Commonly known for playing Lonely Boy, a.k.a. Dan Humphrey, on Gossip Girl, Penn Badgley has made his way into the spotlight again after taking a break from Hollywood. Starring as the controversial character of Joe on the Netflix hit You, Badgley has hooked in a whole new generation of fans with his talent.
And of course, old fans from his Gossip Girl days have been reminded of his presence on the screen and what a great actor he really is. After all, it really does take great acting chops for a guy to play a total creep and have people still like them!
Although he’s super famous, Badgley prefers to keep much of his life private. There’s a lot that most fans don’t know about him, like the inspiration behind his unusual first name, or how he really felt about playing the iconic Dan on Gossip Girl.
The interesting details of Badgley’s childhood aren’t commonly known, nor are the details of his professional beginnings in his teenage years. As the world falls back in love with him, fans are more curious than ever about the life of the mysterious actor!
Keep reading to find out what few people know about Penn Badgley.
20 He Was Named After A Tennis Ball
Ever wondered where the name Penn comes from? Contrary to popular belief, it’s not a stage name, nor is it an ode to the state of Pennsylvania.
His parents actually chose this name for him while his mom, Lynne, was still pregnant with him!
When Lynne went to have her very first pregnancy scan, Badgley’s father Duff was bouncing a Penn tennis ball as a form of stress relief. Lynne then made the comment that her baby was the same size as the ball. The name then grew on them as the baby came to term.
19 He Turned Down Gossip Girl Twice
Most of us came to really love Badgley after he portrayed writer Dan Humphrey on Gossip Girl. And although this is the role that shot him to mainstream success and made it possible to make a very good living as an actor, Badgley wasn’t interested in taking it in the beginning. He was actually asked to do the show twice by co-creator Stephanie Savage, but Badgely said no both times because he was annoyed at already being typecast so early on in his professional life. He finally accepted the role because at the time he was “broke” and his other option was accepting a gig as a waiter.
18 He’s Actually Married
After his parents got divorced, Badgley had mixed feelings about marriage. But ultimately, he still wanted to find someone and commit to them.
He tends to keep his private life out of the tabloids as much as possible, so many fans don’t know that Badgley is actually married!
He’s been in a relationship with singer Domino Kirke since 2014. They married at a New York City courthouse in 2017. That also makes Badgley a stepfather to Kirke’s son Cassius, who was born in 2009. Kirke is classically trained in both piano and vocals and now sings pop-rock songs.
17 He Doesn’t Look Back Fondly At His Time On Gossip Girl
Taking the role of Dan turned out to be a great move for pushing Badgley onto the world stage, but he didn’t love every second of his time on the show. And looking back, he certainly doesn’t remember it as the best project he’s ever worked on.
In fact, in 2013, he told The Guardian that playing Dan was “an endurance test of all kinds.”
While on a press tour for his movie Greetings from Tim Buckley, he said, “To be proud of something is a really nice feeling … I can walk a little taller feeling that I don’t have to be constantly apologizing for the work that I’ve done in the past.”
16 And He Had Hesitations About Playing Joe In Netflix’s ‘You’
Dan wasn’t the only character he’s had trouble playing. Recently, Badgley has made headlines for starring as Joe, a charming but manipulative bookstore manager who stalks a girl called Beck, in the Netflix series You. His main issue was that Joe is such a creep. “I personally was troubled …” he said to E! News. “I understood the appeal, but I was really ambivalent.” Today, Badgley has spoken out about how pop culture tends to romanticize problematic behavior from men as long as they’re handsome. “I’m really questioning why people like Joe so much …he’s like a troll.”
15 He Graduated High School At The Age Of Thirteen
It’s probably because he’s played intelligent characters so often in his acting experience, but it doesn’t come as a surprise that Badgley is actually smart in real life too.
He was able to graduate high school when he was just thirteen years old, but the motivation behind that was to avoid having to be tutored on-set as he continued to build his acting resume in his teens.
While he was working on various projects, Badgley took community college courses, balancing study with acting. “ … I’d spend six months working and six months going to school, on and off," he told The Mirror.
14 He’s In A Band
A character Badgely hasn’t commonly played is the muso, so many fans are surprised to know that he’s actually in a band. He fronts the band MOTHXR, whose debut album Centerfold was released in 2016. It started as a “passion project” with a few close friends, but now the group of four performs their music all over the world. Atwood magazine said, “MOTHXR has managed to shine as a bright star in a dark indie sky, fostering matchless musical talent and commendable technical ability that should not be ignored. They are magnetic, enchanting and unremittingly narcotic.”
13 And He’s Written A Song For Every Woman He’s Ever Been With
Is someone really a musician if they haven’t penned a bunch of songs inspired by their exes?
Badgley revealed in a 2013 interview with Elle that he’s actually written a song for every woman he’s ever been with.
In the same interview, Badgley admitted that the kind of woman he’s attracted to is intelligent, and doesn’t expect him to be overly sensitive like Dan Humphrey. He also revealed that his perfect woman probably isn’t the type that watches Gossip Girl at all. We can hear the hearts of fans breaking all over the world!
12 He Believes There Should Be More Diversity In Hollywood
Like many other big names in the film and television industry, Badgley has opened up about his feelings on the lack of diversity in Hollywood. In particular, he believes that “in reality, we have basically like [privileged] people playing everybody, and so we need to stop that.” A study conducted in mid-2018 concluded that although there seems to be more diversity in Hollywood than there has been before, minority groups are still majorly underrepresented. In 2017, only 31.8% of characters in 1,100 movies were female. There were only four leads who were women of color, and members of the LGBTQ+ community were also extremely underrepresented.
11 He’s A Lot Like The Character Of Dan Humphrey
Although Badgley (understandably) doesn’t like it when people assume he’s exactly like Dan Humphrey, the Gossip Girl producers have said in the past that Badgley played him so well because he was so similar to him.
“Penn didn’t like being on Gossip Girl, but … he was Dan,” said show writer Joshua Safran. “He may not have liked it but [his character] was the closest to who he was.”
Some people loved Dan and some people disliked him, but if we had to guess what Badgley had in common with Lonely Boy, it would be his aptitude for academia!
10 He Once Did Voice Over Work For Nintendo
Badgley got started in show business by doing voice-over work for Nintendo. Specifically, he worked on Nintendo’s Mario video game series, including Mario Golf 64, which was released in 1999, and Mario Tennis, which was released in 2000. Even though Badgley provided voices for these games, he has said that he’s never actually played them himself. The actor also did a training video for a Pokemon card game, which involved him doing comedy skits which were played to adults in between the training lessons. We’re not sure why Pokemon game training lessons were even a thing, but anyway!
9 He Moved Around A Lot As A Child
As a child, Badgley moved around a lot. He was born in 1986 in Baltimore, Maryland, and relocated with his family to Richmond, Virginia before moving to a number of different locations.
Eventually, they settled down in a rural area of Washington State, where Duff Badgley became the Green Party candidate for governor in 2000.
During this time, Penn was involved with the Seattle Children’s Theatre and soon began doing voice-overs for children’s radio stations. When he turned eleven, Penn moved with his mother to Los Angeles so he could focus on the acting profession. His parents divorced not long after that.
8 His Childhood Crush Was Parker Posey
Even celebrities had childhood crushes! In an old interview with Seventeen, Badgley confessed that while he was growing up, he was very fond of Parker Posey, an actress who also comes from Maryland. In the 1990s, Posey had roles in films like Coneheads, Party Girl, The House of Yes, You’ve Got Mail, and The Venice Project. She’s also been on TV shows like The Simpsons, Will and Grace, Boston Legal, Parks and Recreation, New Girl, Inside Amy Schumer, and Lost in Space. No word on whether Badgley is over his crush yet! Sometimes those stick around forever.
7 Gossip Girl Wasn’t His Big Break
Gossip Girl might be what made Badgley ultra-famous, but it wasn’t technically his big break. Prior to playing Lonely Boy, he actually had roles in a number of prominent movies and TV shows including The Young and the Restless and Easy A.
But his major breakthrough that a lot of fans have probably forgotten about was his role as Scott in John Tucker Must Die.
In the teen comedy, Badgley played “the other Tucker” and significantly less cool but more intelligent brother to John Tucker himself. This was just before he first walked onto the Gossip Girl set and changed his world forever.
6 He Didn’t Know He Was Gossip Girl
Spoiler alert: in the end, it turned out that Dan was actually Gossip Girl. Whether that made real sense or not is a whole other issue, but the truth wasn’t actually revealed to any of the actors, including Badgley, until the very last minute when the scripts were handed down. This was because the writers didn’t want the cast focusing on who would end up being revealed as the anonymous blogger in the finale. “It was nothing that we talked to the actors about. It was nothing that we wanted to be part of Penn Badgley’s performance as Dan.”
5 He’s Not Comfortable With The Concept Of Fame
He’s one of the most famous faces in the world, but Badgley isn’t comfortable with the concept of everyone knowing who he is. Things have thankfully calmed down for him a little now, but while Gossip Girl was running, sometimes the fame side of things would get out of control. “It really does feel like we’re living in the show sometimes,” he said to New York Magazine in 2008. “The psychology of celebrity is such a weird and new thing. I think the last time people treated anybody else like this was demigods like in the time of ancient Greece.”
4 He Supports A Number Of Good Causes
Another thing that Badgley may have in common with Lonely Boy is his kind heart (although Dan could be pretty rude sometimes). In 2010, Badgley was announced as a member of the National Celebrity Cabinet for the American Red Cross.
As a member, he supports the services of the Red Cross by donating his time to help others in need and promoting the charity when he can.
This also means helping to prepare people when there’s an emergency or responding to a disaster. Badgley has also spoken out in support of the Black Lives Matter movement and is an activist for other minority groups.
3 He Actually Dated Blake Lively IRL
Serious fans of the show would know this one: Badgley was actually in a serious relationship with his Gossip Girl co-star Blake Lively for almost three years while they were filming. But unlike their characters, it wasn’t meant to be, and both actors have since married other people. In the show, their characters Serena and Dan have a connection from the moment they meet, and date on and off again throughout the series. Things look rocky for them for a while, but they ultimately come back together and tie the knot in one of the most famous wedding scenes on television.
2 And Kept Their Break Up Under Wraps
Badgley and Lively kept their relationship hidden while they were filming, but word eventually got out, bringing a media circus down on the cast mates. And in the same way, they tried their best to keep their eventual break up on the down low.
In fact, nobody working on the show knew that the two actors hadn’t actually been together for months until after they’d filmed the finale of Season Two.
Though they had to continue to work together after splitting up, Badgley has revealed that it wasn’t awkward because they both kept it as professional as they could.
1 And They Met Each Other Long Before They Played Serena And Dan
It was working together on Gossip Girl that really brought Badgley and Lively together, much to the delight of fans around the world, but their first time meeting wasn’t actually on the set of the New York City-based show. Long before they’d accepted the roles of Dan and Serena respectively, Badgley and Lively were home-schooled together as pre-teens. While they didn’t start dating until 2007, when they began filming the show, they actually met for the first time after Badgley had moved to Hollywood with his mom to pursue acting.
Sources: Business Insider, TV Over Mind, Biography