Sam Levinson and The Weeknd Address ‘The Idol’ Reshoots: ‘Quitting’ Was ‘Never an Option’

"It was a challenge to redo 'The Idol,' and, in truth, I sacrificed my health and home to make it work," Abel "The Weeknd" Tesfaye said.
The Idol
"The Idol"

Sam Levinson knew Abel “The Weeknd” Tesfaye had earned it as a TV visionary and wanted to deliver “The Idol” with peak performance. Hence, massive reshoots, a casting change-up, and a director switch. While the upcoming HBO series has been plagued with controversy leading into its Cannes premiere, Levinson and lead star and co-creator Tesfaye now are addressing what really happened with production.

“Film and TV is a new creative muscle for me,” Tesfaye told W Magazine about the emphasis on perfection. “I don’t release my music until I think it is great. Why would this be any different?”

The “Save Your Tears” singer continued, “My secret skill is that I don’t panic. When everyone around me is worried, I get very still. But I did panic when I lost my voice. I had to rest and reflect and think about The Weeknd and [character] Tedros and all that had happened with the show. 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 fucking 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. And I got my voice back.”

Co-creator Levinson noted that “The Idol” would continue no matter the setbacks. While Levinson was busy filming “Euphoria” Season 2, Tesfaye and producer Reza Fahim selected a different creative team, led by Amy Seimetz, to helm the series. However, after seeing the rough cut of the almost-completed “The Idol,” Tesfaye “decided to pivot,” as W reported. The singer especially was concerned over the dynamic between his cult figure character Tedros and romantic interested Jocelyn, played by Lily-Rose Depp. Depp later dyed her hair blonde in the revamped version of the show, as Levinson and Tesfaye became closer, with the HBO staple attending Coachella with Tesfaye.

“He stayed in the background, but he watched how I moved and what it was like for me,” Tesfaye said, citing Levinson’s reaction to seeing him perform onstage as The Weeknd. “Sam understood something crucial about how to create this show.”

Levinson added, “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. 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.'”

Production moved to Tesfaye’s personal home, with Tesfaye moving to a different location to “stay in character” as Tedros.

“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,” Tesfaye said. “The bedrooms were now greenrooms; the bathrooms were for hair and makeup. We built a music studio in the basement so Mike Dean, who helped compose, and I could score the show while we were filming. It was weird when they all left. I changed all the furniture. I re-plastered the walls. But the soul of Jocelyn’s house is still in there.”

HBO premieres “The Idol” June 4.

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