After six seasons on The CW's "Gossip Girl" — which concluded with the revelation that his character Dan Humphrey was actually the titular female blogger — actor Penn Badgley is breaking from the tony Upper East Side with his biopic "Greetings From Tim Buckley," in which he portrays musician Jeff Buckley.
The film opens a small window onto the life of Buckley, who died at the age of 30, accidentally drowning in Tennessee's Wolf River. "Greetings" takes place over about a week-long period as the younger Buckley prepares to perform at a tribute concert for his father, Tim, who was a celebrated figure in the folk music world and also died at a young age (28 years old).
The role is a departure for Badgley, who not only flexes his acting muscles but also his vocal cords. And it was a project that held special significance for the 26-year-old.
"Jeff was a certain kind of influence on me when I was a teenager," Badgley told MTV News. "I grew up being really passionate about music to the point that I would call it my first passion over acting, so you know, it was somebody who I respected and admired."
Badgley was particularly buoyed by the fact that the film didn't sensationalize the life of a man he so admired and respected.
"It was a story being told in an incredibly delicate and artful way, respectful way, not exploiting his tragic end or anything of that kind of typical mythic rock-star stuff," he said. "And as an actor I was thinking, I really want to do something artistic and artful to where I can even call myself an artist. Everything about it was giant in my mind at that point, and I still can't even believe that it worked out like that — that I got it and that the film is something I'm proud of."
Yet, it wasn't without its challenges — chief of which was capturing the "Hallelujah" singer's essence and voice without becoming a cheap copy or sound-alike.
"It was a fuzzy line to walk," Badgley said. "It was basically like, I can't sing exactly like him. He's inimitable. He's Jeff Buckley. Anyone who tries to look exactly like him and sound exactly like him will just simply fail. So it was just like short of that, what can I do? What's the point here? Even as a movie, even as an artist for him, what's the point? Are we really trying to painstakingly mimic something, or are we trying to get at something artful? Something deep? Something meaningful? And that's what we were trying to do. It's a strange, but I believe, deep and meaningful film. So I really allowed myself to not sound and look like him pretty frequently ... But you know, it's still evoking a similar kind of energy, and I think that's a more artistically responsible thing to do."
"Greetings From Tim Buckley" is currently playing in New York and Los Angeles and is available on iTunes and video on demand.