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Sam Levinson Reveals The Weeknd’s Pitch for ‘The Idol’: ‘If I Wanted to Start a Cult, I Could’

All hail The Weeknd.

Abel Tesfaye, stage name The Weeknd, leads HBO’s buzzy upcoming drama “The Idol,” co-created by “Euphoria” showrunner Sam Levinson. Tesfaye plays a villainous club owner who preys upon pop star Jocelyn (Lily-Rose Depp) while maintaining a cult-like status. Turns out, Tesfaye’s real-life The Weeknd fans in part inspired the concept behind the sinister series.

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“Abel came to us with a pitch,” Levinson told W magazine. “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.”

Levinson continued, “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.”

While the HBO series went through massive reshoots, a casting change-up, and a director switch, Levinson and Tesfaye agreed that the series had to be perfectly in line with their original vision. Levinson followed Tesfaye to Coachella to see him onstage as The Weeknd.

“He stayed in the background, but he watched how I moved and what it was like for me,” Tesfaye recalled. “Sam understood something crucial about how to create this show.”

The “After Hours” singer added, “I’ve always been the antihero. In the beginning of my career, I didn’t show myself at all. I didn’t want to be famous. For the first two years, no one knew what I looked like.”

He reflected, “As a child, I loved to hear myself sing. But I was really shy and wouldn’t do it in public. I didn’t know if I was good or not. In high school, my love for films was born. I grew up on ‘The Mask’ and ‘Jurassic Park.’ Jim Carrey and dinosaurs! Cinema helped me write better songs, but I thought my ticket out of the hood was music…Film and TV is a new creative muscle for me. I don’t release my music until I think it is great. Why would this be any different?”

“The Idol” is set to premiere at 2023 Cannes before debuting on HBO June 4.

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