The Girl From Plainville 's Colton Ryan Shares What He'd Tell Conrad Roy's Parents

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The Girl From Plainville isn’t your typical true-crime drama.

While some shows in the genre focus on the gory details of a crime and others draw a stark line between good and evil, the Hulu series stands apart with its emotional portrayal of Michelle Carter‘s relationship with Conrad Roy III, a.k.{a|the}. Coco, who took his life at the age of 18 in2014 It follows the teens as they meet in Florida and embark on a romance that takes place mostly through text messages. 

Prosecutors used the pair’s thousands of texts to each other as the basis for their case against a 17-year-old Carter, who they accused of encouraging him to commit suicide to gain notoriety among her peers. Carter, played by Elle Fanning in the series, was ultimately convicted of involuntary manslaughter and served 12 months in prison.

Now, this case that gripped the nation is being brought to life in Hulu’s The Girl From Plainville. Neither the Roys nor the Carters participated in the making of the series, though the Roys are hoping it brings attention to Conrad’s law, which would criminalize suicide coercion in the state of Massachusetts.

Colton Ryan, who plays Conrad, tells E! News that The Girl From Plainville is proof that this seemingly unique case is anything but. Rather, it’s a reflection of the world we live in, in which parasocial relationships (when someone has a one-sided relationship with another, oftentimes a celebrity) abound and self-worth is often determined by the amount of likes an Instagram post receives.

He tells E! News about his own relationship with social media and how he copes with mental health struggles in the Q&A below.

E! News: Conrad is an old soul and doesn’t fit in with his peers. Can you relate?

Colton Ryan:  Well, it hurts, right? A lot of us feel that way, that we’re of a different time. Or you see society around you and what it hypes up and what it says is “other” and you feel like you don’t run with that current. And that’s just a really normal feeling. I don’t think Coco is a singular case and that’s the unfortunate truth.

Steve Dietl/Hulu

E!: What was your opinion on the way his fraught relationship with his father was portrayed on-screen?

CR:  The message is one of the things I’m immensely proud of with the show. It opens up a larger lens to ask, “Who really is complicit in this? Is it me? Is that why I’m feeling so many uncomfortable feelings watching this?” I still feel really uncomfortable watching it. And I can’t help but be introspective about that and think the reason why I’m uncomfortable is because it’s relatable. It’s still continuing to happen, just not so publicly all the time. The show really kind of turns the camera the other way. It really says, “Alright, let’s look at this thing three dimensionally, and try to find a communal path forward.”

E!: Why was this role so important to you?

CR: Personally, I feel like the skill set I have is in telling a story. What kind of story do I want to tell? Because with this particular thing, it feels like it’s asking a question that no one else is really asking, which is: Is [social media] really good for us? We’ve just accepted our future as phone in hand. And that’s a big societal question I don’t think anyone’s really asking. I’d rather continue to be a part of storytelling that is asking things that doesn’t try to pretend it has the answer, because it’s rather just a facet of a question that no one’s really bothering asking.

E!: The show also seems like a reflection of how society and social media have advanced faster than we can adjust to it. 

CR:  We’re the patent period, right? We’re the pilot program, and more so as generations get smaller and smaller because of technological jumps, it’s like we’re passing the buck down the line even still. This story is set in 2014, which I remember really well. And I also remember the dial up tone. I imagine it’s even more relatable to younger people. Congregating with other people is more and more online. And I just wonder if it’s healthy, if that’s good. 

E!: Do you think the next generation will handle social media better because they’ve grown up with it?

CR:  I think they already do. I’m 26, so when I look to younger people and how comfortable they are in their skin—because they actually see themselves quite a bit more. You video yourself. You take more photos of yourself. It’s a really beautiful thing to witness because it’s taken me a lot longer. They see the deeper-seated issue. And they’re going, “I can hype myself up through all that mess.” For that reason, it’s hopeful. Maybe there’s a way to live congruently with all this stuff, with all this online space.

Honestly, promoting a project is the worst part for me because right now, I have to be posting more on Instagram to be like, “Hey, watch my show!” And I just finished Girl From Plainville so I have a very different relationship with social media all of a sudden. Every time I post, I’m like, “Oh God, what am I doing? Why am I participating?”

Steve Dietl/Hulu

E!: Girl From Plainville also covers how body dysmorphia and appearances impacted Conrad and it’s nice to see the show portraying those struggles too.

CR: The reason why we talked about this story in particular is because it’s two people. It’s a young boy, and a young girl. And like many young people, they’re just not in their body. They can’t always find the love for themselves. They’re really trying to find who they are, which is the most universal thing. Unfortunately, it just has the most tragic Shakespearean ending. So I hope that people can look at the larger question: How did we get here? And hopefully get a deeper understanding of themselves as well.

E!: Conrad’s family is hopeful the show will bring more attention to Conrad’s Law, but are also apprehensive about how it will portray Michelle. If you could tell them anything about your goals with this project, what would it be?

CR:  I want people to remember Coco for who he was, and not just the ending. He deserves that grace. And if we could give anyone peace of mind or resolve, then I think the whole thing’s worth it.

Steve Dietl/Hulu

I feel what a gift it has been to get to know him. And as uncomfortable and as hard as this thing is to remember and to reflect on, I want people to feel the love and want to squeeze their loved ones even tighter and harder because of it.

E!: How did you cope with the emotions that come with playing a role like this?

CR: I got to know this boy and not a lot of other people did—well, they think they did, right? But getting to know how funny and mischievous and creative and honestly, like healthily cynical about the world—to learn about this young man who would’ve been the same age as me. It’s just like, two people walking on different paths. It was such an affirmation of why life is so special.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.

If you or someone you know needs help, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

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