INTERVIEW: Penn Badgley − Falling In Love With Zoe Kravitz Sharpened His Portrayal Of Jeff Buckley
If you think of Penn Badgley in terms of Dan Humphrey, the character he played for five years on the CW Network's Gossip Girl, prepare to have your world rocked. The actor is about to make the transition from television to film look easy with a big performance in a small film: Greetings From Tim Buckley, which opens in New York and Los Angeles on May 3 and in other select markets later that month. Badgley plays Jeff Buckley, the remarkably talented musical artist known for his album Grace and a much-adored interpretation of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah", who, like his singer/songwriter father in the movie's title, died much too young. Directed by Daniel Algrant (People I Know), Greetings From Tim Buckley is about Jeff's attempts to get out from under the long shadow cast by his late dad (played by Ben Rosenfield). Buckley pere died from a drug overdose at the age of 28, but, despite his short life, left behind a substantial, mostly critically acclaimed body of work, including nine studio albums. Jeff was working on his second album in Memphis, Tenn. when he drowned while swimming in the Wolf River there in 1997. He was 30.
The story is a rich one, but Badgley was at a distinct disadvantage from the get-go. Greetings From Tim Buckley did not have permission to use Jeff's music in the film — a second planned Buckley biopic, Mystery White Boy, will have that privilege — which meant that the actor had to convey the singer's immense talent and charisma without tapping into his songs. He more than rises to the occasion thanks to a tour-de-force a cappella performance at a record store that moviegoers surely will be talking about in the weeks to come.
I spoke to Badgley late last year after I saw Greetings From Tim Buckley at the Toronto Film Festival. With the movie premiering at the Tribeca Film Festival on Tuesday and opening commercially, it's a good time to hear what he has to say. The actor spoke candidly about how he came to his interpretation of the singer, how falling in "real, true earth-shattering love" with actress Zoe Kravitz helped his performance, and why he says he's "done" with TV.
Movieline: What made you want this part so bad?
Penn Badgley: Jeff was seductive and alluring and daunting and huge in my mind, but ,specifically, the story appealed to me. The film obviously doesn't have a lot of his music in it, and there's so much about his father whom I didn’t know anything about. But it was very clear that the screenwriters had captured his voice. They had captured his essence and his soul and his art and where it all came from. The quiet, organic snapshot of him felt very right.
The scene that everyone will be talking about is your a cappella interpretation of the Led Zeppelin III album in the record store. I understand that was part of your audition tape.
Well, yeah, it was included among the audition scenes that they sent to everybody. And I remember reading it and thinking Jesus, this is certainly bizarre and specific. I couldn’t imagine that many people knew what to do with it. But, there was something about that scene that spoke to his voice and spoke to his qualities so beautifully. I knew that if I didn’t do it for my audition scene I would still have to do it later if I remained in the running for the role. So, I just knew: I've got nail this.