I had the chance to catch up with Penn Badgley who plays Dan Humphrey on Gossip Girl while he was in Toronto at the CTV Upfronts. The actor offered more insight into the show and candidly discussed whether the controversy surrounding The Bedford Diaries would also affect the amount of sex that was shown on Gossip Girl. Badgley’s character on the show is undoubtedly the moral compass of the program and the nicest guy on the cast. During this interview, I quickly learned that Humphrey shares many similarities with the star that plays him as Penn Badgley is also one of the most pleasant guys that I have met.
Murtz Jaffer: Do you want to jump right into it?
Penn Badgley: Alright, let’s go.
MJ: Can you tell me more about Gossip Girl and your character, Dan Humphrey?
PB: Gossip Girl itself as a show, I think walks a nice line between you know flair and glamour and gloss and gossip. And all that that culture is. And then it also has a nice heart and soul to the show. That is most represented by the Humphrey family. Like Dan and his sister Jenny and his father Rufus. The Humphrey’s, they live a much less-privileged lifestyle than the rest of the characters. So what they lack financially, they make up for (like any other family) in the more rewarding things. They have…
PB: The heart and soul. So Dan being so sensitive with so much heart is an outcast. All his life, he has pined after the girl who represents…
MJ: Everything that he does not.
PB: Right, exactly. And it’s also a lifestyle… he doesn’t want to encourage it and he doesn’t really agree with the extravagant life. You know what I am saying? So he kind of battles with that. The girl that he loves embodies everything that he…
PB: You know? Doesn’t have, yeah, but I don’t think he wants that. He wants, I think, the social aspect of it all but he’s not planning for Prada shoes or anything.
MJ: Totally, totally. Are there any similarities between you and Dan?
PB: I think definitely. I would like to think that I have the same integrity as his character. I am a little more socially-confident. I am not the loner.
MJ: You’re not the guy that hides behind the dress. (Laughs).
PB: No. But I was very introverted as a kid. So there are more similarities in that way than people might at first think. But yeah, overall, I think we are very similar. And on a television show, over time, the character really becomes you or rather you become the character. You kind of switch into that mode very easily. As time goes on, you might see more similarities.
MJ: Some critics think that teen dramas are on their way out with The O.C. kind of finishing after four seasons. What do you think about that?
PB: Well. That’s the first I have heard of that, and I frankly don’t think that’s true. I mean who knows? You never know what’s going to be successful so I am not going to make any judgment calls or assumptions, but I think that people will always want to watch teen drama. I think, what is it? 90210, Melrose Place and all of those, those were almost teen dramas. The soapiness of them? Even though they were played by 30-year olds.
MJ: It’s like Dawson’s Creek.
PB: Yeah, Dawson’s Creek. I think The WB and now The CW has always tapped into that vein. That young culture and even when they are not getting the ratings, I still think they dominate the demographic. I think kids will always want to watch it and adults will always want to let their kids watch it and I think that it’s probably something that’s here to stay but we’ll see.
MJ: I wanted to ask you about Serena and Dan. Obviously Dan has a thing for Serena and your character kind of already lands her at the end of the premiere…
PB: Well, yeah. The thing is that we reshot a scene for the end of the pilot where we end up in the cab together. We just added a scene where we are in the cab together. And it ends on a sort of Graduate moment. They have now eloped and they are on the bus, but now what? I mean that’s really kind of what that was. Yeah, he does kind of grab her but where does he go from there? Can he handle Serena? At this stage, he’d have to do a lot of character-work to be able to handle that. You know what I mean?
PB: I have no idea where it is going to go and none of us do except for Josh (Schwartz) and Stephanie (Savage). They like to keep us on our toes so they don’t tell us.
MJ: Everybody always says that this is a show about a love triangle going on with Blair, Serena and Nate, but I think with Dan, it’s more of a square.
PB: It is! Actually, it’s maybe a rhombus.
PB: It’s constantly shifting. I would say the hot and sexy core of the show would be those three, but then Dan provides, like I said before… the soul.
PB: Soul and stability that those characters don’t have. He does stand apart from the rest because of this. Because of his integrity and his upbringing and his lifestyle. There’s the triangle, there’s the pair, there’s the rhombus, there’s the square, there’s all sorts of love formations that you could draw.
MJ: It kind of seems like there is going to be a battle between good and evil on this show. You have Dan, Serena and Jenny as the heroes with Blair and Chuck playing the villains. Is it really like good versus evil in a sense?
PB: I think that they are probably going to make it as gray as possible. It’s not so black and white, good and evil. Everybody’s got their reasons. Hopefully none of the characters will be too despicable in the show because even though they do some pretty awful and treacherous things, and gossip and all of that, they all have their reasons. I think the one character who might be just plain evil is…
PB: Chuck. (Laughs).
MJ: I knew it!
PB: He’s just insidious. An insidious guy.
MJ: I get a big Cruel Intentions vibe going on with him.
PB: Yeah, yeah, yeah. He does have that very much.
MJ: Gossip Girl is definitely a new-age teen drama with people texting rumors and innuendo to each other with gossip being the main thing. Do you think that this is what highschool has become now? People gossiping all the time.
PB: It has. It’s been a little bit since I have been in highschool but I think it is. It really it (the show) is like very very much culturally-relevant right now. Kids are just… you look at any group of teenagers and I think probably half of them are going to be on their phones. It makes sense with all this new technology that it would develop but I think teenagers in particular, they are prone to it. It’s like instant gratification. Gossip, as much as we might want to say that it is bad, I mean everybody gossips.
MJ: It’s true.
PB: And everybody always will.
MJ: There’s no question that you are working with a pretty talented cast. My question is if it is ever difficult working with such hot girls all the time.
PB: What would be difficult about that? (Laughs).
MJ: (Laughs). There’s no way I could remember my lines if I am looking at all these girls in front of me.
PB: You know what? At the end of the day, it sounds ridiculous but when you have love scenes, when you have all that kind of stuff, people are always like ‘well, how do you do that man, when you’re surrounded by all these beautiful girls.’ At the end of the day, it’s business. Just like you know. It’s your job.
PB: And there’s something very job-like about it. That’s not to say that we don’t get along really well, and that’s not to say that there won’t be some sort of romance there but it’s like a switch. You just kind of go into that mode. I mean if the script says ‘you do this…’ I mean I am an extroverted person but I am not like ridiculously cool or confident but I have had roles before where I have had to do that where it’s like the second they say ‘action,’ you just kind of get into the mode and you can do anything.
MJ: I wanted to ask you about The Bedford Diaries. When you were on that show, there was a bit of a controversy about how much was cut out of the show and deemed to be too racy. Do you think that’s going to happen on Gossip Girl, in the sense that it is a sexy teen drama with minors?
PB: It is but they approach it in a different way that I think people are less upset about which I think is kind of unfortunate because what The Bedford Diaries did was really intellectualized sex. Talk about it honestly and earnestly in a way that I think was very responsible whereas when you sort of just gloss over it. Don’t give it the attention that it’s due, people think that you’re I guess maybe being less exploitative. I don’t know. This show definitely uses its sex appeal to be appealing. That’s not to say that it is less responsible, but it is just an entirely different thing. This show is much more like a grab you at the commercials.
MJ: Leave you hanging for more.
PB: Yeah, so it’s much more of a pulpy… it’s kind like the culture is now. It’s like the fast-paced blogging mindset.
MJ: Does it help when networks like CTV and The CW are really behind the show? At The CW, they were pumping it hardcore at the Upfronts.
PB: Yeah. It helps hugely. This one just feels different. For instance, I have never been up here (Toronto) in Canada for the Upfronts. I have worked up here but… It feels different. It feels like it could be…
MJ: The one?
PB: I mean Josh Schwartz, he has the Midas touch right now. We’ll see.
MJ: Do you think that guys can get into this show? Because I am looking at it, and it’s like all gossipy girls for the most part (although, I guess Chuck gossips as well).
PB: I think there’s one line that Dan has where his sister Jenny accuses him of looking at Gossip Girl (because he’s obsessed with Serena) and I say something like ‘Gossip Girl? Come on, that’s for chicks.’ And I think every guy will initially have that reaction but all my guy friends that I have shown it to have been like ‘this is pretty good.’
MJ: And they cover their mouths when they say it right?
PB: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I look over at them when something particularly scandalous is going on on the show, like some gossip fodder and they are just like… (pretends to stare at the screen and doesn’t blink). I think guys will like it more than they like to admit.
MJ: Can you tell me some more about yourself when you aren’t acting? I know you like sports and music…
PB: Well, I love… I would say right now my two passions are music and soccer. I love soccer. I kind of wish that I lived in Europe for that reason. I’d say my #1 passion is music. I have started saying this and I like the sound of it. I think my job as an actor will fuel my music habit. So I spend a lot of time playing music and just like anything else, it comes in waves. Sometimes I won’t play much, but you know, it can be really therapeutic. I listen to a lot of music and play a lot of soccer and go out just like anybody else. Bars and whatever.
MJ: Right, right, right. And what do you like to watch? Is there anything specific?
PB: You know it’s funny. I actually don’t have… I have a television but…
MJ: I knew you were going to say you don’t watch it. That’s what all the actors say!
PB: I don’t even have cable. I don’t even have like basic cable. I have DVD’s that I watch and then when you just kind of want to have the TV on in the background, I have this DVD of a fish tank. So it turns my TV into a fishtank.
MJ: Oh, like one of those video fireplaces?
PB: Yeah. It’s like an hour-long loop of just fish and it’s beautiful and I just leave that on, listen to music and do whatever.
MJ: And finally, why should people watch this show?
PB: Why shouldn’t they?
PB: I think it’s got something for everybody. It will draw you in with all the glamorous flair and it will be keep you there hopefully with the drama and satisfy you with its heart.
MJ: What’s next for you?
PB: Just Gossip Girl. There’s been a lot of interest in me for other things.
MJ: Are you still shooting Gossip Girl?
PB: Well, we shot the pilot about two months ago (April 2007) and now we’re going to go back in another two months (August 2007) so I am not really available for anything else possibly for a very long time. We’ll see.
MJ: That’s perfect. Thank you so much.
PB: Nice meeting you.
MJ: Nice meeting you.
Nineteen-year-old Penn Badgley, who stars as Owen Gregory in The Bedford Diaries, is well known for his roles in The Mountain and the comedy Do Over. Badgley also played the underdog brother to Jesse Metcalfe in the comedy film John Tucker Must Die for director Betty Thomas.
Born in Baltimore, Maryland, Badgley split his childhood years between Richmond, Virginia, and Seattle, Washington. In Seattle, he was involved in the Seattle Children’s Theater and did voice-overs for a children’s radio station. It was during this experience that Badgley discovered his love of acting. This passion brought him to Hollywood one summer, and he soon landed an agent and his first big break guest starring on Will and Grace.
After relocating with his mother to Los Angeles, Badgley secured several recurring roles on The Young and the Restless, The Brothers Garcia and Daddio. He recently guest starred on What I Like About You and The Twilight Zone (2003) and as Dylan McDermott’s son in the drama pilot 3 lbs. Additional film work includes the acclaimed provocative independent The Fluffer.
Badgley was recently accepted to the University of Southern California. He will defer his admission until his work schedule allows him to return to school. Also musically gifted, he enjoys singing, writing and playing the guitar. In his spare time, Badgley likes to go surfing, skiing and snowboarding
Welcome to Manhattan’s Upper East Side, where gossip rules and affluent prep-school students find themselves with the money, access and appetite to explore all the temptations New York City has to offer. Based on the best-selling series of young-adult novels by Cecily von Ziegesar, this drama is told through the eyes of an all-knowing blogger who is determined to uncover and fuel every scandal possible–including the intense rivalry between two girls, Serena and Blair–via her constant, avidly read text messages. When Serena unexpectedly returns home from boarding school, she stirs up an old love triangle, finds new romance and creates some powerful enemies. More info on the show can be found at CTV.ca
– Gossip Girl airs tonight on the CTV network in Canada at 7 p.m. ET/PT.
– Gossip Girl airs Wednesdays on THE CW in the U.S. at 9 p.m. ET/PT.
Sir Linksalot: Gossip Girl
Tags: Gossip Girl