Dominique Fishback, Chloë Bailey Talk Donald Glover’s Swarm
Dominique Fishback’s normally sweet personality has gotten the axe in Prime Video’s “Swarm.” Instead, she’s embodying an unhinged stan of a Beyoncé-esque artist named Ni’Jah. The new thriller series — from the minds of cocreators/executive producers Donald Glover and Janine Nabers, and a team of writers that includes Malia Obama — stars the 31-year-old as Dre, an overly passionate fan whose obsession with Ni’Jah, the world’s biggest pop star, sends her on a peculiar cross-country journey to protect the superstar’s good name and reputation. The series also features Chloë Bailey, who plays Dre’s sister, Marissa; and “Snowfall”‘s Damson Idris, who portrays Marissa’s boyfriend, Khalid.
Interestingly enough, Fishback was never the intended lead for “Swarm.” According to Vanity Fair, the actor was originally approached to play Bailey’s role (which comes as a surprise to the singer who says she “cannot imagine Dre being somebody else”), but Fishback tells POPSUGAR that her track record for playing “relatable and lovable” characters is the very thing that convinced Glover and Nabers to give her a chance at something nefarious.
“You’re such a gift to that character and you’re such a gift to me.”
“I went into a meeting, they told me about the story and Dre, and I was like, ‘Oh, I want to play Dre,'” she explains. “So I told my team that and then got on the phone with Donald and he said, ‘Tell me what you’re thinking. Tell me what’s up.’ And I said, ‘Hey, listen, I never want to catch up to myself as an actor.'” According to Fishback, Glover said he originally thought of her for the role of Marissa because she “needed to have a warm energy” and be “somebody that felt relatable and lovable and popular.”
“He said, ‘Oh, we’re so used to seeing you [as those lovable characters],’ and this is why I wanted to do something different,” she continues. “They’re so used to seeing me be able to do that, and so his mind didn’t automatically go [to Dre], but he was excited by the idea. He said, ‘Well, if you’re Dre, then what does the world look like if you’re [her] and not Marissa? Who would be your Marissa?'” Insert Bailey — who credits Fishback’s “Swarm” performance for informing how she approached her own part in the show.
“You’re such a gift to that character and you’re such a gift to me,” Bailey tells her costar, “How I’m able to travel through the whole series because of the Marissa that you gave me.”
“I really wanted to represent Marissa in the best way possible to stand for everyone who feels that way.”
The “In Pieces” singer, who also stars in Peacock’s choir musical “Praise This,” says “Marissa’s strength and how she seemed to hold herself and the ones she loved together” all resonated with her, despite “Swarm”‘s sinister tone. She adds, “How she was the glue but yet somehow she couldn’t give her own self that same love, attention, and grace. I really wanted to represent Marissa in the best way possible to stand for everyone who feels that way.”
There’s also another thing that attracted Bailey to her “Swarm” role: the sisterhood between Dre and Marissa, that she feels reflects her bond with her own sibling, Halle Bailey. “How hard and how passionate my sister and I love each other and how much we will ride for each other and fight for each other, that’s what’s similar,” she notes, jokingly adding that that excludes Dre and Marissa’s “toxic codependency thing.” “However, the driving force of their sisterhood, that’s very much — when you see my sister and I, it’s like fire and ice because I’m a Cancer and she’s an Aries” — so is Fishback. “There you have it, ladies and gentlemen,” Bailey laughs.
Sisterhood isn’t the only aspect of “Swarm” grounded in reality. Though it’s never explicitly stated, the series is clearly a twisted take on Beyoncé and her Beyhive fanbase — from the show’s fictional cult-like following, known as the Killer Bees, to all of Ni’Jah’s distinguishable aesthetics nodding to the Grammy-winning icon. In fact, each episode of the show is prefaced with a message that reads: “This is not a work of fiction. Any similarity to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is intentional.”
This isn’t the first time Glover and his collaborators have gotten creative with true-life-inspired accounts — FX’s “Atlanta” is proof of that. However, “Swarm”‘s plot is relatively new territory for Fishback, as it finds her in a role vastly different from anything else on her résumé, like her turn as Black Panther revolutionary Deborah Johnson in “Judas and the Black Messiah” and orphan Robyn in “The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey.”
“I didn’t want to be imprisoned by my own artistry and wanted to keep expanding.”
Fishback says Glover tasked both her and Bailey to watch 2001’s “The Piano Teacher” to get a feel for what to expect from “Swarm.” Though she admits the show’s material and her leading gig made her “nervous” and “a little scared,” the actor says wise words from Taraji P. Henson, shared after she took on her famous “Empire” character Cookie Lyon, encouraged her to embrace the new opportunity.
“I thought about what Taraji P. Henson said about how Cookie scared her and she had to take the challenge and how so many other actors [were] scared by a role,” Fishback shares. “And I’m from Brooklyn, so if I’m going to be bout it, I got to be bout it, bout it. You know what I’m saying? So I just let myself explore. I didn’t want to be imprisoned by my own artistry and wanted to keep expanding.”
“Swarm” is now streaming on Prime Video.