HBO’s “The Idol” has been plagued with production delays, costly reshoots, last-minute script rewrites and a “sense of chaos” on set, per a new report by Rolling Stone, which the cable network has vehemently denied.
“The creators and producers of ‘The Idol’ have been working hard to create one of HBO’s most exciting and provocative original programs,” the network’s statement to TheWrap read. “The initial approach on the show and production of the early episodes, unfortunately, did not meet HBO standards so we chose to make a change. Throughout the process, 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. We look forward to sharing ‘The Idol’ with audiences soon.”
The dark satire, co-developed by The Weeknd (née Abel Tesfaye), producing partner Reza Fahim and “Euphoria’s” Sam Levinson, follows rising pop star Jocelyn (Lily-Rose Depp) as she struggles to navigate a corrupt music scene and succumbs to the influence of a mysterious nightclub owner Tedros (Tesfaye), who is the powerful figurehead of a secretive cult.
Tesfaye also took umbrage with the report and seemingly accused the publication of acting out of revenge, posting a previously unreleased scene to social media in which his character disparages Rolling Stone. The video is accompanied by a caption that reads “@rollingstone did we upset you?”
The buzzy project also stars Troye Sivan, Blackpink’s Jennie Kim in her acting debut, Dan Levy, Rachel Sennott, Hank Azaria, Moses Sumney and more. With several teasers and trailers already released, a premiere date has not yet been announced.
What was initially billed as a six-episode series that would excoriate the industry’s sordid underside became an exercise in “sexual torture porn” as Levinson took over directorial duties following Amy Seimetz’s exit in April, according to one of the 13 anonymous sources interviewed by the publication. “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,” one production member said, per the outlet.
Seimetz, who was also writing and polishing scripts while serving as director, per Rolling Stone, left while the show entered hiatus. Her departure came a day after HBO revealed that the project was undergoing a major overhaul with significant reshoots, along with according adjustments to its cast and crew.
“‘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,” HBO told TheWrap at the time. “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.”
A source with knowledge of the situation, and who has viewed the series, told TheWrap that Seimetz was fired from the production after her vision did not align with the network’s, forcing Levinson to “save the day” with his input and creative direction. According to the individual, all of Seimetz’s work — a production that Rolling Stone reported cost around $54-75 million prior to reshoots — has been scrapped. The unnamed individuals quoted in Rolling Stone’s report had also been fired, the source said. The publication contends, meanwhile, that a majority of the crew members did not return of their own volition for reshoots.
Upon Levinson’s takeover, sources claimed to Rolling Stone that the project diluted its meaning as it stepped away from the “feminist lens” previously explored in Seimetz’s version, which was initially lauded by HBO and Tesfaye and later rescinded in favor of Levinson’s viewpoint. People involved with the production said Seimetz was expected to deliver “Euphoria”-esque results on a tight budget and schedule, which included challenges such as a first-time showrunner in Joe Epstein and limited availability with Tesfaye’s tour. Matters became more disorganized, according to the outlet, as the project’s initial scripts went through upward of 20 rewrites with both minor and drastic changes being made daily. In April 2022, it became public that Seimetz was out, which blindsided production members who found out via news articles, Rolling Stone reported.
A major point of contention and concern among the crew was the show’s pivot in messaging, which was exemplified in what Rolling Stone detailed as “disturbing sexual and physically violent scenes.” One such scene, which was not filmed, featured physical abuse of Depp’s character by Tedros, as the former smiles and asks for more violence, resulting in the latter’s erection. A second pitched scene, which was also not filmed due to logistical issues related to its realistic portrayal, included Jocelyn carrying an egg in her vagina that, upon being dropped, would lead Tedros to refuse to rape her. In response, the character would allegedly beg to be raped as a key to her professional success.
One source told Rolling Stone that the on-set “vibe” from Levinson was, “‘What’s HBO gonna do, pull the plug? Yeah, right. If they want a third season of ‘Euphoria,’ they’ll give me what I want … We’re just gonna shoot what we want and if [HBO execs] have a problem with it, that’s their problem.'” The multihyphenate behind “Euphoria” has previously faced public criticism for his reliance on gratuitous nudity and sexual violence in the hard-hitting series about teenagers, with actors like Sydney Sweeney and Minka Kelly detailing how they asked the creator to limit some nude scenes. Other stars like Zendaya and Jacob Elordi have stood by Levinson and defended his reportedly grueling set environments, which included long shoot days and constant rewrites.
Representatives for Seimetz, Levinson and The Weeknd did not immediately respond to requests for comment from TheWrap.
In a statement to TheWrap, Depp said, “Sam is, for so many reasons, the best director I have ever worked with. Never have I felt more supported or respected in a creative space, my input and opinions more valued. Working with Sam is a true collaboration in every way – it matters to him, more than anything, not only what his actors think about the work, but how we feel performing it. He hires people whose work he esteems and has always created an environment in which I felt seen, heard, and appreciated.”
However, one production member quoted by Rolling Stone said the experience was indicative of the network’s tolerating of Levinson’s behavior for financial gain. “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. He’s able to walk away unscathed and everybody still wants to work with him … People ignore the red flags and follow him regardless.”