The first season of 13 Reasons Why, the hit Netflix series based on the book by Jay Asher, was a global sensation, honestly portraying the pain and trauma that young people face, and what happens when that pain is ignored. While facing hard truths a story worth telling, it isn’t something that ends in the moment. As such, the show’s creators decided to continue, this time with the aim to tell the story of how people deal with that pain once they’ve recognized it, and how they overcome the traumas they have either experienced or inflicted.
Jessica, played by Alisha Boe, was a character whose story was only just beginning. A victim of assault, she was just coming to grips with what had happened to her, and a continuation of the series allows the audience to see what someone goes through after a traumatic event, and how they overcome it with the support of their loved ones.
Brian Yorkey, the creator of 13 Reasons Why, believes Jessica’s was the most important story in the second season, he tells me when we sit together to discuss it in Rome.
“One of the things that helped us know that we wanted a season two was we wanted to know what happened to Jessica. At the end of season one, she’s just beginning the process of coming to terms with the fact that she’s a victim of sexual assault. We wanted to see her make that journey from victim to survivor. That’s an incredibly difficult journey that many women and girls go through in their lives in the real world, so we wanted to get that right. We wanted to justice by it. We wanted to tell it in a compelling way so that people who didn’t know that journey would come to understand it, but also wanted to do it in a way that was honoring what people went through, so that if someone was going through it, they would see themselves reflected in it, and not see a Hollywood version of it,” says Yorkey.
Boe herself tells me that the moment she heard that the story would continue, she screamed with joy.
“I found out the morning of the MTV Movie Awards. Christian Navarro who plays Tony was staying with me because he lives in New York and it was in LA, and I saw it on my phone and I was like, Christian! It’s happening! I yelled. It was exciting. We had a really great night, and it was a lot of fun,” she tells me.
To find a way into the character, she worked with experts to make sure that her portrayal was as accurate as she could make it.
“I felt really prepared because in the first season I was able to speak to a psychologist, and I was able to do a lot of research beforehand. I felt very prepared. It made it less difficult. I just want to tell Jessica’s story authentically and for people to really connect with it and that they see themselves reflected in it on screen,” she says.
It’s easy to imagine toll that the show takes emotionally on its young actors could potentially be tough. How does Boe deal with it?
“It’s important to decompress. That’s what I’ve learned. I just watch a lot of Rick and Morty. It helps,” she says.
“Any particular episodes?” I ask.
“I’M PICKLE RIIICK,” she replies.
Boe has been approached by fans all over the world about how much the character has meant to them.
“I went to Brazil two weeks after the show came out, and girls would come up to me that Jessica’s storyline really resonated with them, and some of them said that cause of the show they were able to talk openly about what they’d gone through, which is amazing. If I could somehow affect someone’s life for the better, that’s a dream. That reminds me how important it is,” Boe says.
“I just really wanted to tell Jessica’s story, because I feel like we want to see her recover, and we wanted to see some hope in there. I think people are really going to love that and I think that was really satisfying for me.”