“The Idol” has only aired two episodes, but week to week has faced intense criticism and controversy, some of which occurred before the series even premiered.
Lily-Rose Depp plays a rising pop star, struggling with a comeback who meets a self-help guru and cult leader (played by Abel “The Weeknd” Tesfaye), who begins to exert undue influence on her as she’s pulled into the underbelly of the music industry.
The show has received a lot of backlash for its graphic and extensive sexual and nude scenes, most of which feature Depp.
Hank Azaria, who plays Haim, the manager of Depp’s character, addressed some of the criticism as well as the alleged issues reported in an article by Rolling Stone in a new interview on “Today.”
“Well, I was mercifully left out of any of the nude shenanigans, personally. But, you know, I can tell you that I know Lily-Rose, who is the center of all that mainly, has said publicly and privately how protected and taken care of and collaborated with and listened to and safe she felt,” Azaria said.
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He continued, “And I know every care was taken, not just for those kinds of scenes, but there are many kinds of sensitive scenes in this show, and I certainly felt safe that way and collaborated with, and Sam [Levinson, the creator] goes for it. He points a stark truth lens at whatever scene he’s doing, whether it’s professional, personal, about the business, about a relationship, about sex. So that was what we were doing on that set, and we all were actually quite excited by the collaborative nature of it and how creative it was.”
Sunday night’s episode of the HBO show drew fresh comments from viewers, which included scenes of Depp engaging in self-harm, and later masturbating, Tesfaye using a shock collar on a person, and Depp and Tesfaye engaging in graphic sex.
“I hated this so much I started skipping,” wrote one person Twitter.
“I really need Abel to get dragged for this nasty scene in The Idol,” said another.
“Watching The Idol you can see the crumbs of what the show could have been. Lily Rose Depp is great but can only do so much with what she’s given. Sam Levinson and The Weeknd really bring it down especially this episode,” said another.
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Sam Levinson, who also created HBO’s other popular but controversial series, “Euphoria,” co-created “The Idol” with Tesfaye and Reza Fahim.
Before the show’s premiere, Rolling Stone spoke with 13 anonymous cast and crew members, some of whom claimed the show had been plagued by delays, budget issues and last-minute rewrites, and went “wildly, disgustingly off the rails.” It was also alleged the show’s content reeked of being a “rape fantasy” and a “degrading love story with a hollow message.”
The article also noted that director Amy Seimetz, of “The Girlfriend Experience,” was originally hired to helm the drama before leaving after shooting 80% of the six-episode limited series, and Levinson was brought in to direct, according to Rolling Stone. The article claimed Tesfaye felt Seimetz was leaning too much into the “female perspective” of the story.
During the segment on “Today,” host Craig Melvin noted NBC had not independently verified the report. When he added that they’d reached out to Levinson for comment, but was told his team won’t be giving any, Azaria quipped, “Oh so they left me here to do it!”
Azaria did not address the claims on the content, but did discuss the working conditions.
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“I do want to say this. It seemed to me in that Rolling Stone piece, connected to what they called the ‘chaotic nature’ of the set and how it was really haphazard, and that I can tell you is ridiculous,” the “Simpsons” star said.
“That would be like walking onto, like, a Robert Altman set where they’re improvising, or a Mike Leigh set, or a Larry David set, or a Judd Apatow set, where brilliant folks are being encouraged to improvise and change and tweak under the caring eye of a director, and audibles are being called based on such and saying, ‘Oh well the actors just don’t know their lines, this is chaos,’” he continued, referencing several directors and creators who are known for allowing their actors to improvise.
“I understand how certain people could feel that way, I felt that way the first couple of days, I’m like, ‘Wait what are we doing, what’s happening?’ Because a lot of changes were made sometimes based on the light, the beauty of the light we were shooting in, or how the script was changing, or how a character’s story was evolving, but it was incredibly creative and wonderful, really. And I’ve been on sets where it was the opposite.”
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Melvin read a portion of a statement from HBO, also obtained by Fox News Digital, that read “Throughout the process, the creative team has been committed to creating a safe, collaborative, and mutually respectful working environment.”
Azaria affirmed the statement saying, “It really was. I don’t have to endorse that.”
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Depp has also spoken out about her work with Levinson, saying she felt “supported.”
The 23-year-old told Fox News Digital in a statement earlier this year, “Never have I felt more supported or respected in a creative space, my input and opinions more valued. Working with Sam is a true collaboration in every way – it matters to him, more than anything, not only what his actors think about the work, but how we feel performing it. He hires people whose work he esteems and has always created an environment in which I felt seen, heard, and appreciated.”
Fox News Digital’s Brie Stimson contributed to this report