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[This story contains spoilers from the season two finale of Netflix’s You.]
Season two of Netflix’s You sees Joe Goldberg (Penn Badgley) head from New York to Los Angeles as he tries to escape the detection of his ex-girlfriend Candace (Ambyr Childers) — the one he thought he’d killed, but who mysteriously reappeared at the end of the first season of the former Lifetime drama.
In sunny L.A., Joe quickly finds a new object of affection, Love (Victoria Pedretti), who turns out to have a dark side that rivals his own. She’s killed for love too — for her twin brother and for Joe — and she accepts the latter’s dark past for what it is. She also discovers she’s pregnant, and by the end of the season she and Joe have moved to the suburbs to start their new family — but Joe appears to find another person to obsess about.
As the series found a larger audience on Netflix — where season two moved after Lifetime gave it an early renewal — Badgley saw more and more people tweeting him about their thoughts on the drama (and on his stalker character in particular). The actor made headlines for his tweets reminding fans that Joe is actually a murderer, but he tells The Hollywood Reporter the whole thing was “very tongue-in-cheek.”
“We’re all recognizing, like, this is crazy, but it’s fun! Like everything, when it becomes this larger conversation some of the little ins and outs and the subtleties, they do get lost,” he said. “But I feel like at least for the most part, it was kind of fun. It was somehow reflective of the meta enjoyment of this show and the way people consume it.”
Below, Badgley speaks with THR about You‘s pop culture significance, learning to love a murderer, the crazy ex-girlfriend trope and whether it’s possible for someone like Joe to change.
What was it like moving from New York to bright and sunny Los Angeles?
Because Joe is such an internal character, so much of what happens is inside his mind. I think a huge lion’s share of my actual dialogue is voiceover. So in a way, there’s a part of this where it almost felt like nothing changed. Everything could change and as long as I’m playing Joe it will retain this experience for me. And then of course there’s a part where it’s actually wildly different. I mean, being in the environment of L.A. you realize there isn’t really the opportunity to watch people in the same way. So that’s taken care of pretty early on because Love wants to be with Joe. She actually is really vying to be in his life. That, really, from the moment go is actually a 180-degree turn from Beck. The challenges that you would expect to see [by] suddenly displacing the concept and the character and putting it this this totally other place, actually in a way it’s taken care of by the way that the other characters change Joe’s motivation and change his purpose there.
In the first episode, Joe keeps talking about how he’s changed, but at the end of the episode you see his telescope swing over to focus on Love in her home. Is he actually trying to change, or is he just telling himself that?
I do think it’s a combination of those two, like anyone who is trying to change but who is incapable. And that defines a lot of us. Actually, everybody is changing. It’s a fact of the universe. Everything changes. Everything moves. But I think with people, the funny thing is we are always changing, but stagnation is even akin to regression. I think we’re capable of so much growth, so much change. If we weren’t, we would have never advanced past cavemen. So if you think about it, we have the capacity for change. Joe is this exercise in trying to understand — actually, I don’t know how I would define Joe as an exercise. But to me as an actor, what I do is I simply have the utmost sincerity as Joe.
There are all these things that I think about and I’m challenged by before they say “action” and after they’ve said “cut.” I really do obviously have my misgivings about Joe, as we all do, but between “action” and “cut,” all I do is just mean everything I say and do. And in a way I think that is Joe. He does believe himself. And does he slip in and out of that conviction and has to work himself up to believe it again? Absolutely. We all have this internal dialogue with ourselves when we’re trying to understand things better and convince ourselves of certain things in order to defend our position. Inevitably we’re always wrong about something. And then I think the question is, do we defend ourselves? Or do we actually have the humility to really want to understand how we’re wrong and to do better? So in a way, it is very much, I think, an allegory for what we’re going through societally. I’m not trying to insert that unnaturally and say that’s what the show is about, but I do think that’s why it’s interesting to watch — because there is something real and human about what Joe is doing. Even though he’s being so inhumane, I think it is still human what he’s experiencing.
Toward the end of the season when Love confesses to him, he’s taken aback now that he’s on the receiving end of that kind of affection. Does he have the self-awareness to realize that it’s hypocritical of him to dislike the tables being turned on him in that way?
Personally, it was an interesting exploration of the fallout from true mania. When a person is even for just a moment [able] to see what they’ve done, all the wrong they’ve committed — and to just witness it. Like maybe not to understand it and be able to accept it, because that would be akin to being capable of growing, but to just see it, in a way it’s like suddenly you’re seeing with new eyes. He’s like a baby. Babies don’t really understand shapes and they don’t understand depth perception. I think that’s kind of like Joe in the ninth episode. He sees it. He sees the shapes and hears the sounds and can’t deny it. He’s no longer trying to deny it, but it doesn’t mean that he understands it. For this very prolonged period he’s just sort of caught in that state. And so in my mind it’s almost like the intensity of being in the eye of the storm of his true insanity. It’s so crazy that it’s just dead calm.
How do you think that will evolve in a potential third season, which has set up a life in the suburbs for Joe and Love and their future baby?
It seems to me that the brilliance of the ending of season two — to me the twist isn’t so much that Victoria’s character is also a murderer, but is that we’ve given Joe exactly who it seems like would be the only person who could be with him, the person he could be happy with, the person he is happy with. The revelation should mean, “oh, she can accept this about me.” Because that’s what he keeps saying — “if only I could show you who I really am and you could accept me then I would know true love.” Well actually he does, and her name is Love on top of that. And then he’s met with another universal truth, and he doesn’t understand — happiness and love don’t come from external circumstances. They come from within. It’s a decision. It’s a perspective. It’s a perception. It’s not this magic thing that visits you because of some happy accident. And we often treat it like that in stories. We completely objectify women and men, and we really do believe that we’re just going to meet the right person.
And I mean, yeah, compatibility is important, but it’s certainly not the thing that’s going to actually uphold a relationship once it’s exhausted the initial chemical infatuation with each other. And that always happens. There’s a lot of science behind this. It’s anywhere from six months to two years, and after that you’ve got to deal with the reality that everyone is going to disappoint you because no one is perfect, and you have to mature and grow and sacrifice your personal preferences in order to have a functional relationship. That’s a positive thing because that means personal growth.
Joe is completely incapable of this because he’s a narcissist. But I think the reason Joe is an interesting portal is because we often tell stories about narcissists. We often enable narcissists. We let narcissists become leaders and we love to tell stories about them. So we see narcissists falling in love with each other. Romeo and Juliet is a story of narcissists falling in love and being so immature and unable to deal with it that they do the unthinkable. And we kind of all wish that we had a love that was worth that level of sacrifice. Because when you think about it, it’s in a lot of our love songs, a lot of our stories. So I think in a way, the second season is continuing to explore that in ways that actually really do get at an even subtler level, which I think is really rewarding because it’s a real thing that we can keep looking at.
Joe was terrified when Candace returned, but he was very easily able to portray her as his crazy ex-girlfriend and dismiss her very valid complaints. It really highlights how Joe is automatically given the benefit of the doubt by his new friends.
I think it’s reflective of reality. It’s sad. I don’t think we’re always going to be this way; I believe it’s possible to have more justice in the world, but we don’t currently give a lot of credit to the story of the victim. Historically we’ve really not, and I think in a sense this does reflect that. There’s elements of the show where it’s hardly ever aspirational. It’s hardly ever an encouraging vision of humanity, but it does reflect where we are now as we come of age and as we progress. That’s what I think is interesting about it, and that’s what I think it does well.
Candace is actually, in a lot of ways, unlikable because she’s trying to get Joe, and therefore everyone, to recognize how crazy and unjust this is, but that’s not any fun. That gets in the way of us Netflix and chilling. It’s interesting that she’s portrayed the way she is. I think actually beyond that, it’s a part of it that I’m really interested in, but I feel like I would really want the female contingent in the [production team] to weigh in on that because I know that when I talk to a lot of men, a difference I see in the responses between men and women is that men in some ways are more disturbed by the show. It was conceived as a book by a female author. It’s largely produced and written by a female co-creator. Most of the directors are women. Most of the writers are women. Most of the executives at Warner and Netflix — there are a lot of women who are responsible for this thing. And I think it’s interesting because it’s often men — me one of them — who are like, “what? This is crazy.” I think they don’t actually realize what it is that women have to go through.
There are men in the world who don’t actually just casually objectify and dismiss women, and I think they don’t always realize at all the degree to which women suffer this general, categorical, systemic difference in their experience. It’s also just male privilege, which is akin to blindness. It’s like we’ve not lived the life, therefore, in a sense, how could we know before we learn? And so I think for a lot of men, it’s a little bit like “how the hell are all these women so into this show and cool with the concept,” because it shouldn’t be more disturbing? Then I think the truth is, in some sense, it does reflect reality. It is heightened, it is fantastical and bizarre, but it does reflect reality.
You made headlines after season one for reminding fans who tweeted you thirsty comments like “Joe Goldberg, strangle me daddy” that he’s actually a murderer. But it definitely seemed like a tongue-in-cheek response to something like that. Do you think people were actually lusting after this serial killer?
When something becomes sensational, a lot of nuance is lost. I think with all the Twitter stuff, I was responding in kind. If you scroll back and look at it, there’s never a point where I’m actually drop dead serious in trying to reprimand anybody. I think it is all very tongue-in-cheek because we’re all recognizing, like, this is crazy, but it’s fun! Like everything, when it becomes this larger conversation some of the little ins and outs and the subtleties, they do get lost, but I feel like at least for the most part, it was kind of fun. It was somehow reflective of the meta enjoyment of this show and the way people consume it. Because ordinarily you wouldn’t want an actor to be so vocal. It’s not necessarily like “why would you [say that]?” [because] somehow, with this role, it just works. And maybe I’ll do it again. I’m not sure.
You season two is now streaming on Netflix.
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