Every Controversial Thing The Idol Cast and Creators Have Said in the Lead-Up to Its HBO Premiere
(From L) US director Sam Levinson, French-US actress Lily-Rose Depp and Canadian singer Abel Makkonen Tesfaye aka The Weeknd at the 76th edition of the Cannes Film Festival. Credit - Photo by Valery HACHE / AFP)
HBO’s upcoming series The Idol is currently facing a torrential downpour of negative reviews after its first two episodes premiered at the Cannes Film Festival Monday night. Not much about the show was known before Rolling Stone‘s explosive exposé about its allegedly plagued production, published in March, in which it was described by one crew member as a “rape fantasy.” Last night’s world premiere seemed to solidify that sentiment.
Across publications and platforms, critics expressed their distaste for Euphoria creator Sam Levinson’s latest creation alongside Abel “The Weeknd” Tesfaye. TIME’s film critic, Stephanie Zacharek, wrote in her review of the show, “Not since early 1980s cable TV has there been such a parade of decorous yet sleazy debauchery, though it’s all presented with a kind of shockeroo enlightened knowingness that pretends to expose exploitation even while reveling in it.”
Although the show debuted on Rotten Tomatoes with a score of 20%, it has since gone down to 10%. But as the saying goes, no press is bad press, and Levinson, Tesfaye (who also co-stars), and star Lily-Rose Depp appear to know exactly what they are doing, adding to the show’s intrigue with their responses to the public reaction. The three attended the festivities in France and, during their press run, have only stoked the flames of controversy further.
Here’s a recap of the many controversial things The Idol cast and creators have said during the press run for the new show, which premieres on HBO on June 4.
Euphoria actors push back on nude scenes and one exits the show
Before The Idol was announced, there had already been some rumblings about drama on the set of Levinson’s hit HBO show Euphoria. The first came from Barbie Ferreira, who suddenly dropped out of the show before filming for its third season began. Rumors about her displeasure with Levinson loomed over the show. According to a report from The Daily Beast, there were on-set tensions between Levinson and Ferreira, causing her to allegedly walk off set. She went on Dax Shepard’s podcast Armchair Expert and cleared up many of the rumors (“I actually did not walk off set,” she said). It was announced in August that she wouldn’t be returning to the show.
Four of the show’s actors—Sydney Sweeney, Minka Kelly, Chloe Cherry, and Martha Kelly—have all said they pushed back at the “unnecessary” nudity in some of the scenes. This was, apparently, just a primer for what was to come.
The Weeknd responds to Rolling Stone’s exposé
After Rolling Stone published its story detailing the experiences that 13 crew members claimed to have had on set, as well as how drastically the show changed from “satire to the thing it was satirizing,” Tesfaye responded on social media. His tweet included a clip from the show, in which Dan Levy’s character asks Depp’s character to consider an offer to be on Rolling Stone, to which Tesfaye’s character then says, “Rolling Stone? Aren’t they a little irrelevant?” Depp’s character interjects and says that the publication is “past its prime.” The caption for the post reads, “@RollingStone, did we upset you?”
.@RollingStone did we upset you? pic.twitter.com/Uyx06lyRgx
— Abel Tesfaye (@theweeknd) March 1, 2023
This response was not received well on Twitter, with many people calling it “corny” and “misguided.”
The Idol’s premiere at the Cannes Film Festival
A select audience watched the first two episodes of Levinson’s latest creation at Cannes, and the critical reception was harsh. At the press conference for the show, reporters tweeted out dispatches with the creators’ responses to some of the show’s controversies.
The Idol crew talks about last night's "overwhelming" response at Cannes. pic.twitter.com/vf40BHPl4v
— The Weeknd News (@NewsWeeknd) May 23, 2023
After the screening, Levinson was handed a microphone and began to cry, overwhelmed as he addressed the crowd.
Sam Levinson is so choked up he can barely speak after the premiere of “The Idol” at Cannes pic.twitter.com/I5UE4aA0v5
— Kyle Buchanan (@kylebuchanan) May 22, 2023
Standing staunchly in the sentiment that he’s positioning himself as a provocateur, Levinson says he sees nothing wrong with the show he’s made. When asked about the Rolling Stone article, the show’s creator said, “When my wife read me the article, I looked at her, and I said, ‘I think we’re about to have the biggest show of the summer.’” He also said that he knows “we’re making a show that is provocative.”
New York Times reporter Kyle Buchanan tweeted that Levinson was asked about how he “calibrated sex scenes without taking things too far.” Levinson responded, “Sometimes things that might be revolutionary are taken too far.”
At the press conference for "The Idol," Sam Levinson is asked how he calibrated the sex scenes without taking things too far. "Sometimes, things that might be revolutionary *are* taken too far," Levinson replies.
— Kyle Buchanan (@kylebuchanan) May 23, 2023
During the press conference, Depp came to Levinson’s defense and said, “It’s always a little sad and disheartening to see mean, false things said about someone you care about. It wasn’t reflective at all of my experience,” Variety reports. She said the show has a “revolutionary” use of nudity.
“We live in a very sexualized world. Especially in the States, the influence of pornography is strong in the psyche of young people. We see this in pop music,” Levinson said during the press conference. “When you have a character who has a strong sense of self and a strong sexual self, you end up underestimating her.”
Tesfaye also noted during the press conference that he and Levinson were making something that was “special, something fun, to make people laugh and piss some people off.” It remains to be seen how much of each of these reactions the show will provoke when a general audience finally gets to see it in early June.