A “Gossip Girl” star becomes Jeff Buckley: “I was not his most rabid fan”

Penn Badgley says he's proud of his work for the first time, in a fictionalized look at Jeff Buckley's life

Topics: Jeff Buckley, Penn Badgley, gossip girl, Greetings From Tim Buckley,

A "Gossip Girl" star becomes Jeff Buckley: "I was not his most rabid fan" Penn Badgley as Jeff Buckley in "Greetings from Tim Buckley"

Penn Badgley didn’t go into his role as the late singer Jeff Buckley with much of a plan. “I did not have any clear-cut method to the point that sometimes I’d be like, ‘What the fuck am I doing?,’” he told Salon at his hotel recently before a Tribeca Film Festival screening of “Greetings From Tim Buckley.”

“I’d just be like, ‘Wait a second, there’s no rules that anyone’s asking me to follow. No one’s checking in with me.’”

Part of Badgley’s liberation in playing Buckley came from the fact that there wasn’t any input from the Buckley estate. “Greetings From Tim Buckley,” which takes place before Buckley’s rise to fame and premature death (by drowning, at 30), does not use any of Buckley’s music; the filmmakers did not obtain the rights to his music. Indeed, a competing Buckley biopic titled “Mystery White Boy,” endorsed by Buckley’s mother, Mary Guibert, and set to star “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark” stage actor Reeve Carney, is in development at present.

Guibert has been a gatekeeper for Buckley’s legacy on film, rejecting proposed projects about her son both for being too truthful and not truthful enough.

And yet the lack of access to Buckley’s music, documenting the singer’s one-in-a-generation vocal skill, may have helped Badgley, an actor famous for the teen soap “Gossip Girl” whom some “Grace” fans viewed spuriously when his casting was first announced. (“I live with an Italian Greyhound named (Jeff) Buckley, and I’m pretty sure my Buckley is better suited for the role,” wrote a blogger at Stereogum in 2011.)

“I was not his most rabid fan,” said Badgley, “but from one person to another, simply at that simple human level, I was compelled to do everything I could, you know? And beyond that, what more can you ask of anyone? If I can’t do what Jeff could, which I can’t, what the fuck more do you want from me?”

He gets at a Buckley-ness, at times, through a manic sort of improvisation; in one key scene, Badgley wildly toggles between singing styles in a record store while trying to woo a love interest (Imogen Poots). And it helps that he’s not the sole focus of the film; Tim Buckley, the father to whom Jeff pays tribute at an early-career concert at film’s end, is shown in flashback (played by Ben Rosenfeld). His neglect informs Jeff’s introspection and searching later in life.

For his part, Badgley is trying to establish an adult career after years on “Gossip Girl” and light movie fare like “Easy A.” He said that “Greetings From Tim Buckley is “not gonna win any awards, but I think it’s the kind of thing that 10 years from now, everybody will watch and it will have just as much emotional resonance then.

“To be proud of something is a really nice feeling. And it’s a new feeling, and it’s something that I wanna keep going with. 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.”

Up until the closing concert, there’s far more acting than there is singing in “Greetings From Tim Buckley,” something that suited Badgley fine. “If I had to like sing “Lover, You Should’ve Come Over” note for note, which a lot of people can do, even if they can’t do it the way he did, that would’ve been a whole other thing,” he said, methodically squeezing all the liquid out of a teabag. “I’m so glad I didn’t have to do that. Because then people would’ve had to listen to ‘Lover, You Should’ve Come Over,’ listen to mine, and be like, ‘It’s not as good.’ And yeah, like of course it’s not, no shit. That’s why we’re making a movie about Jeff Buckley.”

Then again, the film’s director, Daniel Algrant, said in a separate interview that the Buckley story was merely a framework for a larger, archetypal story. “Why make a story about Jeff Buckley? There isn’t a story that I think sort of earned a narrative film … But you’re onto that universal theme, and you’re onto a story about sons and fathers.”

Though Algrant said that the late Tim Buckley’s wife had been enthusiastic about the film, he had not been in contact with Guibert, Jeff Buckley’s mother. “I know that she was very much trying to make a film and she’s talked about this film, but there is no film. There is no other film. And I hope she sees our film, and I think she might appreciate it. I hope she does.”

Referring to a documentary Guibert had made about Buckley, Algrant said: “Mary made a movie about Jeff Buckley, but she didn’t mention Tim Buckley in it.” He’d previously alluded to what he’d read as early misreporting of the substance of his film: “I dunno whose publicists were feeding the stories out. I might have an idea, but it doesn’t – it didn’t matter to me.” (Neither Guibert nor the “Mystery White Boy” producers responded to repeated requests for comment directed at a representative.)

Much of the film is fictionalized — the love interest, for instance. “Those relationships I think are really based on what would happen in a situation,” said Algrant. “The idea of anything being real or authentic is complicated.” He compared the film to “Lawrence of Arabia,” another limited portrait of a figure.

“I like to think that he would like this, or wouldn’t like this, but really we’re left with what he left us, and we’re just honoring that in our own way.”

Badgley was particularly proud of the manner the film portrayed Jeff Buckley’s tribute to his late father — and was optimistic about how audiences would react. “What’s so beautiful about it is the story, as factually skewed as it might be, is emotionally very accurate to what was going on … The show that he played was called ‘Greetings From Tim Buckley.’ This is him, like, in some strange, mystical, totally ambiguous shapeless way, receiving some kind of welcome into the world of music through his father. And, you know –” Badgley began to laugh: “Buckley probably always sells some seats.”

Daniel D'Addario is a staff reporter for Salon's entertainment section. Follow him on Twitter @DPD_

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët
    Kerascoët's lovely, delicate pen-and-watercolor art -- all intricate botanicals, big eyes and flowing hair -- gives this fairy story a deceptively pretty finish. You find out quickly, however, that these are the heartless and heedless fairies of folk legend, not the sentimental sprites beloved by the Victorians and Disney fans. A host of tiny hominid creatures must learn to survive in the forest after fleeing their former home -- a little girl who lies dead in the woods. The main character, Aurora, tries to organize the group into a community, but most of her cohort is too capricious, lazy and selfish to participate for long. There's no real moral to this story, which is refreshing in itself, beyond the perpetual lessons that life is hard and you have to be careful whom you trust. Never has ugly truth been given a prettier face.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni
    Squarzoni is a French cartoonist who makes nonfiction graphic novels about contemporary issues and politics. While finishing up a book about France under Jacques Chirac, he realized that when it came to environmental policy, he didn't know what he was talking about. "Climate Changed" is the result of his efforts to understand what has been happening to the planet, a striking combination of memoir and data that ruminates on a notoriously elusive, difficult and even imponderable subject. Panels of talking heads dispensing information (or Squarzoni discussing the issues with his partner) are juxtaposed with detailed and meticulous yet lyrical scenes from the author's childhood, the countryside where he takes a holiday and a visit to New York. He uses his own unreachable past as a way to grasp the imminent transformation of the Earth. The result is both enlightening and unexpectedly moving.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Here by Richard McGuire
    A six-page version of this innovative work by a regular contributor to the New Yorker first appeared in RAW magazine 25 years ago. Each two-page spread depicts a single place, sometimes occupied by a corner of a room, over the course of 4 billion years. The oldest image is a blur of pink and purple gases; others depict hazmat-suited explorers from 300 years in the future. Inset images show the changing decor and inhabitants of the house throughout its existence: family photos, quarrels, kids in Halloween costumes, a woman reading a book, a cat walking across the floor. The cumulative effect is serene and ravishing, an intimation of the immensity of time and the wonder embodied in the humblest things.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
    The legendary Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist delivers his debut graphic novel at 85, a deliriously over-the-top blend of classic movie noir and melodrama that roams from chiaroscuro Bay City to Hollywood to a USO gig in the Pacific theater of World War II. There's a burnt-out drunk of a private eye, but the story is soon commandeered by a multigenerational collection of ferocious women, including a mysterious chanteuse who never speaks, a radio comedy writer who makes a childhood friend the butt of a hit series and a ruthless dame intent on making her whiny coward of a husband into a star. There are disguises, musical numbers and plenty of gunfights, but the drawing is the main attraction. Nobody convey's bodies in motion more thrillingly than Feiffer, whether they're dancing, running or duking it out. The kid has promise.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis
    This is a weird one, but in the nervy surreal way that word-playful novels like "A Clockwork Orange" or "Ulysses" are weird. The main character, a teenage schoolboy named Scarper Lee, lives in a world where it rains knives and people make their own parents, contraptions that can be anything from a tiny figurine stashable in a pocket to biomorphic boiler-like entities that seem to have escaped from Dr. Seuss' nightmares. Their homes are crammed with gadgets they call gods and instead of TV they watch a hulu-hoop-size wheel of repeating images that changes with the day of the week. They also know their own "death day," and Scarper's is coming up fast. Maybe that's why he runs off with the new girl at school, a real troublemaker, and the obscurely dysfunctional Castro, whose mother is a cageful of talking parakeets. A solid towline of teenage angst holds this manically inventive vision together, and proves that some graphic novels can rival the text-only kind at their own game.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    NOBROW 9: It's Oh So Quiet
    For each issue, the anthology magazine put out by this adventurous U.K.-based publisher of independent graphic design, illustration and comics gives 45 artists a four-color palette and a theme. In the ninth issue, the theme is silence, and the results are magnificent and full of surprises. The comics, each told in images only, range from atmospheric to trippy to jokey to melancholy to epic to creepy. But the two-page illustrations are even more powerful, even if it's not always easy to see how they pertain to the overall concept of silence. Well, except perhaps for the fact that so many of them left me utterly dumbstruck with visual delight.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Over Easy by Mimi Pond
    When Pond was a broke art student in the 1970s, she took a job at a neighborhood breakfast spot in Oakland, a place with good food, splendid coffee and an endlessly entertaining crew of short-order cooks, waitresses, dishwashers and regular customers. This graphic memoir, influenced by the work of Pond's friend, Alison Bechdel, captures the funky ethos of the time, when hippies, punks and disco aficionados mingled in a Bay Area at the height of its eccentricity. The staff of the Imperial Cafe were forever swapping wisecracks and hopping in and out of each other's beds, which makes them more or less like every restaurant team in history. There's an intoxicating esprit de corps to a well-run everyday joint like the Imperial Cafe, and never has the delight in being part of it been more winningly portrayed.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
    You don't have to be a superhero fan to be utterly charmed by Yang and Liew's revival of a little-known character created in the 1940s by the cartoonist Chu Hing. This version of the Green Turtle, however, is rich in characterization, comedy and luscious period detail from the Chinatown of "San Incendio" (a ringer for San Francisco). Hank, son of a mild-mannered grocer, would like to follow in his father's footsteps, but his restless mother (the book's best character and drawn with masterful nuance by Liew) has other ideas after her thrilling encounter with a superhero. Yang's story effortlessly folds pathos into humor without stooping to either slapstick or cheap "darkness." This is that rare tribute that far surpasses the thing it celebrates.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Shoplifter by Michael Cho
    Corinna Park, former English major, works, unhappily, in a Toronto advertising agency. When the dissatisfaction of the past five years begins to oppress her, she lets off steam by pilfering magazines from a local convenience store. Cho's moody character study is as much about city life as it is about Corinna. He depicts her falling asleep in front of the TV in her condo, brooding on the subway, roaming the crowded streets after a budding romance goes awry. Like a great short story, this is a simple tale of a young woman figuring out how to get her life back, but if feels as if it contains so much of contemporary existence -- its comforts, its loneliness, its self-deceptions -- suspended in wintery amber.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
    This collection of archetypal horror, fairy and ghost stories, all about young girls, comes lushly decked in Carroll's inky black, snowy white and blood-scarlet art. A young bride hears her predecessor's bones singing from under the floorboards, two friends make the mistake of pretending to summon the spirits of the dead, a family of orphaned siblings disappears one by one into the winter nights. Carroll's color-saturated images can be jagged, ornate and gruesome, but she also knows how to chill with absence, shadows and a single staring eye. Literary readers who cherish the work of Kelly Link or the late Angela Carter's collection, "The Bloody Chamber," will adore the violent beauty on these pages.

  • Recent Slide Shows



Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>