A chat with Justin Prentice, most hated star of '13 Reasons Why' [Spoiler Alert]

Would my opinion of actor Justin Prentice have been different had I waited three more days to interview him?  Not really, but after binge watching his show, I have had a  better understanding as to why everyone is talking about his menacing performance as Bryce Walker, the bully and rapist in the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why.

Bryce is someone we should hate, however, I am happy to report that Prentice is nothing like that guy.

Before he joined the ranks of film and TV’s best villains, Prentice grew up in a suburb outside of Nashville and the acting bug hit him early.  After staring in a few musicals he decided to become a professional actor. He has been featured in CBS' Criminal Minds, MTV’s Awkward, CW’s iZombie and Fox’s Glee, but prior to this year he may be most known as Reba McEntire’s TV son Cash Gallagher in 2012 ABC series Malibu Country.

This all-around nice guy and Southern gentleman spoke with TheCelebrityCafe.com about his interesting life, his early work, dished on Selena Gomez, spoke about being hated for his work, what he does for fun, his upcoming film project Crossing Fences, which he is doing with girlfriend Annika Pampel and much more.

TheCelebrityCafe.com:   Hi Justin, thanks again, for taking the time. Where are you from?

Justin Prentice:  Old Hickory, Tennessee, originally. A suburb of Nashville.

TCC:  Do you get back there often?

JP:  I always love going back. I try and make it back about once a year. Doesn't always work. But yeah. I try and get back when I can because I love Tennessee.

TCC:  So tell me a little bit about your childhood.

JP:  Well, I grew up—we weren't really in the woods. I grew up with a cabin so we'd always go out and hunt and fish and all that good stuff. All of the cliché Southern things one would imagine [laughter], I suppose, which was cool. I spent a lot of time in nature as a kid. I spent a lot of time hanging with friends, being active, played a lot of sports growing up. And then got really into academics and the arts at a young age which overtook sports. And then I focused on acting to a little bit of music and what not. I guess musical theater was kind of my first intro, that and an improv class that I was in in my school. Those are the two kind of initial catalysts that set me off on the acting.

TCC:  Which musicals were you in?

JP:  I was in The Music Man and The King and I ...  Then I did some just regular theater, as well, some originals of some local playwrights, which was also fun.

TCC:  And how did you know that you wanted to be an actor?

JP:  I don't know. I remember I was really young. I would say around six or eight years old, and my mom and I were just rollerblading in an empty parking lot and I brought it up. I was like, "Hey, I think I want to be an actor [laughter]." She was like, "Why?" And I was like, "I don't know. I just--" because she thought it was going to be for fame, or fortune, or something. She was like, "Is it because--" I'm like, "No, I just feel like it would be really fun." And I had zero experience in acting, so I had no way of knowing it would be fun. I think what it was the kids in Full House and I was like, "That sh*t seems like fun and if they could do it I could totally do it."

TCC:  What was your first professional acting gig?

JP:  That would probably be Criminal Minds. That was my first big one, which I think was in 2009. I was a co-star and my character died in the beginning, because he was choking himself for the euphoric high sensation and his body shut off all the non-essential bodily functions and he died.

TCC:  Yeah, it doesn't seem like it went very well for him [laughter].

JP:  No, it did not go all that well for him, so it was fun. It was a good little role [laughter].

TCC:  Now, how did you hear about 13 Reasons Why?

JP:  Well, I found out about it through my reps, my agent manager. They sent me to the audition for it and I was reading through who was attached to it and saw Brian Yorkey as the show runner and Tom McCarthy as the director of the first three episodes and Selena Gomez is one of the producers. And I was like, "Holy cow, this is going to be awesome." And I was expecting just to audition for it. And I guess the audition went okay and they brought me back in to meet with Brian Yorkey and Tom McCartney and I was like, "Okay, Calm down. Calm down. It's not a big deal. Don't let it get to you. Don't get in your head [laughter]." But I guess that went okay, too.

TCC:  Tell me a little bit about the show for people who haven't seen or heard anything about it yet.

JP:  Yeah, so it's based off of a Jay Asher novel which is also called 13 Reasons Why. It's about a girl, Hannah Baker, who feels compelled to take her own life because of I guess an assortment of different reasons, which is why she records these cassette tapes and reads them. It's thirteen reasons for each person who forced her to take her own life through various means of bullying and sexual assault and everything. So it covers kind of a widespread spectrum of really important, relevant topics which we're really excited about. So we hope it sheds some light on the current culture.

TCC:  Who is your character?

JP: So I play Bryce Walker and he's kind of the kingpin of the school. He's the head honcho jock, big man on campus. A lot of people look up to him. He gets the girls. He's got kind of a reputation for not being all that kind to girls and then that manifests itself very much in the later end of the series particularly in how it affects Hannah Baker herself.

TCC:  And what was your audition process like?

JP:  So I got the initial audition and went with the casting directors and then they brought me in for the callback, which was in front of Brian Yorkey and Tom McCarthy and also the casting directors. And then I'm trying to think if they brought me in a second time. I think at that point they just tested me. Sometimes tests are in person. In this case, it wasn't. They just used the same tape from the callback and then showed it to the network execs at Paramount and Netflix and then I got a call not too long after that I was for it and then that I had booked it. But it was kind of a long process, because I auditioned for it initially and I was really excited about it. I think it was a couple of weeks before I heard anything about the callback, so I had already moved on and just assumed that I hadn't gotten it. I was like, "Well, on to the next one," and it was two or three weeks later they're like, "Call back." And I was like, "Oh really? All right, sweet [laughter]."

TCC:  How did you celebrate getting the role?

JP:  That's a good question [laughter]. I don't know exactly [laughter]. I was ecstatic, of course. I don't know that I did anything in particular. I'm kind of a homebody, so probably just stayed in and had a glass of wine [laughter].

TCC:  Champagne, booze of some sort seems like a popular way to celebrate.

JP:  All of it. I got blackout drunk. No, I'm kidding [laughter]. I'm sure I had an alcoholic beverage or two in celebration. I was pretty happy about it. I probably celebrated with my girlfriend, my mother, some friends close to me and whatnot. I definitely made phone calls to my family back in Tennessee and told them and they were all also ecstatic.

TCC:  Why do you think this show is so important?

JP:  I think it covers a wide range of very relevant topics. These are dramatized events and they happen in a very concentrated fashion over a short period of time. And that's not always how it happens in real life, but we hope that people can watch and kind of apply certain pieces to their own lives. Yeah, I think it's great in that it doesn't shy away from these really meaty topics. It really explores them and gets into the depths of them and the effects and consequences that all of our actions have, which I think is fantastic. Yeah, there are subject matters that are very hard to talk about and I think through this series, we just hope that friends will watch them with each other, parents will watch them with their kids and hopefully it makes these tough conversations—in regards to suicide and sexual assault and everything—a little easier to talk about.

TCC:  What's it like to work with Selena Gomez?

JP:  She's awesome [laughter]. She's so cool she's very intelligent. She's obviously a power player. And she's super passionate about this project, which is awesome. She and her mother, Mandy Teefey have been, for six or seven years now, trying to develop this book for the screen. So they were kind of a main pushing force behind it this whole time. So we're forever grateful [laughter] that she decided to adapt this. And that they all decided we were the right actors for the parts, because we're all thrilled to be part of this.

TCC:  Now, I read that you're also a producer. Is that correct?

JP:  I'm dabbling [laughter]. Not to the extent that Selena Gomez is [laughter], but I'm dabbling a little bit. My girlfriend and I—she has her master's in directing. So we're kind of getting into our own behind-the-camera work, which is fun. And gives me kind of a more spherical mindset for the industry, which I think helps in my acting.

Crossing Fences
Crossing Fences

Note:  Crossing Fences is a short film based on a true story that is set during the height of the Cold War, a young, East German couple attemptS to flee to the West via passage of the Baltic Sea.  It is directed and written by Annika Pampel and produced by Justin Prentice and Nina Rausch

TCC:  Do you wish to keep her identity private, or would you like to talk about her a little bit?

JP:  No. Yeah. She's awesome. I've already posted on Instagram and stuff too. I'm not keeping it too secret. Her name's Annika [laughter]. Annika Pampel. And yeah, she's entirely amazing and crazy talented. We're exploring the whole behind-the-camera scene.

TCC:  Oh, nice. So what do you like to do for fun?

JP:  The industry [laughter]. It's like, it takes all of my being. Yeah, it's a cool industry and I love it, and I try to hit it from all angles. We write for fun and we had a little short that we did that I produced. And so that kind of takes up spare time. And then acting, of course, keeps me pretty busy.  I love sports and stuff too, though, so it's always fun. Ross Butler who's also in this show, we went out and played tennis a couple of times. We were both super rusty, so it was pretty hilarious, but it's always fun to get out and do something. Go for a hike, you know, that sort of stuff. I love music, so I try and do that in my free time as well.

TCC:  Which are your sports teams?

JP:  Well, Tennessee all the way, so Tennessee Volunteers for college football and the Tennessee Titans for professional. They're both building [laughter]. That's what everyone says when you're not phenomenal. We're building. It's a building year.

Justin Prentice photo by Jason Willheim
Justin Prentice photo by Jason Willheim

TCC:  You said you're a homebody. Do you like to watch movies, or cook, or anything along those lines?

JP:  Yeah. I do. I love watching movies, of course. Television, there's so much good content nowadays, you could just never do anything except watch television and be happy, I think. I try not to just do that. But I do find myself watching a good bit of television and movies. Yeah, cooking is fun. I do it a little bit. Annika's a lot better than I am. So she cooks a lot because she's a master chef. I'm still learning.

TCC:  How do you like your fans to connect with you?

JP:  Instagram is like the main thing that I'm active on. I'm kind of a one social media at a time guy. So I think that's the best way to Instagram comments and whatnot. I try and read the comments and respond when I can.

TCC:  What is your handle, please?

JP:  justin.prentice

TCC:  So what's next for you?

JP: Well, I'm also currently recurring on AMC's Preacher, which is fun. So I've got that going and in the meantime. There has been no word on a second season. We all hope that there might be so in the meantime I'll be doing that recurring guest role, which is fun and just writing some stuff, keeping busy, pushing the short film that we completed and trying to keep my mind active.

TCC:  That's always a good thing to do [laughter].

JP: Keeps you out of trouble.

TCC: Who's your character on Preacher?

JP:  I don't know if I can say. It's for season two, so it hasn't been released.  We just started shooting.

TCC:  When can we look forward to that?

JP:  That is a wonderful question. I am not entirely sure. I should probably know that, but I just did my first episode two weeks ago, it'll be a second before it airs.

TCC:  Is there anything else you'd like to add?

JP: Just tune in and watch the show, if you get a chance. We're really proud and excited about the project.

TCC:  And what did you like best about doing the show?

JP:  I think the message, one. Also, the character, obviously. I don't play the nicest person, but it's kind of enjoyable for me to play a character like that, as an actor, because you get to really sink your teeth into somebody who's different than you are, which gives different perspectives and all of that, which is applicable then to my real life, but at the same time I get to play someone who's not myself, which is always kind of fun.

TCC:  Of late, I've spoken to a lot of guys who've played jerks and they all say, "But really I'm not an a**hole [laughter].”

JP:  "Guys, you have to know I'm not a**hole [laughter]."

TCC:  Exactly.  They want to clear it up.

JP:  Yeah, there are a few hate comments that occasionally pop through, but I guess that just means I did the role justice, so I take it with the greatest honor [laughter].

TCC:  You're like, "I did it. I did it."

JP:  Yes, they hate me. I nailed it [laughter].


You can catch Justin Prentice on Netflix hit series 13 Reasons Why and on the next season of AMC’s Preacher.

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Michelle Tompkins

Michelle Tompkins is an award-winning media, PR and crisis communications professional with more than ten years experience with coverage in virtually every traditional and new media outlet. She is currently a communications and media strategist and writer, as well as the author of College Prowler: Guidebook for Columbia University. She served as the Media Relations Manager for the Girl Scouts of the USA where she managed all media and talking points, created social media strategy, trained executives and donors and served as the organization’s primary spokesperson, participating in daily interviews with local, regional, and national media outlets. She managed the media for the Let Me Know internet safety and Cyberbullying prevention campaign with Microsoft, as well as Girl Scouts’ centennial Year of the Girl To Get Her There celebration in 2012, which yielded more than 800 million earned media impressions. In addition to her extensive media experience, Michelle worked as a talent agent in Los Angeles, California, as well contracting as a digital content developer and her writing has appeared in newspapers and online. She is passionate about television, theater, classic movies, all things food and in-home entertaining. While she has lived and worked in NYC for more than a decade, she is from suburban Sacramento and gets back there often to watch the San Francisco Giants on TV with her family.

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