Penn Badgley is more than ready to leave behind his days as a CW heartthrob on Gossip Girls. With his new role as legendary singer Jeff Buckley in Greetings from Tim Buckley, Badgley is already earning critics’ attention for his portrayal.
“For me, this is a beautiful step forward,” he said in an interview with Movieline. “Gossip Girl has given me everything that I have now. 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 [Kravitz, his girlfriend and rock star Lenny Kravitz’s daughter.] And it’s put me in a place where I haven’t had to do a bunch of other shit just to make money. I’m super grateful for it, but this movie has come at the right time to take a step forward. 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.”
Badgley had to face many challenges in order to accurately portray Buckley, including interpreting his speaking voice. “I knew that I couldn’t mimic him, because Jeff had this beautiful, high, lilting speaking voice,” he said. “If I had to do just three minutes of Jeff Buckley, I guess I could have tried to more of an impersonation, but I felt that if I had to augment my voice in every scene I wasn’t going to be able to be that free. So, I thought, okay, why is it important that he has a high speaking voice? If he had a low voice, people would have said he had a beautiful, low, lilting voice. So, I chose to figure out what was it about him that made people respond the way they did and work with those qualities in a way that was totally honest with myself.”
One of Badgley’s most impressive moments in the film is when he sings a capella to a Led Zeppelin album in a record store. The actor actually used this scene as part of his audition tape. “I remember reading it and thinking, ‘Jesus, this is certainly bizarre and specific,’” he recalled. “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 to nail this.
“It’s one of those performances that you really can’t rehearse. It has to be vulnerable and exposed and unabashed. I did it in the audition the way I did it in the film because there’s really no other way to do it. And when I finished, I remember thinking, ‘Holy shit, I might have just gotten this thing.’
“We did three takes total. They were all different but all evoked the spirit of that scene. And there really was no way to prepare for it. Thankfully, the thing that saved me is that I knew the material. I went through a Led Zeppelin phase as a teenager, and I was really familiar with that stuff. Honestly, if the scene had required me to sing something that I didn’t really know, I don’t know how I would have done it.”
Greetings from Tim Buckley just premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival.