Dominique Fishback Loves Your Swarm Theories—and Has Several of Her Own
To portray the superfan turned serial killer Dre, the actress made it a point to protect her mental health both on set and off.
Warning: Swarm spoilers ahead.
Dominique Fishback is still grappling with the finale of Swarm. The bright star at the center of Amazon Prime’s buzzy new slasher series, Fishback has been keeping up with all the online discourse surrounding the show, and in some cases, has even found herself challenging her own interpretations of the work. The Swarm finale ends on a moment that seems like a hallucination, but when the actress thinks back to filming, she admits, “I was committed to being like, this actually happened.” After hearing what others have had to say, she’s now considering the possibility that, maybe, everyone else is right.
Created by Janine Nabers and Donald Glover, Swarm finds Fishback in the role of Andrea “Dre” Greene, a young Black woman from Houston with an unhealthy devotion to a Beyoncé-like pop star named Ni’Jah. After her best friend — and only confidante — Marissa (played by Beyoncé protege Chloe Bailey, in another meta moment) dies by suicide in the first episode, Dre embarks on a cross-country killing spree, brutally murdering anyone she perceives as being disrespectful to her Queen. Across seven episodes, Dre adopts and sheds a slew of identities, and through it all, Fishback remains a gripping center, delivering a terrifying performance that is at once unsettling but undeniably engrossing.
Though Swarm is Fishback’s first lead role in a series, the talented actress has been on the rise for a while, first breaking through with the David Simon dramas Show Me a Hero and The Deuce before graduating to hefty roles in hit films like Project Power and the Oscar-winning Judas and the Black Messiah. This summer, she’ll make her blockbuster franchise debut in Transformers: Rise of the Beasts. But until then, she’s more than satisfied reading all your crazy rumors and conspiracies. “I love all the theories people are coming up with about the character,” she says.
Donald Glover originally wanted you for the role of Marissa, but you put yourself up for Dre instead. Why Dre?
As an artist — and as a Black actor, too — there’s not a lot of times where you get the opportunity to play something so far from yourself. I was like, oh, this is my opportunity to do something like Heath Ledger gets to do with the Joker, or like a Harley Quinn. Other actors have been getting opportunities to stretch beyond themselves.
Donald and Janine have also talked about deliberately writing Dre as inscrutable as possible, leaving you without much to latch onto. Did you find Dre hard to characterize?
Usually, I journal as my characters. With Dre, I was like, man, I don't really understand you on paper. You go into your toolkit of craft and acting, and the one thing I have in common with her is love. Dre loves her sister. She loves Marissa, and she loves Ni'Jah. That's where I went with it. I didn't study serial killers or fandom or any of that stuff, because it didn't matter.
Black women don’t often get the opportunity to express this kind of unfiltered rage. How did it feel to explore that emotional terrain?
It was definitely hard on days. I think about those adult breaking rooms — we're acknowledging as a society that we have rage and frustrations inside of us, and that we just have to break things. As an actor, you get to go a little bit further and release that. I feel like I get freedom at Dre’s expense.
I'm assuming you have to go to some dark places during those moments. Do you have coping techniques for coming out of them once you’ve finished filming?
I took it very seriously. I know the most powerful tool we have is the mind, because the day we had to do the assassination scene for Judas and the Black Messiah, I was so messed up. I realized that my body couldn't tell the difference from what I made my mind believe. For this, I wanted to make sure that I was protected, so I would pray about it. I had my friend, the actress Monique Coleman, come to set with me for the first kill scene. I also advocated for a therapist to be on set. Not just for me, but for the other actors and the crew, because you don't know how people can be triggered. I made sure that I was able to have sessions with my own therapist. Baths, video journals, meditation as much as I could. But I was really tired.
Swarm was partially inspired by a tweet about how Black actresses are asked to play therapists, lawyers, doctors, and people with all their shit together, when they could “be serial killers too.” Have you ever felt like the scripts being passed your way had boxed you into certain archetypes?
I think it’s just the nature of things. If somebody sees you play a wife really well, then the next script you get is going to be, like, “Wife!” I just thank god that I’m a writer, and so at any point, if I’m just like, I want to do rom-coms, I can. If I have to write it myself, I’ll write it myself. But I’m going to do a rom-com.
There are people who think Dre might be on the spectrum, while others suggest some kind of dissociative identity disorder. How would you describe what’s going on with Dre?
I didn’t label her at all, because I didn’t think it was necessary. The one thing that Donald and Janine told me was that she was emotionally stunted. That, to me, looks like her trying to compute information. She gets asked a question, and she tries to search her memory brain for the proper answer for that time. I approached her from an actor’s standpoint. There’s the scene in the diner where she picks a strawberry out and then pushes the whole plate of fruit away. We know that Dre likes junk food. When I bit that strawberry, it was bitter, and I didn’t like it. I knew if I didn't like it, Dre was really not going to like it. But I didn’t map that out. It was allowing myself to be present and not hiding the fact that she had an experience or a feeling.
Is there a world in which something other than Marissa’s death could have sent Dre on this violent homicidal path?
I love all of the theories that people are coming up with about the character. I think as long as she had Marissa, she had a grounding point, an anchor, and then when she lost that, she lost her grip on reality.
The relationship between Dre and Marissa feels so real. How did you and Chloe Bailey work to establish the complex sisterly bond between your characters?
Our first time meeting each other was when we rehearsed one day before filming. But we had been texting at that point, so when we got on set, we just clicked. Chloe is so warm, generous, caring and loving, and I just love her so much. I’m happy that the feeling is mutual so that we can continue our friendship and our sisterhood.
There's a time jump between episodes five and seven, where Dre is now going by Tony, an identity that felt radically different. What happened in that gap of time?
It was very important to the creatives that each time Dre kills, she gets more confident. She doesn't know how to dance, and then she kills two people and all of a sudden, she can. That makes it scary. It’s like, oh, she does shape-shift. She's very smart in that way. We don't know how many people she actually ended up killing. By this point, she's on the run. What would be the next best thing to go into disguise? Cut all your hair off and dress differently. I think the confidence she embodied at that point was an amalgamation of all the times she had taken different things from different situations [to survive].
Let’s talk about the ending. It feels like Dre has maybe gotten some kind of catharsis, but as an audience, we know that she’s not better. How did the ending feel for you?
When I was filming it, I didn't think it was in her mind. I was committed to being like, this actually happened. It was so funny when somebody in an interview was saying, “Oh, I didn't think it happened.” I was like, “Oh, shoot! You're probably right.” But then, there’s episode six, which has “Carmen” running on stage and being arrested. But ugh, I don't know if there ever would be a “happy” ending for Dre. I do know there’s no happy ending for Dre with Ni’Jah. There’s no way Ni’Jah’s going to take Dre into her arms.
What do you hope people take away from Swarm?
That it was a unique way to tell a story. It was taking something that we can identify in society, and then making it into a psychological thriller with the ability to have social discourse about it. Art is subjective. Love it or hate it, but somebody decided to make their own art. I want to do music, and I can be really nervous about doing music, or I can say, Dom, you’ve got one life to live, make your art. Somebody decided to have this crazy idea [for Swarm] and make some art.
Speaking of making art, you said you’d consider writing your own rom-com one day. Who would be an ideal romcom co-star?
I would ask Daniel [Kaluuya]. Also, Jonathan Majors said he wants to work with me. So let's get me and Jonathan Majors in a rom-com.
Well, Jonathan Majors has already talked about wanting to do a rom-com…
Oh, shoot! Let's manifest that then!
Have his people call your people, let's get it going!
Swarm is streaming on Amazon Prime Video now.