Penn Badgley on his role in Netflix's You: "It does take a toll"
On The Radio Times Podcast, Penn Badgley talks to Kelly-Anne Taylor about his starring role in Netflix's You and feeling comfortable to assert boundaries in his career.
The leading actor of Netflix's You, Penn Badgley, has gripped, frightened and unnerved viewers since the hit series began in 2018. Throughout its four seasons, Badgley has played the role of Joe Goldberg, an obsessive serial killer who we first meet as a New York bookstore manager in season 1 and follow as he tracks, kidnaps and kills many of those who cross his path.
Aside from convincingly playing the role of Goldberg, Badgley is also known for his iconic role as Dan Humphrey in Gossip Girl, a role he held for five years and saw him star alongside Blake Lively and Leighton Meester.
With the final batch of season 4's episodes having recently landed on Netflix, Badgley sat down with The Radio Times Podcast to chat about having a lack of control over the remote in home, his "complex" move to LA aged 11, and his recent request to have fewer sex scenes in You out of respect for his marriage to Domino Kirke.
He also chats about growing up with body dysmorphia, the toll of playing a serial killer, and the conversations the industry needs to have about boundaries and the portrayal of intimacy on screen.
What’s the view from your sofa?
Recently, I was reading with my toddler. We don’t watch a lot of TV with him and he doesn’t yet understand or know that I’m on TV. I sat on the remote, Netflix came on and my huge face was right there [in You]. And he goes, “That’s Daddy!” I was looking all around for the remote – that’s not a good preview for a two-and-a-half-year-old to see!
What do you enjoy watching on TV?
We’re going to sound so basic – we watch The Voice! It makes the most sense for all the age gaps; I also have a 14-year-old. There’s a spirit to it that’s incredibly wholesome and sweet. We also watch Planet Earth and Amazing Grace, the Aretha Franklin documentary, because my youngest loves her gospel songs.
Who controls the remote?
When you have children, they control the remote! But you should be watching everything with them in mind – and you control the content. Come on, guys – some discipline! No lax parenting…
You started acting at 11 after moving to LA with your mother when your parents split up. Were they supportive?
At that age, your parents need to be. They also need to be a bit crazy to let you become a professional actor at a young age. It’s definitely not advisable for virtually all parents. When kids go to LA, it’s [usually] because the parents are splitting up.
Hollywood is both an escape and an oasis. You’re living out a dream with one of your parents, it’s a complex thing. Look at case studies of child actors; it’s not good to uproot your life and make this decision where the child is usually taken out of school a lot.
More like this
Aged 21, you found fame playing Dan Humphrey in Gossip Girl. How do you feel about adults playing teenagers?
It’s something we don’t give a lot of attention to – but it’s surprisingly odd that we depict teenagers, people who are growing, and we take people who have grown and put them in those positions… All the things they’re doing – sex, drugs, all that stuff! It’s less funny when you actually see teenagers doing it.
Do you think it makes young people think they should look a certain way?
Growing up, I had full body dysmorphia because I was in the business. It was the source of a surprising amount of despair. Now, there is such image consciousness because there are images surrounding us. What’s the antidote? Let younger people tell their own stories. You have so many adults writing stories about youth, then casting adults [in the roles].
You play a serial killer in Netflix drama You. Is it hard to switch off after work?
The way that it lingers is in the energy that it takes. When you fake-strangle somebody, your nervous system doesn’t quite know that you’re not [actually] strangling someone. When you see fake blood and you’re [pretending to] stab someone – your physical system isn’t used to seeing something visceral like that and it being fake. It does take a toll.
You recently said that you would prefer to do fewer sex scenes in future, a comment that caused quite a storm on social media. Do you think the industry needs to rethink how intimacy is portrayed?
Somebody asked me: "Why just the sex? Why not the violence?" The only thing that is real when you simulate it is touching or kissing somebody. If I’m fake-stabbing somebody, I’m not actually killing them. I have a personal preference and it is what it is.
I think it [portraying intimacy] should be unpacked from every perspective. Directors, writers and producers should think about it. Actors, especially at the beginning [of their careers], have no power. They are complete pawns. You have no agency whatsoever. Only as you get more and more successful do you have agency, and even then, it’s quite controlled.
I finally felt comfortable to say: "This is where I’m at. How does that sound to you?" And the show’s response was really rewarding and encouraging.
You season 4 is available to watch on Netflix now. Seasons 1-3 are also streaming. Sign up for Netflix from £4.99 a month. Netflix is also available on Sky Glass and Virgin Media Stream.
Check out more of our Drama coverage or visit our TV Guide and Streaming Guide to see what's on tonight.
Try Radio Times magazine today and get 12 issues for only £1 with delivery to your home – subscribe now. For more from the biggest stars in TV, listen to The Radio Times Podcast.