More than a decade prior to Timothée Chalamet‘s chiseled cheekbones inspiring a thousand memes on Tumblr, it was Penn Badgley‘s equally as defined bone structure that young fans were fawning over, thanks to his star-making turn as Dan Humphrey on The CW’s Gossip Girl.
Debuting in 2007, GG was one of the first true viral hits of the millennial generation; while never a ratings juggernaut, it was the undoubtedly the most talked about show, influencing fashion trends and launching the careers of its young and beautiful cast, including Blake Lively and Leighton Meester.
Now, those teens who OMG-ed over Lonely Boy all those years ago are young women OMFG-ing over Joe Goldberg on You, thanks to its recent premiere on January, breathing a second life into Lifetime’s stalker drama.
In simpler terms, as he joked to E! News, “In some ways, he’s just Dan with a knife.”
Please enjoy this brief rundown of how Badgley has spent his 2019, at least on Twitter, so far.
“I wake up to find, I’d never thought I’d see the day, but I wake up to find I have a million followers,” he started off the video, overcome with fake emotion. “I don’t know what to say because all it took was for me to start murdering people. Y’all, get the f—k out of here!”
Consider yourself toast because you just got burned.
But Badgley can be just as brooding as his characters—just when it comes to the social commentary You is providing (and ironically proving).
“I personally was troubled…” he told E! News of taking on the role, knowing .GIFs romanticizing Joe’s behavior would likely take over Tumblr. “I understood the appeal, but I was really ambivalent. I was really troubled, and that was also what [executive producers Greg Berlanti and Sera Gamble] said was appropriate about me playing him. I remain ambivalent. I’m really questioning why people like Joe so much.”
In fact, ahead of the premiere, he imagined the response from fans trying to justify their attraction to the serial killer.
But before you think it’s just Joe that Badgley has no sympathy for, let’s not forget he once described Dan Humphrey as a judgmental douchebag,” and his contempt for Gossip Girl as it was airing was transparent. (I covered the show extensively for almost its entire six-year run. The number of times I was able to interview Badgley? Zero.)
Translation: he definitely hated Dan, so we’re sure this observation from Gossip Girl showrunner Joshua Safran in Vanity Fair‘s 10th anniversary tribute to the show went over well with Badgley.
“Penn didn’t like being on Gossip Girl, but…he was Dan,” Safran said. “He may not have liked it, but [his character] was the closest to who he was.”
“It really does feel like we’re living the show sometimes,” he told New York Magazine way back in 2008. “The psychology of celebrity is such a weird and new thing. I think the last time people treated anybody else like this was demigods like in the time of ancient Greece.”
And that’s how he was feeling just as the show was taking off.
“I’m really grateful for [the notoriety], but also, you struggle with things,” he admitted to People. “The phenomenon of fame is literally invisible, but it influences and dominates your life if you aren’t careful. Learning how to accept it and accept that lots of people think they know me is ultimately what led me to seek out such a spiritual perspective.”
And it was through his newfound faith that he found “divine love” with Domino Kirke, whom he married in a small Brooklyn courthouse ceremony in February 2017, becoming a step-father to her son, Cassius Riley.
Prior to marrying Kirke, a musician, doula and sister to Girls star Jemima Kirke (a millennial triple threat if we’ve ever heard of one), Badgley’s love life was constantly making headlines, despite his continued efforts to keep his relationships under wraps.
Badgley and Lively would date for the first four years of Gossip Girl, but continued to date on-screen even after their real-life split in 2010. Awkward? Sure, but not as uncomfortable as you’d expect it to be.
Looking back, Badgley said on Watch What Happens Live that the co-stars were “actually consummately professional, to be honest,” following their split. “I think we should both pat ourselves on the back for getting through it—because, you know, anything is complicated in that way, and we handled it.”
But in a 2013 interview with Movieline, the Greetings from Tim Buckley actor credited Gossip Girl for their romance, explaining, “It gave me the opportunity to live in New York and to be in a position to get this role. It also put me in New York City so I could meet Zoe.”
Badgley and Kravitz’s romance wasn’t a casual fling, it was “love, real, true, earth-shattering love,” he said in the interview.
But their two-year romance came to an end later that year, with Badgley’s love life seemingly quieting down as he withdrew from the spotlight.
In the beginning of their relationship, marriage was far from Kirke’s mind.
“I was sort of getting used to being a single mom, maybe a little too used to it. A couple of years ago, I was sad and a little scared that that was going to be it for me, but I was good at it,” she opened up to Hey Mama. “I had a really good thing with my kid and we were like this little team. Penn and I were dating, but it wasn’t nearly as serious as it is now, of course. I didn’t think marriage was in the cards for us.”
“I think every person’s parents teach them a lot and also mess them up royally. I think their separation probably split me down the middle, 50/50. For a while I didn’t believe in marriage,” he said. “But I think I do believe in having a love. I’m not saying only one love ever, but in having a good, solid relationship. I think that’s possible.”
And ultimately, “I want the ceremony. I want the bond,” he said.
“My first wedding was more of a civil ceremony with about 40 people that was able to join us in a pinch,” Kirke explained. “The second one was more planned. 200 people came from all over the world. It just felt necessary to have both.”
In 2013, Badgley definitively declared, “I have been working in television for 13 years now, and you know, I’m just done with it. I have nothing against television, but I’m done.”
Fast-forward five years and he’s now the Internet’s unwilling boyfriend again, thanks to You.
So what changed?
He continued, “When it comes to the fame side of things, I don’t think anybody, whether they’re famous or not, could claim to understand that phenomenon or have any sort of power over it. So I’m just cautious and careful.”
And sure, Badgley was excited about the conversation You could potentially provoke and the dialogue it was encouraging its audience to have, there was the whole possibility of becoming very famous again to consider. Was the artist former known as Lonely Boy ready to handle it this time?
“If I’m gonna be ‘more famous’ or whatever, if that comes along with it then…sure,” he said. “I mean, it’s not one thing! With it comes blessings, and with it comes burdens, and that’s life, right? So I just suppose we’ll see.”
One million Instagram followers and countless .GIFS later, he has his answer.
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