13 Reasons Why’s Tommy Dorfman Talks LGBTQ+ Roles, the Industry, and Season Two

If you’ve had any access to the internet over the past week, you’ve most likely heard of Netflix’s new smash hit series, 13 Reasons Why. The show grapples with high schooler Hannah Baker’s suicide and its weighty impact on those around her. Prior to her passing, Hannah records thirteen cassettes-- one for each person who served as a reason for her suicide. In consequence, those mentioned on the tapes join together; it only gets more suspenseful from there. Amongst the show’s dramatis personae is Ryan Shaver, a passionate activist, remarkable poet, and editor-in-chief of the high school’s literary magazine. Actor Tommy Dorfman breathes life into this role, only furthering the sense of haunting realism created throughout 13 Reasons Why. This month, editor-in-chief Olivia Ferrucci talked with Tommy about the bridge between film and television, the high school experience, and why creating diverse opportunities for LGBTQ+ actors is so important.

Lithium: I think every character on 13 Reasons Why is so complex and well-played. What was it like to get inside the story and be a part of something so important?
Tommy: It was a gift and a privilege to work on this show and help tell Hannah’s story.

Lithium: How did you prepare for the role?
Tommy: I read a lot of poetry, made a playlist of music I felt Ryan would listen to, [and] fleshed out my relationships with other characters and Ryan’s place in this story.

Lithium: You stated that you’ve sought straight roles in the past due to the industry’s flaws. What’s the most definitive challenge about being a gay actor today?
Tommy: I think, from my experience, it’s getting producers and directors and casting directors and agents and managers to me for all of who I am, not just being gay. I have no shame in my sexuality and [am] proud of being queer and embrace that publicly and privately. Sometimes that’s at the expense of opportunities, but I’m a firm [believer] that there are executives out there who can see beyond the shoes I’m wearing and have enough imagination to work with me and others like me-- who will be willing to give us opportunities beyond the “gay kid” and write better roles for LGBTQ+ actors that aren’t based on stereotypes or archetypes.

Lithium: Obviously, a lot of people have started making theories about the show-- especially regarding the last few episodes! Have you explored those conspiracies at all?
Tommy: Ha! I try to stay true to Brian’s vision and what the writers have on the page and not get too caught up in the conspiracies.

Lithium: It almost feels as though 13 Reasons Why is neither a film or a television series, but instead is bridging the gap between the two. How do you think shows like 13 Reasons Why are changing modern media?
Tommy: I think it’s a breakthrough moment for YA television. Netflix has always been a pioneer for better quality TV, and this is just another example of that. I hope it inspires more networks and writers to create shows that portray the [high school] experience as truthfully as 13 does. And to make shows that have an impact beyond just entertaining, but also helping people.

Lithium: This story has changed so many lives and has hit home for so many. What do you think makes it so personable and relatable?
Tommy: Our show is extremely diverse in race, gender, sexuality, and experiences. Because of this, I think viewers find someone they can relate to.

Lithium: Can you describe the filming process?
Tommy: The entire shoot was filled with love and passion and support. We worked really hard as a team to tell this story and I think that shows in the final product. It was especially exciting for me, as this was my first big show and job.

Lithium: How does your high school experience compare to Ryan’s?
Tommy: I relate to Ryan in that, when I was in HS, I desperately wanted to get out of there. I didn’t have great relationships with my peers and felt ostracized, I think in ways Ryan feels at school.

Lithium: What’s next for you?

Tommy: Hopefully we go back for another season. I’m also working on some developmental projects right now that I can’t speak too much about, but are exciting.

Check out Tommy Dorfman in 13 Reasons Why, now streaming on Netflix!

Photos courtesy of Luvegnation.

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