Troye Sivan and Rachel Sennott on Hollywood Horror Stories and Homophobic Chicken
Troye Sivan, the world’s preeminent twink pop star, is ready to dish on his new role in HBO’s The Idol, an ultra-seedy look at the underbelly of L.A.’s fame factory, costarring Rachel Sennott, who talks to him about making the switch from the stage to his “batshit crazy” new acting gig, Amy Winehouse’s Judaism, homophobic chicken, and the “random-as-fuck Canadian girl” who started it all.
TROYE SIVAN: Rachel, there’s not a chance in hell that I’m going on video.
RACHEL SENNOTT: Should I not? I wanted to see your face, but I can turn my video off.
SIVAN: I’ll FaceTime you afterwards, but I can’t let anyone see me like this.
SENNOTT: Okay. I’m turning off my video, otherwise I’ll just be looking at my face and it’ll be weird.
SIVAN: Okay. Good morning, Rachel.
SENNOTT: Hello! I miss you so much. There’s all these things I want to talk to you about as a friend but I’m like, “We’re not on FaceTime,” so I’m going to get down to business. We met at a party but we actually know each other more through filming The Idol. So I want to know, who is your first idol that made you excited about music and art and led you to where you are right now?
SIVAN: It was 100 percent Michael Jackson. Growing up in the mid-’90s my parents had VHS concert tapes and my dad had this Michael Jackson one. And of course, I loved music since the day I was born. But then it clicked that you could do it for so many people. I remember watching this clip of him where he stared off into the distance for three minutes and the audience just got louder and louder, and then he just moves his head to the other side—I went ballistic. That was when I was like, “Damn, I want to do that.” When it came to songwriting, that only clicked for me later in life because I always loved singing, but I would just sing covers. And then when I was 14—
SENNOTT: [Laughs] Later on at 14.
SIVAN: It was Amy Winehouse. I remember listening to Back to Black when it came out. I found out she was Jewish and I was obsessed. I was like, “Why am I relating to this 24-year-old who is singing about such specific stuff?” Like what sports game she went to, or whatever. Something about writing with that specificity made the songs feel more real. It was an aha moment where I was like, “Oh, you can write super diaristically and it actually makes the songs better.” That freed me up where I was like, “Okay, if I want to write songs, I don’t have to try and write for everyone. I’m going to write for me and see what happens.”
SENNOTT: I totally relate to the feeling of being like, “That’s cool.” And then a year or two later, you’re like, “That’s a job, oh my god.”
SIVAN: Yeah, exactly. It was crazy.
SENNOTT: So you’ve come up in the music industry, you know all about it. What do you feel like The Idol gets right about pop stardom?
SIVAN: Oh my god, so much. I mean, obviously there’s Abel [“The Weeknd” Tesfaye, cocreator of The Idol] who’s like the resident pop star on The Idol. But there’s so many musicians on this project—I think it’s really real. Even down to the tiniest things, like last night, we were filming at SoFi Stadium, and someone from the crew came up to me and said, “Wait, so when Lily [Rose Depp] is walking to the stage, should she be wearing her in-ears [monitors]? How does that work?” I love being in the know, and fortunately or unfortunately, I feel like I’ve come across most of these characters in real life. The Idol is batshit crazy, but so is the music industry.
SENNOTT: I know. There were certain moments for me where it felt so meta, like whenever there’s a camera filming a camera.
SIVAN: Also our entire crew is in the show as well, which is great. There were definitely times where I feel like we were both lost in what’s real and what’s not.
SENNOTT: Yeah. Can you talk a little bit about your journey into acting and how you feel you’ve evolved as an actor? I was obviously so impressed by you. Knowing you as a musician and then seeing you act, I feel like it’s a fluid thing.
SIVAN: It was weird. Somehow, music was always a thing for me. I loved it from day one. I used to run around the playroom and sing Madonna, “Like a Prayer.” My parents told me that I sounded like Madonna and that was it. I was like, “Okay, cool. I want to be a singer.” And then acting, it only happened because the first manager I ever had found me on YouTube. I was singing and he was like, “I think you’re a really great singer, but I’m actually not a music manager. Have you ever thought about acting before?” I hadn’t, and he said, “Do you mind if I can get you some auditions?”
SIVAN: I’m actually going to tell the longer version of the story, because it’s crazy. Basically, my dad was at this shopping center and there was this girl who looked really, really lost. She came up to him and was like, “Hey, do you know where this place is? I’m visiting from Canada.” My dad was like, “Are you Jewish?” And she’s like, “Yeah.” So again, of course, he was obsessed. He was like, “Where are you staying?” And she was like, “I was just going to sleep in my car because all the hotels are booked.” And he’s like, “Okay, look, I swear I’m not an insane person. Take this GPS, it’s got my address plugged into it. My wife is there, my four kids are there. We’re a normal family, I promise. And you can stay until you figure out your shit.” It turns out she was a film student and I had just got sent my first audition for X-Men Origins: Wolverine. And so this random-as-fuck Canadian girl helped me put it on tape and I ended up getting the job. That was my first acting thing and I absolutely loved it. But with The Idol, because we’ve been filming for such a long time, the consistency of it, it’s the first time that I’ve actually really felt like an actor. You know what I mean?
SENNOTT: Yeah, definitely. Did you feel challenged as an actor on this job in a different way than you’ve felt challenged before? Because there were moments where I was like, “Whoa, this is so different than anything I’ve done before,” in an exciting way.
SIVAN: I mean, the scale of it is so intimidating, and so having to get past that was quite a big thing. This is such a dream project, so I didn’t want to get in my own way and psych myself out. That was a big hurdle to get over. Other than that, being surrounded by such talent, it’s like, “Okay, shit, this is sink or swim. This is your moment.”
SENNOTT: Yeah, I definitely have that too. You look around and everyone’s so talented and you’re like, “Okay, let’s go.”
SENNOTT: Because it’s like, “What else is there to do?”
SENNOTT: What do you think is different about performing a song as opposed to being on set?
SIVAN: I’ve been singing for such a long time, I actually feel quite safe onstage. I feel confident that if, let’s say, god forbid, I was to trip onstage or forget my lyrics, I could talk my way out of it. And my audience, the people who come to the shows, are so nice and I feel like they’re my friends. That’s a very safe space. And then acting, I’m very aware of the fact that there’s so much money being spent and everyone is waiting on you. It’s such a team effort that there’s this feeling of not wanting to let other people down. Even when you’re performing on set, maybe you’re performing for 50 people and half of them aren’t watching because they’re busy doing their own job. I feel a lot more on the spot with acting than I do with music.
SENNOTT: Do you have a horror story where you came out the other side of it being like, “Well, now I’m in it”?
SIVAN: I definitely do. Some of them are so embarrassing, though. Hmm, let me think of one that’s not absolutely horrifying. I don’t really care, I can say this: I had Chick-fil-A—so first of all, it’s karma, right? Because I was eating homophobic chicken—but it was spicy homophobic chicken before this show. I can’t remember where I was. And my band, I have this hand signal where if I hold up the number four as I’m walking off stage, they know to play some beep-bop elevator music and give me ten minutes because something is going wrong in my body. And so—
SENNOTT: [Laughs] Okay, I love that. I’m going to start doing that to you on set.
SIVAN: [Laughs] Yeah, exactly. I don’t think I puked but I remember feeling extraordinarily sick. It was that sweaty, clammy feeling, except there’s all these people staring back at me. Thank god at that point, the lyrics were second nature to me because I was singing about whatever I was singing about, but my mind was a million miles away thinking, “I need to get off this stage within the next 30 seconds.” And so I ran off and did my thing, washed my face, almost puked, et cetera. I’ve had a fair amount of moments like that. And honestly, you just laugh about them afterwards and it’s fine. Like I said, I feel very, very safe with my audience. If I needed to come out onstage and be like, “Guys, I just puked,” it would be chill.
SENNOTT: Yeah, totally. It’s the scariest when your body is like, “I’m going to act up,” literally. And I’ve had that so many times. Anytime I have to film anything at all where I’m like, “This is kind of revealing,” or something like that, my body is like, “Perfect, your period is three weeks early. You’ve never felt worse.”
SIVAN: And you’re completely out of control, but when you’re working with people that you love and trust, it’s fine. Remember what happened during the party scene with you and me? That kind of moment.
SENNOTT: And it becomes a funny story or memory.
SENNOTT: We had so much fun on set. Do you have a favorite memory or just a favorite part of set life?
SIVAN: Yeah. I think the way Sam [Levinson, cocreator of The Idol] shoots is so specific and so inspiring. Even the party scene that we just referenced, literally, it’s like, “Sam, where are the cameras?” And he’s like, “Don’t worry about it, just have a party.” And then we literally just had a good time for however long it was. Being able to work with that freedom gives you the moments of joy that are so genuine because that line becomes so blurred when we’re shooting in the way that we’ve been shooting. Even in the scenes where there’s a lot of improv, the laughs are genuine and the connection is real.
SIVAN: What’s yours?
SENNOTT: I was going to say the same thing. I’ll be like, “Oh my god, it was so funny when Troye said this.” It’s something you said in a scene, but I’m remembering it as if it was a hangout when you’re like, “Do you remember the other night when blah, blah, blah?”
SENNOTT: Obviously, my other favorite moment was when—we have to talk about how we met at the magazine party. It was fun, but it was really jarring, and I was clinging to you, even though we just met. And then cut to us meeting again at four in the morning on set.
SIVAN: And me watching you do a 30-point turn to try and get into that parking space. And I was like, “Wow, Rachel’s so nice but she sucks at driving.”
SENNOTT: And I can say this because it’s in the trailer. I have to drive on the show and literally the first thing you saw was how bad of a driver—
SIVAN: It was actually not that bad, it was a tough parking spot. And you handled the cars on The Idol like an absolute boss, so you’re good.
SENNOTT: Thank you. So now you’ve transitioned into acting, you’re still doing music, but you’re expanding your creative pursuits. Is there something that you haven’t done yet that you still want to do?
SIVAN: I really love interior design and thinking about what the home means for people. I love fragrances and the way they can change the way that you see someone. Before The Idol, I always said that I wanted to be in an ensemble cast, I think partly because I still am nervous about taking on too much as an actor. But it’s all honestly a bonus at this point, because when I think about growing up in Perth, where there was no entertainment industry, it’s not lost on me how insane it is that I even live part-time in L.A. I think if I went back and told my younger self that, he would be so excited.
SENNOTT: Well, you’re definitely good at architectural design and stuff, because I think I told you my little sister is a fan of yours. [Laughs] I told her that I was interviewing you and she sent me screenshots from your Architectural Digest house tour. She was like, “Ask him about this.” And it’s a photo of you standing in front of a couch.
SIVAN: [Laughs] What does she want to know?
SENNOTT: The green couch, what made you decide? Anyways, I totally know what you’re saying. It’s your creative essence spilling into different types of things.
SIVAN: You are doing the exact same thing whether it’s writing, comedy, acting. Do you feel like it scratches the same itch for you or are they completely separate dreams?
SENNOTT: I relate to what you’re saying where it pulls you different ways. The desire is to create and to make stuff with people that you really love and who inspire you, and then sometimes, all of a sudden, you’re pulled over somewhere else. I feel like that part’s kind of scary, but it’s also very beautiful. I’m definitely not good at architecture or design, but I feel like I have people in my life who give me helpful tips.
SIVAN: You’ve got your gays? I want to help.
SENNOTT: Yes please. That’s my next area to go to. Is there anything you want to talk about that we haven’t covered?
SIVAN: Just that I’m so, so happy that I met you and that we got to work on this show together.
SENNOTT: Me too. I love our little voice memos to each other.
SIVAN: Me too.
SENNOTT: I’m sure I’m going to see you soon.
Hair: Charlie Le Mindu
Makeup: Jazzmin Oddie using YSL Beauty
Production Assistant: Matteo Debole
Fashion Assistant: Charlie Burke