Penn Badgley used his own experiences allegedly getting "molested" by rabid "Gossip Girl" fans to help understand and channel his own portrayal of a stalker in Lifetime's "YOU," premiering tonight.
"Gossip Girl" was the "it" show for awhile, catapulting Badgley into the spotlight of its fanatical fanbase. "I think as an actor you can become an object of desire, which is something women are already accustomed to more or less around the world," he told The Daily Beast. "I've definitely been-- I mean I don't want to sound sensationalist, but I've literally been molested, just in the literal sense of the word, by many people in the moment. Because that's what they do."
Badgley was quick to distance his comments from the #MeToo movement, especially considering his privilege as a white man, but admitted that Terry Crews opening up about his own alleged assault, among others, has inspired him to be more open about his experiences. "These things very much happen, you know," he said.
When the interviewer said, "I'm sorry," Badgley found that an "interesting" response, saying, "You're led as a man, particularly, that when it happens you should feel great about it. Particularly when it comes from someone who's feasibly an object of your desire as well."
All of those mixed thoughts and feelings about the whole situation have helped Badgley better understand and get into the mind of Joe, the character he portrays who becomes obsessed with a woman he sees in passing and begins stalking her. "He acts and talks like me to a degree, so I think the audience is supposed to be like, 'Aw, that might be nice if someone was that infatuated with me.'"
The creators and Badgley are intentionally making the show provocative in that manner, and Badgley was very adamant to not soften Joe's edges or make him more sympathetic for the audience. "In the pilot episode, the director was trying to get me to be at some points less disgusting," he said, recalling a scene where his character was masturbating on the side of the street watching this girl. The director wanted to soften that scene by having Badgley close his eyes.
"Like, why are we trying -- Joe is masturbating on the side of the street as he watches a young woman," Badgley said. "And we're worried about it being too creepy? Do we not think it's already crossed that line?"
As for the timing of the show, Badgley couldn't be happier to debut such a challenging show on the heels of the #MeToo and Time's Up movements. "I think it's significant that a show like this is coming out now," he said. "Because if it had come out any other time, we might not have been having these necessary conversations around it."
"You" premieres tonight at 10 p.m. ET on Lifetime.