Penn Badgley talks 'You', social media, and why his character Joe would kill Dan Humphrey
18 December 2018, 17:20 | Updated: 2 November 2020, 17:00
'You' arrives on Netflix December 26 and we spoke to Penn Badgley about the series, Joe and Beck's dynamic, and why he's "not interested in Joe's redemption" come season 2.
The highly anticipated drama, You comes to Netflix UK on December 26. The thriller promises a compelling look at love in the age of social media obsession. Based on the Caroline Kepnes novel of the same name, You stars Penn Badgley (Gossip Girl), Shay Mitchell (Pretty Little Liars), and Elizabeth Lail (Once Upon A Time) in an edge-of-your-seat drama that puts a dark twist on the classic "boy meets girl" genre.
Penn Badgley plays Joe, a bookstore manager who falls for a charming aspiring writer named Beck (Elizabeth Lail). Though the two have chemistry in their initial meeting, Joe does not leave their courtship up to chance. Joe uses the internet and his dark sleuthing abilities to make sure no one can stand in the way of his pursuit of the young woman.
We caught up with Penn Badgley before the Netflix UK premiere of You to talk about the show, his character, and whether or not Dan Humphrey and Joe Goldberg would actually get along if they met.
PopBuzz: The show really messes with the audience's perception of the individual characters from episode to episode. At times you feel that Joe is contemptuous and other times you feel sympathy for him. Why do you think that works so well for a story like this?
Penn Badgley: I think mainly because we are taking everything that we're very accustomed to, like extremely accustomed to, no matter who we are. Seeing a charming guy, probably often white, probably often young, falling in love with a girl. And behaving in a certain way. And that being the beginning of a relationship that we don't just accept, but we actually aspire to.
I think in a lot of ways, the way we think about love has almost nothing to do with love. It has to do with lust and infatuation which leads to jealousy and sometimes violence and delusion and abuse. And it often falls on the backs of women. I think what Joe does is he shows us how corrupt some of the logic is that we often employ when we think about relationships in media.
PopBuzz: Given how "corrupted" Joe's world view is, do you think that he is a villain?
Penn Badgley: You know, he's not just a villain. I'm not suggesting that he's this whole new thing. But, in some way, I think the word "villain" doesn't really encapsulate what's happening here. Nor does "anti-hero". To me, it's something that we've not seen a lot of where he's meant to represent and embody these things that we want to understand better. And I think these are things about us that are actually kind of awful. These are things that maybe we haven't given enough consideration to because we're all too willing to forgive charming white men in the world. And we're all too willing to victimise other people.
He's not just a villain. In a way, he is still representing the every man. The every nice guy, with a lot of disclaimers, obviously. And how much we're willing to accept certain kinds of behaviour from certain kinds of people and not from others.
PopBuzz: At one point your character says of social media that it "renders you insanely vulnerable with zero upside". Do you agree with on this or are your views on social media a bit more nuanced?
Penn Badgley: I hope that everything that anyone has to say in real life is more nuanced than what we're able to do on a show because we only have like 42 minutes every episode to say it. I think in a lot of ways he's right.
It's like, look, social media is a tool. And social media is reflecting to us right now these elements and dimensions of our nature as people that I think is really disturbing. Because, we probably made a lot of assumptions like 'oh, there's no reason this could get that bad' but then it's like, whoa. This is a frickin' minefield. Like, this is insane. Why are people behaving this way?
And I think, ultimately, it's because we have a lot of corrupt ideas underpinning our social values and what we think it means to be human. I'm not saying that our show addresses all of this head on but, to me, if you follow the logic to the seed of it all, social media is demonstrating to us how lazy some of the conclusions we've been coming to about human nature are. And how we have to be more rigorous in examining why we're all behaving this way and what we might be able to do in order to mitigate that.
PopBuzz: Do you think Joe would be a Black Mirror fan?
Penn Badgley: I don't know. Joe's a little tricky that way. I think he might be too jaded to watch television at all.
PopBuzz: Joe and Beck talk about their "forever" movies and your character says theirs is Beverly Hills Cop. What's your actual forever movie?
Penn Badgley: You know what, Being There. Being There is an incredible movie. Being There with Peter Sellers directed by Hal Ashby. I do love that one.
PopBuzz: Joe and Beck's dynamic is really compelling. Why do you think that comes across so palpably on screen?
Penn Badgley: It's well written. And hopefully we were able to uphold what they've got on page in our acting. I think partly because we want them to be together. Partly because we want Joe to find love and also because we don't want him to hurt Beck.
So it's this really strange thing where you want them to be together almost out of this survivalist thing. Which I think happens in abusive relationships. In a way, what this show does, is that it turns the viewer into a potential villain. Why are you watching? What is it that you really enjoy about this? Who is it that you ultimately like the most and identify with? So, I think in that way, there's this really compelling third party role that the viewer plays in Beck and Joe's relationship. And that might be why it's so compelling to watch.
PopBuzz: In season 2 could you see a redemption arc for Joe?
Penn Badgley: NO. Nope. No. There's no redemption for someone who is behaving that way. I think the only redemption is in death.
Again, Joe is not a real person. And I, as an actor portraying him—and as a person who really struggled along the way to understand whether or not it was even responsible to be doing this, and portraying him in the way that I did—to me, I'm not interested in Joe's redemption. I'm interested in our redemption. I'm interested in us examining it in a responsible way. So I think I just want to see him change. And I want to see him progress. But it doesn't mean for the better.
It just means that we're thinking about this as deeply as we can. And we're doing things with him that are very intelligent. That's what I want to see. I think that might mean that's he's doing a lot worse stuff but we're getting to see things about him that we also see in ourselves that we can think about more.
PopBuzz: And, just one more question. And I hope you'll forgive me.
Penn Badgley: Is it about Gossip Girl?
PopBuzz: It is. Joe and Dan do have a couple of things in common. They're both New Yorkers. They're big readers. They're internet savvy. Do you think those two would get along if they actually met?
Penn Badgley: They would hate each other because they're too similar. And then Joe would kill Dan so, you know.
You launches on Netflix 26th December.