HBO’s ‘The Idol’ Set Is a ‘Sh*tshow’: Female Empowerment Became ‘Torture Porn’ on Sam Levinson Series — Report

A new report alleges production troubles on the set of Levinson and The Weeknd's upcoming series.
The Idol
"The Idol"

For the past several months, HBO has been relentlessly hyping up “The Idol,” a limited series from “Euphoria” creator Sam Levinson and R&B giant The Weeknd. But over the last year, the show has faced very public production issues — and it turns out that those first reports may have only scratched the surface of tensions on set.

A new Rolling Stone report published Wednesday goes behind the scenes of the music industry drama, with 13 anonymous sources from production describing a chaotic and tense set, where shooting went behind schedule and scripts finished late.

“The creators and producers of ‘The Idol’ have been working hard to create one of HBO’s most exciting and provocative original programs. 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,” HBO told IndieWire in a statement. “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 report also describes how many that worked on the show take issue with the rewrites that occurred after Levinson replaced Amy Seimetz (“The Girlfriend Experience,” “She Dies Tomorrow”) as the series director, following her April 2022 exit from the show. Reportedly, the original version of the series — which stars Lily-Rose Depp as an aspiring pop star who develops an intense sexual relationship with a self-help guru (played by The Weeknd) — focused heavily on the “female perspective,” which both The Weeknd and Levinson took issue with.

One HBO insider disputed many details of the Rolling Stone report to IndieWire. The insider claimed Seimetz was fired from production due to creative issues, and Levinson took over as director to save the program’s original vision.

Several scripts written by Levinson after Seimetz’s exit allegedly featured explicit and disturbing content that crew members on the show said they found alarming. One scrapped scene described in the story, where The Weeknd’s character inserts an egg into Depp’s vagina and refuses to “rape” her if she dropped or cracked the egg, was reportedly cut because the filmmakers couldn’t logistically make that scene happen while preserving the egg. Per the report, the scene features Depp’s character begging The Weeknd to “rape” her. “It was like, ‘What is this? What am I reading here?’” a source said. “It was like sexual torture porn.”

“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,” an anonymous source told Rolling Stone on the show.

In a statement from Depp provided to IndieWire, the actor called Levinson the “best director I had 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.”

An overall criticism from sources was that the series was allegedly constantly being reshot and rewritten in real-time, with Levinson allegedly wanting to ramp up the violent and sexual content that was more toned down in the original production under Seimetz’s direction. A source reportedly said Seimetz’s original version was about “a woman who was finding herself sexually,” while the rewrite turned it “into a show about a man who gets to abuse this woman and she loves it.”

Sources also tell Rolling Stone that the series cost $54-75 million even before the original production was scrapped and Levinson and The Weeknd went on to retool the series. An HBO insider disputed Rolling Stone’s financials to IndieWire, claiming that the figures are overinflated and not reflective of the production’s actual budget.

“It was, let’s just say, a shitshow,” one source said of the production.

Levinson is meanwhile reportedly beginning production on “Euphoria” Season 3 later this year. The production issues described in the Rolling Stone story are similar to reports of tensions on the set of “Euphoria’s” second season from last year, which claimed that multiple SAG-AFTRA union complaints were filed against the show for failing to provide meals on time or letting people use the bathroom, among other labor issues. The reports also claimed Levinson failed to show up to set with a shot list, causing 18-hour workdays, and that Levinson and series star Barbie Ferreira got into a blow-out fight during production over the writing for her character during the season. (Ferreira exited at Season 2’s end.)

HBO denied the accusations regarding the “Euphoria” set at the time, claiming no formal SAG-AFTRA complaints were filed and that “it’s not uncommon for drama series to have complex shoots, and COVID protocols add an additional layer.”

Tony Maglio contributed reporting.

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