Turns out Penn Badgley is not just another pretty face – apparently he has a pretty voice as well. Who would've thought "Gossip Girl"'s Dan Humphrey could carry a tune? In his latest film, "Greetings From Tim Buckley," Badgley manages to capture the very essence of one of the most ethereal musicians of the '90s, Jeff Buckley.
Premiering at the Toronto International Film Festival, "Greetings From Tim Buckley" chronicles the days in the life of Jeff Buckley leading up to a tribute concert for his mostly absent father, 1960s folk artist Tim Buckley.
We caught up with a particularly chatty Badgley to talk about how he prepared to play an iconic music artist, his own personal music background and, of course, his hair.
Going into this, were you a fan of Jeff Buckley or his father, Tim Buckley?
I didn't know Tim's music at all. I didn't know Tim existed before this script. And I was a fan of Jeff's. I think I listened to him the perfect amount. I deeply respected him and it was like, "That's Jeff Buckley. Of course, he's amazing," but I didn't know his music that well. I knew his live performances of Sin-é. His album I wasn't a huge fan of because of the broad '90s pop production. I love the music itself but it turned me off to a lot of the production and then once I got past that I just saw how beautiful and amazing it was.
I didn't even listen to him that much leading up to [filming the movie]. I studied him for like a week. Think about it: an entire week of watching one person. But the key there is evoking his qualities and being natural myself and letting the qualities that I have take over as opposed to mimicking him. Mimicry, to me, would have been the worst thing we could have done to this movie because he's not Ray Charles or Johnny Cash. He's this mysterious, misunderstood, weird, tragic icon. And to do him justice, you gotta do something different. I'm only using those examples because that's what everybody's like, they see that and they're like, "You have to look and sound and be exactly like him." And that's not what we were gonna do. There are plenty of biopics where they don't do that but I think that's become the standard … We're trying to get to a deeper, larger soul. We weren’t trying to be some big, bombastic "Look at Jeff Buckley" – it was more like "Look at Jeff Buckley, just for a second."
I'm talking so much because, for the first time, I'm so proud.
What was your musical background before coming into this movie?
I've always loved music. I listen to music the way a lot of actors watch movies. I'm actually cinematically totally uneducated. Haven't seen "Goodfellas" or "Grease." But I just poured over music. Neither of my parents play music. As weird as it was, my parents actually showed me "Kokomo" by The Beach Boys, All 4 One's "I Swear" and an Aaron Neville and Kathy Lee Gifford Christmas album. I mean, my parents have the worst musical tastes. But my dad listened to jazz. There was a Yusef Lateef album and a couple Miles Davis albums he had, the iconic stuff that everybody knows. So my musical background is weird in that I don't really have one. I love music and I've always sung to myself.
You were self-taught vocals and guitar, is that correct? Is what we see on screen all you?
Yeah. But I stopped playing the guitar for about eight years so, when I got this movie, I was like, "Oh, s**t."
[What you see on screen] is all live too. We all did it. The whole concert, everything was real. We played the concert without stopping all the way through. We just did that three times. Thank God it all worked. But the real important thing is that the reason anybody watching the movie feels something is because it was simple and honest and real. And that's the coolest thing about it.
Now that you've had a taste for music, will there ever be a Penn Badgely album? Will you be transitioning to music?
There will never be a Penn Badgely album [laughs]. But for the first time, I'm friends with a bunch of musicians, so I'm playing with them and opening for them. But I've gotta get my legs. There was this thing online of me singing "Lilac Wine." It's good that people liked it, but it's also not representative of what I want to do at all. I got talked into doing that by a good friend who was like "You just gotta play, so do 'Lilac Wine.'" I was like, "No, I can't do that! I've never played before. It's messy – that's Jeff's thing." I want to play music, I like to play music. I don't know where that will go.
There has been so much fuss over your hair in the past year – do you agree with it?
You know what's so funny about that? It's my hair. On the show ["Gossip Girl"] since day one, it's been such a topic of conversation with producers. And no matter what I do, even if they've asked me to do it a year prior, they're not happy. They're just not happy with my hair. Ever. So what I'm gonna do, I think, finally, when it's over, is just shave it off and get rid of all that. It's like, "Uhh, beard? No beard? I'm sorry – it's my hair. I'm not asking your opinion [laughs]." It’s like, it's long because I'm trying to grow my hair out, would you calm down?!