People can, at times, simultaneously feel conflicting emotions of love and hate towards any person they have an intimate relationship with, particularly their parents. While it can be difficult to understand other people’s motivations, people learn to come to terms and understand the actions others take as they mature. This is the intense motivating factor in director Daniel Algrant’s new drama, Greetings From Tim Buckley, which is based on the true story of the title musician. In the film, Penn Badgley plays Tim Buckley’s son, Jeff, who doesn’t fully understand the respect his late father garnered until he truly looks into his father’s past.
Greetings From Tim Buckley follows young musician Jeff Buckley, as he rehearses for his public singing debut in 1991 at a Brooklyn tribute concert for his father, the late folk singer Tim Buckley. As he struggles with the legacy of a father he barely knew, Jeff finds solace in a new relationship with an enigmatic young woman, Allie (Imogen Poots), who’s working at the show. As they explore New York City, their adventures recall glimpses of Tims’ (Ben Rosenfield) fame in the 1960s, as he left his wife and young son at home and drove across the country, as he was on the verge of stardom. Jeff, who later became one of the most beloved singer-songwriters of his own generation, struggled with his estranged father’s fame, as he prepared for the legendary tribute show that launched his career.
Badgley generously took the time to sit down during a roundtable interview during the Tribeca Film Festival in New York to talk about Greetings From Tim Buckley. Among other things, the actor, who’s also a singer in his own life, discussed how he abstained from listening to Jeff and Tim’s music while shooting the movie, as he felt intuitively connected to the two musicians, and how he also struggled to understand Jeff’s conflicting introverted and outgoing personalities.
Check out the full interview below.
Do you have a favorite Jeff Buckley Song?
Penn Badgley: His live cover of ‘Strange Fruit’ is what turned me on to him and what will always be my favorite. It wasn’t written by him, but he was a different kind of artist. He was an interstater, first and foremost, which isn’t taking anything away from him.
You’re also musician. Did anything in this inspire you to write songs?
Penn Badgley: Well it influenced me in the way that I started to write more than ever. I was playing my own music more than I ever had while taking the role on. It’s influenced me in a lot of ways, not only as a musician, but as an actor creatively, life directions and all. It was a wonderful thing. It’s influenced me in a lot of ways that I will only start to see as time goes on.
Is there any chance we can ever see you do your own music?
Penn Badgley: Honestly, I don’t want to talk about that too much because this is me as an actor. Yes, music has always been my first creative passion. As much as I would love to sit and talk about music, it seems almost like I don’t have the material to show for the time being.
Did you want to abstain from listening to and watching things about Jeff and Tim Buckley so you could maintain a barrier?
Penn Badgley: During the shoot I actually really didn’t listen to Jeff or Tim. Before the shoot, I listened to both. Something about Tim’s life, what I learned about his life, really moved me more than Jeff’s. I can’t really explain it, but I felt like I just understood Jeff in a way; I intuited it and knew what he was going through.
But when I learned about Tim, that gave me a view that Jeff needed to develop for his father and is developing for his father in this. He certainly resists that sympathy that he might have, but part of the story we’re telling is that he realizes that his father is human. I did this thing with Tim in a way, where I asked, what’s his deal? There’s a huge part of it where I wasn’t thinking about either.
Given that you’re playing a biographical character, how did you divulge and absorb what to use and not use?
Penn Badgley: It was a fuzzy line to walk. The way that we prepared for that scene where they’re playing the beginning to a song that would later become Grease (at that stage it was called Rise up To Be), Gary and I would just play together. We would just jam. That was crazy because we were basically doing exactly what they were doing and they’d stop us and say-“Man you got it. That was great.” That was encouraging.
People tell me stories and sometimes I’m like just stop because sometimes it feels like I was stepping on his territory in a way. It was an interpretation much in the way he would interpret music.
The biggest thing for me was to have this mental list of the qualities he had that I couldn’t articulate. But he was kind of feminine and agile in a strange way, even though he wasn’t athletic. But he was athletic in a way, because of the stamina that he had to sing for hours on end. I just took those qualities and tried to endow myself with them and invoke them.
His speaking voice was an octave higher than mine, which you can hear tiny little hints of in the movie. I’m trying to do this cadence, so I just try to see-what if he had a deep voice? Would anyone even notice? What matters here? Am I trying to mimic him? That’s not what I was trying to do. It’s not a conventional narrative or biopic.
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