Sam Levinson Explains How the Weeknd Pitched ‘The Idol’: ‘If I Wanted to Start a Cult, I Could’

Ahead of the Cannes Film Festival debut and summer premiere of Sam Levinson’s upcoming drama series “The Idol,” the director offered some insight on how the HBO production was conceived. The “Euphoria” showrunner explained how the series lead, Abel Tesfaye, also known as the Weeknd, pitched the premise.

“Abel came to us with a pitch,” Levinson told W Magazine. “He said something that I’ll always remember: ‘If I wanted to start a cult, I could.’”

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“What he meant is that his fans were so loyal and devoted that they would follow him anywhere,” Levinson continued. “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.”

The Idol” follows pop star Jocelyn (Lily-Rose Depp) after she suffers from a nervous breakdown and attempts to restore her image. But club owner, self-help guru and cult leader Tedros (Tesfaye) takes to her, and the two develop a complex working and personal relationship.

While the series was still in production last year, Variety reported that “The Idol” would be overhauled “with changes to its cast and crew… due to a change in creative directions,” revealed that the singer believed the series was leaning too much into a “female perspective.” It was then reported that director Amy Seimetz suddenly exited and Levinson took over as director.

On March 1, Rolling Stone published an article alleging challenges facing the production. The Weeknd responded and posted a clip from the series to Instagram, tagging the publication and captioning his video post with, “Did we upset you?”

After the Rolling Stone piece and Tesfaye’s response, Variety reported a week later on March 8, that the series would premiere at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival, ahead of its June 4 HBO debut.

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