On “The Idol,” Da’Vine Joy Randolph brings a rare bit of heart to the much-discussed show. Playing Destiny, Jocelyn’s (Lily-Rose Depp) manager, the actor portrays one of the only stabilizing forces surrounding the sexualized pop star who has been wrapped up in a dangerous world, led by wannabe musician and cult leader Tedros (Abel “The Weeknd” Tesfaye).
Randolph was hand-picked by “Idol” co-creator Sam Levinson after the “Euphoria” creator took over the show during a complete overhaul in which he shot it again, after an initial version helmed by Amy Seimetz was completely scrapped, Randolph says. Controversy began before the show even premiered, with a Rolling Stone article that claimed production on “The Idol” had gone “disgustingly off the rails” and that Levinson’s version played like “twisted torture porn.”
The character of Destiny was added into Levinson’s version, Randolph reveals to Variety. She says Levinson re-worked the show, alongside the Weeknd, to help the superstar musician-turned-television creator execute his vision for the show.
“What I was told was at the end of the day, Abel had a vision for it and wanted to see it through,” Randolph says. “He wanted Sam to be more than just executive. He wanted him to do it – which lucked out for me, because I got to work with Sam.”
“But also, this happens all the time,” the actor continues. “All the time! I’ve had things where I’ve been let go because they changed the concept, or they changed the lead person — and then I no longer fit into that show. Being completely transparent, there were no red flags because to me, that made sense – Abel had a vision that didn’t get executed, he wanted to make sure he really believed in it, he wanted to make sure it’s done how he sees it, so he got Sam on board to do it himself.”
Randolph – who is also gearing up for this summer’s third season of “Only Murders in the Building,” in which she, as the show’s detective, shares scenes with Meryl Streep – also shares that she feels confident about a second season of “The Idol.”
“I think that everyone’s intention is to have a second season. This was never intended to be a limited series,” she says. “Nothing is official, but HBO is quite happy.” (Earlier this month, HBO tweeted that a decision on a second season has not been determined.)
Here, in wide ranging conversation with Variety, Randolph candidly addresses criticism of the show, gives insight into her conversations with Levinson and the Weeknd — and teases the July 2 season finale of the five-episode series.
Editor’s note: During the interview, Randolph mentions that Tedros has never beaten Jocelyn, but in Episode 3, after she confesses her late mother abused her, Tedros beats Jocelyn with the hairbrush her mother used to hit her with, after which she thanks him for helping her heal. Our conversation was flowing, so we didn’t get into that scene.
How did you get involved with “The Idol?”
I’m told that Sam Levinson was doing some adjustments, and a new character was added in this second iteration of this project. He has described that he was in a meeting at my agency, and they were talking about the show and he was talking about this role, and he was like, “Have you ever seen Da’Vine in ‘High Fidelity?’” We got on a call a couple of calls and he, as well as Abel, just walked through it and they discussed it with me.
What were your first conversations like with Sam and Abel?
We were discussing the world of the show. Abel was speaking from his experience of him wanting to do this to show an insider’s view of how this industry can be. They had referenced “Entourage,” but in a much grittier, nuanced way and really showing the inside. He had said he wanted it to be, if anything, a cautionary tale. Especially in this day in age with social media, where people are literally getting record deals being on TikTok, I think a lot of it, for him, was like, “Listen, be careful out there. It can be a wild world.”
What did Sam and Abel tell you about the character?
Sam was saying that he wanted there to be this strong, confident voice that he wanted, in specifics, to come from a female. The idea is that Destiny has been there and done that. She has not been at the magnitude of Jocelyn’s fame, but she has been in the music industry so there is something valuable and practical that she can apply on the job and give Jocelyn advice. I love the idea of being this feminine voice and being there as someone who can champion her and give her wisdom, strategically, but not manipulatively.
Did you have any concerns with the script when you first read it?
I got from the page that this was going to be sexy, this was going to be raw and gritty, and that’s why I said, “Well, where is the heart? Where is the soul?” And they said that they predominantly want to do it through my character. They said that there is a realness and a truth that comes out in these people in a real way, as well as Sam stating that he wanted it to actually be quite fem-forward, and that where Jocelyn is getting her reasoning from is from a female. That’s what made me be like, “Oh, OK, this isn’t just going be one-dimensional, or just to get eyes on it and just make it like sex, sex, sex. There’s going to be other layers to it.” And Sam was like, “Absolutely, I would not be doing this otherwise.”
How would you describe the dynamic between Jocelyn and Destiny?
Destiny is like, “I’m in the next room, but if you blink twice, and I’m shutting this whole thing down.” If she just went ahead and was like, “No, I don’t like him, it’s done,” Jocelyn is going to lean into it even more. The beautiful thing that I like most about Destiny is she’s not a liar. She comes from a true place. And ultimately, it comes for her deep love for Jocelyn.
Even before the show premiered, Rolling Stone came out with a report that said the show plays like a “rape fantasy.” I want to give you the opportunity to address that. First of all, did you read that article?
It’s hard, because I wish I could give you more than beyond just simply saying that wasn’t my experience at all. Also, I was in the second iteration, so when I read it, I felt like a huge majority of the article seemed like it was about a time where I wasn’t even there. But the part in which they were talking about when was the second version of when Sam was there helming it, no, I don’t know where all of it came from. I don’t know what happened when it was the other director. But in my experience, when Sam came on to direct, that was not the experience that I had or bore witness to other people having. No actors left, or anything like that.
I understand that the article was not representative of your experience, and I know you can’t speak for others, but was anything reflective of the atmosphere on set?
I never ever saw anything. And to be very transparent with you, if I did see anyone being mistreated – especially since I was one of the older actors – I would have said something, or I would have walked off that set. But also, we get paid for what we do, meaning it’s long hours, so when they said in the article that it’s long hours, well, any show you’re on, you’re working at least 12 hours. If you walk out there and it’s been 12 hours, that is a good day, girl. So, there were certain things in the article that I was like, “Well, wait a minute, now I’m confused because anybody who’s in the industry knows there are long hours.”
I just say that as an example because that was one of the things that was mentioned in the article, so I can definitely address that, and that’s absolutely 100% true: There were long hours. But every show is that way. I did not feel like I was being abused over the hours. There wasn’t anything out of the ordinary or abusive or crazy. And on top of it, I think they gave even more love, care, sensitivity and respect, due to the fact of what the actors have to do. The crew was very supportive, we knocked it out and we made something that I think was quite great and different.
Just to clarify, you were not involved at all with the first iteration of the show when Amy Seimetz was at the helm?
And the character of Destiny was added into the second iteration of the show, but wasn’t a character in the first version?
Yes, that’s what I was told.
When you came in for the second version, was it completely re-shot?
It was all done all over again. What I was told was at the end of the day, Abel had a vision for it and wanted to see it through. He wanted Sam to be more than just executive. He wanted him to do it – which lucked out for me because I got to work with Sam. But also, this happens all the time. All the time! I’ve had things where I’ve been let go because they changed the concept or they changed the lead person, and then I no longer fit into that show. Being completely transparent, to me, there were no red flags because to me, that made sense – [Abel] had a vision that didn’t get executed, he wanted to make sure he really believed in it, he wanted to make sure it’s done how he sees it, so he got Sam on board to do it himself.
Were you told what the differences were in terms of story from the first version of the show and the current version?
I wasn’t told much. The one thing I do remember they were saying was that the other one was too cult-heavy. The world was more smaller, being that it was focused on just those group of actors that are part of Tedros’ crew. It was heavy, heavy cult culture, which didn’t feel like it rang true, and they wanted to open it up a bit more, hence adding other characters and bringing in Jocelyn’s team. They wanted to zoom out, and make the world a little bit bigger. I think that was the original version, but I could be wrong because we didn’t speak heavily about it.
“The Idol” has generated a lot of conversation. Why do you think that is?
This is uncomfortable, but the reality is, is also the truth. This stuff really happens in life, so we can’t be mad if people are telling uncomfortable truths. That’s a part of why I became an actor in the sense of using my craft to share narratives, and hopefully by viewing it, we can start to have conversations, and the hope is that things get to change for the better. People are like, “Whoa, we’ve never seen this before and I don’t know how I feel about it.” And that’s beautiful because everyone deserves their own point of view.
What do you think the show is saying about the treatment of young woman — in particular how the media and industry treats female pop stars, like Britney Spears?
In regards to Britney, I think that was something that evolved. I remember reading that Sam and Abel met her, or ran into her, and she said she was such a big fan, and then they got to talk. So I think the ways in which it does beckon back to her and those references, if anything, it’s international of honoring her in the sense of all that she went through, and yet all that she accomplished — how successful she was and all that she did while all this stuff was going on in the background. But there are so many versions of it — Kesha went through her stuff, and Taylor Swift went through her stuff. I think the show reveals it is hard out here to be a woman in general. I applaud this Jocelyn character because even in that scene where everyone on her team is saying, “No, no, no,” she’s stands up for herself and says, “You’re not even listening to me. Just hear me out.” I think the show is telling the women to keep on fighting the good fight.
The show has a lot of critics – both professionals in the industry writing about the show, and fans on social media – who say that show is gratuitous with drug use and in its sexual nature. How do you respond to that criticism?
I’ll say a couple of things. No. 1: I don’t read reviews. I made that choice very early in my career that I’m not going to get involved with that, because that’s not what I’m here for. And at the same time, everybody is owed their own opinion.
No. 2: I don’t read reviews, but I’m curious if they said the same thing about “Euphoria?” Because “Euphoria” also is dealing with sex and drugs, but wouldn’t you say it’s a critically acclaimed phenomenon and has gotten all these awards? The industry has respected the level of craft that Zendaya has brought to it. I’m genuinely asking: I wonder does that apply to this, even though it’s two completely different worlds? Being that this is what you do, you would know better than me, so I wonder, does this feel different from the kind of responses that “Euphoria” was getting?
The difference I’ve seen with the response between “Euphoria” and “The Idol” is that “Euphoria” is dealing with the issue of addiction. The criticism for this show is mostly dealing with a sexual nature.
Right. But then, if we delve into that conversation, what if the girl has a sex addiction? Or what if in her pain of grieving, as well as feeling lost and trying to find her way as an artist, what if her vice is sex? She also, in an interesting way, finds strength and power, and also invention and ingenuity, through her sexual prowess, right?
I hear what you’re saying with Jocelyn finding power in her sexual prowess, which I totally agree with. To clarify, the criticism that I’ve seen is that the sexual situations Jocelyn is being put into are being initiated by Tedros.
No, I totally get you. Where it makes it tricky for my character is that Jocelyn is fully consenting, right? So the idea of rape, we can’t even put that on the table, right? Now granted, she’s a superstar, so her world is much bigger, but let’s say that your friend is dating someone and you’re like, “Girl, what are you doing?” But you can’t say anything. It’s the same thing. I can say the person is not good for you, but you’ve got to choose what you want to do. As a friend, you’re in a hard place because she’s saying, “I’m down with this, I like this, I’m into this, he’s not forcing me to do this.” That’s tough. The man has never beat her yet. It may be aggressive or rough, but she’s into it. Sometimes she’s even asking for it – “please choke me,” and all this other stuff. Now granted, that can be because there’s things in her psyche that she needs to go to therapy for and work out, but it’s complicated because you can’t blame him.
In last week’s episode, for the first time, we start to hear people around Jocelyn use the language of abuse when her assistant Leia (Rachel Sennott) is discussing Tedros’ behavior. And your character has always said that he’s a bad guy. It feels like the women surrounding Jocelyn see exactly what’s happening, but perhaps she doesn’t see it yet.
In the first episode, I think he realizes quickly in the club, the way that girl is dancing, she’s giving off an energy and he’s giving off an energy. It will be different if we watched a show where she’s giving “Mickey Mouse Club” on Disney. But no. From the first time they have an interaction, she’s right there with him in lockstep, which reveals that this girl is about that life. He didn’t put her onto nothing new. I think people miss that. This is not new. It might be done in a new way. But it’s almost like she’s met her match. And I think it will get revealed in this following episode that we aren’t fully aware of exactly what Jocelyn is doing.
And that’s why my character hasn’t said yet, “I’m shutting it down.” I’m watching and I’m observing this guy, and I’m also going to observe her. We’re going to find out that Jocelyn is not that little lamb that’s lost in the woods and the big bad wolf found her. I don’t want to give it away, but there are more layers to this. It’s not just that this boy is taking advantage to her. No, no, no – this girl knows what’s up.
In the finale, will the tables turn? Will people be surprised how this ends?
Yep. You wouldn’t be Sam Levinson and have completed “Euphoria” and all the other projects and just have it be on the surface. Everything hasn’t been revealed. A lot of subtleties have been put into place that if people go back once it ends and rewatch it, there have been many Easter eggs and some stuff put in there that sets things up for Season 2. To me, Sam is a genius. There is no way that HBO would be so hyped and excited about this project if this was going to be a surface soft porn TV show. That’s not his M.O. But I get it – based on what people have seen so far, they have formed these ideas, but I think it will be very interesting to see how people respond to this last episode and see how things turn. It’s going to show you something different that we haven’t seen in a while.
Do you want to hear my theory of how it ends?
Please, please. I would love it.
I think that she kills him. I think Jocelyn watching the scene from “Basic Instinct” in the beginning was an Easter egg, and also, your character says to Hank Azaria’s character, “I think we should kill this motherfucker.” What do you think about my theory?
I think that your theory is in a good ballpark. It’s not 100% right, because it is definitely open where there could be a Season 2 and have the Tedros character be in it.
So there have been conversations about another season?
Oh yeah, for sure. I think that everyone’s intention is to have a second season. This was never intended to be a limited series. HBO has been very happy with it — so much so that there were rumors that we were canceled, and then HBO went on Twitter, which I think they rarely do. Nothing is official, but HBO is quite happy. In regards to your theory, yes, there will be a turning the table, and I think a really exciting setup of entering into Season 2 because I think a lot of Season 1 was to setup the world that not many people know because it’s very complicated.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
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