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.’”
The stars discuss their provocative new HBO series, which explores the seedy underbelly of fame.
Last September, on the final night of filming The Idol, an HBO show about a pop icon and her complicated relationship with a darkly charismatic club owner, Lily-Rose Depp was riding in a golf cart through SoFi Stadium, in the Los Angeles suburb of Inglewood. The arena was packed with about 70,000 people who were there to see Abel Tesfaye, better known as The Weeknd. Depp, who plays Jocelyn, the so-famous-she-needs-only-one-name music star in The Idol, was with Sam Levinson, the show’s cocreator and the award-winning writer and director of Euphoria. For tonight’s performance, Tesfaye, one of the biggest musicians in the world, was going back and forth between personas. For the faithful fans, he was The Weeknd, a character he created at the start of his career; for the scene in The Idol they were filming as he performed live, he needed to be Tedros, the ambitious Svengali whom Jocelyn would be presenting to the crowd.
As the trailer for The Idol was projected onto the huge SoFi screens, Depp rehearsed her lines with Levinson. She was wearing a diaphanous white dress, with her blonde hair in a loose updo. Depp has large eyes and the exquisite bone structure of a model, but as Jocelyn she had applied heavy eye makeup and exaggerated lip liner, which gave her face a masklike quality. “I was a nervous wreck,” Depp said when I spoke to her later. “I was praying to all my guardian angels. I knew we only had two takes at SoFi. I felt like I was going to my wedding—I was so dolled up and in white!” Depp finally worked up the courage to introduce Tedros. “[This is] the love of my life—the man who pulled me through the darkest hours and into the light,” she told the fans, as Tesfaye came out to a huge roar. Despite her nerves, Depp was intoxicated by the power of being in front of a stadium full of adoring people. “It was quite addicting,” she said. “I didn’t want to leave.”
Tesfaye, meanwhile, was experiencing a kind of breakdown. His two characters do not look alike: The Weeknd wears sleek black suits, while Tedros has a rattail and usually sports shiny, ’70s-style half-unbuttoned shirts with aviator sunglasses. “I had to take off the Weeknd outfit, put on Tedros’s wig, shoot with Jocelyn, then go back to being The Weeknd,” he told me later. “It was tough to go from one head to another. Then, after the concert, I lost my voice. No voice came out at all. That’s never happened before. My theory is that I forgot how to sing because I was playing Tedros, a character who doesn’t know how to sing. I may be looking too deeply into this, but it was terrifying. As The Weeknd, I’ve never skipped a concert. I’ve performed with the flu. I’ll die on that stage. But there was something very complicated going on with my mind at that moment.”
Tesfaye’s identity crisis was about more than juggling two characters in one night. “I’m going through a cathartic path right now,” he said. “It’s getting to a place and a time where I’m getting ready to close the Weeknd chapter. I’ll still make music, maybe as Abel, maybe as The Weeknd. But I still want to kill The Weeknd. And I will. Eventually. I’m definitely trying to shed that skin and be reborn.”
More than a year before the SoFi show, Depp was asked to audition for the role of Jocelyn. “I never thought I would get the part,” she said, calling from Prague, where she was on set for her new film Nosferatu, in which she plays the disciple of Dracula—another sinister but seductive man. “I knew there would be many lovely ladies who are more musical than me, but I thought, I’ll give it a go.” Depp borrowed a tight pink satin skirt and a purple tank top from her mother, Vanessa Paradis, the famous French singer, model, and actor. (Her father, as fans certainly know, is Johnny Depp.) “I wanted to wear pop-star colors,” Depp explained. “And I wanted to channel a certain L.A. feeling. I grew up in L.A., and I’m an L.A. girl, and so is Jocelyn. I wanted to capture the style mix of mischief and shine.”