Penn Badgley Would Have Cut The Intimate Scenes In You A Lot Earlier

All it takes is one stray comment to unleash the rage of sex-scene discourse. Back in February, "You" star Penn Badgley learned this the hard way. He didn't realize it at the time, of course: Badgley was simply recalling a conversation with series creator Sera Gamble, where he asked if it would be possible to reduce the number of sex scenes in the fourth season. The story was told during an episode of the actor's podcast "Podcrushed," where he explained that "Fidelity in every relationship, including my marriage, is important to me. It's got to the point where I don't want to do [sex scenes]."

Unsurprisingly, that ignited a fiery social media debate as people picked apart his use of the word "fidelity," and argued that "sex scenes are part of the job." Badgley attempted to clarify his perspective, but in typical internet discourse fashion, his additional comments just fanned the flames of controversy.

In a Variety profile later that month, Badgley explained that intimate scenes have always been a part of the job that gave him pause. "That aspect of Hollywood has always been very disturbing to me — and that aspect of the job, that mercurial boundary — has always been something that I actually don't want to play with at all."

And so the debate raged on. Was it fair of Badgley to relate intimate scenes to fidelity in his real-life relationship? Doesn't the word "disturbing" paint all sex scenes in a negative light? Some praised his comments, arguing there are too many sex scenes in modern TV anyway, while others argued that he was adding to the very stigma that has created a largely sexless era of entertainment. What seems to have escaped everyone's notice is that Badgey wasn't originally speaking to the industry overall, he was merely laying out his own professional boundaries.

This decision was a long time coming

Badgley has since stepped in to say that his comments were "blown out of proportion." During a recent GQ profile, he explained:

"What I was speaking about wasn't actually the final product. It was sort of like the culture inherent to the production of all movies, but particularly those scenes. It's like, look, we know that Hollywood has had a history of flagrant exploitation and abuse."

Badgley himself has been an actor since he was 12 years old and acknowledged that his days as a child star may have shaped his perspective on the subject. His first credit was in "The Fluffer," a 2001 indie film about the porn industry. "When I read the script, neither my agents, my mom, nor I knew what a fluffer was," Badgley recalled. "I was the first one to find out because I read the script first. That is a microcosm of the whole thing! Should a 12-year-old be...? Let's go ahead and just say no."

All this to say that avoiding intimate scenes is a boundary Badgley admits he would have preferred to set earlier in his career. But before now, he didn't feel he had the power to do so.

Less onscreen intimacy didn't alter Joe's story

"I was nervous to even have that conversation," Badgley revealed to GQ. On a practical level, he understood that Joe's romance with Charlotte Ritchie's Kate was a key aspect of the season, and seeing the progression of their relationship was important for the story. The number of sex scenes in the season probably wouldn't be whittled down to none, but his preference was "as little as possible."

"It was not easy. It was easy because of Sera's response, and I felt relieved. But technically speaking, if I thought I'd had the ability to set that boundary earlier, I would have."

For context, there has always been plenty of onscreen intimacy in "You." That's by design. Badgley's Joe Goldberg has a habit of falling in love, stalking the object of his affection, and later committing many murders in the name of true love. From at least Joe's perspective, it plays out like an epic love story. Twisted adult relationships have always been baked into the show's DNA, and Badgley knew that when he signed on (it's part of the reason he considered not taking the role). But the way the show has evolved to become more of a psychological character study also gave him the confidence to chat with Gamble about reducing the sex scenes. In the end, he says, "it didn't change the trajectory of the season at all. Joe was naturally ready to not be in that position anymore."

For her part, when Badgley came forth to set this personal boundary, Sera Gamble took it in stride. She has since added that Joe will always be a "romantic hero", no matter how explicit his intimate relationships are onscreen.