The last time Penn Badgley and Chace Crawford last appeared on a screen together, they were twenty-somethings bringing the drama of the Upper East Side to life in the CW show Gossip Girl. Eight years after its controversial finale — I still don't understand how the Dan could've been Gossip Girl — your teen crushes are back together once again, reminiscing on their time on the cult favorite series.
Badgley and Crawford teamed up for Variety‘s Actors on Actors issue, logging onto a video call to chat about their careers. Gossip Girl was the show that put both men on the map, but almost a decade removed from the project, it's still difficult to sit through old episodes of the project that made them famous.
"You have to strap me to a gurney and pop my eyes open like Clockwork Orange [to get me to watch the show now],” Crawford said jokingly. "But no, it would be interesting to see the first couple maybe."
"It was very hard to watch," Badgley agreed. "These snapshots of yourself when you’re 20, 21, 22 years old. Who can enjoy that? Sometimes it’s just uncomfortable."
It might be awkward for them, but Dan Humphrey and Nate Archibald were a huge deal in our formative years. Admit it: whether you were into Dan's sardonic sense of humor or felt strongly about Nate's carefully coiffed hair and baby blues, the characters were everything to you at some point.
Ironically, that's what makes it so difficult to reconcile the latest roles that Badgley and Crawford are playing now, a murderous sociopath (with a romantic side) and a manipulative water-breathing superhero. The characters are a startling departure from the beloved teens that we met years ago, but that leaning into that dissonance was appealing to the stars.
In You, Badgley's Joe Goldberg is a lot like Dan, but with a far darker side. He's just as bookish and also little bit of a snob, but Joe's ultimate aim is true love — at least, that's what he's telling himself every time he falls in love with a new woman. As the Deep in Amazon original series The Boys, Crawford shows off a similar sinister side, using his outward charm to flex his power over the mortals around him. The good boys of the Upper East Side are long gone, folks.
"It’s interesting to me, because also, man, to be honest, we move on from Gossip Girl to playing despicable white male privileged guys," Crawford mused on the call. "I had the same qualms you did."
Badgley has been the biggest critic of his You role, marveling at the internet's twisted adoration of the Lonely Boy 2.0. Unlike so many of Joe's fans, he sees the character for what he is: a sociopath, and that's the beauty of the show. Personas like Joe and The Deep are embedded with social commentary, an entertaining look at what it means to navigate a world when you believe it belongs to you.
"They’re both shows where immediately they take the trope they’re working with — in your case it’s a superhero and my case I guess it’s like the romantic male lead — and then basically within the first episode it’s bludgeoned it with a sledgehammer," he surmised of their characters.
"It’s like, we’ve seen the happy, sweet, saccharine stuff, and now we’re looking to deconstruct it all, because we see how it hasn’t served us maybe."
Well then. That's certainly one way to look at it.