MANILA, Philippines – In promoting the hit Netflix thriller You, lead actor Penn Badgley cannot stress enough one important detail: His character, the charming anti-hero Joe, is a murderer.
It was, in fact, a statement Penn kept repeating on Monday, January 14, in a press event with media at The Peninsula in Manila. "How far are we willing to go to forgive an evil white man? Quite far apparently," said the actor, both acknowledging his character's appeal while emphasizing that he played a psychopath.
You, based on the novel of the same name by Caroline Kepnes, tells the story of Joe Goldberg, a New York bookstore manager who meets, falls in love with, and stalks writer and bookstore customer Guinevere Beck.
The show first aired on Lifetime in September 2018 and debuted internationally via Netflix in December. Since then, You has been a viral and critical success, with the problematic Joe becoming the object of many fans’ affection – much to Penn’s horror.
“It’s less fun for me because I’m a murderer, let’s make that clear. I mean, I know it’s fun to watch. I don’t want to give any spoilers but I kill [at least] 3 people – so we’re all clear,” Penn said.
Joe Goldberg, to say the least, is a problematic anti-hero. He obsesses over Beck and, as Penn reminded viewers, ends up murdering several people over the course of 10 episodes in season 1.
“When I read the script, I was quite troubled because again, I understand all these elements of the show… I get to be Joe. Everyone else gets to watch it and enjoy it. But for me… I don’t know if I could be this person,” he said.
There was a “push and pull” too between himself and the show’s directors and writers over how charming Joe should be. “I was like, ‘less so,’” the actor recalled.
“I think I had a lot of reservations, which is appropriate. Because now we can all watch something and feel somewhat responsible. I think that’s the thing… to the degree that everybody else is able to consume it this way except that I have the burden of making this real for myself,” Penn added.
Co-star Shay Mitchell, who plays Guinevere Beck's best friend Peach Salinger, said her own friends asked her if it was bad that they found themselves attracted to Joe.
"I said no, 'cause you're looking at this, so yes" she said, pointing towards Penn.
"But if that wasn't the case, you'd find it very creepy. Remember that. But I would say that Joe is a psychopath and I have to be honest because I have to really defend that side of him because so many people are falling in love and I'm like, 'No... what, are we seeing the same show?'" added Shay.
This wouldn’t be the first time for Penn to remind viewers that Joe is, for all intents and purposes, a psychopath.
On Twitter, Penn’s been not-so-subtly pointing out his character’s flaws.
"If we're not careful, Joe can maybe bring out the Joe in us," he said, recalling an instance when he had to step in after a Twitter user went viral over her affection towards Joe.