Penn Badgley Explains Why He Felt “Overwhelmed” by His Fame After Gossip Girl

Gossip Girl alum Penn Badgley reflected on the side effects of fame, including the pressures of social media and his recent anxiety attack after meeting with thousands of screaming fans.

By Lindsay Weinberg Jul 30, 2021 12:09 AMTags
Watch: Have You Seen Penn Badgley From "Gossip Girl" Lately?

Penn Badgley isn't the biggest fan of fame.

The 34-year-old actor said he has "processed" his time on Gossip Girl and has some crucial takeaways about why it can be overwhelming to be a celebrity in today's society. 

Speaking on the podcast Baha'i Blogcast with Rainn Wilson, Penn reflected on how he felt a responsibility to use his fame (and resulting social media influence) to do good in the world.

As Penn shared, "The most meaningful form of action I saw, as a person who'd been on Gossip Girl, as a person who had at this point hundreds of thousands of followers—yeah, because I got on social media late. If I had gotten on in the middle of Gossip Girl, I very well could've had millions upon millions—so I was thinking, the most meaningful contribution I have to make as an individual is on these platforms."

He went on, "And in trying to have a pure intention and honest interaction on these spaces, I also found that I was completely overwhelmed by being conscious of how many likes or retweets or whatever. It was such a convoluted way to be like, 'acting.'"

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He suggested that playing up his fame on social media was like being "wrapped up in ego and our materialist culture."

"It was not the most fulfilling or meaningful contribution that I could make as an individual seeking to better the world," the You star said.

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Penn has firsthand experience dealing with another downside of our celebrity-obsessed culture, as he and host Rainn Wilson called it. On the podcast, Penn recounted how he got an anxiety attack during a press tour two years ago, when he traveled to a mall in Manila in the Philippines to meet with fans. 

"It was packed with thousands of screaming adults," he recalled, noting that "in all of my years of witnessing some form of adulation, like the fan experience," this one was really over the top. 

"I had an anxiety attack that press trip," Penn revealed. "And I'm not a person who has that. I mean, look, I have anxieties I think. I'm human."

He said that time of his life "really was profound."

"I was coming to terms with having lived half of my life at least in some kind of public eye. I felt the blessings descending, but it was in the form of an anxiety attack and it was pretty intense," he continued. "I was 32. I'd been through Gossip Girl and processed that and it still was—I will tell you, the elevator doors opened and what I was met with, it was very hard to smile in the face of what it felt like... It was alarming and it was really hard to process in that moment." 


The Easy A actor, who welcomed his first child with Domino Kirke last year, said his Baha'i faith has helped him combat his anxiety more recently. As he explained, "Because I became Baha'i a number of years ago… It's such a pillar, it's such a thing I rely on, I will say that something like an anxiety attack is more and more a thing of the past." 

Penn, who admitted he has been "very outspoken and then also just very public for so many years in a row," said that he doesn't believe the concept of celebrity is very "just." 

"In some future vision of society," he mused, "it should be just civilization. I don't think celebrity exists in the way that it does now."