“When was the last truly f*cking nasty, nasty, bad pop girl?” This is the question posed in the teaser trailer to HBO’s The Idol, which promises the kind of lurid, adrenaline-pumping pop-culture exposé you’d see if Paul Verhoeven was ever allowed to make a film like Showgirls again. Said trailer also features copious quantities of cocaine, champagne and seriously dirty dancing, suggesting a warts-and-all drama about a super-ambitious Madonna/Lady Gaga type who has recently hit the big time in the dog-eat-dog world of showbiz.
That, in itself, would be a risky role for any young actress, especially since The Idol has already been in the news for its turbulent production, overseen by director Sam Levinson, whose envelope-pushing series Euphoria was labelled “pointlessly gratuitous” by the hardly conservative Esquire magazine. Hats off, then, to Lily-Rose Depp — daughter of Johnny and French pop singer Vanessa Paradis, and goddaughter of the controversy-besieged goth rocker Marilyn Manson — for braving the role of Jocelyn, a singer on the rebound who falls under the influence of shady nightclub impresario Tedros (Abel Tesfaye, aka The Weeknd).
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Though she’s still only 23, Depp went into acting nearly a decade ago, when she made her debut alongside Kevin Smith’s daughter Harley Quinn in Smith’s Tusk, an orgy of nepotism that must have seen the recent ‘nepo baby’ witch hunt coming. The pair reteamed in another Smith movie, Yoga Hosers (2016), another horror-comedy, in which they played convenience store clerks attacked by occult Nazi sausages. It was both a commercial flop and, to damn it with faint praise, Smith’s best film in 10 years.
Somehow, Depp’s acting career has gone under the radar so far, despite roles alongside names like Timothée Chalamet in The King (2019) and Keira Knightley in Silent Night (2021). With a high-profile project like The Idol, which follows prestige serial TV such as Twin Peaks: The Return (2017) and Irma Vep (2022) into the official Cannes lineup, Depp will have to navigate her own life as a screen idol pretty quickly, a status she’s already given thought to. “People want you to be larger than life and somebody that they can aspire to be like or look up to,” she has said, “but also relatable enough to make them feel comfortable.”
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To play the part of Jocelyn, Depp went further than asking her parents what life was like in the ’90s, which, on reflection, might have saved everyone a lot of time. “I thought about movie stars of the ’40s, like Lauren Bacall and Gene Tierney,” she said. “They didn’t 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 elephant in the room, of course, is the very public fall from grace of Depp Sr. — star of opening night film Jeanne du Barry — whose notorious libel trial made never-ending headlines last year. Asked by Vice about the blessing/curse of celebrity parentage, Depp showed an encouraging level of self-awareness. “I feel like my parents did the best job that they possibly could at giving me the most ‘normal childhood’ that they could,” she said. “And obviously, that still was not a normal childhood. 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.”
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