The Weeknd says he sacrificed his 'health and home' reshooting controversial HBO series 'The Idol'
Abel "the Weeknd" Tesfaye is talking about the behind-the-scenes of his controversial series, The Idol.
He and co-star Lily-Rose Depp are featured on two covers for W magazine's the Pop issue to promote the HBO show, which is finally out on June 4. In the interview, he talks about the challenges of completely reshooting the first season of the show, which sees him as a Svengali named Tedros to Depp's pop superstar Jocelyn, with the show's co-creator and director Sam Levinson weighing in. What they didn't directly address is Rolling Stone's March exposé, claiming the show had "gone wildly, disgustingly off the rails" as he and co-creator Levinson, who is also behind Euphoria, made a show depicting "torture porn."
"Film and TV is a new creative muscle for me," Tesfaye told W. "I don't release my music until I think it is great. Why would this be any different? ... I realized that I need to know that I've made the best version of whatever I'm making. It was a challenge to redo The Idol, and, in truth, I sacrificed my health and home to make it work. So, let's say it comes out and it's f***ing horrible. I still know I did my absolute best. From what I've seen, the show is great. Everything is a risk: When you've done the best you can, I would call that a happy ending."
Of the swirl around the show, which will screen at the Cannes Film Festival this month, he added, "I like when all the odds are against me. I've always been an underdog — in the beginning, the music business was not easy. I had to fight to get to the top of the mountain."
Levinson talked about Tesfaye's initial pitch for the show, which he and his producing partner, Reza Fahim, came up with.
"He said something that I'll always remember: 'If I wanted to start a cult, I could,'" Levinson said. "What he meant is that his fans were so loyal and devoted that they would follow him anywhere. That was the germ of the idea for The Idol: what happens when a pop star falls for the wrong guy and no one speaks up."
According to the article, Levinson was so excited by the idea he immediately wrote an outline of the show and week later penned a script. HBO OKed the six-episode project, but because Levinson was working on Euphoria's second season, they had a different team, under director Amy Seimetz, direct and work on The Idol. But, once complete, they didn't like what the saw. (According to Rolling Stone, Seimetz's version was "about a troubled starlet falling victim to a predatory industry figure and fighting to reclaim her own agency." In Levinson's imagining, it was a degrading love story that multiple crew members found offensive with it being called it a "rape fantasy that any toxic man would have in the show" which sees Depp's character come "back for more because it makes her music better.")
After seeing the initial version of The Idol, Tesfaye had Levinson to his house to discuss what to do.
"Quitting the show wasn't an option for Abel or me: It was a dream that we had together, and we had to see it through," Levinson told W. "If we were going to reshoot from the beginning, I knew it had to be for less money. Sitting in Abel's house, looking around at the 40,000 square feet, I said, 'It's stunning here —you can't buy production design like this. What if we shoot it here?' Abel put down his drink and said, 'Do you have insurance?' I said yes. And he said, 'I'm OK with it.'"
For the reshoot, Tesfaye's mansion was converted so that bedrooms became greenrooms. He moved out completely.
"I had to stay in character. So I took my dog and we lived in another house," Tesfaye said. "My home belonged to the show; it was a hub of activity. We were trying to blur the line between fiction and reality. We had cameras going all the time."
Speaking of his controversial character, Tesfaye is only quoted as saying, "Who doesn't want to play a villain?"
Depp also spoke about her character undergoing a transformation, but it largely talked about coloring her hair blonde. She explained, "As a blonde, Jocelyn could be good; she could be evil. You never know. I grew up watching older films, especially French films. Women like Brigitte Bardot have beauty mixed with an 'I don't give a f***' energy. I wanted that feeling for Jocelyn."
Depp said of her character's relationship, "Like all my favorite on-screen couples, Jocelyn and Tedros complemented each other in the most dangerous way. They had that push-and-pull connection."
Tesfaye also spoke a lot about the mental impact of playing two personas: the character from this series as well as being Grammy winner the Weeknd.
"I had to take off the Weeknd outfit, put on Tedros's wig, shoot with Jocelyn, then go back to being The Weeknd," for a scene they shot last September at L.A.'s SoFi Stadium in front of an arena filled with 70,000 people there to see him perform as the Weeknd, he said. "After the concert, I lost my voice. No voice came out at all. That’s never happened before. My theory is that I forgot how to sing because I was playing Tedros, a character who doesn't know how to sing. I may be looking too deeply into this, but it was terrifying. As The Weeknd, I've never skipped a concert. I've performed with the flu. I'll die on that stage. But there was something very complicated going on with my mind at that moment."
And that led him on what he called a "cathartic path" in which he had "to rest and reflect and think about The Weeknd and Tedros and all that had happened with the show." He said it's led him to seriously think about saying goodbye to his musical personal that he adopted over a decade ago.
"It's getting to a place and a time where I'm getting ready to close The Weeknd chapter," he said. "I’ll still make music, maybe as Abel, maybe as The Weeknd. But I still want to kill The Weeknd. And I will. Eventually. I'm definitely trying to shed that skin and be reborn."
He said the album he's "working on now is probably my last hurrah as The Weeknd. This is something that I have to do. As The Weeknd, I've said everything I can say."
The Idol stirred controversy in March after Rolling Stone's story. Soon after, fans got a glimpse at Levinson's revamped version when a trailer for the erotic drama was released with its premiere date: