The world premiere of HBO’s controversial sexy pop star drama series The Idol at the Cannes Film Festival Monday night was met with polite applause from the festival audience, who gave it a standard-measure 5-minute standing ovation, and a few tears. Series director and co-creator Sam Levinson started to choke up in his thank you speech after the screening.
Saying it was “a dream” to be at the Cannes festival, Levinson countered reports of on-set turmoil and poor working environment during the making of the series, saying he was “proud of this show, proud of how we made this show.”
Levinson, Reza Fahim and Abel “The Weeknd” Tesfaye co-created the show, which stars Lily-Rose Depp as Jocelyn, a Britney Spears-like rags-to-riches pop star in crisis after the death of her mother. In her vulnerable state, she gets seduced by Tedros, a charismatic leader of a NXIVM-like cult, played by Tesfaye in his TV acting debut. Tesfaye and Depp joined Levinson on the Cannes red carpet, along with most of The Idol supporting cast, including Moses Sumney, Troye Sivan, Jennie Kim and Jane Adams. HBO boss Casey Bloys and David Zaslav, CEO of HBO parent company Warner Bros. Discovery, also made the trip to Cannes to support the show.
The series’ sexual content — including revenge porn photos, occasional nudity and some mild S&M — was tame by Cannes standards but could provoke scandal stateside when The Idol premieres on HBO on June 4. Fans of Levinson’s explicit Euphoria will know what they are getting into.
More controversial have been the behind-the-scenes reports of last-minute revisions, budgetary problems and allegations of a chaotic working environment on the set of The Idol. The allegations, originally published in Rolling Stone, have been flatly denied by Depp and The Weeknd.
Levinson countered that narrative on Monday night, praising the members of The Idol cast, signaling out Depp, who he called “fearless” and adding that in the making of the series, “I feel like I gained a family. I know that’s a little culty, but that’s how it feels.”