5 July 2023

Abel “The Weeknd” Tesfaye on his role in The Idol

Possibly the most talked-about HBO Original series of 2023, The Idol came from Emmy-nominated Euphoria creator-director, Sam Levinson, and Oscar-nominated, Grammy-winning pop star Abel “The Weeknd” Tesfaye, who co-stars alongside Lily-Rose Depp in her breakthrough lead role. 

After scandalising the Cannes Film Festival in May 2023, the 18LSDN The Idol quickly moved up the ranks of IMDb’s Most Popular TV Series chart, with The Guardian calling it “2023’s most controversial show.”

Depp plays mega-star Jocelyn, whose nervous breakdown derailed her last tour. Will her romantic awakening with club owner and self-help guru Tedros (Tesfaye) help her claim her rightful status as America’s sexiest pop idol or take her to the deepest and darkest depths of her soul? 

Watch the trailer for The Idol

As Vogue put it, “The same audiences that fell hard for Euphoria — another show about the terrors of being young — will likely do the same for this one. It is buzzy, brazen television that will do exactly what it set out to do: get people talking.” 

Saying the “controversial new show shocks and awes”, Mashable called The Idol “an electric charge of a series… a raucous, engrossing ride on an industry nightmare train bound to careen off a cliff… The way it captures the sickness of the fame machine will stay with you long after the credits roll…”

Grammy-winning pop star Abel “The Weeknd” Tesfaye plays Tedros in HBO's The Idol

Tesfaye was born to Ethiopian immigrants, left home at 17, was homeless for a while, and started out releasing songs anonymously on YouTube before Blinding Lights became Spotify’s most streamed song of all time. 

It’s no surprise that certain elements of the show were inspired by Tesfaye’s own journey as a mega-famous music star.

“The tone is dark, sexy and a commentary on the music industry. And I was inspired by how dark Hollywood can be if you run into the wrong types of people, especially in the music industry. What I can say about Tedros is that he is a complex and charismatic outsider. He’s manipulative and calculating. I had to disappear from myself in order to tap into his psychology. Fortunately, I’ve never let anyone like Tedros into my life,” says Tesfaye.

Abel "The Weeknd" Tesfaye on The Idol on Showmax

HBO filmed a 2021 version of The Idol that was eventually scrapped. Tesfaye says the main reasons he and co-creator Sam Levinson decided to reshoot was because the original show “just didn’t land”.

“I personally felt like it wasn’t true to our original concept. Lily worked so hard to bring our vision to life. She deserves this version of the show. She’s a fucking star,” Tesfaye says. “Sam and I spent a lot of time together on set – my house! – before shooting. We really tapped into the psychology of Tedros. I got to live the character for so long that, once the cameras were rolling, we were tapped in. It was like there were no cameras at all.” There were, in fact, three cameras rolling for a more naturalistic feel.

On the parallels between the show and the real-life music industry, Tesfaye says that The Idol is a “heightened, exaggerated version of reality”.

Lily-Rose Depp and Abel "The Weeknd" Tesfaye in The Idol

Tedros has a unique look and style – in two separate instances, other characters comment on his “rat tail”. Tesfaye says Tedros’s style was important to remove his persona as The Weeknd in the show.

“[Sam and I] did our best to have the audience not be distracted by seeing me and, instead, be immersed in Tedros’ image. The durag on his head, his wearing women’s clothes, sketchy tattoos … they all speak to a mysterious past and a conflicted narrative he carries about himself. The Weeknd is a character that I had to strip away and then build up to Tedros in his place.”

Finally – the question on audiences’ minds was what it was like for Tesfaye to act opposite Lily-Rose Depp.

“It felt like learning a new dance and she was an incredible partner,” he says. “I had to go to some very dark, vulnerable places and with her there with me I felt safe and protected. I definitely learned from Lily. I felt like we connected artistically on such a deep level, more than any collaborator I’ve ever worked with. I can’t wait for people to see her performance in this show and what we captured.”

All five episodes are now streaming on Showmax.

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