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Penn Badgley Just Now Learning How Best to Be a Teenager

Penn Badgley's having quite a week: Gossip Girl premiered Monday and his new high-school comedy, Easy A, arrives in theaters on Friday. In the movie, Badgley plays Emma Stone’s good friend, a guy who also happens to be the school mascot, Woodchuck Todd. We caught up with Badgley at the film’s premiere in Los Angeles and talked to him about sexting, Chekhov, how he and his girlfriend can laugh at themselves, and rapping while white.

Easy A director Will Gluck said he doesn’t want to hang out with you in public ever again because his ears are still ringing from the constant screams of enamored young girls.
Those stories are greatly exaggerated. And how does he know that wasn’t for him? He looks like a young Willem Dafoe.

You portray three mascots in this movie: Blue Devil Todd, Woodchuck Todd, and Lobster Todd. Which alter ego was easiest to inhabit?
I probably won’t live them all down equally. The lobster required a silly hat and I had to rap a birthday song. It’s painfully obvious how white I am.

In one line in Easy A, Emma’s character insults your TV show and your girlfriend Blake Lively’s franchise, Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants.
We don’t take ourselves so seriously that we can’t laugh at a good joke. I’m pretty sure neither of us will lose any sleep.”

The movie is loosely based on The Scarlet Letter. If you could green-light any work from the high-school reading list, what would it be and why?
The Seagull by Chekhov. I love the character Treplyov. You read that in high school, right? I did anyway. I just recently reread it and it had a lot more comedy in it than I remembered. It held up well.

Easy A and Gossip Girl deal with the ups and downs of rumors and how quickly they spread with the aid of the Internet and cell phones.
Between Gossip Girl and this film, I am becoming quite the expert on teen life in the digital age. The irony is that I am truly getting a handle on being a teenager many years after the fact. High school has always been one of the toughest periods in your life, but now kids have almost two identities — the one online and the one in real life — and both of them can get you in trouble and need to be managed. All of the same things happened when I was in high school, but now they can be on YouTube in five minutes. Eventually, I feel like there won’t be anybody left to run for president who hasn’t made a silly video or sexted. Some of it isn’t all that different than being in the public eye in the digital age.

If you could go back, knowing what you now know, what would you tell your 17-year-old self?
I wouldn’t. There’s nothing I would want to tell my high-school self. I believe you have to make your mistakes and deal with the consequences and learn from them. I don’t think it would make for a very complete person if you could escape every moment of pain in your life. Looking back, the things you cherish as you get older are often the things that made you cringe then. They also make for the best stories over beer in your adult life.

Photo: David Livingston/Getty Images