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You's Penn Badgley Recalls Getting One Of The Weirdest Performance Notes Possible

Penn Badgley on You.
(Image credit: Netflix)

Penn Badgley seems to have mastered the delicate balance of playing Joe Goldberg on the shocking Netflix series You. Joe is an obsessive stalker with major trust and abandonment issues who murders in the name of “love,” and we’re still, somehow, rooting for him? So it’s no surprise there are conversations on set about being sure Badgley hits the right tone when portraying the protagonist. Given the character’s actions, however, that apparently sometimes had led to some pretty crazy notes from his directors, specifically when it comes to Joe’s masturbation scenes.

The Gossip Girl alum opened up on his podcast Podcrushed (opens in new tab) about the note he tends to get from directors when enacting one of the stalker’s self-gratification scenes. Where one might think an actor would have to be encouraged to simulate pleasuring himself in public for a show that will be seen by millions of people, Penn Badgley said he actually gets the request to tone down on the creepy. The actor divulged:

I think every time I’ve done a masturbation scene — which is so far every season at least one — I’ve always gotten the note to make it less creepy. They say, like, ‘Close your eyes or go faster or go slower.’ I’m like, ‘What? This man is fucking murdering people, and he’s masturbating in the street. You’re saying I’m making it creepy? How is it I’m the one making it creepy?'

I mean, touché, on that response, because is it the masturbation that’s creepy, or is it the fact that Joe lacks the self-control to not rub one out in the bushes while stalking his latest obsession? Creepy because his eyes are open, or creepy because he imprisons people in a glass cage in the basement of a library and murders them? 

Penn Badgley specifically recalled back in Season 1, director Lee Toland Krieger gently tried to push him in a different direction when the actor refused to close his eyes while filming that scene. In Badgley’s words:

I just remember I wouldn’t close my eyes and the director came up — and this was Lee Toland Krieger, I hope he listens to this and laughs. He was like, ‘Buddy, I just, I think you gotta close your eyes.'

It’s actually pretty funny to picture the directors giving Penn Badgley such specific instructions on how to pleasure himself less creepily, especially when you consider that the actor pushed back against the note. Being creepy was the whole point of the character, he argued!

We’ll have to see if and how Joe’s voyeuristic ways have evolved when You returns to Netflix for Season 4. After Joe faked his death in a supposed murder/suicide, the stalker fled Northern California’s Madre Linda, at the end of Season 3, apparently to search for Marienne in Paris. However, it seems like Joe is taking in a full European holiday, as the upcoming season will be set in London.

Filming started in March 2022, so as we wait for updates about when we can expect to see Season 4, you can catch up on (or rewatch) the first three seasons with a Netflix subscription. Also be sure to check out these other shows and movies to watch if you like You, and if it’s the actor that keeps you coming back, check out what to watch if you like Penn Badgley.

Heidi Venable
Heidi Venable

Mom of two and hard-core '90s kid. Unprovoked, will quote Friends in any situation. Can usually be found rewatching The West Wing instead of doing anything productive.