“It feels good,” actor Penn Badgley said on a recent Friday morning in an echo studio at the Mark Morris Dance Center in Brooklyn. “I’m clumsy as hell. But it feels good. “
Mr. Badgley, 34, who played lonely boy Dan in the original “Gossip Girl” and now stars in the Netflix thriller “You”, had not visited a gym for two years. He hadn’t taken dance lessons for much longer.
But during a fashion shoot a month before, he had found himself moving in tandem with the photographer and was sorely lacking in dancing. So he contacted André Zachery, his gyrotonics teacher and artistic director of Renegade Performance Group, a contemporary dance company from Brooklyn. Mr. Zachery was ready to put it to the test.
In the gaping dance studio, mirrors lined one wall. Ice-white tube lamps shone above his head. Mr. Badgley had dressed for class in a black t-shirt and shorts. A luxurious cotton candy and a crown of mink brown hair framed her face.
They started with a warm-up: stretching, lunges, neck, shoulder, chest and hip isolation. Roy Ayers’ “Everybody Loves the Sunshine” set the tone; Mr. Badgley, his brooding face etched into a frown, inhaled and exhaled in time, rolling his spine up and down.
Mr. Zachery built the stretches into a simple routine, and Mr. Badgley, weighing and a little stiff, like a bear that had not completely left its hibernation, danced the start of the count of eight, then repeated the steps. again.
“Very good, not bad,” said Mr. Zachery encouragingly. “Do you want to go a little faster?
Mr. Badgley paused to tie his hair up with a blue and white bandana. He asked to slow down again. “As much as I love to move and I love to dance, it’s not at all a language that I speak on a regular basis,” he said. “So even just going into that is fine. But it’s also very awkward.
Mr. Zachery reassured him, gently countering Mr. Badgley’s perfectionism. “Be imperfect with this,” he said.
As Mr. Zachery prepared the next combination, the track moved to Donny Hathaway’s “The Ghetto” and Mr. Badgley’s stern face split into a smile. “It’s one of my kid’s favorite songs,” Mr. Badgley said. “He likes classic soul.”
Last summer Mr Badgley and his wife, Domino Kirke, welcomed a son. (They also share custody of Ms. Kirke’s son from a previous relationship.) In “You,” Mr. Badgley plays Joe, the sociopath next door. Joe also had a son with his wife, Love (Victoria Pedretti), who has her own body count.
In the third season, which begins October 15, Joe reflects on his new life in a Bay Area suburb. “Me, a boy and his mom, who’s usually great, but sometimes kills people with their bare hands,” says Joe. “What could possibly go wrong?” A lot, it turns out.
Mr. Badgley has some experience playing characters with dark patterns. The latest episodes of “Gossip Girl” revealed that Dan, the Deuxmoi of his day, had been keeping tabs on his friends and lovers, uploading their secrets to the pre-Instagram internet.
Doing the show was, as Mr. Badgley described it, “a test of existential endurance.” In his twenties, he struggled with the show’s glitzy ethics. The failure of fans to tell the difference between him and Dan has also harassed him. “I wouldn’t recommend fame to anyone,” he said. “It doesn’t do anything better or help make more sense. It doesn’t help you as a person.
When “Gossip Girl” ended in 2012, he spent half a decade shooting independent films and touring with his group MOTHXR. He wasn’t sure he wanted to return to mainstream TV and he had other doubts about Joe, a character who imprisons, tortures and kills women (and sometimes a man who interferes), all in the name of the true love. Boy gets girl? Absoutely.
Still, he thought “You” had something to say about the tropes of romantic love and the nauseous connection of desire, power, and abuse. Many viewers responded in a much more unconscious manner and for a while Mr. Badgley took the time to raid fans asking to be kidnapped. (“No thanks“, he replied.) Now he’s trying to focus on the work itself, which he compares to a dance,” a crooked and ugly dance. “
Back at the studio, Mr. Badgley tried to dance more beautifully. He can be overwhelmed by his own thoughts, he said, so Mr. Zachery introduced guided meditation, occupying Mr. Badgley’s mind so his body could move more freely.
While Robert Glasper performed the cover of “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, he asked Mr. Badgley to imagine himself at the beach, his body supported by the waves. They also played an avant-garde Twister game, in which Mr. Badgley had to keep both hands and one foot on the ground, or both feet and one hand.
“Yo, man,” Mr. Zachery said approvingly. “You are actually more in your body than you realize. “
Finally, at a suggestion from Mr. Badgley, he changed the music to “Promises”, a mellow album by Floating Points, Pharoah Sanders and the London Symphony Orchestra. The two men began to move around the floor together, their limbs slowly spinning the wheel as they improvised. Politely, Mr. Badgley asked to turn up the music.
“Now we’re dancing,” he said, his back arched, his head tilted back, his arms like wings. “It feels so good.”