Director and series creator Sam Levinson has once again found himself at the centre of controversy.
The screenwriter behind HBO’s gritty teen drama series Euphoria is wrapping on his new show, The Idol, starring Lily-Rose Depp and The Weeknd.
While Levinson’s projects have contained content known to push boundaries, his forthcoming drama series has reportedly gone too far, according to production sources who spoke to Rolling Stone.
Teased by HBO Max as a darker and even more risqué Euphoria, The Idol follows troubled pop star Jocelyn (Depp), who finds herself in the “sleaziest love story in all of Hollywood” with sordid cult leader Tedros (The Weeknd).
With anonymous claims to the outlet comparing Levinson’s new story to “torture porn” and alleging the set’s environment was chaotic and poorly managed, the director is under scrutiny again.
Here’s a timeline of the biggest controversies involving Levinson to date (The Independent has contacted Levinson’s representative for comment).
Barbie Ferreira rumoured feud
Ahead of Euphoria’s season two release, Ferreira’s absence from the show’s red-carpet premiere in early January 2022 sparked rumours about a feud between her and Levinson.
The actor had starred as fan-favourite Kat since the show’s launch. However, reports emerged early in 2021 claiming that Ferreira had feuded with Euphoria creator Sam Levinson over her character’s storylines in season two. The pair’s disagreement allegedly resulted in Ferreira getting less time on screen in season two and walking off the set.
“Sometimes, things take on a life of their own, and they’re not rooted in the truth, but it’s OK because I know it’s just out of passion and out of curiosity and all that good stuff,” she said. “And I signed up for it. So, I’ll take it. I’ll take the good and the bad.”
But she announced her departure from Euphoria before season three aired, issuing a statement that said: “After four years of getting to embody the most special and enigmatic character Kat, I’m having to say a very teary-eyed goodbye.
“I hope many of you could see yourself in her like I did and that she brought you joy to see her journey into the character she is today. I put all my care and love into her and I hope you guys could feel it. Love you Katherine Hernandez.”
Sydney Sweeney expresses her discomfort with the nudity written into Levinson’s scripts
In a late January 2022 interview with The Independent, Sweeney was the first to open up about her reluctance to film the show’s nude scenes.
Throughout Euphoria’s first season, Sweeney’s character Cassie is shown topless several times. Levinson had apparently wanted to continue this into season two, however, it was changed at Sweeney’s request.
“There are moments where Cassie was supposed to be shirtless, and I would tell Sam, ‘I don’t really think that’s necessary here,’” Sweeney said.
“He was like, ‘OK, we don’t need it’. I’ve never felt like Sam has pushed it on me or was trying to get a nude scene into an HBO show. When I didn’t want to do it, he didn’t make me.”
Following the interview, several fans took to Twitter to question why Levinson had wanted to include excessive amounts of nudity in the first place.
Chloe Cherry’s co-stars speak up for her
Shortly after Sweeney’s interview, Cherry told The Daily Beast about her first day on the set of Euphoria for the role of heroin addict Faye.
She said that for the first scene, when Faye’s boyfriend Custer (Tyler Chase) stuffs her into a motel vent, she was supposed to be completely naked.
“It probably would’ve been more comfortable had we had a little more time to know each other,” she said. “Sam wanted to do the scene with me completely naked, and Tyler was like, ‘That’s a lot,’ so they decided not to. But I was covered in fake blood and just felt so good being on set.”
As opposed to Sweeney, who spoke up for herself, it was Cherry’s co-stars who helped voice her discomfort. This raised concerns about actors who don’t feel like they have the power to speak up about their discomfort on set.
Martha Kelly raises her reluctance to film nude scene
In early February 2022, Martha Kelly spoke with Variety about joining Euphoria as straight-faced drug dealer Laurie.
At one point in the interview, she spoke about her initial hesitancy to shoot the unsettling scene when Laurie strips Rue (Zendaya) and shoots her up with morphine.
Kelly shared that on paper, the scene was “even creepier because Laurie is helping her undress and get in the tub, and it is approaching this gross pedophilia vibe”.
It wasn’t until after Kelly spoke with Levinson about her reservations that the scene was toned down: the filming was done from farther away and out of focus.
Another actor comes forward about her discomfort with nudity
The next day, in an interview with Vanity Fair, Minka Kelly, who guest starred as Samantha – Maddy’s (Alexa Demie) mentor and boss – in Euphoria’s second season, expressed her discomfort with shooting a nude scene on her first day.
Initially, Levinson had written the scene in which Maddy unzips Samantha’s dress with a sexual edge. He had proposed that the dress falls to the ground.
“That was my first day as a guest on this new show, and I just didn’t feel comfortable standing there naked,” Kelly said. The nudity was cut from the episode after Kelly spoke with Levinson.
Claims of exploitation
Elsewhere in The Daily Beast’s explosive exclusive were claims of the production’s “gruelingly long workdays that could stretch anywhere from 15 to 17 hours”.
Several cast members and insiders defended working conditions on set. Coleman Domingo (who stars as Rue’s sponsor Ali Muhammad) told The Hollywood Reporter: “Every single time I’ve been on that set, there’s so much care, so much love, so much creative energy.
“The reality is that in the television space, we usually shoot 12- to 16-hour days. That’s just the norm across the board, and I’ve never had one problem.”
Domingo said he felt there was “ultimate consideration”.
What has HBO said?
In a statement sent to The Independent responding to claims about The Idol, HBO said: “The creators and producers of The Idol have been working hard to create one of HBO’s most exciting and provocative original programs.
“The initial approach on the show and production of the early episodes, unfortunately, did not meet HBO standards so we chose to make a change.
“Throughout the process, the creative team has been committed to creating a safe, collaborative, and mutually respectful working environment, and last year, the team made creative changes they felt were in the best interest of both the production and the cast and crew. We look forward to sharing The Idol with audiences soon.”
In a separate statement, Depp defended Levinson’s vision, saying: “Sam is, for so many reasons, the best director I have ever worked with. 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.”