HBO’s much-hyped ‘The Idol’ meant to be provocative, says Sam Levinson

May 26, 2023 - 1:13 PM
The 76th Cannes Film Festival - Photocall for the TV series "The Idol" Out of Competition - Cannes, France, May 23, 2023. Cast members Lily-Rose Depp and Abel "The Weeknd" Tesfaye pose. (Reuters/Yara Nardi)

 “The Idol,” HBO’s much-hyped new TV series about a pop singer trying to make a comeback, is meant to be provocative, said series director Sam Levinson, calling criticism of the show a sure sign it will be a hit.

Levinson stepped in to take over late in the filming of the series, following the sudden departure in April 2022 of the previous director as part of what HBO called “creative changes.”

Rolling Stone magazine reported in March that under Levinson, the creator of HBO teen hit “Euphoria,” the series was delayed as it was rewritten and reshot to add more sexual content and nudity. The plot was also refocused to give Abel Tesfaye – better known as musician The Weeknd, one of the show’s creators and stars – a more central role, it said.

“The Idol” stars Lily-Rose Depp as pop singer Jocelyn and Tesfaye as Tedros, a Los Angeles nightclub impresario who is Jocelyn’s love interest and a secret cult leader. The series will air on June 4.

Some critics noted the show’s multiple, at times kinky, sex scenes and nudity after the premiere of its first two episodes at the Cannes Film Festival on Monday evening, with The Hollywood Reporter describing it as “more regressive than transgressive.”

READ: The Weeknd, Lily-Rose Depp draw screaming fans to ‘The Idol’ premiere

“We know that we’re making a show that is provocative. It’s not lost on us,” Levinson told journalists on Tuesday. “When my wife read me the (Rolling Stone) article, I looked at her and said ‘I think we’re about to have the biggest show of the summer.'”

Da’Vine Joy Randolph, who plays one of Jocelyn’s managers, said the two episodes shown at the premiere did not represent the entire show.

“You’ll see how the show continues to evolve, but it’s actually extremely femme-forward in such a beautiful way that is just very empowering, it’s not at all what you think,” she said.

“What you all saw last night – no no no, in the best way possible.”

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—Reporting by Miranda Murray, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien