In the summer of 2009, I bought the DVD of Disney’s Princess Protection Program. The guy behind the counter asked if it was a birthday gift for a daughter or niece. I wasn’t allowed to reveal the real reason I was buying it, so I simply said, “It’s for me.” And then I grabbed my bag and ran from the store.
By that point, several production companies had asked to buy the film rights to Thirteen Reasons Why. Some even wanted to begin production immediately, but there was always at least one thing that made me uneasy about selling the rights. Maybe I was being too picky, but I didn’t need to see my book turned into a movie to be satisfied.
Then my agent said an actress was interested in playing Hannah Baker.
The only thing I knew about Selena Gomez was that magazines loved putting her face on the cover linking her to some teen heartthrob. So I watched a few episodes of her TV show, Wizards of Waverly Place, to see if I could glimpse any traces of Hannah Baker. Sure, Selena’s character was positive and funny (like Hannah when she first moved to town). And sure, Selena was pretty (which is how Clay described Hannah). But I needed to see more.
So I bought that DVD and my wife and I sat down to watch it. I will admit, we were skeptical. We assumed we knew Selena based on her TV series and the covers of Tiger Beat magazine. (Which is kind of sad, because isn’t my book all about the awfulness of stereotyping?) And while most of the movie was light and funny, there were absolute hints of Hannah Baker poking through – subtle expressions that reminded me of specific scenes in the book. It gave me the chills! Visually, for the first time, I could see pretty and optimistic Hannah slowly losing hope. But was it just me? When the movie was over, I turned to JoanMarie, who is just as protective of Hannah as I am.
“It gave me goosebumps,” she said. “You need to let her do this.”
Fine, so I was convinced Selena could become Hannah. But her July Moon Productions also wanted to produce the film. While I do understand why movies occasionally need to stray from the books, when they completely change the tone or don’t seem to understand what people like about the original story, things turn out bad.
So I met Selena, her mom, and a cousin at a sushi restaurant in L.A.
I have no idea why I agreed to meet them there because chopsticks are not my friends. We talked about music, books, acting, and what it’s like to grow up in front of a camera. (While it had nothing to do with imagining Selena as Hannah, it made me happy that someone so sweet and down-to-earth wanted to play a character I cared so deeply about.) And while I tried to keep the sticky rice from sticking to my chin and my sushi from crumbling in the sauce, she told me what she loved about the book and what she understood about Hannah’s character.
It’s always an eerie and extremely cool experience to talk to fans of Thirteen Reasons Why and realize that they understand everything I was trying to say. Selena is one of those fans. And because they wanted me involved (a definite rarity in Hollywood), I’ve since driven to L.A. several times for producer and screenwriter interviews, and I'm thrilled to have so many people involved who all share a vision for this movie.