The Weeknd pitched ‘The Idol’ concept by saying he could start a cult if he wanted to

“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”

Sam Levinson, director of the upcoming HBO series The Idol has revealed how The Weeknd – real name Abel Tesfaye – first pitched the idea of the show to him.

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

Levinson and The Weeknd had an outline for the show two days later, and approached HBO with a script for the series’ pilot episode later, with the network reportedly picking it up immediately.


Tesfaye and Levinson picked a fresh team to handle production on the show, led by director Amy Seimetz as Levinson was busy working on Euphoria at the time. However, Seimetz’ version of The Idol underwent an overhaul in April 2022 after a rough-cut was completed that led to various changes in the cast and crew, including the departure of Seimetz.

Tesfaye was reportedly concerned the dynamic between his cult figure character and Jocelyn in the original cut was “not as complex” as they had initially envisioned, which led to a “pivot”. “Film and TV is a new creative muscle for me,” Tesfaye said. “I don’t release my music until I think it is great. Why would this be any different?”

In a report on Rolling Stone earlier this year, various anonymous sources alleged that Levinson’s rewrites and reshoots added more nudity and disturbing sexual content which changed the show’s message.

The Weeknd and Lily-Rose Depp in HBO’s ‘The Idol’. Credit: The Weeknd Official Twitter

In April 2022, Deadline reported that the show was getting a rehaul as Tesfaye was unhappy with the show’s creative direction, which at the time reportedly focused too much on “the female perspective” of Depp’s character, rather than his own.


HBO issued a statement in response to the Rolling Stone report, which read: “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.”

“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.”

The Idol is scheduled to premiere on June 4, 2023.

You May Like