Penn Badgley Knows His “You” Masturbation Scenes Are Creepy

According to the Netflix star, that's the point

Actor Penn Badgley attends the Build Series to discuss his show "You" at Build Studio on January 09, 2020 in New York City.
Look, watching this guy pretend to be a masturbating murderer is obviously gonna be creepy, OK?
Photo by Jim Spellman/Getty Images

On-screen masturbation has come a long way since James Gandolfini reluctantly filmed an (ultimately unaired) jerk-off scene for The Sopranos. In TV’s current age of full-frontal male nudity and on-screen ass-eating, it’s not uncommon to see a character rubbing one out on your sexy streaming drama of choice. That doesn’t mean it isn’t sometimes uncomfortable — or, in some cases, downright creepy — though.

You star Penn Badgley recently opened up about the challenges of filming masturbation scenes for the Netflix series, in which he plays a murderer with obsessive stalking tendencies. During the latest episode of the podcast “Podcrushed,” which Badgley co-hosts with Sophie Ansari and Nava Kavelin, the actor revealed the most frequent feedback he gets from directors on his self-love scenes is to “make it less creepy.”

“Every time I’ve done a masturbation scene… I’ve always gotten the note to make it less creepy,” Badgley told his co-hosts. “They say like, ‘Close your eyes or go faster or go slower.’ I’m like, ‘What? This man is fucking murdering people, and he’s masturbating in the street. You’re saying I’m making it creepy? How is it I’m the one making it creepy?’”

Obviously, given the nature of Badgley’s character, some level of creepiness is to be expected. As he put it, the creep factor is kind of “the fucking point.” The actor revealed he’s gone back and forth with directors on how creepy is too creepy, recalling one masturbation scene from season one where director Lee Toland Krieger advised Badgley to close his eyes.

“I just remember I wouldn’t close my eyes and the director came up to me,” Badgley recalled. “He was like ‘Buddy, I think you gotta close your eyes.’”

And in case you were wondering, yes, Badgley admits that pretending to masturbate on camera is more or less as awkward as you might think. The actor said he doesn’t have an intimacy coordinator for those scenes, and says they’re harder to film than partnered sex scenes.

“You read it. It’s actually kind of funny or it’s creepy but it serves the story,” he said. “And then you discover you’re in front of a crew of people with a camera on your face, knowing that, in all likelihood, millions of people are going to see this, you’re simulating masturbation.”

So while we, as a society, have made some important strides in reducing the stigma that has long followed masturbation, certain truths remain inalienable: pretending to masturbate in front of a room full of people is kind of awkward, and watching a fake murderer fake masturbate on TV is probably gonna be a little creepy.

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