The actress is about to make a name for herself in a new TV show from the creators of ‘Euphoria’, as well as Robert Eggers’ vampire movie ‘Nosferatu’.
This story originally appeared in i-D’s The Timeless Issue, no. 371, Spring 2023. Order your copy here.
There is nothing so gratifying as meeting a creative person right as they’re hitting their stride; at that special moment in an artist’s life when the constellations are aligned and they are riding high, full of inspiration and purpose, a sense that some very good things are right around the bend. That’s exactly what’s happening in the world of Lily-Rose Depp.
When we link up over Zoom on an otherwise quiet Thursday, the enthusiasm is practically reverberating out of her. Though she’s been publicly known since she was born, thanks to some incredibly famous parents, she is just now on the edge of a huge moment in her own life and acting career. To start with, her starring role in the upcoming HBO series The Idol, created by Euphoria’s Sam Levinson and The Weeknd, is set to debut this year, and is easily one of the most anticipated projects in entertainment. And the rest of the year is just as stacked: she’ll be filming Robert Eggers’ take on Nosferatu as well as The Governesses, a film being produced by A24, the vaunted company behind cult films like Ex Machina and Everything Everywhere All At Once (as well as The Idol). To say 2023 is big for Lily-Rose, at the age of 23, is an understatement.
And yet, it’s not even the scale or size of these films and shows that have Lily-Rose most excited – it’s that she finally feels, on a personal level, like she has found her place in projects that are truly right for her. A switch has flipped in her own sense of confidence about her craft, and she is surrounded by the kind of like-minded creative comrades she’s always hoped to be around.
First up is The Idol, which she isn’t allowed to reveal much about yet except that she’s almost overwhelmed with happiness about it. In it, she plays Jocelyn, an aspiring pop star, à la Miley Cyrus or Ariana Grande, navigating the sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll of the modern music industry. “I’ve dreamt of roles like this for forever. I just don’t think that you could give an actress a greater gift than a role like this,” she beams. “This has been the most meaningful and important project that I’ve ever done, and the thing that I’m the proudest of. I don’t know where to begin. Jocelyn is the most wonderfully complex character. She’s so fascinating. A mystery. After a year of living with that character, I’m still obsessed with her. I just want to keep digging deeper.”
The series – which has a delightful ensemble cast that includes Abel Tesfaye (aka The Weeknd, in his first real acting role), Jane Adams, Hank Azaria, Hari Nef, Dan Levy, Troye Sivan, and Jennie of K-Pop supergroup Blackpink – is the kind of project that, if well received, could make a career. It also seems like a role designed to completely reorient her image, which up until now, has largely been quiet and tasteful. Think of what Levinson’s other show, Euphoria, did for Zendaya, who until her starring turn in the HBO drama about druggy teenagers hadn’t quite been able to shake off her Disney upbringing.
In teaser clips of The Idol, where it’s referred to as “the sleaziest love story in all of Hollywood,” Lily-Rose smokes, struts, seduces, and sexes it up on screen, embodying a rock star stage presence almost entirely at odds with how we’ve come to know her. She was inspired by the Britneys and Beyoncés of the world, but she also went back further in time to find the chutzpah. “I thought about movie stars of the 40s, like Lauren Bacall and Gene Tierney,” she says. “They did not walk into a room and descend to anybody else’s level to try and make them feel comfortable. They almost had this confidence in the discomfort that they could provoke in people. A thing of, ‘This is who I am, and I’m not going to change.’”
Though Lily-Rose has acted in several small films, some good, some less, The Idol feels like the first project she’s done that could really appeal to a wide audience. At the very least, she connected on set in a way she never has before, making her a better, more self-assured actress. “I was gaining so much from just being present in the moment, even in between takes or when they’re changing the camera setup. Just watching our DPs set up these shots and the lighting. I gained so much from really having my eyes open.”
Acting across from Abel, who plays her love interest, was also a blessing; though this is the first time he’s taken a break from pop stardom for a big acting role, he was a tremendous source of encouragement to Lily-Rose while she let loose. “Talk about trust and comfort. I had to go to a lot of really vulnerable places in the show. Abel was the best partner that I could have ever asked for. He has my back and I have his,” she says. “I just felt so free and liberated, so empowered.”
The child of American actor Johnny Depp and French singer Vanessa Paradis, Lily-Rose has certainly had plenty of practice learning by osmosis: a lifetime spent observing uber-talented parents and absorbing everything she could from them creatively. She also understood from a young age, in a way only the children of very famous people do, the value in keeping your private life private, and she avoids controversy by veering away from any discussion too specific about her father or mother. She does say, though, that, growing up between Paris and Los Angeles, she had the best kind of upbringing. “My parents are artists, and so I was really always encouraged to explore whatever I wanted to explore,” she says. “I’ve always loved putting on a show since I was a little girl. I used to dress up and dance around.”
She had always harboured dreams of being an actress and then, at fourteen, found her first role almost by accident. Her childhood best friend was Harley Quinn Smith, the daughter of Clerks director Kevin Smith; Kevin was filming a horror movie, Tusk, which featured Johnny Depp. Lily-Rose was on set and pretty casually told to jump into a scene, which was enough to pique her curiosity for acting. “I had so much fun that day, even though I had no clue what I was doing,” she says. “I still sometimes feel like I have no clue what I’m doing.” At fifteen, she fully leapt into the public eye by embarking on a global ambassadorship role at Chanel, who her mum had worked with since the 90s. “I met Karl (Lagerfeld) for the first time when I was eight with my mom,” she remembers. “He had an almost childlike quality. He wore his sunglasses a lot, and obviously had that iconic look. But, when you looked him in the eyes, he had this beautiful purity about him. And he was the most fun person to sit next to at dinner.”
Depp is a charming and sweet, if endearingly jittery, presence in conversation; a contrast to the brashness of The Idol role and the cool, sultry image she maintains in her Chanel campaigns. She’s a fast talker who restlessly puffs on a vape and sometimes gets lost in her answers to questions. When I admit at one point that, as a journalist, I always get nervous before interviewing someone for a story like this, she confesses that she gets just as nervous being the subject of those interviews. “We can be nervous together!” she says with glee.
It sometimes seems that, like so many other young people, she still does not yet fully realise her own power. She holds up an old issue of Vogue with her mum on the cover, admitting lovingly that she almost can’t believe just how cool her mother is, and even half-joking that it can feel hard to live up to. “Whenever I see old photos of her, I’m like, ‘Ugh. That’s what I look like in my dreams.’ She’ll send me photos of her when she was younger, and say things like, ‘We’re twins.’ And I’m like, ‘You’re so much prettier than me.’ She’s so beautiful.”
Like many sensitive souls, Lily-Rose is plagued by imposter syndrome: the idea that she doesn’t deserve the opportunities she’s been given. And like every true creative before her, she knows that the only way out of such anxieties is to just wake up and dive in headfirst, putting the thoughts of others out of your head and, even when you aren’t feeling your best, faking it till you make it. “You just have to jump in and have some kind of faith that, if they’ve chosen me, then hopefully I’ve been chosen for a reason. That’s all that you can do,” she says. “By that same token, I think that there’s nothing more exciting than being like, ‘Wow, I’m so nervous. I feel so challenged by this. How on earth am I going to pull this off?’ You could ask for no better fuel to make you want to work really, really hard. ‘Okay, I really don’t want to fuck this up, so let me work as hard as I possibly can to make sure that I have left no rock unturned.’ If you’re not scared, then what’s the point? I like the fear a little bit.”
She finds fame strange, and it can make her paranoid, to the point where all the eyes on her feel like a bad psychedelic trip. “I can’t smoke weed unless I’m in my room,” she says. “It fucks with my head. I overthink, like, ‘If I leave my house and I look like shit and someone takes a photo, is it going to be, ‘She looks like hell, she must be depressed?’ People are so quick to want to be like, ‘You’re doing badly.’” She handles it, though, by genuinely taking the piss out of herself. “At the end of the day, everybody cares more about themselves than they do you,” she says. “I bring myself back down to earth and go, ‘Girl, you don’t matter that much.’ That’s the only way to deal with it. By being like, ‘Oh my God, no one fucking cares.’” She also just understands it as a hazard of the career. “We’re having this conversation because I am privileged enough to get to do the job that I’m so passionate about. There’s good and bad sides to everything,” she says. “If I have to deal with a little bit of anxiety to keep doing what I love, then I’m ready.”
She’s aware that there’s a discussion happening in pop culture at the moment about the children of very famous people, but she doesn’t get too caught up in the slings and arrows of tweets and clickbait. “I’m so careful about these conversations now. I feel like my parents did the best job that they possibly could at giving me the most ‘normal childhood’ that they could. And obviously, that still was not a normal childhood. I’m super aware of the fact that my childhood did not look like everybody’s,” she says. “But at the same time, it’s all that I know, so I have had to find comfort in it somehow. I’m really lucky that I’ve been surrounded by people who value normalcy and who value real life and I think that’s the only way to exist in this world and not go insane.”
Mostly, at this moment, there’s the excitement of a young woman starting to live up to her potential, coming ever closer to finding her place in the creative cosmos. She’s off to film The Governesses and Nosferatu, and hitting her groove in The Idol has been so satisfying that it’s only inspired her to work even harder, to approach future projects with as much intensity and openness. She wants to take all this momentum out for a spin and see how far she can push it. “I don’t think things ever fully click because I think that it’s a work in progress constantly,” she says. “I definitely feel like I have learned more this year than I ever have in a year of working. But I always want to exist in this state that’s like, I know that I can get better, I can improve, and always learn so much more. I want to be receptive to that always.” Still, when things are going this swimmingly, even the hard work is a downright joy. “I’m definitely having fun,” she says with a slightly bewildered smile. “If you’re not having fun, what are you doing?”
Source: i-D Magazine