against all odds

Penn Bad­g­ley sheds some light into one of the most sub­ver­sive shows on TV right now: the creep­ily awe­some “You”

DA MAN - - Celebrities - Pho­tog­ra­phy Mitchell Nguyen Mc­Cormack Out­fit by dzo­jchen

Penn bad­g­ley sheds some light into one of the most sub­ver­sive shows on TV right now: the creep­ily awe­some “you”


Some ac­tors start their ca­reers at a young age. Penn Bad­g­ley “was a pro­fes­sional at 12.” his first TV ap­pear­ance was in an episode of “Will & grace,” back in 1999. The next year he would step into the big screen and be­came a house­hold name as the lead in “John Tucker Must Die” six years later. of course, his TV ad­ven­tures would con­tinue, most no­tably in the uber-pop­u­lar teen drama “gos­sip girl.” right now, how­ever, he’s mak­ing waves in “You,” a psy­cho­log­i­cal thriller that deals with such mod­ern-day hor­rors as on­line stalk­ing through so­cial me­dia. Pick­ing the brains of some­body play­ing the lead role in a show like this def­i­nitely promised to be quite a ride—and Bad­g­ley cer­tainly didn’t dis­s­a­point.

DAMAN: Around now, the last episodes of the first sea­son of “You” have just started air­ing. Since some of our read­ers might be un­fa­mil­iar with the ti­tle, can you give us a brief run­down of “You” and your role in it? Penn Bad­g­ley:

it’s a sub­ver­sive show—some­how in a par­tic­u­lar way that i feel i haven’t seen be­fore. it very much plays into be­ing ex­actly what you think it might be: a frothy, binge-wor­thy thriller where boy meets girl, boy stalks girl, star­ring “gos­sip girl,” no less ... and it lures you in. Then it sort of skew­ers you along with the con­cept and the so­cial norms that sup­port such a fa­mil­iar nar­ra­tive. it does so in this way that is in­tel­li­gent and self-aware but not con­de­scend­ing to the viewer be­cause it is also, oddly, fun. it’s nim­ble. The writ­ers have done a fan­tas­tic job, and every­one else re­ally did their part along the way be­cause the whole thing could other­wise fall very flat.

DA: In your opin­ion, what would be the num­ber one rea­son to get into the show for any­one who missed the ini­tial broad­cast? PB:

i re­ally can’t say. Me? if they’re read­ing this in­ter­view chances are it might be me, whether that’s rea­son­able or not. i per­son­ally cringe when i watch it. But, that’s just me.

DA: Your char­ac­ter in “You” is ba­si­cally a stalker. What’s your se­cret to por­tray some­body like that in a con­vinc­ing way? PB:

Never think­ing of him as a stalker when i’m in it. he’s a hu­man striv­ing for things, de­sir­ing things. i per­son­ally de­test him as a hu­man, but he’s hu­man. i al­ways tried to keep his hu­man­ity in mind, so i couldn’t re­duce him and fall into typ­i­cal habits or be­liefs about how he might do some­thing.

DA: “You” tack­les a prob­lem that re­ally gets un­der your skin. Are there any par­tic­u­lar parts of the story that made you feel es­pe­cially un­com­fort­able? PB:

Yeah. The whole thing, re­ally. i was ex­tremely un­com­fort­able with Joe. he mas­tur­bates in pub­lic, he judges peo­ple in­ces­santly ... and he mur­ders peo­ple. he’s not just a stalker. This is no se­cret. This does not seem to bother other peo­ple enough, how­ever. That’s what is so strange to me.

DA: Is there a les­son to be learned from “You”? PB:

Maybe we’re learn­ing it to­gether. it’s a bit of a so­cial ex­per­i­ment, gaug­ing re­ac­tions to this show. The lessons i learned over an en­tire sea­son of shoot­ing were deep, but they’re not the same lessons a viewer might walk away with.

DA: How would you de­scribe your own per­sonal re­la­tion­ship with so­cial me­dia? PB:

Di­vorced, but we have joint cus­tody.

DA: Per­son­ally, how do you deal with the less-than-sa­vory as­pects of so­cial me­dia? Even if you don’t have an ac­tual stalker fol­low­ing you, nasty com­ments and pesky trolls are ba­si­cally ubiq­ui­tous in to­day’s on­line scene, right? PB:

Yeah. lots of prayer and med­i­ta­tion. This is true for all things. Prayer and med­i­ta­tion are foun­da­tions of liv­ing.

DA: All that be­ing said, do you think that hav­ing a strong so­cial me­dia pres­ence is im­por­tant for some­body in your line of work? PB:

i re­ally can’t tell, at this point. So­cial forces are great and com­plex, and peo­ple with fame are in­flu­en­tial, yes, but i worry that we greatly un­der­es­ti­mate the ca­pac­ity of the in­di­vid­ual who is not fa­mous. Fame is a dark horse. i am very wary of it.

DA: Back to “You,” and to put things on a more pos­i­tive note, what would you say is the best part of be­ing on the show? PB:

it was an en­rich­ing ex­pe­ri­ence for me, as i said. i’m still learn­ing be­cause of how much the char­ac­ter trou­bles me, and how much peo­ple like him.

DA: What was it that first drew you to the show? PB:

at first, i was dis­turbed. The book was too much for me. i have al­ways been able to ap­pre­ci­ate the pro­ject, as a whole, as com­pelling. But play­ing Joe is not like play­ing any­one else or do­ing any other job on set. it was pretty grim at points. What con­vinced me were my con­ver­sa­tions with greg and Sera [show pro­duc­ers greg Ber­lanti and Sera gam­ble]. They were hon­est, in­tel­li­gent. They helped me see the spe­cial sen­si­bil­ity this show has, and i am com­ing to ap­pre­ci­ate that more and more. it’s very dif­fer­ent while feel­ing fa­mil­iar enough that you aren’t alien­ated as a viewer.

DA: To­day, the mar­ket is sat­u­rated with high qual­ity se­ries; yet “You” still man­ages to not only stand out but also gain high ap­proval rat­ings. What do you think is the key be­hind the show’s suc­cess and ac­cep­tance? PB:

That’s the orig­i­nal con­cept by car­o­line kep­nes trans­lated by mas­ters of the craft, greg Ber­lanti and Sera gam­ble. They’re all very cun­ning. like i said, the more i see of the show, the more i am im­pressed by the vi­sion shared be­tween these three peo­ple. They’re mak­ing it very easy to di­gest a tough, com­plex idea: That we’re all get­ting some very ba­sic, fun­da­men­tal ideas about hu­man na­ture very wrong, par­tic­u­larly in terms of ro­man­tic love. Pop­u­lar cul­ture is too in­flu­en­tial in how we be­have in our most in­ti­mate re­la­tion­ships. it can, and does, lead to some re­ally aw­ful, toxic be­hav­ior. This is a chance to see the worst come alive, i think.

DA: Are there any spe­cific gen­res or roles that you want to ex­plore more of in the fu­ture? PB:

Play­ing Joe ac­tu­ally makes me tired of play­ing any­one. We just see too many peo­ple like me on cam­era. The sooner i get be­hind the lens, the bet­ter. i can’t say more than that.

DA: Look­ing to the past a bit, how­ever, what is your all-time fa­vorite role? PB:

Jeff Buck­ley [in 2012’s “greet­ings from Tim Buck­ley”].

DA: How about the one that re­ally put you on the map? Which film or Tv show was it that con­vinced you that you were def­i­nitely meant to be an ac­tor? PB:

Putting me “on the map” and con­vinc­ing me that i am an ac­tor are two very dif­fer­ent things. “gos­sip girl” clearly put me on the map. Play­ing Jeff Buck­ley showed me what it was like to fuse creative joy and pro­fes­sional craft. it was then that i felt i could say defini­tively that i am an ac­tor and that it felt good. But keep in mind i’ve been do­ing this, es­sen­tially, all my life. i was a pro­fes­sional at 12. So, i’ve never not felt like an ac­tor. it’s feel­ing good about it that is a strug­gle some­times.

DA: When you’re not busy film­ing or other­wise work­ing, how do you usu­ally spend your time? PB:

i love to read. i don’t have enough time for it. Study­ing his­tor­i­cal events, peo­ple, philoso­phies, re­li­gions. if it’s not true, as the world is in such stag­ger­ing pain, i don’t know what the point is—and i hold good fic­tion as true, but good fic­tion is not ter­ri­bly com­mon.

DA: Last ques­tion: If a new ac­tor came up to you and asked you for ad­vice on how to make it in to­day’s en­ter­tain­ment scene, what would you tell him or her? PB:

get out. run! or, write and pro­duce. ex­am­ine how much your de­sire to be known, to be fa­mous, is in­ter­twined with your de­sire to get into it. i ac­tu­ally do not rec­om­mend it to any­one. You will only suc­ceed against as­tro­nom­i­cal odds, suf­fer con­stant re­jec­tion, and through means that de­mand you make sac­ri­fices or com­pro­mises which no one can promise you will come back from. it’s a skewed sys­tem, this is no se­cret. it’s not a mer­i­toc­racy and i don’t be­lieve i would have cho­sen this path as an adult. i did this at a very young age. So, i guess if you want to make it, first you have to dis­card my sug­ges­tion that it’s nearly driven me crazy and that you prob­a­bly can’t make it. That’s step one.


de­ceM­ber 2018/jan­uary 2019

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