No doubt about it: Penn Badgley looks more like the handsome boy next door than a serial killer. That’s exactly why the actor was the perfect choice to play the murderous Joe Goldberg in WBTV’s You, said creators and star of the psychological thriller at today’s Deadline’s The Contenders Emmys panel.
Badgley joined co-creator/executive producer/writers Greg Berlanti and Sera Gamble at the panel moderated by Peter White. The series, written by Berlanti and Gamble based on Caroline Kepnes’ best-selling novel of the same name, first aired on Lifetime before moving to Netflix, was renewed for a second season prior to its debut. Badgley’s character, a charming bookstore owner with a very disturbing secret life, connects with equally attractive customer and aspiring Guinevere Beck, portrayed by Elizabeth Lail.
Berlanti said the book was helpful in figuring out how to get into Goldberg’s mind. He said he devoured the novel in a week, “which reminded me of binging on a show, to be honest.” He said it took three drafts over the course of the year to properly capture the essence of the book.
Gamble described You as “a love story and a bit of a horror movie in every single scene… you can read it as a sweet story, and you can read it as terrifying. She noted that the audience is constantly whipsawed between attraction and horror when observing the actions of Badgley’s character.
“Joe embodies everything he is putting out to the world,” Gamble said. “If we had hired someone creepy, it wouldn’t work.”
She added it’s been interesting to see how quick an audience is to forgive a charming serial killer, at the same time as judging the sexually aggressive Beck as “a little slutty, to be honest.”
Badgley called his character “the hero of his own story — every serial killer is.” He said the trick was to show some humanity without turning Joe into a sympathetic anti-hero. “The character is so ultimately, the word that’s coming to mind is un-saveable,” Badgley said. He called the tendency to be attracted “overwhelmingly” to Joe a “Rorschach test of a kind for us,” adding; “And we’re failing, y’all.”
That being said, Badgley seemed to be enjoying the evil charm of his character maybe just a little. He said the second season of the show will feature “lots of masturbation and dissolving bodies. You’ll love it.”