Although Penn Badgley expected the challenge of playing Jeff Buckley in “Greetings from Tim Buckley” to be the musical element, the film ended up stretching Badgley as an actor. “I grew more as an actor I think than I did as a musician,” says Badgley.
The film takes a look at the musician and his father Tim Buckley through a very specific time in Jeff Buckley’s life. Badgley heard rumblings about a script about Jeff Buckley and was always interested in it, so when he heard about Daniel Algrant’s “Greetings from Tim Buckley” he thought it would be a wonderful opportunity and thought the script told a beautiful story through an interesting perspective. But the process of bringing that story to life was a journey for Badgley.
We talked to Badgley about the film and what he learned during the journey.
Never give up.
After going on tape with casting director Avy Kaufman, Badgley was surprised when he got no feedback at all. It was radio silence for a month and a half and he had given up on the role. “It really was one of those moments where I had to let it go, which was hard because I was at that point really attached to the idea,” says Badgley. Algrant told Badgley he was at the point of giving up when he found Badgley. At that point Kaufman asked him about Badgley, but Algrant hadn’t seen his audition. He watched it, and after seeing the record store scene, Algrant knew he’d found his Jeff.
Stay in the moment.
Because he was still filming “Gossip Girl” as he prepped “Greetings from Tim Buckley” his schedule didn’t leave him much time for rehearsing so a lot of the work of discovering the character was done on set. One difficult moment in filming was the graveyard scene. Badgley was handed pages right before shooting because Algrant had been re-writing the scene. “That scene up until that point was very different from what you see. Not the same words, very different actions and all of a sudden that popped out of nowhere, that very strange dialogue,” says Badgley. When he got the pages, Badgley remembers thinking, “Oh wow, I really don’t understand this.” So he figured it out right there on set. “Everything you see I was just kind of working it out real-time,” he says. But, says Badgley, “It’s kind of the only way that particular role could have been done.”
Badgley was already familiar with Jeff Buckley’s music and had musical training of his own, so the most challenging part of the music in the film was that it was live. “I did have to do a lot of vocal warm-ups. Every bit of music in the movie is fairly spontaneous, and it was all recorded live so it was very hard to rehearse in that way, so it was not that conventional kind of like the song starts here and it ends here,” says Badgley. That made it especially important for Badgley to stay warmed up all the time. “It was just about getting as dexterous as possible with both my voice and my fingers and getting comfortable with playing all the time and playing live, which I had never done.” Keeping all the music live was an important aspect of the film. Badgley says, “If you lost that spontaneity, that electric energy of it being live, it really just would have fallen flat. It would have been pointless.”
Be true to the character.
“I approached [the role] with the utmost respect and reverence for Jeff and for artistic creation like music and I really just tried to breathe my reverence for it into the performance," says Badgley. "I just tried to evoke the same qualities that he had." He focused on being in the moment and trying to elicit the emotional response that Buckley did. “If that meant that I had to do something that was more me than him then I would do it," he says. "Or if it meant that at this point I had to pepper in a lot of mannerisms for a particular scene or a particular moment, then I would."