. It's almost like the other characters need a place to cast their blame to cleanse themselves of any. Tyler is kind of the one taking all the blame and hatred and regret that they have. He's taking it all on. What that does to him is it eventually does to Tyler what happened to Hannah in the beginning. He's taking so much bullying that it's taking him beyond his breaking point. But [unlike ] Hannah, Tyler may not be so self-destructive as he is just destructive."
Were you shocked to find that Tyler had purchased a gun, and had stashed weapons in his room?
"It was a big surprise to me. I know that Dylan, from the beginning, talked to Brian [Yorkey, the creator of the show] about... what would happen [to Clay.] He wanted to know where Clay sat on this timeline... I was learning everything as the tapes were going. I was learning and slowly adapting to where Tyler was headed, not knowing where that was going to be. So when I finally read I believe episode 12, where he buys the handgun... I live in an apartment complex right across from Brian Yorkey... and I'm sitting there reading [the episode] on my computer and as soon as I read that line I look up and look in the direction of Brian's apartment and [yelled] for Brian... It made such perfect sense, because Tyler is being pushed to that point. This is not an illogical place for this character to be headed towards. It felt like a natural conclusion.
"Our show comes with an important message that we worked so hard at, and put a lot of thought into for it to help people and to bring awareness to Hannah's situation and what she dealt with. Things that happen in real life and don't get enough attention, or maybe do but aren't [resolved yet]. If we were to continue on I would want as much love and thought and care put into [season 2.]
"I would want the issues going forward to be addressed realistically, and just make sure it's done right so we can continue on with the same themes. This is to educate people and to help people who feel this way. I think they've done a great job at writing Tyler's storyline so that it could go into something really interesting. We saw how Hannah struggling with her mental illness and everything piled up against her led [to her suicide] and I think it would be really interesting to explore other sides of mental illness and how bullying can impact in other ways. Instead of feeling hopeless [like Hannah did], maybe Tyler feels the problem is with everyone else. It would be interesting to see that side of the story, but to treat it properly, and to show how it's can happen and how we can prevent it. I guess we'll have to see."
What do you say to the fans who think Tyler shot Alex and framed it like a suicide? Can you debunk that theory?
"People immediately started jumping on that theory, and it's so interesting because I never thought about that. Exactly what's on screen is written in the script. I don't know if Brian has any secrets, or if this is supposed to be a plot element that's up for speculation, or that will be expanded on if we were to go back, but I love to see the fan interactions. I love Miles [Heizer, who plays Alex], I'd hate to be the guy who shot him!
"I always thought that Clay, Alex, and Tyler all mirrored each other in several different ways. I would talk to Brian and we would talk about Tyler being the version of Clay who is actually guilty of doing something wrong to Hannah. It's like if Clay were to express his feeling inappropriately for Hannah. There are a lot of similarities... there are a lot of kids who feel alone who maybe pine for a girl who is out of their league."