HBO’s The Idol is poised to be one of 2023’s most talked about and polarizing shows…if it ever even comes out. Created by The Weeknd and Euphoria helmer Sam Levinson, the show focuses on the lurid side of the entertainment industry, with Lily-Rose Depp playing a young pop star and The Weeknd as a seedy cult leader who she falls for. But a detailed new report from Rolling Stone highlights just how chaotic production has been, from the scrapping of a virtually finished season to the insertion of Levinson as director to troubling stories from several crew members.
According to Rolling Stone sources, The Idol was slated to cost roughly $54 million, but wound up reaching close to $75 million during its initial run of production. Acclaimed indie director Amy Seimetz was originally hired to helm the series, but when she showed up for pre-production, scripts were incomplete, the timeline was unforgiving, and the network had unrealistic expectations of what could be accomplished.
There was also a reported disconnect between where Seimetz wanted the show to go thematically, and how Levinson wanted it. “What I signed up for was a dark satire of fame and the fame model in the 21st century,” a Rolling Stone source said, but the show became less about Depp’s character’s journey and more about the seedy, toxic romance between her character and The Weeknd’s.
The Weeknd responded Wednesday afternoon with a previously unseen clip from the series that coincidentally shows his and Depp’s characters disparaging Rolling Stone as “irrelevant” in reaction to a cover story offer.
Despite a frenetic schedule and constant rewrites, most of the show was shot by April 2022, and the rest was due to be filmed after a short break. However, that month Deadline reported that Seimetz left The Idol, and the series was to undergo significant changes. A subsequent Deadline piece stated that The Weeknd did not like how much the show focused on its “female perspective.” Levinson entered the driver’s seat, reportedly scrapping most of what had been shot and shifting the tone drastically, filling new roles with buzzy young stars like Rachel Sennott and Blackpink’s Jennie, and allegedly writing disturbing, abusive scenes between Depp’s and The Weeknd’s characters which one source likened to “sexual torture porn”—there’s one especially bizarre note involving an egg and Depp’s character’s vagina.
“It was 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,” a source told Rolling Stone about how the show changed once Levinson replaced Seimetz.
The reported chaos while making The Idol is consistent with a 2022 Daily Beast feature about the dysfunctional set of Euphoria’s second season. In that piece, which was also written by Cheyenne Roundtree, there are reports of workdays lasting up to 17 hours, in part because “Levinson rarely came to set with a shot list.”
Levinson’s work on Euphoria has been the subject of much scrutiny, from fan critiques about the amount of nudity and graphic drug use depicted in the series to rumors of on-set feuding with star Barbie Ferreira. Still, he remains an extremely in-demand figure in Hollywood due to the success of Euphoria and his ability to reel in top talent.
“This was such a strong example of just how far [Levinson] can really push HBO and they will continue to cover [him] because he brings in money,” a production source told the magazine. “He’s able to walk away unscathed and everybody still wants to work with him… People ignore the red flags and follow him regardless.”
Despite all the production drama, ballooning budget, and ample reshoots, it is unclear when exactly The Idol will begin airing. As Rolling Stone noted, HBO has given minimal clarity on the much hyped series’ release timeline.