Spoilers ahead for the You season finale.
Elizabeth Lail got her first big break playing Frozen’s Anna on ABC’s Once Upon a Time, but her second major role on Lifetime’s You is a far cry from fantasy. Beck, the young writer she plays, is a twenty-something woman navigating her career, friendships, and romantic life in New York City when she meets an apparent charmer named Joe Goldberg (Penn Badgley), who turns out to be a stalking, murdering psycho.
As viewers saw in Sunday night’s season finale, Beck almost makes it out of Joe’s caged clutches alive. But in the end, the man who had killed Beck’s hook-up buddy, her best friend, and his own neighbor’s abusive boyfriend, winds up murdering poor Beck too. Lifetime has already picked up You for a second season and Badgley will reprise his role, but none of the other first season leads made it out alive to join Joe on his next psycho adventure. Ahead of the finale, Lail spoke with Vulture about working opposite Badgley, what the show reinforced in her mind about romantic relationships and social media, and why she’s bummed she won’t be part of the second season.
What attracted you to playing Beck?
I just really related to Beck, to her struggle. Her human struggle — not necessarily her stalker problem. [Laughs.] And lucky for me as the actor, I am normally playing her day-to-day struggle with relationships, friendships, and just surviving in New York City. I really enjoy playing the struggle, and then it just magnifies there at the end with her caging boyfriend.
In one of the last episodes, Beck talks about her life being a mess but that doesn’t need someone to fix it for her. But I feel like her life was the life of a normal twenty-something just figuring out her way in the world. She didn’t seem like a mess. Do you agree?
Yes! Everybody was so hard on her. I think that at that age — or I should really say, at my age — everything is more of a struggle because you’re figuring out how to live by yourself, or have a steady job, and whatever baggage your day-to-day life has obviously influences the weight of your struggle. Beck, unfortunately, has a particularly large ego and low self-esteem.
The show makes us think about why we’re willing to forgive horrible men and why it’s so easy to blame women. Beck is criticized for missing warning signs, for example.
People are really hard on her, but I think you wouldn’t necessarily think worst-case scenario. Beck has a real connection with Joe. That’s not just what he’s manipulated. There’s something between them that’s real and that unfortunately blinds you to all the red flags.
We have the benefit of knowing everything, but to her, he’s just a cute, attentive guy.
Right. Also, he’s not her be all-end all. She’s cheated on him. This cheater’s guilt comes into play and maybe explains why she would want to be with him, even after that.
Since you are around Beck’s age and live in New York too, did working on this show make you think differently about how to approach new relationships? Or how to use social media differently?
It reminded me that there’s a lot of judging going on before you actually ever meet someone. When Joe and Beck meet, he makes all these assumptions about her just from the Internet. If anything, it’s made me think, That’s not the way to go. You should try to meet people and have your own experience and make your judgment of them without being clouded by their Instagram persona. So it didn’t make me nervous or scared, it just reminded me that I wanna meet people from an honest, real, face-to-face place.
He assigns a lot of motivations to her based on her posts, her clothes, and all kinds of superficial things.
She could have avoided a lot of heartbreak if he hadn’t made all those assumptions.
Do you think this is a love story of some sort?
I’m one of those people that hates to cut at anyone’s love. I like to say that whatever love was for you at that time, then you had it. Hopefully, it’s growing and you can look back and be like, Oh, that was mostly lust or mostly attachment, which obviously, that’s what it is with Beck and Joe. It’s certainly not a love to aspire to, but I think for them, they were doing what they were capable of at the time. It is a love story in that way, but it’s just the most twisted kind. It’s not love in its purest form, where a man is rescuing a woman, but really just has her locked in a cage. That’s not love. There’s a part of me that says, That’s obviously not love. But it was for them at a period of their relationship, and then at the end it becomes very clear to Beck that there’s no real love emanating from Joe. He’s psychotic.
What surprised you while you were playing the role?
When we rehearse a scene, we don’t always act it fully — depending on what the director wants, or what the scene required — and there were a few times where I would be saying her lines and I would start to cry. It would come out of nowhere. She would be saying, like, “I’m not good enough for you,” something really upsetting and sad and reveals her self-esteem level. There were at least two times where I was just saying the words, and all of a sudden, I was crying because I feel for her. My heart goes out to her.
When did you learn that he would actually kill Beck?
I learned it before I took the job. When I was first auditioning, I didn’t know what I was auditioning for. In the first audition, I was just at a bar drinking with friends, reading poetry. That was one of my scenes. And then flirting with a guy in a cab. I didn’t fully know what I was auditioning for, and then I started reading the book, and I really didn’t think she was gonna die. I thought it was gonna be some heroic justice at the end, but it’s more true to life that she does die, unfortunately. It’s more likely that someone would die in that situation.
She almost got away!
I know! She was so close. Paco, open the door! It’s so sad. The fact that Joe manipulated Paco, that he had Paco’s trust so fully that he wouldn’t even open the door at that moment, that’s scary stuff.
It’s a little scary how good Penn Badgley is at this creepy role.
How did you find working with him?
It’s so funny. He is not very scary at all in real life. He just emanates goodness, It’s funny because we’d be working with him on something, and everyone would be like, “Penn, that was amazing.” And, of course, I’d have my back to him because he’s watching and stalking Beck. And I’d ask him, “What were you doing that was so amazing?” And he’s like, “Honestly, I have no idea. Apparently, I’m just naturally creepy.”
Did it feel that way when you in scenes with him? Did you feel like he was different? Did he unnerve you?
Not really. By the end of it, Beck’s just in fight or flight mode. The cage gives her some freedom. She’s so angry at the end. Her rage comes out. She doesn’t just play the victim — she really fights for her life. She rails on him too and gives it to him, which I love. It wasn’t unnerving because I know Penn so well, and most of the time Joe was very charming to my character. It was just there at the end.
How long did you film in the cage?
It was like a week. I was in the cage for most of the finale episode. I lived in that thing. It sounds weird, but it was like my own private room. I could just go in there and quiet my mind, and tap into the situation because the doors were closed. All the crew members were in the dark in the shadows around me. I couldn’t really see anyone. I was worried I was gonna lose my voice. I tried really hard to protect my voice and my emotional stamina. I had to really warm up and warm down. I just had to tell my body that this is not real, and everything’s okay despite the trauma we’ve gone through.
What did you do afterwards to get it out of your system?
One thing that helped is I would chat with Penn and we would break down the day together. And then a lot of it was warming my voice back down. It’s a lot of humming and a lot of tea and honey, soothing practices, and just showering it off at the end of the night. I survived!
I was bummed Peach was gone from the series so early. What did you make of her character and how did you work with Shay Mitchell?
What a great character. Peach had a lot of issues that, unfortunately, she was taking out on Beck. I don’t know what it is about Beck, but everyone’s obsessed with her. They think they can fix her, help her, control her. Which is also why I love at the end when she says, “I was living my life, like I can handle it.” She does. She almost lived.
Everyone does react like she’s a damsel in distress, but the viewer sees her differently.
We’re catching her at a time where she’s starting to speak up for herself, but like in her relationship with Peach, this is the first time that she’s really standing up to her. Where she’s saying, “Are you obsessed with me? If you are, that’s okay, if that’s your sexual preference, that’s okay.” That’s my take on it, but she’s finding her voice throughout this whole season, which is another reason why it’s so heartbreaking that she dies—because at the end, she grows so much, even as an artist. Poor Beck.
What do you think of the twist that Joe’s ex Candace is alive?
Part of me is like, Why does she get to live?
I could have gone to Italy. [Laughs.] But that’s good TV for you. That adds a surprise, especially after they’ve killed Beck.
Are you bummed that you won’t be back for season two?
I am because I loved working with Penn. Poor Penn. It’s just him and nobody else. He’s like a one-man show.