Last week, The Idol became the most popular show in the world on IMDb, with its breakout star, Lily-Rose Depp, similarly at #1 on IMDb’s Starmeter – 59 places ahead of her father, controversial triple-Oscar nominee Johnny Depp.
In the 18LSDN HBO Original series, Lily-Rose plays mega-star Jocelyn, whose nervous breakdown derailed her last tour. Will her romantic awakening with club owner and self-help guru Tedros (Abel “The Weeknd” 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?
Lily-Rose says she was attracted to the project because of the involvement of Emmy-nominated Euphoria creator-director Sam Levinson and Oscar-nominated, Grammy-winning pop star Tesfaye, whose track Blinding Lights is Spotify’s most streamed song of all time.
“I loved the sound of it from every angle,” she says. “I am a huge fan of Sam’s work, of the producers’ as well, and of Abel’s. There’s something inherently very cinematic about his music career. So I knew Sam and Abel joining forces was going to be really special.”
Lily-Rose was also fascinated by her character, Jocelyn. “I’m excited by things that scare me,” she says. “And there was an aspect to her from the beginning that was going to be challenging to the audience — in the way that most complex female characters are. There’s something very human about her, but also very unapologetic. She doesn’t try to simplify herself for anybody. As women, we spend a lot of time trying to simplify ourselves for people.”
She agrees that a lot of Jocelyn’s power stems from her acute self-awareness; that she understands fully that she’s a product. “She’s been made aware of that her entire life,” says Lily-Rose. “We meet her at a point where she’s ready to take more control.”
Part of that product is her sexuality. “It’s not lost on her that she has the physical tools and sexuality to help her get what she wants,” says Lily-Rose. “She’s not scared to use them. And I think there’s a lot of power in that.”
Lily-Rose didn’t expect to get the part. “If my audition ended up being any good, it’s probably because I was pretty convinced I wasn’t going to get the part,” she laughs. “I’m not a singer by any means; I was sure they were going to hire somebody else.”
Her mother is French singer Vanessa Paradis, who had her first #1 hit at age 14. “My mom is a singer and when I was younger, I wanted to do it too, but really just because I wanted to be like my mom,” she laughs.
If singing was new for her, acting was new for her co-star, Abel. “That’s what was really nice: we were both doing something new,” says Lily-Rose. “I feel like that leveled us out. He was able to have my back with the music and I was able to have his on the acting. I can’t say enough about Abel. He’s a true friend in a way you can only dream of for a scene partner.”
She says she also leaned into his experiences in the music industry to understand Jocelyn. “While Jocelyn is certainly not based on Abel or any specific musician, there are aspects of his career I was able to draw from,” says Lily-Rose. “I don’t know what it’s like to be a pop star at all, certainly not on that scale! So being able to talk to someone who’s lived that life was really helpful.”
Of course, after growing up in a showbiz family, she also had her own experiences to draw on. “What she’s going through, even if I haven’t experienced it in a literal way, is very universal. She’s struggling with feelings of self-doubt, being misunderstood and wanting to be seen in a different light. For any artist, showing your soul to people is a very vulnerable thing to do. Everyone is scared of being embarrassed and, now with social media, is constantly under a microscope being picked apart. And in a larger way, that’s what the show is about: how we idolise people, put them on pedestals and then relish in taking them down. Anyone who is creative has had that feeling of ‘I just want to be taken seriously,’ so of course I relate to that too.”
In addition to the dancing, Lily-Rose says she also particularly enjoyed Jocelyn’s costumes – including the infamous bikini top she wears for the dance rehearsal in the first episode. “I love that outfit – and yes, that was my choice,” she laughs. “Jocelyn has an evolution in her style throughout the show that I think says a lot about who she is becoming. She starts out more girly but becomes more powerful. Generally, she leaves little to the imagination, which I find so funny. Who does a dance rehearsal wearing something that barely covers her nipples? (Laughs) But don’t worry, they had me taped in!”
The Idol’s world premiere scandalised its audience at the usually hard-to-shock Cannes Film Festival, in part for a scene where the on-screen intimacy co-ordinator was locked in a bathroom.
But Lily-Rose says intimacy co-ordinators were a key part of the shoot in real life. “I already felt very comfortable because of Sam, Ashley [Levinson, Sam’s wife, who in addition to Euphoria and The Idol has producing credits on the likes of X, Pearl, Irma Vep and Ghostbusters: Afterlife] and Abel, but yes, these coordinators are an essential part of any shoot that involves intimate scenes,” she says. “It’s so nice knowing there is someone there who focused only on that and making sure everybody feels comfortable. Ours knew when they needed to be there [and] when they didn’t and left us the space we needed to create while also making sure, ‘Okay, everyone’s covered. Great!’”
For Lily-Rose, making the series has given her the very recognition Jocelyn is craving on The Idol. “That was very much a mirrored feeling for me,” she says. “Sam and Abel believed in me in a way that I hadn’t in myself. I’ve been working for quite a while now and I don’t know that I’ve ever felt so creatively fulfilled.”
The Idol is now streaming – HBO Max (USA), Binge (Aus/Nz), Showmax (ZA) – with new episodes weekly.
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