From executive producers Greg Berlanti and Sera Gamble, and based on Caroline Kepnes’ best-selling novel of the same name, the Lifetime drama series You gets deep inside the head of bookstore manager Joe Goldberg (Penn Badgley, in an unsettling creepy performance that will stick with you), who crosses paths with an aspiring writer, named Guinevere Beck (Elizabeth Lail), that he quickly finds himself obsessed with. Using the internet and social media to gather the most intimate details of her life as a way to get close to her, what seemingly starts as a crush quickly becomes something much more dangerous.
During this 1-on-1 interview with Collider, co-stars Penn Badgley and Elizabeth Lail talked about how You was like nothing they’d ever read, how creepy and unsettling this premise is, what made them most nervous, whether viewers should root for Joe and Beck to be together, why putting too much about yourself online can be a scary thing, the challenges of making a real and genuine connection with someone, and how they can’t wait to see how fans will respond, throughout the season.
Elizabeth, when this came your way and you found out what it was, were you like, “This sounds crazy, I’m not sure about this,” or was it, “This sounds like nothing I’ve read, please sign me up”?
ELIZABETH LAIL: It definitely was nothing like I had read. When you read the script the first time, there’s so much inner monologue on Joe’s part, which at first, I was nervous about. I was like, “Are they gonna be able to pull this off?” Hearing someone’s thoughts can go either way. But then, what I was most thrilled about when I saw the first couple episodes was the way they managed to make hearing his inner dialogue so seamless.
Did you know, from the beginning, that you’d also get to do a little of your own inner dialogue?
LAIL: I didn’t. I really didn’t. I knew that Beck was going to be more than just a movie that he watches. I knew that we were going to learn more about her, which you inevitably have to, if you’re stalking someone, and I hoped there would be surprises. I knew that she would have a lot to do.
The whole concept is a little scary and creepy, and it’s also a little scary that he’s really digging into her, in a way that she is totally unaware of.
LAIL: It’s gross. It’s absolutely gross. It’s worst case scenario, if you were to meet someone and they just took it next level. I just watched Unsane, the Steven Soderbergh film, and she knows that she’s being stalked, which gives her all of this anxiety, but Beck doesn’t know. She wouldn’t experience that anxiety until she potentially would find out.
Penn, when you read this and learned about the concept of it, what excited you about it and what made you nervous about it?
PENN BADGLEY: I’d say, by-and-large, that I was just across the board nervous, and less excited. From the first moment, Joe is all wrong. You also discover that in the book. I read the book first and was compelled by it, as a story, but not necessarily because I wanted to bring this guy to life, knew how and knew that I could. I wasn’t sure about all of those questions.
Which is probably a good thing. You don’t want to over-identify with somebody like.
BADGLEY: Right. It’s funny you say that because I feel that people are somehow responding to this show in a way that surprises me. Getting this show on the air requires a lot of different people. That requires hundreds of people to sign off on something, to watch it, and to edit it. I am just really excited to see how people respond. I’ve been really repulsed by certain parts of Joe, and it’s weird to play somebody that you actually feel that way about. It’s a challenge. In fact, over the course of five months of shooting the 10 episodes, I didn’t always necessarily do it as well as I could have. It’s hard to do that, all the time. I learned a lot, as an actor. I was able to detect that the role would be able to give me the opportunity to think this way and to apply that to a role. You don’t always get the chance to do that. I think that was partly why I took the opportunity.
Do you want people to root for Joe and Beck to be together?
BADGLEY: I really don’t know.
LAIL: I think you do because, if they’re not together, then what will Joe do?
BADGLEY: That’s even worse.