American actor-musician Penn Badgley and Filipino-Canadian actress Shay Mitchell, the lead stars of Netflix's new series YOU, are currently in Manila for a series of events to promote the hit psychological-thriller.
PEP.ph (Philippine Entertainment Portal) and other members of the press had a chance to interview them on Monday afternoon, January 14, at The Peninsula Manila Hotel in Makati City.
The Hollywood stars talked about the complexities of the characters they portrayed in the 10-episode series.
In YOU, Penn plays Joe Goldberg, a bookstore manager who gets obsessed with a graduate student and aspiring writer named Guinevere Beck (played by Elizabeth Lail).
Joe starts stalking Beck after their first meeting at Mooney's bookstore where the former works. The obsessed guy uses his observations to his advantage in order to orchestrate their second meeting until they end up being in a relationship.
During the "In Conversation with YOU" event earlier that day, Penn said that he "dislikes everything" about Joe's character except his curiosity.
But this was actually the reason why he agreed to play the role.
During the round table interview with PEP.ph and select members of the press, Penn elaborated: "For all of the reasons that I dislike him are all the reasons that I find it to be an interesting role, an interesting project.
"It's not that I dislike him. It's like how do you feel like [when you] work out really hard? Like some times you feel great, some times you're exhausted."
When asked which scene was the hardest to film, Penn said that most scenes in the final episode were quite challenging.
The actor also pointed out one specific scene in the show's pilot episode when he felt utterly disgusted after doing it: Joe's masturbation scene while stalking Beck.
He recalled, "It's funny... I don't even want to repeat what it is that I had to do but like I was, you know, masturbating outside of her apartment.
"But that's what I was doing, that was [what] Joe was doing. That's what I had to enact.
"And that was surprisingly... I found myself surprisingly disgusted like I did not want [to do it]."
Penn added that he was caught off-guard after hearing a comment from the episode's director Lee Toland Krieger.
"It's funny 'cause they wanted me to close my eyes and like... And I remember being like, 'No! Why?'
"They were all like, 'Well 'cause it's too creepy when you have your eyes open.'
"I was like, 'What do you mean?! What are you talking about? What are we doing?'"
Admittedly, Penn considers this as the most difficult role he ever played.
He explained, "Because you know, I just wasn't always sure. That's all.
"I really believe in it now. Like I believe in Sera [Gamble] and Greg [Berlanti] and everybody along the way."
Sera and Greg are the co-creators of YOU, which was originally aired in the U.S. network Lifetime before it streamed on Netflix.
Penn continued, "That same director who encouraged me to close my eyes... I'm pretty sure I said no.
"I think I have given them one take with my eyes closed and I don't remember if they used it but I really believe in him.
"I really trust everybody along the way. Clearly, somebody knows what they're doing and that person was not necessarily me.
"They knew what they're doing so I do like... I'm glad, but playing Joe, I wouldn't recommend it exactly."
Before starring in YOU, Penn was known for his portrayal of Dan Humphrey in the hit teen drama series Gossip Girl.
Penn recently made headlines after responding to tweets and comments he received about his character Joe.
So far, Penn has yet to see a hateful comment about his character but the American actor has been urging his fans to stop romanticizing his psychopathic role.
He believes these reactions may reflect what's currently happening in society.
"What's funny is I have not gotten... pretty consistently, it sounds like the people who are tweeting at me, commenting on social media and all, seem to enjoy the show and appreciate my performance, and seem to often [be] quite troubled by Joe.
"And how much it seems like we're all... Not only we're all willing to forgive him but we're so used to finding something to forgive in someone like him 'cause that's culturally, I think across cultures, it's what we've often done particularly for successful American white men. So it seems everybody is really interested in that."
He also thinks that most of the tweets show people's appreciation for him making a comeback on a TV series.
He continued, "I don't see anyone actually saying, 'Oh I just love Joe!' They're really saying like, 'Oh, I like seeing Dan Humphrey on TV again.'
"You know what I mean? I don't think anybody is that crazy."
The YOU lead star also acknowledged that his character's charming side may have been the cause why most viewers are drawn to his character.
"I think the people who made the show knew that he was meant to be quite charming. That's the point.
"Sometimes I wondered [why] he had to be that charming. Sometimes I wanted to make him less charming. I really wanted to make him much less of a human.
"But you know, I was just always trusting the writers and the directors. Most of them [are] women."
Penn, however, encouraged those who have seen the series and are still "in love" with his character to re-watch the whole series and see if their perception of Joe would change.
The 31-year-old actor explained, "I think, maybe try watching it again from the moment they meet that she's dead. You know?
"It's so heart-breaking. It's a story of a woman not escaping. It's a story of a woman, a victim to a lot of social forces and being killed.
"So it's very intense that way and if you see all of his charm as unconscious manipulation which is the most people do manipulate. It's not conscious.
"A lot of people are trying to be good while they do terrible things. So I think, I would just encourage viewers like, 'Okay, maybe watch it again.' It's a terrible advice."
Here are excerpts from Penn's interview with the Philippine media:
What are your thoughts on Joe being a feminist?
Penn: "I can see how he thinks he's a feminist. I think this is where Joe, you know, whether or not regardless of my performance and regardless of, you know, who Joe is, I actually see it as he's like a representation. He's not a real person. So in that way, when he says that, to me what he's representing is this idea that actually a lot of men are like, 'I love women, I have a daughter!' I was like, 'Bro, we all have moms, you know? It's not enough.' That's what Joe is representing there so I'm not always sure what Joe is always thinking. But it's not always important as much as we understand what he's representing."
What's the most memorable thing that happened while you were filming YOU?
Penn: "It was surprisingly a fun set like even the way I'm about it. It was often quite light and quite joyful 'cause I think we're all being responsible about these stuff. Because we took it seriously, we were able to not be so serious. We were able to enjoy ourselves. Does that make sense? What I mean is that because we weren't just like, 'Yeah, let's make it sexy, let's make it really [expletive] up, let's make it really this, let's make it really that, just kill her,' you know. Because it was really troubling and because we took that on in the right way, it actually meant that we were able to have a lot of security emotionally, spiritually, mentally. There are great friendships and close bonds with everybody on the set. Any specific things, I can't remember, really."
Who are you closest to on the set?
Penn: "I'd say Elizabeth [Lail] and Marcos [Siega]. Marcos was one of the executive producers and he directed two episodes. One of my favorite episodes is the sixth episode."
Did you have any stalkers? If so, how were you able to relate your experience with your character on the show?
Penn: "I don't think I have had stalkers or maybe they're just great that I don't know. I mean, being a celebrity means you're an object of desire or attention. It means you're objectified, literally. So I think may be in that way I can be more than if I'd never been a celebrity, I can relate to women in that way—I'm not saying in every way, I'm just saying in one way—understanding what it feels to be objectified whether you want it or not. So, I think maybe it gave me sensitivity to Beck, actually. It's why I always felt so bad for Beck. So maybe that enabled me to be really sweet when I needed to be, or to be heartbroken. It enabled me to be heartbroken as Joe, not so much for Joe, but for Beck. Like in the 9th episode when Joe's all crying and stuff. That was really sad for me 'cause I was thinking about Beck."
Do you think Joe had good intentions despite everything?
Penn: "Even if he did, what's it matter? I mean, I hear you, he might have. Honestly, don't you think that probably a lot of people who do bad things, they probably are trying but they're failing."
Joe is quite different when he's around his kid neighbor, Paco. What are your thoughts about his relationship with him?
Penn: "It's funny, sometimes I wondered we were like, 'Is this real?' Like, he's not a real person so maybe is this like, 'Is this kind of unfair to make him this humane with this boy? Would he really do this?' And I think if the answer is, 'Yes, this is possible.' Then I think the answer is like he's the only person he can really be himself with because he doesn't feel he has to compete. He's like, 'He's just a kid!' And he's a kid who he maybe he identifies because he struggles at home. It's almost like he is his best self with Paco because he's not soul-less, you know. It's not really possible, even if we say it."