13 Reasons Why star Justin Prentice on why he was 'excited' about Bryce's death
Warning: This post contains plot from the third season of 13 Reasons Why. Read at your own risk!
Bryce Walker is dead. We’ve known that much since Netflix released the first trailer for 13 Reasons Why. What we didn’t know was how he died and what happened in the final eight months of his life — at least not until season 3 hit Netflix on Friday.
And now, EW chatted with actor Justin Prentice about Bryce’s final season and his reaction to his character’s ending. SPOILERS AHEAD!
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What was your reaction to finding out Bryce was dead?
JUSTIN PRENTICE: I had an inkling that it was going to happen, but when [showrunner Brian] Yorkey and I grabbed lunch, he sat me down and he was like, “Yeah, you’re going to die.” I was taken aback for a second. I’m like, “Did I do something wrong? Is this why you’re killing me off this show?” But he was like, “We have this great idea for this season” and he talked me through Bryce’s arc and I was like, “I think this is going to be fantastic. I’m on board. Let’s do it.”
Weirdly enough, the season where Bryce dies is also the season where we see the most of this character and really see him at least attempt to evolve in certain ways.
Right. I think that’s why I was so excited once he sort of walked me through everything. I’ve gotten to explore the villain side of Bryce for many years now. And that’s been, as an actor, very rewarding — playing something different from how I am. But then to take a character that you’re so used to playing one way and start throwing in elements of the complete opposite, seeing humanity breaking through was very enjoyable. And then of course he still has his relapses back into old Bryce, triggered by certain characters. So it wasn’t like a complete overhaul, but it was fun to sprinkle all of these new moments that we haven’t gotten to explore with Bryce yet.
Did you and Brian sit down and discuss adding those new layers without losing the old Bryce?
Yeah, I talked with Yorkey a bit just in finding that balance, especially in specific scenes: “Is Bryce learning up to this point or is this a facade? When does it break? When does he learn? How much does he learn?” All of that sort of stuff. So it was really fun to play with. With particular characters, you get to see the humanity sort of shine through and I think you do see that he is learning, but Bryce also has been the way he has been for so long, especially when it comes to people like with Zach Dempsey and controlling this sports culture. So certain people can easily revert him back to his old self. That’s what he’s been for so long.
I felt like I spent every scene with Bryce and Ani being so tense because I wasn’t sure which way it was going to go.
Good! That’s what we wanted. It is sort of a volatile concoction. It could explode at any moment. That is the thing with Bryce, he’s learning to be human for the first time either ever or in a long time, at least since he was maybe a little kid and it’s an uphill battle. So you do see those tense moments between him and Ani as he tries to figure out how to grasp his emotions and control his anger and open up an empathetic side and let people in. That give and take is interesting and terrifying between the two characters.
So Brian told you you were going to die, but did you know who was going to kill you? When did you find out the actual answer to the mystery?
I found out when they sent us the last script, episode 13, like a week before we started filming the last episode. Because I didn’t want to know. I didn’t want to have scenes with that in the back of my mind. I didn’t want it to influence how I went about the scenes. I felt it was safer to just not worry about it and keep it as a secret. And fortunately no one in our cast or crew let it slip because some people did know from the get-go. They were great in keeping it a secret from me. Thank goodness.
What was your reaction to finding out it was Alex?
You know, I could see why when I read it was Alex. I was like, “Yeah, I get it.” I didn’t necessarily call this one. I knew it wasn’t Zach, so I knew that there was more to the story than that and I always assumed that Jess might be involved. So I had parts of the puzzle sort of mapped out, but not the whole picture. So that was a fun little surprise.
Looking back on your journey with Bryce, what’s been the most difficult part of playing this character?
In first couple of seasons, the rape scenes were always the most difficult. And then I think what was interesting, and difficult, but in a completely different way, was taking a character that you’ve worked hard to shut the humanity off on and opening that humanity and getting to a place where he can, in some scenes, break down and be completely vulnerable. Those were also very difficult. Had it been a different character, maybe it would’ve been a little easier, but taking a character that you’ve worked so hard to shut the emotions off on and then opening them up, you have to do a little reworking there. So it was challenging but really fun as an actor.
Overall, what is your takeaway from this experience?
I feel so honored and fulfilled as an actor. It’s genuinely been phenomenal to take this sort of high school setting but have the depth that all these characters have, which is something that Yorkey and our writers have really masterfully done. It’s been just a joy and a pleasure every day to jump into these boots. I think all the actors would say the same. It’s also a rarity that we got a cast that gets along so well. We’ve become such a big family. I’m gonna miss everything about it. It’s been a really, really good run.
Based on the 2007 novel by Jay Asher, the Netflix drama follows a teen named Clay who attempts to figure out what led his classmate and crush Hannah to take her own life.