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Q&A: Penn Badgley on Filming 'Greetings From Tim Buckley'

'We were trying to capture lightning in a bottle,' he says

April 30, 2013 9:30 AM ET
Penn Badgley during the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival in New York City.
Penn Badgley during the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival in New York City.
Matthew Eisman/WireImage

Penn Badgley is doing his very best to make audiences forget the words Gossip Girl. In Greetings from Tim Buckley, the former CW star plays Jeff Buckley, the son of fellow musician Tim Buckley, the father he never knew. Rolling Stone spoke with Badgley about portraying Buckley’s feminine side, performing an interpretation of Led Zeppelin III and life after Gossip Girl.

What sort of energy were you channeling with this role?
I think when any actor is doing their best job, it’s not intellectual – it’s intuitive. And for those brief moments where I was really, really tapped into Jeff, I wasn’t thinking. I was sort of feeling his vibe, and I think maybe if anything, those vibes were, in some ways, feminine. Not in the typical way that people mean it, but he had this sort of feline, feral, feminine energy that I think was really honest and kind of magical. And in some ways, that allowed him to be more of a man than a lot of people are.

How did you prepare for the part?
I was just in a really great place to play Jeff at this time in his life. I was the same age, and I was going through a lot of the same things. And I was aware of that, so I chose to magnify those elements of my life, because I’m not a methodical actor, for better or worse. Plus, I was playing music as much as I could. It was a fairly atypical experience – when you play somebody who has passed, you feel like you are chasing a ghost.

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So you didn’t do any research?
I jumped and skipped around a couple of books. But I found that there wasn’t a whole lot out there about this time in Jeff's life. There is a certain voice captured in this script, and that one of the most valuable resources I had, even though nobody involved [in the scripting process] actually knew Jeff. We were all trying to capture lightening in a bottle.

Did any elements of the father-son relationship ring true for you?
I think the father-son relationship is potent. I don’t have the same relationship with my father. In fact, seeing this movie with my father was a really moving experience – really healing. There was an element of Jeff’s feelings on family that I felt very sensitive to. I felt very touched by his longing for family. That is something that, outside of Jeff and Tim, the movie is speaking to.

What was going through your mind when you were singing that minute-long take on Led Zeppelin III?
There was no thinking involved, really. There was no way to rehearse. There was no way to prepare, other than just trying it out. More than anything, we were trying to make the song less recognizable, so we wouldn’t have to worry about the rights.

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What was your biggest takeaway from Gossip Girl?
I look at the whole show as an endurance test in every way, good and bad. It gave me a good work ethic. During the shooting of Buckley, I didn’t have any time to intellectualize anything. I was working constantly, and I think that was a bit of a gift. It also opened up some space for me to take time and get all my shit together – I've been in a holding pattern of sorts for about six years.

So how are you spending your time?
I started playing music. For the first time ever, I haven’t had anything to do, so I’m trying to be creative in really simple, quiet ways. Whether or not it will turn into anything, we'll see.

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