Sam Levinson (Euphoria) has been known to push the limits with his cast members. But the creator finds himself at the center of controversy yet again after Rolling Stone revealed behind-the-scenes comments from cast and crew about alleged drama troubling the production of his forthcoming HBO series The Idol.
For months, people have been talking about HBO’s upcoming series The Idol, which is being billed as a darker, crazier, and more risqué version of Levinson’s smash-hit Euphoria. The new series stars Lily-Rose Depp (The King, Voyagers) as a troubled pop star opposite of American singer Abel “The Weeknd” Tesfaye, who plays a modern, sleezy cult leader. Levinson and The Weeknd are the “sick and twisted minds” behind the “sleaziest love story in all of Hollywood” (HBO’s words, via Rolling Stone) that follows the young pop superstar Jocelyn (Depp) as she navigates the darker side of the music industry and gets caught in the trap of Tedros (Tesfaye), a mysterious owner of an L.A. nightclub who secretly runs a cult reminiscent of NXIVM and Scientology.
Last year, director Amy Seimetz (The Girlfriend Experience, She Dies Tomorrow) exited The Idol, leading to Levinson taking over as showrunner, scrapped the whole thing, and started over. The new storyline that emerged from his direction reportedly substituted out much of the music industry satire of the original show in favor of a romance, one that several sources allegedly describe as degrading, via Stereogum. One scene that was never shot reportedly involved The Weeknd’s character bashing Depp’s character in the face, to which she smiled and asked for more, giving his character an erection. Another removed scene was said to include Depp’s character begging his character to “rape” her. Sources were unclear which scenes would actually be included in the final version of the show due to constant revisions and reshoots.
“What I signed up for was a dark satire of fame and the fame model in the 21st century,” one production member explains. “The things that we subject our talent and stars to, the forces that put people in the spotlight and how that can be manipulated in the post-Trump world.” However, they add, “It went from satire to the thing it was satirizing.” Another source describes the series as something like “any rape fantasy that any toxic man would have in the show — and then the woman comes back for more because it makes her music better.”
During season one and season two of HBO’s Euphoria, Levinson faced criticism for the over-inclusion of nudity in a show about teenagers. Actresses on that series, including Sydney Sweeney (Euphoria, The White Lotus) and Minka Kelly (The Roommate), have never directly addressed the subject in interviews, but admitted they spoke up and denied some of Levinson’s requests for even more nude scenes. “There are moments where Cassie was supposed to be shirtless and I would tell Sam, ‘I don’t really think that’s necessary here.’ He was like, ‘OK, we don’t need it,’” Sweeney told The Independent.
After the Rolling Stone story was published, The Weeknd responded to it with a clip from the show in which his and Depp’s characters sit down with Dan Levy’s (Schitt’s Creek) character to discuss whether they would participate in a phototshoot for the magazine. The Weeknd’s character called the publication “irrelevant.” He tweeted out the video with the caption, “@RollingStone, did we upset you?”
.@RollingStone did we upset you? pic.twitter.com/Uyx06lyRgx
— The Weeknd (@theweeknd) March 1, 2023
Levinson and HBO have not commented publicly on the situation following the release of the Rolling Stone exposé, but continue to face backlash. The show has faced many delays, allegedly because of the new direction it went in after Levinson took over, but is set to be released in June 2023.