The actor played Dan Humphrey on the teen programme from 2007-2012 and quickly became a fan favourite. However, in a recent interview with the Daily Beast, Penn admitted that the public's adoration for him had a dark side that often exceeded "semi-obsessive fame."
"Well not semi, pretty full-on obsession," the 31-year-old recalled. "I think as an actor you can become an object of desire, which is something women are already accustomed to more or less around the world. I've definitely been, I mean I don't want to sound sensationalist, but I've literally been molested - just in the literal sense of the word - by many people in the moment. Because that's what they do."
The publication noted that Penn "was thoughtful and cautious when discussing this" and emphasised the privilege he has as a white man. Nevertheless, the "Easy A" star was compelled to revisit his own experiences after hearing the male voices of the #MeToo movement, such as Terry Crews, who last year accused a Hollywood executive of touching him inappropriately.
"These things very much happen, you know," he said. "You're led as a man, particularly, that when it happens you should feel great about it."
Penn is now tackling the theme of obsession through his latest role as disturbed book store manager Joe Goldberg in the television series, "You", a psychological thriller in which his character obsessively tries to make his dream woman fall in love with him. And the star hopes the current conversation regarding sexual harassment means viewers will fully realise the sinister nature of Joe's actions.
"(Before #MeToo) we might have been all too ready to consume something that I think actually has some really dangerous seeds in it," he suggested.