By: Aliya Koshalieva
Trigger Warning: This article contains references to sexual assault.
As one of the most popular singers in the world, Abel Tesfaye, better known by his stage name The Weeknd, is no stranger to controversy. This time, the controversy surrounds his upcoming television show, The Idol.
The Idol, a show conceptualized and co-written by Tesfaye and Euphoria creator Sam Levinson, tells the story of a rising but troubled pop star, Jocelyn (Lily-Rose Depp), who falls for the mysterious cult leader and self-help guru, Tedros (Abel Tesfaye). The show has an all-star cast that includes Troye Sivan, Blackpink’s Jennie Kim, Dan Levy, Mike Dean, and Hank Azaria. Despite the star-studded lineup, however, the show is reportedly “in production hell.”
According to a report by Rolling Stone magazine, thirteen anonymous cast and crew members called the workplace for the show incredibly toxic and hectic. Sources from production revealed that they are still determining when the show will air and what the final version will look like; they also revealed that Levinson forced them to repeatedly rewrite, reshoot, and work around frequent schedule delays. HBO ordered the show in November 2021. It was set to premiere in October 2022; however, months have passed. Over the course of a couple of weeks, HBO released three teaser trailers and a vague release date of “later this year.”
The first setback happened in April 2022 when the director, Amy Seimetz, abruptly left the show, which was 80 percent finished. HBO announced a creative overhaul and named Sam Levinson as the new director. Levinson scrapped the 54 to 75 million dollar budgeted show and decided to rewrite and reshoot the whole thing. There was no clear explanation for the overhaul. Still, crew members allege Tesfaye was unhappy with the writing and felt the show was heading into too much “female perspective.” He was reportedly upset that the show focused too much on Rose Depp’s character rather than his. Levinson changed Seimetz’s message, with the story going from a “dark satire of fame and the fame model in the 21st century” to a “degrading love story” and a “[toxic man’s rape fantasy],” according to a cast member.
Levinson’s script changes concerned the cast, as they were overtly violent and sexual. Three cast members say Tesfaye “barely touched a script during the reshoots.” Some scrapped plotlines include Tesfaye bashing Depp’s face in and instances of inappropriate arousal. Another scene included dialogue where one character encouraged another character to rape her.
In response to the publishing of Rolling Stone’s expose, Tesfaye posted a scene from The Idol, where Depp’s character turns down a cover by Rolling Stone, calling the magazine “irrelevant.” Tesfaye captioned the clip: “Rolling Stone did we upset you?” Depp responded, calling Levinson “the best director” she’s ever worked with. Levinson’s representatives have yet to release a statement.
(Sources: Entertainment Tonight, Rolling Stone, Variety)