Jeff Buckley and Father Tim Portrayed in New Biopic

'He was a weirdo,' says actor Penn Badgley, 'this erratic, ecstatic, beautiful, strange thing'

Penn Badgley
Matt Carr/Getty Images
Penn Badgley
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Greetings From Tim Buckley is a fictionalized account of musician Jeff Buckley's relationship with the father he barely knew, Tim Buckley, a folk music icon who died in 1975 at the age of 28. Jeff died in 1997 at age 30, his extraordinary talent increasingly appreciated in the years that followed.

"I bet no one walks out of that movie just thinking about Jeff. They're thinking about their parents," the film's star, Penn Badgley (of Gossip Girl fame), told Rolling Stone the day after its premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival.

The biopic, which also stars newcomer Ben Rosenfeld as Tim, revolves around a real tribute concert entitled Greetings From Tim Buckley that Jeff participated in on April 26, 1991, at St. Ann's Church in Brooklyn. In the film, an intern and budding love interest, Allie (played by Imogen Poots), helps Jeff Buckley overcome his insecurities as a musician and feelings about his absentee dad.

"The concert is true – the rest is fictionalized and conjecture," director Daniel Algrant told Rolling Stone. "I really tried to be as emotionally honest as I could be, as opposed to having to worry about truth."

Tim Buckley's music is featured prominently throughout the film (and the soundtrack may be packaged with the DVD when it is available), but Algrant also chose to replicate the concert in real time, with real musicians, at the original church.

"I had this idea – as Jeff approached this concert, you hear Tim's music like a jukebox in Jeff's head. That's like his obstacle," says Algrant. "You have to go through your father to get to yourself."

Badgley does an impressive turn as Jeff, who was known for his extraordinary range and vocal acrobatics. The actor was hired after he sent in an audition tape of the record store scene, in which he sings in a mercurial, impromptu fashion.

"He did that shit in general," explains Badgley. "He was a weirdo, this erratic, ecstatic, beautiful, strange thing."

Taking on the role of Jeff and having to do all the singing himself is like an actress trying to take on Mariah Carey. "Trust me, it was super-ballsy thing to think I could do it, but I could," acknowledges the 25-year-old, who played guitar from age 13 to 17 and picked it up again for the movie. "With Jeff, I can't do everything he could do, but this specific slice of him, I can do that.

"I feel very satisfied and happy with how we handled them," he adds of the father and son subjects. "We did it very responsibly and artfully. I don't think we exploited them in any capacity."

Badgley has even started playing small, unannounced gigs in Brooklyn and the Lower East Side at the invitation of friends. "I'm now for the first time in this community of musicians," he said.

UPDATE, 9/13 at 2:30 p.m.: Due to an error in production notes, an earlier version of this article stated that Hal Willner produced music for Greetings From Tim Buckley.

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