TV actor Mark Pellegrino is best known for his lead role as ‘Lucifer’ in The CW series Supernatural, in addition to roles in Dexter and Lost. However, he’s taking the lessons he learned while starring in 13 Reasons Why and applying it to real life by combatting systemic bullying head-on.
Since its release, the hit Netflix drama series 13 Reasons Why, which released its fourth and final season this year, has created quite a stir among schools and parents nationwide. The series centers around high school student Clay Jensen who lands in the center of a sequence of heartbreaking mysteries set in motion triggered by a friend’s tragic suicide.
Although the hit drama series has been widely criticized and accused of ‘glamorizing’ death by suicide, the show has also helped create a contagion effect among teens and young adults, encouraging them to have open, healthy dialogue about hard topics such as bullying, suicide, sexual assault and drug abuse.
Pellegrino, who portrays Deputy Bill Standall in 13 Reasons Why, is no stranger to real life bullying off-screen, which is why he has teamed up with Internet lawyer and sexual assault survivor, Andrew Rossow, to launch an anti-bullying campaign via Kickstarter for a new docuseries called ‘The Guardian Project.’
“Today cyberbullying is one of the most pervasive types of violence out there. Online bullies exploit the interconnectedness of social media platforms to magnify false narratives, and isolate and gang up on their victims. These bullies have ruined lives, and have even driven some to suicide. Anyone who is fortunate enough to survive the viciousness of the social media mob have experienced further frustration of having no real power, no voice and no legal recourse. But what if it didn’t have to be that way?’
“What if there were a community of people that could help you clear your name, get justice and make social media a more civil space? What if there were ‘Guardians?’ – Mark Pellegrino
The Guardian Project aims to put an end to cyberbullying, victim shaming and the spread of libelous narratives on social media by not only exposing perpetrators, but to offer community solutions and justice for victims.
After publicly revealing myself as a victim of sexual assault, I sat down for a one-on-one interview with TV actor Mark Pellegrino after I filed a lawsuit against my former employer and abuser. I shared with him that I personally received an onslaught of cyberbullying that a vast majority of sexual assault victims experience as a result of coming forward.
My abuser recently submitted images of me without my consent to the federal public docket in a desperate attempt to bully me, and to cause a great deal of harm and humiliation. Although his attempt to publicly violate me backfired, its precisely because of these types of vicious attacks that I and so many victims stay silent for so long.
Victims of sexual assault commit suicide over these kinds of horrific attacks; it’s why they call us “survivors.”
I sat down with TV actor Mark Pellegrino to discuss how his role in 13 Reasons Why changed his perception on some of the most significant problems plaguing society today with an ever-worsening bully and cancel culture on the rise:
JE: What is the biggest lesson from a bullying perspective that you want people to learn from the hit Netflix series 13 Reasons Why?
MP: I think how responsible you are for your behavior and how much impact your behavior has on another person’s life. You may think that what you are doing is small and not impactful, but when weighed against the accumulation of experiences in a person’s life, it’s really huge. It could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back, and you may be that straw.
JE: How does your portrayal of Deputy Bill Standall on the show play into your launch of The Guardian Project?
MP: [13 Reasons Why] helped me to see that what you say and do to people matters. There is no time at which you are not a significant factor in someone’s life for better or worse; so, if you can choose to be an influence for the better, why not choose that?
The hardest part about playing that role was being an officer of the law who breaks the law. The law is what stands between us and savagery. It makes life orderly and allows us to settle disputes in relative peace. But agreed-upon rules of conduct don’t always capture the nuances of the human situation. They don’t always render justice. (As we saw with the character of Bryce Walker).
Deputy Standall breaks the laws of men to act on deeper laws of love and justice. It’s dangerous territory to tread. I’m glad I only had to do it on film.
JE: When 13 Reasons Why was first released on Netflix, a lot of people accused the series of “glamorizing” suicide. What do you say to those people?
MP: My reason for joining the cast of 13 Reasons Why is because my best friend committed suicide literally a couple of weeks before I read for the show. I am convinced that had he seen Hannah’s suicide scene in the TV show, he might have thought twice. For me, that scene was not the glamorization of suicide. If anything, it showed the irreversibility of the act and that you could regret it and be aware of regretting it as you were slipping over into the other side.
JE: There’s an incredibly powerful scene in episode 13 of season 3 where you embrace your son after he attempted suicide saying that you wished the bullet was in your head instead. While suicide rates and substance abuse are on the rise amid the COVID-19 pandemic, do you feel social media is contributing to the decline of people’s mental health?
MP: With social media being so immediate and the opinions of hundreds and thousands, and even millions of people being in your face, if you can’t see beyond that with your rational mind, if your only reasoning with your emotions, you’re bound to get so caught up in that, that you’ll never ever get out of that. I think that induces anxiety, I think [social media] induces pain and depression. It induces a lot of the mental issues that we’re seeing kids afflicted with.
JE: As I’ve learned from firsthand experience after filing a federal lawsuit against my former employer and abuser, bullies are devastated when you try to stand up to them. How are you encouraging people to become part of ‘The Guardians’ for your new project?
MP: To join the ‘Guardians’ community, you can put the ‘Guardian’ symbol on your social media profile page, using the ‘devil’ and ‘angel’ emojis, as so– 😈Guardian😇. This tells people that you stand for justice, truth and civility. And then act on it.
Put your money where your mouth is and engage those who seek to harm others online. Refuse to participate in groups that pile on people. Be the voice of reason in the crowd.
As for The Guardian Project, readers can donate to the Kickstarter that officially launched October 27 which goes toward funding the Catfish-style docuseries to properly pitch to the appropriate network producers. The Guardians are looking to raise $20,000 dollars by November 27 in an effort to move forward to make the world a safer and better place for open discourse.