Katherine Langford knows that, to some degree, Hannah Baker will always be her shadow. The 13 Reasons Why character was her first major role; her performance drew both wide acclaim—including a Golden Globe nomination—and equally viral controversy. Ever since, Langford has carefully weathered the storm, in part through educating and supporting her young fanbase, and by taking risks in the career on which Hannah launched her.
Since 13 Reasons Why, Langford’s resumé, including Knives Out and Love, Simon (as well as a deleted Avengers: Endgame scene in which she plays a grown-up Morgan Stark) has made her much more than a Netflix darling. But she’s returning to the platform this month with an unexpected pivot to fantasy: She’s the star of Cursed, a graphic novel adaptation that reinvents everything you think you know about King Arthur and the Knights of the Roundtable. She plays Nimue, a.k.a. the legend’s Lady of the Lake, a girl blessed with magic (and, of course, an instantly recognizable sword). As she grapples for the freedom of her people, the Fey, Nimue encounters such figures as Arthur, Morgana and Guinevere—just perhaps not in the forms you might expect.
What makes Cursed an interesting experiment, however, is not so much how it smashes the old legends to pieces and reassembles them as mosaics. Instead, it’s in watching how Langford attempts to reclaim power from the forces (and even the plot points) around her. ELLE.com talked with Langford about what drew her to Nimue, as well as what it’s like to leave the wake of 13 Reasons Why behind.
In the acknowledgements of Cursed, author Tom Wheeler mentions you as the “extraordinarily talented” Katherine Langford. How long have you been involved with this project?
Tom is an incredible man. It was really amazing to see him work, not only on writing the book, but also writing the scripts and being a showrunner and an executive producer. He was one of the first people I met from the show. I had just finished Knives Out and I was looking for something that felt special and challenging. I wasn’t necessarily looking to do something in TV, but I was sent this manuscript of the book written by Tom Wheeler and Frank Miller, and I just couldn’t put it down.
I knew it was a story I really loved. Nimue was was so beautiful and complex. I knew I had to be a part of it, so I signed on before anyone else and before any of the scripts [were finalized].
Were you familiar with the Arthurian legends before joining the show?
It’s such a huge part of our literature and our legendary tales that I think everyone’s familiar with the Arthurian legends, but often it’s King Arthur and Merlin and the Knights of the Round Table we’re familiar with. We very seldom touch on the stories of the female characters. I didn’t realize the extent to which we haven’t seen the other characters, particularly the Lady of the Lake. She is so prolific and iconic in the Arthurian legends, and yet we really know nothing about her.
You played an incredibly fraught and beloved character on 13 Reasons Why. Many of your fans say they’ll always see you, in some way, as Hannah. What was it like transforming into Nimue?
I mean, to speak to Hannah, 13 Reasons Why was the first role I ever did, and it’s something I’ll always take with me. But because I haven’t been on the show for a couple of years, there is that space between the role and the other projects I’ve been able to do. To me, the [Cursed] story was very special in that it was telling the story of a young woman coming into her womanhood. And that’s not a stage of life, as women, that we really address or see. We see ourselves as teenagers, we see ourselves as college students or as moms. But there’s a very specific phase in our life where we go from being a young woman to really coming into who we are. I think Nimue goes on that journey.
You’ve said you consider it a responsibility that you have this influence over so many young people. That was certainly the case with 13 Reasons Why, but what is your hope that your particular fan base takes away from Cursed?
It’s interesting. I’m not super active on social media, and when I say that, I mean that I’ve tried to be really conscious about protecting certain parts of my life when it comes to my family and my friends. But with other things, I try to be open and thoughtful about what I post, because I know if I have a platform, I want to use it for good. The responsibility [is] using a platform for good, but also [being] truthful and real. So much of what we see online is confusing because it’s such a distorted reality .
Cursed, for me, has such a strong message of equality, but also of the strength within each woman. It has a huge feminist message of empowerment. These particular roles are few and [far] between as an actress. We don’t really see the story of a true heroine, which acknowledges the specific obstacles a woman would face. That’s probably the message I hope young women can take from this: You are capable, you are courageous, and you have the ability to be a king or a queen, or that person with power.
Was there any sort of relief in being involved with a show that doesn’t take place in our modern world, that might not generate the controversy of 13 Reasons Why? Or did you think about the two projects similarly?
When you’re doing something in this particular genre, there is a sort of childlike joy that comes out when you’re holding a sword and you’re riding horses and you’re doing these amazing things in this world that’s very removed from every day.
But I also feel like Cursed is quite different. In terms of the fantasy genre, we are still very grounded. Really good fantasy is able to be both escapism but also relevant. It’s able to distract us and take us away from the reality that we live every day, but at the same time, it doesn’t remove us so much to a point where we’re not able to reflect on what’s happening in the world. So for me, it didn’t feel different. It was still playing a human being and telling her story, even if [she] was surrounded by magic and swords.
How did this experience compare with the productions you’ve done before?
You can understand why they have us do nine months of training and then continue training through filming. Because it’s not just about learning a skill and being confident in that skill and able to do it time after time. It’s also about being able to keep it up for a long duration of time and do it with believability, and act at the same time.
Fantasy, it’s so big and so epic, but it really does have specific requirements and challenges that are unique to the genre, whether that’s fighting or stunts or having 500 people in a scene or having animals in a scene. We had chickens one day on set, and they ran loose, and it took us 15 minutes to get them back in their pen. Just casual, everyday things like that. [Laughs]
Let’s assume this story goes beyond what we read in the graphic novel. What would you love to see in season 2?
There is so much more story left, and if we’re able to reveal that, or if there is a desire to see what lies beyond the final episode of this season—I’m trying not to spoil anything, but I feel like this [season] is really just the tip of the iceberg. There’s a lot of talk about the sword this season, and I feel like it would be interesting to see just how deep Nimue’s powers go and what kind of untapped power she has within.
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