'Gossip Girl' star Penn Badgley will take a turn as Jeff Buckley. Is it a good idea?
Jeff Buckley had a very short career even by tragic-musician standards -- he died in 1997 at the age of 30 in a freak swimming accident after releasing just one studio album. But after moving a generation of teens with his songwriting, Buckley's legend looms large in music circles, and will soon be represented on the big screen too.
An independent film about the singer-songwriter titled "Greetings From Tim Buckley" (a reference to Jeff's musician father) aims to shoot this summer, beating to the punch a different Jeff Buckley movie that's being developed with Buckley's mother and director Jake Scott.
On Monday, "Greetings" announced that "Gossip Girl" star Penn Badgley has been cast as Jeff Buckley.
Directed by Daniel Algrant and produced by a company called Smuggler Films, "Greetings from Tim Buckley" will focus on Jeff Buckley's breakthrough as a musician at a 1991 tribute concert for his late father. (Tim Buckley was a seminal musician in his own right, moving radically from folk to other styles before dying of a drug overdose at the age of 28 in 1975.)
Of his role as Jeff Buckley, Badgley said in a statement that it was "something very special and sacred" to re-create the life of a man "who was singularly gifted as an artist, greatly misunderstood & mythologized as a human being."
Would Badgley make a good Jeff Buckley? "Gossip Girl" isn't the first piece of entertainment one thinks of when the singer's name is mentioned, though Badgley's Dan Humphrey is the most soulful and poetic of the "Gossip Girl" characters. The actor has been shaking up his movie career -- after supporting turns in comedies such as "Easy A" and "John Tucker Must Die," he has a small role in the upcoming financial drama "Margin Call."
Then there's the matter of the other Jeff Buckley movie.
This spring, Jake Scott (son of Ridley and director of "Welcome to the Rileys") said he has been developing a biopic about the late artist. The films are being conceived somewhat differently: Scott's is more of a look at Buckley's life and career; the Badgley film will focus on a single identity-forging event. (Producers on the Scott project were initially confused by reports that Badgley was playing Jeff Buckley in their film.)
And though reports about Scott's biopic said producers secured much of the music rights -- Jeff Buckley's mother is an executive producer, after all -- a spokeswoman for the "Greetings" producers said their movie will feature more than its share of tunes, with rights secured to many Tim Buckley tracks as well as Jeff Buckley's iconic cover of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah."
The announcement of the Scott film in April prompted some fans to call for James Franco to play the late musician. There's not been anything from the actor himself, although a very different performer -- Robert Pattinson -- did give an interview in which he said he met with Buckley's mother about the lead role. Pattinson versus Badgley as Jeff Buckley? Now that's drama to tug at the heartstrings of a whole new teen generation.
-- Steven Zeitchik
Photo: Penn Badgley. Credit: Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times