On ‘The Idol,’ Why Are The Weeknd’s Acting Skills Nonexistent?

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In “The Idol,” The Weeknd plays Tedros a Svengali character who does not possess a heart of gold or maybe even a personality. Early in his appearance, he sidles up to Lily-Rose Depp as Jocelyn, the title character. He whispers something to her.

“Welcome to my little shithole.”

I don’t think he was talking about his acting chops, but one never knows. 

If you’ve spent the past three weeks in a coma or on Mastodon, “The Idol” is this summer’s buzzy show with all the buzz being horrific. Much of the bile has concentrated on the creepiness both on and off the set and my friends, they ain’t kidding. By the time Abel Tesfaye appears, our heroine, a Britney stand-in, has survived the death of her mother, flagging ticket sales, a possible psychotic break, and — this is not what I went to journalism school for — a social media bukkake scandal. (Actually there are thirty seconds of dialogue where hangers-on argue that if only one person ejaculates on your cheekbones it is not technically bukkake. Anyway!).

After 25 minutes of torture porn, Jocelyn — the worst moniker ever for a single named pop star — heads out to drink and dance the night away somewhere in West Hollywood. She ends up at a seedy and hip dance club where she does approximately 47 shots and dances to Madonna’s “Like a Prayer,” either the second or third on-the-nose shout at the audience that Jocelyn suggests is an outlaw feminist, the other being a Fiona Apple tune and — heavy sigh — shots of Sharon Stone in “Basic Instinct.” Tedros — seriously who picked these names? — spies her and heads over for a dance. Now, in publicity materials Tedros is described as charismatic, but Tesfaye moves into Deep’s realm with all the sexual energy of a sad Canadian repeatedly mumbling “sorry.” (Tesfaye is Canadian and I can get away with the ethnic slur because my son and wife are Canadians. That’s how it works, right?).

Granted, Tesfaye is not helped by an opening gambit of limpness where he says, “You fit perfectly in my arms,” but there is little hint of the bad boy. He is just another LA jackass trying to get laid. Depp goes home after their first encounter and vigorously masturbates. That was not my inclination.

Instead, I thought to myself that Tedros/Tesfaye needed either a triple espresso or a white line. Imagine my surprise when scant minutes later he shows up at Depp’s palace and actually does a line!

I regret to inform you that it does not help. He immediately turns to a mirror and tries out a pickup greeting: “Hello Angel.” He says it twice, but it has neither a hint of illicitness or the emotional pathos of Alec Baldwin psyching himself up to a mirror on “30 Rock.” After he does the line, the close caption read “clears throat, spits” — easily the most authentic part of Tesfaye’s performance. All of this in no way at all sets up the tension and danger of the next scene where Tedros gets the Jocelyn’s performance of a lifetime by nearly choking her out in search of the perfect vocal take. He opens a slit in the red hoodie he pulls over her mouth — Little Red Riding Hood and The Wolf, get it? Roll credits.

I should note Weeknd’s performance is not alone in its badness on a show that is shot like an overlit snuff film. It’s just the one that grabbed me by the hoodie strings and refused to let go like a drunk breathing 3 a.m. Jager breath on you and asking he can crash in your hotel room. The always great Hank Azaria plays an on-edge manager whose Israeli accent should be retired next to his longtime performance of Apu on “The Simpsons.” And Jane Adams, last seen doing great work on “Hacks,” has a line in episode two that threatens to undo the 30 years of good will I’ve had for her since Paul Schrader’s “Light Sleeper.” A frustrated Adams screams at Depp through sunglasses: “The train has already left the station and you are going for that ride.”


But Azaria and Adams have credit it in the acting bank. All The Weeknd has is an appearance as “Himself” in Uncut Gems. (He was not believable). Charitably, you could blame his performance on his agent or the director but then you remember he is one of the creators of “The Idol.” He manufactured his own career poison pill! He is trying to play louche but just comes off, as one character describes him, “rapey.” (The tragedy is the King of Louche, Depp’s pops, Johnny, was just a phone call away. That guy can do 4 a.m. louche at three in the afternoon. Trust me. Next time, tap that resource).

Still, the Weeknd is not the first or last pop star who has placed himself before the camera in pursuit of glory. It isn’t too much of a surprise that so many rock stars have tried the acting game, if you have the ego and hubris to outshine 10,000 other singers and climb to the top of the greasy pop pole it is understandable to think you can hold your own in an industry that prizes vanilla ice cream cheek bones over darkness. Some have been inert — Sting, but he got better — and some have been sneakily wonderful — John Mellencamp in “State of Grace” — and one has been sublime: David Bowie in “The Man Who Fell To Earth,” “Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence,” “Labyrinth” and, of course, “Extras.” They all took big risks, including the possibility some jackass will machine gun your efforts from his bedroom in Santa Monica.

But I think I know why it happens. Many years ago, I tried to persuade the songwriter Loudon Wainwright III to talk with me about his career and his tumultuous relationship with his son Rufus and daughter Martha. He declined with a smile saying, “No thank you, those stories never end well for me.” We were at a generic doctor’s office in L.A. where he was filming a role as a doctor in Judd Apatow’s “Knocked Up.”

Between takes, he reflected on his second career. “Every actor wants to be a musician and every musician wants to be an actor” He paused for a moment and smiled. “We always want to do something we’re not good at.”

On an unrelated note, showrunners, hit me up after the WGA strike is over. I’ve got a couple of screenplays that I think are quite good. No, seriously.

Hey, where is everyone going?

Source: Variety

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