This article contains spoilers for You. Just a few weeks after his tweets about his You character went viral, Penn Badgley explained why he tweeted fans who were romanticizing You, and why he was hoping his messages would start an important dialogue about Joe and his relationship to Beck (Elizabeth Lail). In a recent interview with the New York Times, Badgley revealed that he "didn't intend" for his tweets calling out fans for romanticizing Joe to go viral.
"I hadn’t thought about [tweeting fans], and when I did it I wasn’t thinking about it as a strategic move. I didn’t intend for it to go viral in this way; the whole point is for us to have an elevated conversation about the themes of this show," Badgley told the outlet. However, after noting that "all of this nuance is lost on social media," the actor explained that he didn't want the focus on the conversation to be about his tweets, but on the conversation as a whole.
"What I ended up doing after a few of those tweets went viral was follow some of the users I quote-tweeted, and DMed them just to check in," Badgley continued. "So I actually had a lengthy conversation over DMs with one woman, and she correctly pointed out that I had sort of misinterpreted what she said. She was talking about why she was so charmed by me, the actor, rather than by the character of Joe."
"I think what he’s meant to be is an embodiment and a portrait of the parts of us that can’t escape rooting for Joe. In a more just society, we would all see Joe as problematic and not be interested in the show, but that’s not the society we live in," Badgley told the Times.
Later in the interview, the actor also explained his theory about why You has connected so strongly with viewers, saying, "There are so many stories in the media about what we currently call 'toxic masculinity' and I feel like that still doesn’t get to the depth of the phenomenon. It’s just really interesting that this show of all shows is so popular right now."
And, as Badgley noted, "I wonder if, as a viewer, no matter how much you’ve enjoyed the frothiness of the show, you can’t get away with liking Joe without taking responsibility for being a part of Beck’s death."
In addition to his now-viral tweets, Badgley been incredibly outspoken about his desire for viewers of You to see Joe as a "rom com trope gone wrong," rather than someone romantic. "I think what he does is he takes the tropes that we've seen in romantic comedies — movies and shows I've been a part of, and many of my colleagues you know what I mean?" Badgley said during an appearance on Today in January. "And it totally subverts them by actually following them closely, and he comes to this kind of terrifying conclusion."
And the actor has also been quick to shut down any comparisons between Joe and his other iconic TV character — Gossip Girl's Dan Humphrey. "I do think in the first scene, he basically seems like Dan," Badgley told People in early January.
"I somehow, as I always tend to, underestimated the significance that other people would find in it and love to make those connections [between Joe and Dan], but I was completely aware of them and it is what it is," the actor confessed.
Clearly, no matter what it takes, Badgley is determined to ensure that You viewers see Joe the same way that he does — and if he can inspire a larger conversation about toxic masculinity in the process, that's a good thing.