After months of speculation and rumors of on-set dysfunction, Sam Levinson and Abel Tesfaye’s long awaited HBO series “The Idol” made its triumphant Cannes premiere on Monday night. The first two episodes of the music industry drama debuted in a special screening that essentially amounted to the length of one feature film.
The first two episodes made no attempts to shy away from controversy, with many attendees commenting on the shocking amount of sexual content. The first episode opens with Lily Rose-Depp’s character doing a half-nude photoshoot while her agent (played by Jane Adams) tells an onlooker that “Mental health is sexy… stop trying to cockblock America.”
The first episode primarily focuses on Depp’s Jocelyn, a world famous pop star struggling to grieve the death of her mother. She’s seen coping through extreme behavior such as masturbating while choking herself, before eventually turning to Tesfaye’s Tedros, a sleazy self-help guru who begins to infiltrate her life.
At one point Tedros chokes her with her own dress in an attempt to spark some creative inspiration in her — she is indeed then inspired to remix her new single. In one soon-to-be-viral exchange, Jocelyn’s assistant (Rachel Sennott) says “he’s so rapey” after being regaled with a story of Tedros’ behavior. Jocelyn responds, “I kinda like that about him.”
There’s even a plot point involving a photo of Jocelyn with semen on her face leaking online.
Hari Nef plays a Vanity Fair reporter. And Hank Azaria adopts an Israeli accent to play Chaim, a member of Jocelyn’s team.
While online reactions were divided, the crowd in the room had an overwhelmingly positive response to the provocative premiere. The crowd cheered at the end of the screening and began clapping along to Tesfaye’s new song that played over the end credits. Levinson was visibly moved by the response and took the stage to offer a tearful speech when the applause died down.
“I’m incredibly proud of the show and the way we made this show. And I’m proud of this cast,” Levinson said. “I feel like I gained a family. I know that’s a little cult-y, but it’s the way I feel. I love you guys.”
He had particular praise for Depp, saying that he and Tesfaye “thank our lucky stars every day” that the actress is in the show. He also expressed gratitude towards HBO chief Casey Bloys and Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav before thanking his wife for going along with the idea for “The Idol” so soon after giving birth to their son.
“One last thing,” he said. “My wife who’s my producing partner Ashley Levinson, we had our second baby boy on a Sunday and on Monday, Abel called. I know this wasn’t easy.”
Additional reporting by Eric Kohn.