Crew Members Blast Sam Levinson’s Takeover of The Weeknd’s “The Idol”: “Very Scarring”
HBO’s “The Idol” looks like a wild ride – and it sounds like the making of the series has been one too. New details have emerged about the show’s behind-the-scenes drama, and in a March 1 Rolling Stone report, crew members claimed that the show has moved in a disturbing new direction thanks to new director Sam Levinson.
Because of the tumultuous path “The Idol” has taken to the small screen, as a result, it still doesn’t have an official release date. On Oct. 6, 2022, though, HBO finally released a third teaser for The Weeknd (Abel Makkonen Tesfaye) and “Euphoria” creator Levinson’s mysterious cult drama featuring Lily-Rose Depp, Dan Levy, and Blackpink’s Jennie Kim. “Los Angeles is where all the monsters of the world come to gather. Trust no one,” The Weeknd’s character says in the clip before he’s shown whispering in Depp’s character’s ear, saying, “Just me.”
Not too many details have been revealed about the show, but in a previous trailer, Levy appears in a short scene where he seems to be some sort of casting director. The exact nature of his role remains a mystery, but the Emmy winner has said that he is excited about his acting gig. “My new brand is The Gutters of Hollywood,” Levy captioned the trailer on his Instagram on Aug. 21. “Thanks in advance for respecting this fun new vibe shift.”
The latest trailer also served up some clarity about which stars stayed on board after the show went through a creative overhaul in April 2022. In addition to Depp and The Weeknd, the cast also includes Levy, Kim, Debby Ryan, Rachel Sennott, Hari Nef, Hank Azaria, Da’Vine Joy Randolph, and Jane Adams. Troye Sivan, Steve Zissis, and Juliebeth Gonzalez are also set to have roles in the limited series.
“Thanks in advance for respecting this fun new vibe shift.”
In a statement, reported by Korean news agency Yonhap on July 19, 2022, the Blackpink star said she “found the script very intriguing, so I wanted to be part of the series.” She added: “I feel very excited. I’ll work hard, so please watch me with affection.”
On April 25, 2022, Variety reported that director Amy Seimetz exited “The Idol” amid creative differences. Days following the news, reports said that Suzanna Son would not return to the six-episode project either. HBO did not comment on which other cast and crew members left the production. However, the network did address the new adjustments in a statement. “‘The Idol”s creative team continues to build, refine, and evolve their vision for the show and they have aligned on a new creative direction,” it said. “The production will be adjusting its cast and crew accordingly to best serve this new approach to the series. We look forward to sharing more information soon.”
Then Levinson was brought in. According to Rolling Stone, he scrapped Seimetz’s nearly finished version – which had cost between $54 and 75 million – and embarked on a complete rewrite and reshoot. According to Rolling Stone’s interviews with production members, the show has become much more disturbing and violent under Levinson’s direction. “It was a show about a woman who was finding herself sexually, turned into a show about a man who gets to abuse this woman, and she loves it,” a source told the outlet of Levinson’s changes. Sources also said Levinson’s scripts contained a number of physically and sexually violent scenes between Depp and The Weeknd’s characters, which one crew member described as “sexual torture porn.” Apparently, some of the most violent scenes were never filmed.
Production members also told Rolling Stone that many cast members were let go and many crew members did not return for Levinson’s remake, and described the shift as “very scarring.” While Levinson did bring on many new stars, including Kim, a crew member said the Blackpink member’s role is “like three or four lines per episode” and claimed “her job was to sit there [and] look pretty, basically.” Meanwhile, while Seimetz’s production had been hectic, under Levinson’s direction, “there was always this sense of chaos because [we] never had a plan on what was going to happen today, or tomorrow, or the next scene,” a crew member said.
According to Deadline, some of the changes were initiated by The Weeknd, who reportedly was not happy with the state of the show under Seimetz. Sources said he felt the show was leaning too much into a “female perspective” with costar Depp’s character rather than his own. (Reps for The Weeknd did not respond to POPSUGAR’s request for comment on the report.) Meanwhile, production member told Rolling Stone that “the Weeknd wanted one show that was all about him” and “Sam was on board with that,” though sources also told the outlet that the star’s tight schedule had made it difficult to feature him at the center of the show’s narrative while Seimetz was spearheading the project.
In a statement provided to POPSUGAR, Depp defended Levinson, calling him “the best director” she has worked with and said she has never “felt more supported or respected in a creative space, my input and opinions more valued.” A rep for HBO also told POPSUGAR that “the creative team has been committed to creating a safe, collaborative, and mutually respectful working environment, and last year, the team made creative changes they felt were in the best interest of both the production and the cast and crew.”
HBO’s rep also noted that a TMZ report – which claims that HBO and The Weeknd are happy with Levinson’s leadership, and which also denies that The Weeknd criticized the show’s focus on a “female perspective” – presents an “accurate” portrayal of what’s really going on behind the scenes. Meanwhile, shortly after the Rolling Stone article was published, The Weeknd shared a clip of himself and Depp (in character) making fun of Rolling Stone on Instagram, along with the caption “@rollingstone, did we upset you?”
Reps for Levinson did not immediately respond to POPSUGAR’s request for comment on the Rolling Stone report.
Read ahead for more details about “The Idol.”
– Additional reporting by Sabienna Bowman and Eden Arielle Gordon.