‘Swarm’ Creator on Dre’s Sexuality, Paris Jackson & Pie-Eating Scene – Variety

SPOILER ALERT: This interview contains spoilers for all episodes of “Swarm” on Amazon Prime Video.

Rumors of a Donald Glover project about a “Beyoncé-like figure” have been swirling in Hollywood for at least two years. And while no one involved will say Knowles’ name — though Glover has called out the Beyhive and co-creator and showrunner Janine Nabers has spoken of “a certain pop star from Houston” — that series is finally here.

“Swarm” stars Dominique Fishback as Dre, an emotionally stunted superfan of a singer named Ni’Jah (Nirine S. Brown), who is somewhat unhealthily obsessed with his own sister, Marissa (Chloe Bailey). When a fight between the sisters separates them for a night, Dre goes out to celebrate Ni’Jah’s surprise album (clearly inspired by Beyoncé’s “Lemonade” singing about being cheated on), while Marissa discovers she’s being cheated on by her boyfriend , Khalid (Damson Idris). Unable to reach Dre for support, she commits suicide.

After being mysteriously turned away from Marissa’s funeral by “the family”, Dre murders Khalid, both to betray Marissa and to disrespect Ni’Jah. (It seems she’s starting to conflate the two.) The rest of the series sees her on a rampage, grieving for Marissa and killing Ni’Jah opponents while desperately hoping to meet the star one day. In the final, she finally does it – sort of. After hanging up her serial killer hat and assuming a new identity, she spends thousands of dollars that should have gone to rent on Ni’Jah tickets. This upsets her girlfriend, Rashida (Kiersey Clemons), who hates Ni’Jah, and Dre has another mental breakdown. She murders Rashida and burns the body, then realizes that she also burned the tickets, so she goes to the concert and stabs a scalper to get his tickets. Dre reaches the front row and then manages to jump onto the stage. As security rushes in to apprehend her, Ni’Jah stops them and embraces Dre – but it’s Marissa’s face that Dre sees.

Nabers spoke with Variety about how she and Glover invented Dre and all the bodies that were buried along the way.

Donald Glover and you have talked about how the idea for “Swarm” came about, envisioning what it would look like if the serial killer subgenre focused on a black woman instead of a white man. What did you originally envision when you created the character of Dre?

The terminology we used was “alien”. This woman is an alien in her own world. If you watch the pilot when she gets to Khalid’s house, there are aliens on TV. Right. It’s a consistent line with her throughout the series. We really looked to “Piano Teacher” for inspiration. Anders introduced me to that movie and it blew my mind. It centers around a woman who has a very mundane way of living her life on the surface, and when you peel back the layers of her complicated psychology, you uncover a completely different type of people who are very alien-sensitive. But since I was from Houston and Anders was from Atlanta, we wanted to filter it through a southern, black female perspective. It’s kind of like a sister “Atlanta” when you look at the strange family relationships.

In the penultimate episode, styled as a true crime documentary, it is revealed that Dre had been in foster care before being adopted into Marissa’s family and sent back again for her violent behavior. We don’t get any details about how she ended up in the system or what it was like for her. Did you ever imagine more of her backstory than that?

The documentary episode, in the style of “Atlanta,” felt a bit like a step out where you can intellectualize what you’ve seen — the foster care system and this idea of ​​black women falling through the cracks — from a personal perspective. Anyone who’s black and from the South has some kind of experience with the foster care system, whether it’s friends who’ve dealt with it, family they’ve had. It is a very real thing. Anders grew up with a perspective on it. I grew up with a perspective on it.

But we were really focused on not sharing a lens into her trauma in a real way. You can intellectualize trauma, but we didn’t want to dramatize what it was like until we’re introduced to Dre that led to her becoming who she is. That’s what I think a lot of black storytelling can lean on, but we really just wanted to let people fill in their own gaps in the story. There’s a mystery to how she got to where she was, and that’s okay. It’s okay not to know everything.

Speaking of how race works in the show, I’m curious about the white characters. When Dre goes out to dance to the new Ni’Jah album, she loses her virginity to a guy at the club. Why is he white?

I originally saw him as a black guy. There’s an actor on the show (Byron Bowers) that I wanted for that role initially, and I pitched it to Donald, and Donald said, “We could do that, or we could put him as this other character that feels like it would lean more toward a white guy, and let’s put a white guy in this role that feels like it would lean toward a black guy.” Our character in episode 3 was written as a white guy, and we’re subverting that a little bit, too. It’s really clever and funny, because you wouldn’t see someone like her lose her virginity to a white guy. And you’ve never seen a black guy talking about an eating disorder.

Quantrell D. Colbert/Prime Video

What about the character played by Paris Jackson, daughter of Michael Jackson? Hailey presents as white but calls herself black because she has a black grandparent? Was that role written for Paris or did she come in later?

Carmen Cuba, our casting director, was amazing. She beat up Paris Jackson and we all like fell out. We said, “Exactly. That’s exactly what we’re talking about.”

Paris was amazing. She is professional. She came in and asked all the right questions. I’m a Jewish woman, she identifies as Jewish, so we bonded over that. And she trusted us. She said, “I understand what this role is and here’s how I’m going to approach it.” She really just owned this character of a light-passing biracial woman who is really keen to tell everyone about her blackness.

Dre killed Khalid to avenge Marissa, but they had also been at odds over Ni’Jah. That makes Hailey’s abusive boyfriend, and later Hailey herself, Dre’s only murder that has nothing to do with Ni’Jah.

This show is a study of a character and her unpredictability. We’ve seen the pilot. She has this sister who is in an unhealthy relationship with a man. We’ll see how it plays out. We’re going into Episode 2 and we’re seeing a little bit of that too, right? So you think this is a story about a black woman defending her friends and sisters at all costs. If men get in the way, they will be taken down. Right?

We see her take down the boyfriend, but again you undermine the narrative. You see what she does with Hailey as another way to subvert that narrative a little bit and keep the audience on their toes. Like, wait a minute, what is this show about?

Food plays an interesting role in the show. Dre eats a pie with her hands after killing Khalid and eats pretzels while a client masturbates in front of her, among other bizarre moments. Where did it come from?

When you look at serial killers in history, there are always some strange things they have. Dahmer worked in a chocolate factory and they are pretty sure he disposed of their bodies in the chocolate. The Night Stalker would break into people’s homes and go through their refrigerators. We talked a lot about food. What is a funny way, and a strange way, and a grotesque way to show one’s relationship with something that is passionate? And it could be fun. It was food.

Dominique is such a disciplined actress in what she eats and is just so particular, so she came to it with a lot of thought and energy. It feels really meme-friendly, like something that could really stick with the way people talk about her as a character and her “isms.”

Dre has several strange sexual experiences throughout the show until we see her become Tony and settle into a long-term and relatively normal relationship with Rashida (Kiersey Clemons), who hates Ni’Jah. What were you trying to say about Dre’s sexuality?

We knew we wanted to start her as a virgin. In many horror stories, the main character, if she is a woman, is a virgin. So there’s a way to subvert it: “Oh, is this the story of a girl who loses her virginity and gets woken up?” We create this story about her sexuality and when she loses her virginity, it’s fine. It is what it is. But what actually ignites her sensuality, what actually makes her come alive, is this act of violence.

Because this is a limited series, we see Dre go through different iterations of his character. By the time we get to the finale, she’s the most confident she’s ever been. She is grounded in her own skin. And it had a lot to do with her journey as a killer and her relationship with social media. When you meet her in episode 7, she’s not on her phone. She is not focused on Ni’Jah. She feels like someone who is in remission. The fact that she lives very confidently as Tony – in a grounded, real way without any labels – is part of it. This relationship with Rashida is part of that. It’s about getting into your own sense of self. Tony is her in her truest, most humane, present, grounded form.

Chris Reel/Prime Video

But in the end, she loses touch again. She kills Rashida for disliking Ni’Jah before the hallucinatory sequence at the Ni’Jah concert. Was the story always going to end this way?

Yes. Because every episode, with the exception of episode 4, has a true basis for his murder. We found a murder in 2018 that took place in the outskirts of Georgia with a young woman who was brutally killed and discarded in some kind of desert, wooded area. It was a white woman, but we did our own thing. All this is based on real situations.

The ending is supposed to be a bit of a full-circle moment, as emotionally jarring and upsetting as it gets. We started here and now we’re here, but we can see why she had to take this journey to get to where she is. In the pilot, she says, “When we meet Ni’Jah, we’re driven to her house. We go to dinner.” And episode 7 is that dinner – in her mind.

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