Penn Badgley, who plays a stock analyst in the new film Margin Call, worries about the market. He just doesn't put money into it.
"I don't really believe in investing," the Gossip Girl star tells The Price of Fame. "Whether it's ignorant or naive or clever, who knows? But I think I was vindicated a little bit with the crash."
Art seems to contradict life for Badgley when it comes to Margin Call, opening Friday. After a colleague (Zachary Quinto) spots a fatal equity trend, Badgley's money-grubbing Seth searches for his conscience on the eve of the 2007 collapse. Meanwhile, his morally bankrupt superiors (Kevin Spacey, Demi Moore and Jeremy Irons) maneuver to protect their assets.
Offscreen, Badgley is publicly fighting the good fight against institutional greed. He joined other celebrities such as Kanye West, Mark Ruffalo and Alec Baldwin at Occupy Wall Street demonstrations. The A-list has absorbed criticism by some for co-opting a protest that targets the privileged.
"Everybody's a critic and they're welcome to do that," Badgley says. "What's beautiful about the movement is that it invites a vast range of people and opinions."
He concedes that making big bucks on a hit TV show may not endear him to the so-called 99% crowd. "People might roll their eyes," he says in our interview at the Waldorf-Astoria in Manhattan.
He knows the objections. He's never had a non-acting job. He's 24 and already wealthy. "It's irrelevant for me because it's more of a human issue," he explains. "It's not just a financial crisis at hand. It's a human crisis."
Earning His Own Money Since Childhood
Asked if his parents imparted a philosophy about money to him, the actor laughs and says no. He was born in Baltimore and developed his acting chops as a youth in a Seattle musical theater company. He then moved to Los Angeles and got an agent. By age 15, he had secured his first prominent role in a short-lived series.
In 2007, he found a TV show that stuck, landing the Gossip Girl role of Brooklyn boy Dan Humphrey, who joins the Upper East Side in-crowd. A high-camp ensemble of the young, gorgeous and spoiled, the show thrived as banks and portfolios wilted. Badgley discovered there's nothing like starring in prime-time to keep you from feeling the pain of a recession. "For the most part, I felt like I was watching it instead of participating in it," he says.
Badgley was about to become a waiter and join the real world before Gossip Girl. Now, armed with a steady paycheck, his main concern is that a cash-depleted Hollywood might be less willing to take a chance on him in the movies. He's done a few pictures, including Easy A and The Stepfather. And he's about to play rocker Jeff Buckley in a biopic.
If the month-old Occupy Wall Street movement were sending out invitations to join a session of populist outrage, we suspect Badgley would not be at the top of the list. But that's OK with him. "I certainly did not grow up with any money," he says. "I'm not an affluent blue blood. I've been working professionally since 12 and paying my own bills since 14."
Even so, success hasn't tempted him to gamble a chunk of his earnings in the stock market. He refuses to drop one dime into a system that he confesses is "like Greek to to me."
"It doesn't need to be understood by everyone, but that is a problem because everyone participates in that world," he says. "If you spend money, buy a home, or if you are an American citizen, we did participate. There is a lot of anger. We didn't realize what we were taking part in."
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