Penn Badgely is playing a bad man in his new series, but he’s not letting anyone else off the hook. The former “Gossip Girl” star spoke about his upcoming Lifetime drama “You” during the Television Critics Association summer press tour Thursday morning, citing connections between his old character and his new one, as well as why audiences are still fascinated with a “white evil man” in the #MeToo era.
“I’m really interested to see how people respond to this show,” Badgley said. “I personally feel that it’s a bit of a social experiment. It’s like a litmus test […] It will be interesting to see the mental gymnastics we’ll go through as a culture to love an evil white man.”
“You” tracks Guinevere (Elizabeth Lail), a brilliant bookstore manager who becomes linked to Joe (Badgley) an aspiring writer who gets a little too interested in her. In order to get close to Guinevere, Joe stalks her social media and gathers intimate information about her life. His crush shifts to obsession, and he starts eliminating whatever — and whoever — gets between himself and Guinevere.
Badgely said he was initially “troubled” by the thought of playing a villainous white man during the #MeToo era, but he’s more interested in how audiences will react to seeing a well-liked movie star playing a character who’s obviously a terrible dude.
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“I’m not nervous personally, because we shot it already, but I think it will certainly add to the conversation and create its own conversation,” Badgley said.
Later, he was asked if he saw any parallels between Joe and his “Gossip Girl” character, Dan Humphrey.
“Certainly there are parallels, not the least of which that I’m playing both of them,” he said. “Especially in the first episode, by every measure, Joe might appear to be Dan, and then he diverges.”
Dan, the seemingly innocent protagonist throughout most of the series, was later revealed to be (“Gossip Girl” spoilers ahead) the titular “gossip girl.” He assumed the online persona to win Serena’s heart, effectively stalking her and then writing himself into her life. Perhaps that’s why Badgley wasn’t worried about anyone seeing Dan in Joe throughout the first season of “You.”
“There’s no way to control people’s perception of what they’re watching, and if they want to see the similarities and focus on them, they’re there. […] The parallels and comparisons are not lost on me.”
Then, in an allusion to Joe’s extreme atrocities, he noted his worst-case scenario.
“I can only imagine the worst version of the ad [for ‘You’]: ‘If you liked “Gossip Girl,”’ this one’s going to be a killer.’”
“You” premieres Sunday, Sept. 9 at 10 p.m. ET on Lifetime.