“I don’t think it’s hard to hate him, and I don’t think it’s hard to love him,” muses Penn Badgley on his character Joe Goldberg in “YOU.” The Netflix series, adapted from the novels of Caroline Kepnes, forces Badgley to make the audience care about a man with monstrous tendencies. Watch the exclusive video interview above.
Joe can be described with many unsavory adjectives: sociopath, murderer, manipulator. Badgley doesn’t think of those labels when slipping into the role. “He’s very easy for me to inhabit, or love. Because he really does want what we all want,” explains the actor, “which is to be loved.”
Season 2 of “YOU” gives Joe a new love, whose name just so happens to be Love (Victoria Pedretti). This new woman to obsess over drives him on a mission to prove that he’s a good person at heart, though as Badgley explains, people with his type of psychosis are “unreliable narrators for themselves.” Joe still winds up in a series of violence and manipulations in his pursuit of Love, but it was important for the actor to deliver Joe’s intent to do good as a genuine desire. “He might actually be trying to change, he just might not have the capacity to mean it past the moment he says it,” suggests Badgley, “so I just make him mean it.” The result is a surprising performance that compels the audience to take a journey with a mad man.
In an effort to adapt the narrative style of the novels, the series makes significant use of voiceover dialogue to provide a window into Joe’s mind. “I know that I use my body differently” in the recording booth, Badgley describes. The process is fun for the performer, even when he must deliver “very painful” lines, because of how it forces him to act. Joe normally has a stoic and poised nature, and in the booth, Badgley must take everything that would normally emerge in his physicality and focus it through his voice. “Sometimes I’m very surprised with how spontaneous emotions come,” he admits. “It’s very spiritual.”
On the other side of the voice-overs are the long takes on set where these lines will eventually be heard in the final scene. Badgley describes these takes as their “own skill.” He must conjure the emotion of the moment with no dialogue to help him. While these moments of intense emoting can feel isolating, the actor also appreciates that he doesn’t “need to rely on anyone else.” There is something freeing about that.
Badgley finds his work on “YOU” to be “quite rewarding” and loves that the series can be “both serious and fun at the same time.” Audiences have flocked to the thriller, with Netflix reporting more than 54 million views for Season 2, and started endless discussions about Joe. “What’s exciting for me,” he adds, “is the prospect of being on a show that so deftly navigates the conversations of the moment.”
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