After a captivating headlining performance at the first weekend of Coachella 2022, Billie Eilish was enjoying a quiet bowl of soup when she received word that Donald Glover was trying to reach her.
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“I was in the middle of a management call, and that’s when I first heard about Amazon Prime Video’s ‘Swarm,’ but it coincided with a period when I wasn’t available. It was a ‘pass,’ they said,” Eilish recounts. “But I was like, ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa, what on earth are you talking about? This is my dream!'”
As the daughter of actors Maggie Baird and Patrick O’Connell, Eilish had grown up participating in plays. However, as her career in pop music took off, she put those aspirations on the backburner. “I thought, ‘I don’t want to do this anymore,’ even though I did. It’s always been something deep within me that I was reluctant to discuss because I believed I was terrible at it.”
Eilish managed to rearrange her schedule and enlisted her mother, Maggie Baird, as her acting coach, but she still couldn’t shake the nervousness. That changed when she found herself in close quarters with Dominique Fishback, who portrays the socially awkward serial killer Dre. Eilish’s character, Eva, leads a cult reminiscent of NXIVM that ensnares Dre. Their first scene together was their most intense: a therapy session in which Eva manipulates Dre into revealing her true self.
“Eilish recollects Fishback’s visit to her trailer, where they sat closely together, their legs touching. Eilish felt an immediate connection. Fishback offered to rehearse lines for their scene, and their chemistry translated into spontaneous, surprising moments during filming. “She’d switch between laughter, seriousness, smiles, and tears. At one point, I even broke character and asked, ‘Are you okay?’ She just kept going, and I was like, ‘Wait, was that part of it?'”
Gradually, Eilish started to discover the same sense of freedom within her role. In a subsequent scene, Dre panics when she can’t find her phone, which Eva has taken. Eva distracts her and elicits another confession of violence before things become physical, an unscripted moment that Eilish and Fishback improvised together.
“It’s twisted and classic,” Eilish explains. “This hippie, white character is gaslighting a Black girl, and then reaches out to grab one of her braids. Dre reveals she’s committed murders, and instead of me reacting with horror, I tear up and call her a warrior. I hold her hands, play with her braid, lean in, and somehow, the culmination is a kiss from Eva.”
Eilish adds, “Some fans have expressed their love for Eva and find her comforting. But let me be clear, that’s a facade. She’s seeking the darkest side of people. It’s a situation where someone lures you in, makes you feel safe, and then exploits that trust.”
Unfortunately, this misperception by viewers aligns with the show’s core premise that initially resonated with Eilish: Dre kills anyone who speaks ill of her favorite pop star, the Beyoncé-esque Ni’Jah (Nirine S. Brown).
Eilish reflects on this fan fervor: “Fan passion is incredibly genuine and beautiful, but it can also be deeply unsettling. I believe the show serves as a metaphor for this power—how people can become delusional, thinking, ‘She’s going to notice me, and we’ll be best friends!’ Fans possess an incredible influence, but perhaps they don’t fully grasp the extent of their power.