Warning: Contains spoilers for You season 2.
When we last saw You’s resident antagonist Joe Goldberg (Penn Badgley), we were in the final moments of the show’s debut season. Just as his deadly game of “boy stalks-then-meets-and-eventually-kills girl” is set to repeat itself, his new would-be paramour is revealed to be none other than his ex-girlfriend Candace (Ambyr Childers)—whom everyone believed to be dead. What would her return mean for Joe?
After a year of anticipation, Netflix has finally released season two of You. The new season’s trailer, which dropped last month, revealed that Joe bids farewell to New York City and heads west to start over in Los Angeles. Vogue spoke with Badgley about getting into the headspace of a serial killer, the plot twist that left him “crestfallen” and whether he’s ready to witness a second round of deeply misplaced thirst Tweets for Joe.
It’s pretty well-known that you’re a Brooklyn guy, through and through. What was it like to relocate to L.A. for season two?
I’d actually lived there as a teenager, so it wasn’t a new experience. But I hadn’t worked there for long since I was around that age. So it was different to be in my thirties—everything about it was different. I did like it, although I don’t want to live there any longer than I have to.
You has been our first real chance to see you in a widely distributed project since Gossip Girl. What made you decide to take the part of Joe? Did you have any reservations about it?
Ultimately it was when I asked Greg [Berlanti, the series’ executive producer], “If this is a love story, what on earth do you think it’s saying about love?” He paused for a really long time, because I was sharing with him all of my reservations, and finally his answer was, “I’m not sure, but I think we’ll find that out. I think we’ll find out together.”
And for some reason that intrigued me. I think it’s been reflective of the experience, even with the press, where it’s like the show was a little bit of a social experiment. As much as I struggle with Joe personally, somehow the way it’s all come out has been gratifying. Maybe intuitively that’s what I was sensing. Because in the beginning, especially before it came out, I was...I really struggled with it.
You said that the way the show has been received has been gratifying. Can you elaborate on that?
There’s the obvious reaction: being “thirsty for Joe,” as people say. The part where it’s a fun, consumable show, and it’s addictive. But then, also, the conversation around Joe and why we like him and why we’re so ready to forgive him. I personally found that to be really interesting, because you don’t always have that around shows and around characters. You don’t always have people trying to elevate the conversation. Sometimes people just watch it and then leave it behind but somehow what we’ve made seems to encourage people to think. That’s what’s rewarding about it.
Well, you do give a chilling performance. How do you get into the headspace of a sociopathic serial killer like him?
Honestly, all I try to do is believe everything he says. In a way it’s simpler but not necessarily easier than you’d think. He’s not a process-based serial killer. He doesn’t enjoy the process. He might enjoy controlling people, even when that means putting them in a box and torturing them, but actually I think death and loss really trouble him and he’s not able to see that about himself. So I try to make him as sensitive and conscious as he can be while he’s saying the things that he’s saying, even when they completely oppose what he might’ve said a moment ago. I think that is sometimes—or maybe a lot of times—the way people behave, say one thing and do another. When we follow our lower nature, we really are inconsistent.
We see Joe seem to want to be redeemable, but in your view, is he a bad person?
Yep. I mean, if he’s not, who is? No...but let me clarify—if maybe I can discern the essence of your question...
Do I think he was born that way? No. I don’t think anybody’s born a bad person. I think we receive grievous miseducation by way of really toxic social standards and norms. Really awful, incredibly terrible racist and misogynistic things used to be perfectly legal and acceptable. And in fact we know they still are, but in different ways. But my hope is that we’re becoming more humane and more just as a society.
I found it interesting when, at the end of the season, we saw Joe forced to grapple with the qualities in Love that he refuses to see in himself after she confesses to killing Delilah. What did you think of that plot twist?
You mean, at the end? In episodes nine and ten?
You’ve seen it all, then? You’ve seen the whole season?
I’ve seen the whole thing, yeah.
Wow. That’s a lot.
It was a lot of watching.
I was initially crestfallen. The funny thing is that I wasn’t aware of the twist, but then there’s almost a twist on the twist: that Joe doesn’t accept Love once he understands who she is. See, I thought the twist was just that she’s a killer.
But the twist is actually that she’s a killer and that Joe hates that, which was really frustrating for me. But then I very quickly saw the logic and sort of morality of it, that it makes sense because the thing a killer needs is not [to fall in love with] another killer. A killer can’t be redeemed in that particular way. You can’t just hope that they’re going to be with somebody without changing. Joe is never going to be happy—because he’s a murderer! That’s where I feel like we all get a little lost, but actually it’s right there in front of you. He’s never going to be happy or accept anyone, end of story. And yet somehow it’s not the end of the story, and people keep watching. I don’t know. It’s pretty interesting.
For some, the biggest twist of the season could be the closing scene when he begins his “Oh, hello, you” monologue again.
Oh really? That’s a twist?
To me, yeah!
But he’s going to keep, he’s going to keep You-ing, you know what I mean? What do you mean? That’s the most predictable part of the whole show!
Part of me wanted to believe, though, that once he had the white picket fence, and the house, and the girl, and the kid, everything would be done. The cycle would end.
Joe might be able to change superficially, and you might see these moments of symbolic change, but it does not mean that there’s anything going on deep enough beneath the surface that will lead him to evolve. And by the way, I think the question we’re asking ourselves by the end of season two was: Do we believe that he can be redeemed? Why do we want him to be redeemed? What’s important about that? And it might be a really simple answer, like: because we just want to keep watching the show.
You made a pretty big impression when season one was airing, and you responded to some thirst tweets. “Kidnap me pls,” was my favorite one. Are you gearing up for another round of that?
I don’t know. I’m interested in responding. I think the whole point is that it’s kind of an interactive thing, and I do like that, but I’m not promising any viral fire.
Many people have commented on the comparisons between Joe and Dan of Gossip Girl. In thinking about your next project, are you looking for a character who is completely different?
Yeah, definitely. But you know, I think these characters are also reflective of the stories we’re interested in telling. As an actor, you’re not in control of anything other than the way you play the person. We’re seeing a lot of killers and a lot of romance. Are there that many other types of characters for someone specifically like me to play? In time, I’d love to explore those things as well as production and writing. But I’m terribly excited it’s all coming along.
Originally Appeared on Vogue