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HBO is disputing a report that its forthcoming drama series The Idol was beset by problems during filming.
A Rolling Stone story published Wednesday and citing 13 sources close to the show reports that the drama, co-created by Euphoria’s Sam Levinson and music star The Weeknd (whose real name is Abel Tesfaye), was plagued by last-minute revisions and a chaotic working environment. The story also says that after director Amy Seimetz was let go amid a creative overhaul in April 2022, Levinson took over as director and “scrapped the nearly finished $54-$75 million project to rewrite and reshoot the entire thing.”
The Idol stars Lily-Rose Depp as Jocelyn, a rising pop star who comes under the sway of Tedros (Tesfaye), a nightclub owner and leader of a NXIVM-like cult. HBO began developing the show in summer 2021 and gave it a series order in November of that year.
Rolling Stone (which, like The Hollywood Reporter, is owned by Penske Media Corp.) says in its story that The Idol suffered frequent delays and changes to the production due to unfinished scripts when Seimetz was directing. After her exit, according to the story, what was supposed to be two to three months more of filming stretched into five. People who worked on the show also noted a shift in tone and some disturbing scenes written (but not filmed) portraying sexual violence.
“What I signed up for was a dark satire of fame and the fame model in the 21st century — the things that we subject our talent and stars to, the forces that put people in the spotlight and how that can be manipulated in the post-Trump world,” one source told RS. “It went from satire to the thing it was satirizing.”
In a statement to THR, HBO says it paused the show last year because “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.”
The statement continues, “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.” Sources have also pushed back on the claim that nearly all of Seimetz’s work was reshot, and that the Idol team flushed $50 million-plus worth of work (which would be a particular eyebrow-raiser given recent cutbacks at HBO and parent company Warner Bros. Discovery).
For her part, Depp in a statement obtained by THR that Levinson was the best director she 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,” she said. “He hires people whose work he esteems and has always created an environment in which I felt seen, heard and appreciated.”
The Weeknd responded to the story with an Instagram post featuring a clip from the show that mocks Rolling Stone’s influence on the music business. “Did we upset you?” he wrote. (“Not at all!” Rolling Stone Editor in Chief Noah Shachtman replied via tweet.)
HBO hasn’t set a specific premiere date for The Idol but has said it will debut sometime in 2023.
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