One of the biggest breakout stars from the first season of 13 Reasons Why was American actor Brandon Larracuente, who played jock with a heart of gold, Jeff Atkins. When his character was shockingly killed in a car accident, social media blew up with the popular hashtag #JeffAtkinsDeservesBetter, which quickly turned into a meme that’s still being used today, well over a year later. Since then Larracuente has used his considerable influence and platform to speak from the heart against opioid addiction, even recently partnering with Walgreens and WE Day to educate local Californian teens about the opioid epidemic.
We spoke with the down-to-Earth Brandon Larracuente prior to the season two release of 13 Reasons Why and the following is a condensed and edited version of that fascinating conversation.
Brief Take: People LOVE Jeff Atkins! When the trailer for season 2 was released, the number one response online was all about how people want to see flashbacks of Jeff. What is it about Jeff that you think people responded to so fervently?
Brandon Larracuente: I honestly think that it was that Jeff was one of the popular kids but he really didn’t care what others thought of him. In society we’re programmed to worry about what others think of us at all times, but Jeff truly didn’t care what people thought of him when he was hanging out with Clay. People really connected with him and with his friendship with Clay. I think people liked that Jeff wasn’t afraid to be different. I honestly think that we need more people like that nowadays, people who aren’t afraid to go against the tide.
BT: And because Jeff wasn’t a character from the book, you got to create the character from scratch with showrunner Brian Yorkey and Dylan Minnette. What was that experience like for you?
BL: It was cool because going into the project, I really didn’t know what to expect. Jeff wasn’t really mentioned in the book and so I got to discover more about him from episode to episode, day after day, like everybody else. I got to have that creative freedom that every actor wants and craves from a role. It was great! It was the first time that I got to create a character from the ground up. Plus I got to make him relatable, which was the biggest thing for me. That’s one of the biggest compliments that I’ve gotten after the show – people have reached out to me and said, “I had a Jeff in high school”, or “I wish I had a Jeff in high school”.
BT: Who was your Jeff in high school and who’s your Jeff now?
BL: Oh it was definitely my Dad when I was growing up. And now there are certainly a lot of people that I admire, not just for their work on screen, but more so for what they do off screen. A big role model for me now is Angelina Jolie. I just watched her recent movie, First They Killed My Father, and it really opened my eyes as to what’s going on in Cambodia. It also opened my heart to maybe adopting a child. I’d love to help a child who doesn’t have the American ideal way of life. We live in these bubbles and we stress about traffic and the weather and money, and yet meanwhile there are children in other countries who are fighting for their lives every day. The movie really opened up my eyes and Angelina is just one of the people that I look up to. I admire anyone who makes it their mission to help others, especially when those people are children.
BL: Oh completely! We have game nights that take place periodically at Ross’ house. We actually haven’t had one in awhile, but they’re pretty fun. We all really make an effort to reconnect because after the show finishes filming, we go off and work on different projects and don’t get the chance to see each other as much. We all do make an effort to see one another for game nights though.
BT: Who’s the most competitive at the cast game nights?
BL: It would definitely have to be Ross [Butler], for sure! He takes those game nights pretty damn seriously. Don’t get me wrong, I am very competitive too! When I was younger, when I lost a board game, I would flip the board game over and stomp away. [laughs]
BT: Over the past few years you’ve worked with some remarkable people – the 13 Reasons Why cast, of course, but also the Bloodline cast, Will Smith and Joel Edgerton in Bright, amongst others. Who do you aspire to work with in the near future?
BL: I want to work with actors who aren’t yet A-list names yet or people who haven’t received the credit they deserve. I want to work with people who are as passionate about the craft as I am. I do want to mention two directors that I want to work with because I just did a paper on them for school – the Coen brothers. No Country for Old Men is one of my favourite movies and I think they’re so talented. I would love to have the opportunity to one day work with them.
BT: You’ve been on a number of Netflix Originals in the past little while. What do you like to binge-watch on Netflix?
BL: Yeah! My buddy Chase recently recommended Ozark to me and I think I watched the whole season in a week. I’m patiently waiting for season 2 now. I actually went to a Netflix event a couple of days ago and they had a whole set-up for Ozark and it was really cool. I didn’t get to see Jason Bateman but I would have loved to have met him. That’s one of my top shows for sure. I love Black Mirror too. I did get to meet Regina King, who I look up to a lot, and she was super super nice. One day I hope to progress my career to their calibre but one step at a time, one job at a time.
BT: Did you ever get to meet Ja Rule?
BL: [laughs] No! No, I never got to meet the original Jeff Atkins. One day! [laughs]
13 Reasons Why seasons one and two are now streaming on Netflix. For help finding crisis resources, visit 13ReasonsWhy.info