13 Reasons Why star Brenda Strong talks Nora Walker's season 3 journey
Warning: This post contains plot from the third season of 13 Reasons Why. Read at your own risk!
When Bryce Walker was killed, his mother was the only one willing to fight for him. Despite her issues with her son’s actions, she refused to give up on finding his killer. In many ways, Nora Walker became the Mrs. Baker of 13 Reasons Why‘s third season as she tried to figure out what happened to her child.
EW chatted with Brenda Strong about Nora’s journey in season 3 and what’s ahead in season 4.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How has Nora evolved from the first script you got to where we find her at the end of season 3?
BRENDA STRONG: For me, Nora Walker was a bit of an enigma in season 2. She was kind of an appendage to her husband and her husband’s machinations. Then she slapped her son, which was what everyone in the audience had wanted to do, so she became kind of the audience in a way. And then in season 3, the writers really provided her with an opportunity to explore and heal the past, particularly in regard to her father and her husband and really to explore who she wants to be in the future because, obviously, she’s going through a lot with the divorce, having to take care of her father’s health, etc. She starts to take a really deep and uncomfortable look at why her son is who he is and the part she played. She herself is coming of age and asking herself those tough questions and trying to desperately right the ship that is Bryce. As a parent, she feels like she’s responsible. The tragedy comes in his death, which steals the foreseeable future of her healing and Bryce’s healing, which she hopes is possible. [This] really sets her on a track of trying to find out who killed her son.
What was it like to balance both sides of Nora’s emotions: Loving her son but knowing that he’d hurt people?
As human beings, we’re such complex organisms, and on any given day we can be the best or the worst person on the planet given our choices and our values and our circumstances and our environment and everything else. I think that complexity is really what we all struggle with: How do we reconcile the parts of us that we are ashamed of and the potential person we want to be? She has to acknowledge the truth that her son did some despicable, horrible things. That is a reality, and there’s shame for her as a parent to be the source of that person who did these terrible things, but there’s also the pain of someone killed my child. I think it’s a really beautiful, pivotal scene between Hannah’s mom and Nora Walker where they come together and have a conversation about how the pain’s not going to go away, even if you find the killer. We all have to live with different layers of pain. I think that’s really where she ends up in that final scene when she lets Clay into the house, and she allows the person that she wanted so desperately to blame for all of this into her house as a friend. It’s such a great full-circle way to admit, “I’m wrong, and I’m going to try to be better.”
Did you know going into this season that Nora definitely did not kill Bryce? I found myself questioning it a few times.
Oh, I love that you thought that! I wanted to play it ambiguously enough that you felt she was capable of it. I wanted that to be a question. I do have to say, to my credit, and I don’t mean to brag, but I had a wonderful dinner with Brian Yorkey, the creator, before the season started. I hadn’t read very many scripts and I said, “I think I know who did it.” And he’s like, “Really? Who?” And I told him, and it turns out I was right. So even though I didn’t know at the time of the beginning of the season, I had my inclinations and I felt very justified.
Was it just a gut feeling? What made you think that Alex did it?
It had to do with his anger, his protection of Jessica, and the double bind that his father was investigating and what that would mean to his family. It was all of those things that led me to believe that that would be the most creative, unusual choice, and being that Brian’s a brilliant writer, he would go for that creative, unusual story.
It felt like Alex made sense, but at the same time, anyone would’ve made sense.
Exactly and that’s the beauty of it … even though all of those people didn’t kill him, the majority of them wanted him dead. And that’s the confession: even though they didn’t do it, they hated him enough to want it. And when Hannah’s mom comes to talk to me and she says you have to believe that any number of them wanted him dead, it’s a hard thing to swallow, the reality of it.
You’re directing in season 4. How did that come about?
I ended up directing a really beautiful short film that is now entering into the festival circuit called #3 Normandy Lane that was written by my husband, John Farmanesh-Bocca. I ended up screening it during the Napa Film Festival for the cast and crew at the beginning of last season. Then I started shadowing just for my own edification as a director. At the end of last season, I said, “I would love to throw my hat in the ring for next season as a director.” And because of the nature of the conversations about my character last year with Brian [Yorkey], I think he felt very comfortable with someone who knew the show as well as I did and who had the kind of love for these characters that I do. I think he felt that the story would be in very good hands, at least that’s my hope, and I’m very excited to get to play with these young actors whom I admire so much and have a hand in shaping the story in season 4.
Is Nora still around in season 4 or are you just directing?
I have been told that Nora does make some appearances. She will not be a series regular because the storyline, obviously, has come to an end. So season 4, she will definitely come in to stir it up, to find out what’s going on, because I think she has some answers that still need to be fulfilled, but I don’t think she’ll be a driving force.