“If you like Gossip Girl, this one’s gonna be a killer.”
That’s the tagline Penn Badgley cheekily offered up for his new Lifetime thriller series, You, on Thursday at summer Television Critics Association press tour.
Based on the Caroline Kepnes novel, the first season of You follows Joe Goldberg (Badgley), a bookstore manager who becomes entangled with one of his customers, a young woman named Beck (Elizabeth Lail). But when Joe falls for someone, love can quickly turn to obsession.
Badgley’s character in the 10-episode series, already renewed for a second season ahead of its September debut, is incredibly similar to his breakout role as bookworm turned omnipresent blogger Dan Humphrey on Gossip Girl. Fans of Gossip Girl may view You as acting as an unofficial sequel of sorts, had Dan continued his Gossip Girl ways. The actor acknowledged similarities between the characters he plays on the two projects. Both characters put a lot of value in books and rely on social media/text messages, for one thing.
“There are parallels, not the least of which is that I’m playing both of them. I’d say in the first scene of the first episode, by every measure, Joe might appear to be Dan, and then he diverges,” Badgley, 31, acknowledged to reporters. “And also, as time goes on, [I’m] probably less interested and more accepting of the fact that there’s no way to control people’s perception of what it is they’re watching. If people want to see the similarities and focus on them, that’s fine, because they’re there. But trust me, the parallels and comparisons are not lost on me. I can only imagine, like, the worst version of an ad, like, ‘If you like Gossip Girl, this one's gonna be a killer.’”
In You, Joe goes to extreme lengths to find out more about Beck, using social media and Google searches to become the person he thinks she wants in a man. Badgley addressed playing a character, who, for lack of a better word, displays stalker tendencies.
“Somehow I seem to be more troubled by it. I know throughout, I felt like I was the most troubled, which is when [co-creator] Sera [Gamble] insisted I was the right guy for the role," Badgley said. "I personally am really interested to see how it is people respond to this show, especially given that we just found out about this second season pickup."
"I personally feel it is a bit of a social experiment. It’s a litmus test to see the mental gymnastics that we’re still willing to perform on a cultural level, to love an evil white man," he continued. "I’m very curious. I’m not nervous, personally, because we shot it already I suppose. I think it’ll certainly add to the conversation and it’ll create its own conversation, so I’m looking forward to the response.”
Badgley also spoke about the version of Joe he plays versus what Kepnes wrote on paper, admitting that he chose to focus on the humanity within the character -- even if it was difficult to find at times.
"I don’t know how he’s different from the book. I was just focused on his curiosity and his sensitivity because there are so many things that are -- well, at least there are glaring things about him that are so inhuman," Badgley said. "I think in order to make him human, which initially I wasn’t sure I was concerned with doing to be honest. But I guess as an actor, that’s my only job. It was ultimately his curiosity, his investigation that somehow is so naïve and so innocent that might be so insular and then becomes the terrible thing that it is."
But the day wouldn't be complete if Badgley wasn't asked about the chances of a Gossip Girl reunion. Badgley didn't seem to believe that that would ever be in the cards, but like a good sport, shared his one condition for a hypothetical redo: "I'd do it if Dan got to kill them," he joked.
More to come...
You premieres Sunday, Sept. 9 at 10 p.m. ET/PT on Lifetime.