The scene in ‘You’ that Penn Badgley “did not want to do”
(Credit: Netflix)

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The scene in ‘You’ that Penn Badgley “did not want to do”

Only a few Netflix series compare to the success of You, with Stranger Things and Squid Game being perhaps the only two that can compete. Featuring Penn Badgley as bookstore manager Joe Goldberg, the show explores the insidiousness of obsession, delving into how social media can facilitate predatory behaviour.

In the first season of the series, Badgley’s Goldberg develops a deep fascination with a woman named Guinevere Beck, portrayed by Elizabeth Lail. However, Goldberg’s initial infatuation escalates into an obsession, leading him to employ extreme and frequent criminal tactics to integrate himself into Beck’s life. Despite the evident delineation of the true villain on paper, the first-person perspective has added to the enduring controversy surrounding the show.

Although many viewers enjoy the Goldberg character, Badgley has said on multiple occasions how he’s not someone you should be rooting for. For instance, in an interview with Vanity Fair, he said: “We can’t lead ourselves to believe that if Joe would simply find the right person that he would be happy because he’s a fucking murderer”.

Badgley wasn’t particularly a fan of his character in Gossip Girl either, as explained in InStyle: “When I first read the pilot script for You, I definitely saw the similarities [between Joe and Dan],” the actor said. “I think I was really caught between being able to appreciate how that’s an interesting progression of things for me, but also how it’s not”.

Across the series, Badgley consistently portrays some of the most reprehensible actions a person can depict on-screen, encompassing inflicting serious harm, engaging in harassment, and committing assaults. One such scene occurs in the first season when Goldberg lingers outside Beck’s house, performing a sex act while watching her through her window.

Naturally, this scene was particularly difficult for Badgley, who felt it tested his boundaries as an actor. During a roundtable interview, he explained: “I found myself surprisingly disgusted, like I did not want to do it.” Although Badgley admitted he doesn’t “enjoy nearly everything about [Joe]” as he epitomises every privilege “that a young, attractive, white man carries,” he does find it interesting how divisive such a show can be.

As he explained in 2020: “Trust me, as an actor, I find it very challenging to sometimes suspend my disbelief when you’re forced into a position that is just in the literal sense of the word incredible,” he noted. “That’s the interesting thing about this show — it works”.