It’s the end of a very exhausting, busy day and though I’m tired, I’m looking forward to speaking with 13 Reasons Why‘s Chelsea Alden, one of a handful of new cast members in the sophomore season of the Netflix Original show. Then, when Chelsea picks up the phone for our interview, in the span of a few seconds, my day is immediately changed and I feel invigorated. The young actress-producer is energetic, infectiously perky and gives intelligent, well thought-out answers that actors twice her age could take a few notes from. We talk about her work with female filmmakers (including on 13 Reasons Why, where almost every episode in the second season is written and directed by women), her experiences with the show’s talented cast, and her eagerness to collaborate with Chris Pratt.
The following is an edited and condensed version of our phone conversation.
Chelsea Alden: Hi Leora!
Brief Take: Hi Chelsea! May is such a busy month for you! You’re appearing in three very different projects this month – The Tale, the season finale of NCIS, and season two of 13 Reasons Why. I love that you’re playing very different roles but you’re also in projects that are female-centred, either written by women or directed by women. Was that the reason why you chose these projects or was that just a happy coincidence?
CA: You know it was a very happy coincidence and just a trend that I noticed. Once I started getting on a role with tv shows, it happened similarly at a time when the female filmmaker movement was being pushed to the forefront and people were finally noticing that only 7% of working filmmakers are female. I thought that was outrageous! But then I looked back and thought, “I am so lucky” because all of the tv shows I’ve done so far have been directed by women. Plus every experience I’ve had has been incredible and unique and I feel really, really lucky that that has been my experience thus far.
BT: The Tale was such a huge hit at Sundance and in the film you get to work with the phenomenal Laura Dern. What was your experience like working with her and with the film’s director Jennifer Fox?
CA: They’re both incredible! Laura is such a veteran and so gracious and SO unbelievably talented! I couldn’t believe that I got paid to work with her because it felt like I was taking a master class watching her act. She was just so kind to me and welcoming. It didn’t matter where you were on the food chain in that film, you were all treated with the same respect and graciousness. She’s a really exceptional woman. Jennifer is such a unique individual and The Tale is so personal to her, it’s her story, and she’s so brave to have confronted that herself and bring it to light in the form of a film so that others who may have had a similar experience can observe it and see it and know that it can happen. I just think she’s brilliant and a pleasure to work with. She really asked for a lot of my input and wanted to know how I felt about the character. She’s obviously so passionate about everything she does.
BT: Tell me about The Human Project, a short that you produced and starred in.
CA: My dear friend David Beatty, who plays my brother in the film, he wrote it initially and it started out as a thread of a concept. I went to him and said, “hey! I really want to work with you”. [laughs] We sort of just spit balled ideas around and then he came to me and said, “I wrote this piece”. Initially he wrote it as a stage play, so we put it on a few different times on stage and worked it and he would re-write it and fix little things here and there. Every time we performed it, the response I would get from people was incredible. It’s a story about family and it becomes very relatable to anyone who has siblings, and in the script they’re experiencing the death of their father who has just passed away. It’s very relatable to a lot of people so when we had performed it a few times I went to David and said, “we have to make this into a movie, will you let me produce it?”. He said yes and I wept and ran with it and I called in as many favours as I could and crowd funded it. I’m just thrilled with it. We actually just got accepted into another film festival yesterday, I believe it’s our sixth or seventh.
BT: You should bring it to a film festival here in Canada! I know you’re about to bring Unfriended: Dark Web to the Fantasia International Film Festival in Montreal later this summer. That’s fantastic news!
CA: Yes! It’s very exciting! It’s funny, you work on so many projects and some take longer than others, and then they all come out at one time. It’s a little overwhelming but just so exciting too.
BT: Let’s talk about 13 Reasons Why. I feel like you’re prepared for the outpouring of fan responses online because you were on American Horror Story and fans of that show are very vocal and supportive.
CA: Oh yeah! And they’re SO passionate. Horror fans in general are their own breed because they’re so passionate and they’re such die hards. I think this will be a slightly different experience though. I don’t fully know what to expect when 13 Reasons Why premieres but I’m really excited for it. Based on what the rest of the cast has told me and based on my experiences thus far with the show’s fans, they’re so loving and so supportive. I’m really excited to hear their reactions once they’ve seen the show.
BT: And that’s exactly it – the show’s fans are so supportive of it. I think the show has received a lot of unfair criticism and I know that every time I’ve written about 13 Reasons Why, there’s been a tidal wave of support because people of all ages are thankful that it’s honestly addressing real issues with an unreasonable stigma surrounding them, such as mental health and gun violence. Thank goodness for Brian Yorkey and to the cast and crew of the show for bravely telling stories that need to be told.
CA: One hundred percent. I totally agree with you. I think there so many good stories that we just don’t hear enough of. People have been affected so positively from the show and it’s nice to be so involved because I’m now hearing more and more of those stories.
BT: It was probably daunting coming into a show in its second season and yet it feels like the cast is one big warm and loving family.
CA: You absolutely nailed it. I was really nervous coming in because I had anticipated that they would be such a family. They’d been through so much in season one and had such an incredible experience, so I thought that they’d be so bonded and tight. From day one, though, they treated me like I had been there the entire time. I was welcomed into the fold immediately. Everyone is so talented and so hardworking, and then when work time is done, it’s just one big family. The crew and the cast all celebrate one another and support one another and I feel really lucky to be a part of that.
BT: Did you get to chat with Selena Gomez either during the filming or after you’d wrapped the season?
CA: I did! Briefly, at our wrap party. It was my first time meeting her so I was a little nervous. I was like, “Oh my gosh! Oh my gosh! Oh my gosh!”. [giggles] I went into fan mode and got a little tongue tied. She was so sweet and gave me a big hug and said, “we’re so happy to have you on the show”, so I instantly calmed down and enjoyed the rest of the night. She’s exceptionally proud of the show and what she’s done as an executive producer.
BT: What did you like best about playing Mackenzie?
CA: I really enjoyed her personality, which you’ll get to see develop as the season unfolds. I find her to be very independent, very free-spirited and very non-judgemental. She thinks on her own and isn’t very swayed by other people’s opinions. It’s nice to play a teenaged character who’s that confident in herself because so often teenagers aren’t confident or they’re told that if they’re too confident then there’s egotistical, that confidence is a bad thing. I was really excited to play a character who was happy to be confident and free in who she is and what she thinks and who she likes and who she doesn’t. I’m really excited for you and for everybody to see it and to relate to her. I think everyone will watch it and say, “I’m a little bit of a Mackenzie”.
BT: Which character on the show did you relate to most?
CA: Oh gosh, that’s a great question! Funny enough, I feel like I relate to all of the kids in some way. Ross [Butler]’s character – I definitely relate to in certain regards. His feeling of you have to behave one way for one group of friends but feeling differently when you’re around others. I definitely have experienced that. In particular, Mr. Porter’s character [played by Derek Luke] is so important in the show because he’s a teacher, he’s a mentor, he’s a guidance teacher and he struggles so much to do the right thing. On a day to day basis, there isn’t anybody going through their lives wondering if they’ve made the right choice to help other people or not. I found Derek’s performance and his storyline to be very powerful, so I’m excited to see how it’ll all play out.
BT: Over the years you’ve worked with a number of renowned actors and filmmakers. Who do you still aspire to work with in the industry?
CA: Oh who wouldn’t I like to work with?! [laughs] Chris Pratt, please and pretty please. Every Chris really! Put me in an Avengers movie and you’ll have half my list right there. [laughs] I think Chris Pratt is a great actor and I love that he can go from drama to comedy so easily. I also love how quick on his feet he is and he’s just such a charismatic, kind and genuine dude. I would also love to work with Brie Larson. I think she’s spectacular and a great, young female voice for our generation. In terms of directors, I love Edgar Wright. I think he’s brilliant, stylistic, unique, funny and he uses incredible camera work to help tell his stories. I would LOVE to work with him! And same last name, no relation – Joe Wright would also be amazing to work with. I don’t know why but I prefer British directors apparently. I also just love British movies in general. Pride and Prejudice is one of my favourites, Atonement as well. It’s the world’s most heartbreaking movie ever but so, SO beautiful! I just really appreciate Joe Wright’s work. I’d also really like to work with Reed Morano and some of these up and coming female directors who are just blowing my mind with the incredible work that they’re doing. Greta Gerwig – please call me. She’s the ultimate dream collaborator for me at this moment.
The Tale premieres on May 26 at 10pm on HBO. 13 Reasons Why season two begins streaming on Netflix on Friday May 18. For help finding crisis resources, visit 13ReasonsWhy.info