Unsettling and scary, You is a Netflix Original created by Sera Gamble and Greg Berlanti where the lead character, Joe Goldberg, fulfils his twisted fantasies and obsessions by following and stalking women who interest him. He basks in the brilliance of the women and can barely stay away, often found engaging in intimate physical contact. Portrayed by Penn Badgley, Goldberg is one of the most terrifying characters created by the streaming platform.
Sadistic and perverse, his voyeuristic tendencies make him appear as a creepy and despicable manifestation of our worst nightmares. The actor, himself, has a lot to say about his character.
Known for his rise into stardom as Dan Humphrey from Gossip Girl, Badgley stole the hearts of too many people like this crazy and twisted man. It is honestly quite disturbing to see the number of people that romanticise this trashbag of a character. A lot of it is attributed to Badgley’s petrifying portrayal of the same with blank stares into the void and all-consuming voiceovers that give an insight into the twisted functioning of his brain.
On The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Badgley went on to explain how he came up with the expressionless yet frightening version of Goldberg. He said that he does “nothing” which results in a creepy face; the “real Charles Manson vibe” comes from the act of staring at the camera with a vacant expression. “I arrive on mark …. I do nothing but look up. And the entire crew behind the camera goes ‘Oh! Whoa, man. That is phenomenal. That is so creepy.’ And I did nothing.”
Contrary to how actors often find a connection with roles they portray that catapult them into superstardom, Badgley is repulsed by the sheer toxicity of the character. He has often taken to Twitter to respond to users romanticising the characters and not very kindly replied to their thirsty tweets using sarcasm and humour, trying to do away with their infatuation.
While the series does not portray a clinical portrait of a serial killer, it upholds Joe’s toxic tendencies. Badgley believes that Goldberg is vile and incapable of redemption, the only one possible being “in death”. He explained how he is not bothered by whether Joe finds a way to atone for his actions. As an actor, he is concerned about his character undergoing “change” that is not just constricted to being “better”.
For Badgley, portraying Joe in New York was comparatively easier and less demanding than portraying the same in Los Angeles from season two owing to the sheer vastness of the latter that often represented the “void in himself that he’s terrified of”.
He revealed how playing such a demanding role has left long-lasting and deep-seated psychological impacts. Revealing how he does not “enjoy nearly everything about him”, Badgley said, “it ends up being a deep, deep psychological exploration for me. I found it seems to bear fruit.”
He further added, “There’s a lot about him that I struggle with and yet I’m always trying to humanise him as much as possible.”
In season three, Joe becomes a father to a baby boy, Henry, along with Love Quinn. Given the monstrous character of their parents, it is not difficult to predict Henry’s future. However, the third season shows Goldberg desperately trying to be a better man for his son yet still remaining as delusional and toxic as ever, joined by his equally depraved and jealous wife.
Badgley, who has also become a father soon, was actually admittedly “curious” about how his experiences would “influence my experience with Joe and acting with him”. He could identify with the “fear” of fatherhood yet felt alienated from his “morbid” and obsessive “self-preservation, primal instinct” that was characteristic to Goldberg.
Check out some of Goldberg’s best moments below: