Update: Penn Badgley is further clarifying his comments to the Daily Beast that he had "literally been molested" following his rise to fame in Gossip Girl. Though he does not dispute that he had been sexually harassed and, in some cases, "molested," Badgley made it clear in a statement to Refinery29 that his comments were more about problematic social norms as a whole than they were about his own experiences.
"The point of my comment was not to confess a personal trauma. I was speaking about the way emotional and physical boundaries are violated for someone in the public eye, who is seen as an object of desire," he said in a statement. "Depending on so many factors, it can range from conscious abuse to something very unconscious— and that is the point I was making, cautiously, in the context of a conversation about fanaticism and cultural norms which support manipulative or abusive behavior. These are the same norms which support predatory men, but not exclusively predatory men. They affect, and infect, us all."
This story was originally published on September 10, 2018 at 11:52 a.m.
Penn Badgley stars in a new Lifetime series, You, in which he portrays a devilishly handsome loner named Joe with an appetite for obsession. Much like Badgley's character Dan in Gossip Girl, people seem to love the person Joe presents himself to be in social situations. But behind the scenes he's much more sinister, gathering intel on his love interest and her friends and plotting nefarious ways to use it against them. But unlike Dan, Joe's schemes aren't limited to high school drama; instead, his obsessive nature leads him down a dark path in which he stalks a woman he meets at his book shop and uses his good looks, intelligence, and rom-com plot lines to justify his creepy, inappropriate behavior.
While you might think Gossip Girl gave Badgley the tools he needed to dive into his character in You, the newly-married actor admitted during an interview with the Daily Beast that it was his actual real-life experiences on the receiving end of stalker-ish behavior that gave him a better understanding of how obsession changes people.
"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 said. "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."
According to the Daily Beast, Badgley acknowledged that, as a man, his experiences differ from his female colleagues who have a lifetime of experiences with sexual harassment and assault. However, his experiences and feelings about them are still valid and important to discuss, especially as more men, like Terry Crews, fight to change the way society perceives masculinity. Representation for Badgley did not immediately respond to requests for additional comment.
"You're led as a man, particularly, that when it happens you should feel great about it," Badgley explained. "Particularly when it comes from someone who's feasibly an object of your desire as well."
Badgley also said that You made him rethink how we portray objectification onscreen to make it seem more romantic and acceptable. "I think that's the interesting thing about this show, is that Joe looks like me, 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.'"
If Badgley had his way, the audience wouldn't think that way. In fact, they wouldn't sympathize with Joe at all. "We don't need to defend Joe," he plainly stated.
Yet, he does believe that some good can come out of such a terrifying and much too real series, especially now that more people are breaking their silence and actively fighting against sexual misconduct.
"I think that a lot of the conversations that we're having around the show are elevated and have a depth that I really appreciate because, for all the faults and all of the perils of the times we live in, we are becoming more sensitive to some things," he said. "I think it's significant that a show like this is coming out now, because if it had come out any other time, we might not have been having these necessary conversations around it. And we might have been all too ready to consume something that I think actually has some really dark seeds in it."
Of course, this doesn't mean you can't enjoy the show. Instead, it's a call for all viewers to think more critically about what we're consuming and to question and change problematic social norms.
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