The 5 Saddest Things About Penn Badgley's Life

It's not uncommon to look at an actor like Penn Badgley and assume he's always had it pretty good. He's been famous for what feels like forever, and he seems like an all-around chill guy. He's also happily married to singer and actor Domino Kirke, he is the father of an adorable son, and his career is thriving. He's also gained even more fan love after joining TikTok and showing off his funny side, like dancing in his living room to Meghan Trainor and participating in Taylor Swift's #TSAntiHeroChallenge.

But the actor in "Gossip Girl" and "You" has not always had it so easy. Although he seems to take it all in stride, Badgley has experienced some significant difficulty in both his personal and professional life. From an awkward start to frustrating career choices to a high-profile relationship gone bad, Badgley has been through a lot. We don't want to exploit Badgley's bummer experiences, but on the other hand, you're nobody until you're talked about.

1. He strongly disliked his most popular characters

It's likely that most Penn Badgley fans know him from his roles on the wildly popular series "You" or the iconic "Gossip Girl." Both seem like great gigs, but Badgley had a difficult time with the characters he played on both shows.

In "You," Badgley played stalker turned serial killer Joe Goldberg, a role he initially hoped would spark some thoughtful conversations among viewers. In a 2018 interview with Vulture, he admitted, "I don't like Joe ... A lot of actors like saying, 'Don't judge a character, you might fall in love with him!' Not me. It took every ounce of my capacity to do my job." It turned out fans were actually enamored with Joe, viewing him as someone risking it all for love. "I think all of my fears were confirmed," Badgley told EW, "For instance, the devilish charm of Joe almost painting over his lethality."

When it came to Badgley's role as Dan Humphrey on "Gossip Girl," it wasn't so much that he hated the character, but that fans came to think of him as his character. "It's not that I don't like [Dan Humphrey]. It's just, after a while, you're known as somebody that you're just not, and this is somebody who I so am not," Badgley told Vulture (via US Weekly). Additionally, Badgley grew frustrated with the convoluted nature of the show's plotlines. "You start with something real, and it eventually becomes, against all odds, 'How do these six people still hang out every day?' It's f**king crazy," he told Vulture.

2. He had to keep working with Blake Lively even after their breakup

Having to work with an ex is never a good time, and one can only imagine the added angst when working on a hit show with millions of viewers who are just as invested in your personal life as they are your character's. Penn Badgley and Blake Lively began dating in 2007, just like their "Gossip Girl" counterparts Dan Humphrey and Serena van der Woodsen. However, the characters' romance outlived the real-life relationship between Badgley and Lively, who broke up in 2010.

To add insult to injury, Lively went on to marry Ryan Reynolds while "Gossip Girl" was still filming. When asked by Elle if he sent the happy couple a wedding gift, Badgley answered simply, "No, I didn't." He did explain that his relationship with Lively was valuable and that they handled the breakup with professionalism. "We were very much caught up in the show, which itself was a six-year endurance test. Our relationship was a part of that and helped us through it," he said.

Still, when asked by US Weekly in 2015 to name his best and worst on-screen kisses, Badgley seemed pretty fixated on Lively. He named her as the best, explaining, "I'll say it was Blake because we actually had a relationship at the time." And his worst on-screen kiss? "Maybe Blake after we broke up," the actor said. Apparently, he still had a little of that lonely boy energy at the time.

3. He experienced anxiety due to his fame

Anyone who has ever had an anxiety attack knows it can be a terrifying experience. Sadly, it was something Penn Badgley had to go through when the fame he garnered through both "Gossip Girl" and "You" became overwhelming.

The actor was in Manila promoting "You" when he was bombarded by thousands of fans in a mall. "I had an anxiety attack that press trip," Badgley revealed on the "Baha'i Blogcast with Rainn Wilson." He added, "And I'm not a person who has that. I mean, look, I have anxieties, I think. I'm human." But the pressures of being in the public eye had clearly caught up with the actor.

In a 2021 interview with Vulture, Badgley spoke about just that when reflecting on his "Gossip Girl" days. The public scrutiny was not something the actor was prepared for, and it seems as though it took a toll. "People were not talking about mental health then," he explained, "not in the celebrity sphere."

4. He had a bout of depression before getting his big break

While Penn Badgley began his acting career at a young age, having graduated high school at 13 to focus on work, he was not exactly an overnight sensation. Badgley had plenty of one-off roles in TV shows such as "Will & Grace," "The Twilight Zone," and "What I Like About You," as well as a 10-episode stint on "The Young and the Restless." By the time "Gossip Girl" came around, he had already done so much TV work that he initially turned down the role of Dan Humphrey. His fear of being typecast kept him from wanting the part, but that wasn't all. "I was frustrated, and I was broke, and I was depressed, and I was like, 'I cannot do that again. I can't,'" he explained to Vulture.

Despite Badgley's frustrations, of course, he ended up taking what ended up being an iconic role when he realized the alternative was becoming a waiter. And while Badgley acknowledges his luck at having had such an opportunity, he has also expressed that living in Los Angeles and striving for success at times really got him down. He told The Guardian, "Over time, we [actors] all become very cynical and depressed, having to audition endlessly in LA. It's such a singular mindset: Everyone has a script to sell you."

5. He had an awkward adolescence

Who among us can honestly say our adolescent years were pure joy? But Penn Badgley was in a unique position in that he was dedicated to becoming an actor during those formative years, auditioning for and landing roles that would have millions watching him in all his awkward glory. "When I was 12, the roles I was playing weren't the cool guy. I'm known for playing awkward people," Badgley told The Guardian. "But I had to look like I had my sh*t together in front of a casting director ... The kind of insecurity I experienced was heightened."

Badgley now has a podcast called "Podcrushed," where he discusses the horrors of adolescence. Badgley told Vanity Fair that as a preteen, he was quiet, insecure and a little lonely because he was an only child. He also spoke about an experience that, in retrospect, was funny but was sad at the time. "The first concert I ever went to was the Puff Daddy 'No Way Out' tour ... I was like 10 or 11, and I went with my parents because no one would go with me," he said. Poor kid!

But Badgley has grown into a sought-after actor with heartthrob looks and intelligent insights. He spoke to Vanity Fair about an epiphany he had that changed his outlook. "When I was 12, I was looking out on the world and being like, why don't I feel secure? ... For the next 15 years, I would be convinced it was me. And then finally, in my late 20s, I was like, it's not just me! It's all this! You know?" Trust us, Penn, we know.