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For ‘Swarm’ star Dominique Fishback, playing a twisted superfan is what dreams are made of

Dominique Fishback in "Swarm."Prime Video

In interviews, Dominique Fishback is warm, chatty, and thoughtful. On TV in “Show Me a Hero” and “The Deuce,” or in movies like “Night Comes On” and “Judas and the Black Messiah,” the characters she plays are relatable, even when they are living a life far removed from that of the viewer, whether as a prostitute or a Black Panther.

Not anymore. In “Swarm,” the new Amazon limited series from Donald Glover (”Atlanta”) and Janine Nabers, Fishback plays Dre, a young woman frantically obsessed with Ni’Jah, an R&B singer who is a note-perfect homage to Beyoncé. (The Swarm of the title refers to the fan base that parallels the real singer’s BeyHive.)


When we meet Dre, she’s a socially awkward misfit living in Houston who relies too much on her sister, Marissa (Chlöe Bailey), for stability. Marissa works, has friends and a boyfriend, but while she fits into society on the surface, she is just as unsteady on her feet. By the end of the first episode, Marissa is gone and Dre has taken a sharp left turn toward life as a ruthless serial killer.

Fishback, who was initially offered the role of Marissa, spoke to the Globe about how she’s been able to personally connect with the range of characters she’s played — until Dre, that is.

Q. What drew you to this role?

A. I’m looking for freedom, personally and as an artist. Freedom as an artist means getting to do something I haven’t done before, to stretch myself and see what I can do.

I got a call saying Donald wanted me to be a part of this project and he wanted me to watch “The Piano Teacher.” It’s a French film where you think it’s a character study, and it takes a dark and twisted turn. When they told me about this show, I immediately knew I wanted to challenge myself.


People may or may not understand this or even like this show. But it will provoke a lot of conversation.

Q. Would you have played the more relatable Marissa or were you determined to try for something different?

A. Donald later told me he wanted me for Marissa because I have a familiar energy — I feel like your cousin or your sister or the girl who was popular in school. But I told Donald I never wanted to catch up to my own self as an actor. Dre made me think of Charlize Theron in “Monster” and Hilary Swank in “Boys Don’t Cry,” those movies that I admired where someone got the opportunity to transform into something totally different from who they were.

And I always felt I could lead something. I’ve been dreaming about this for a long time, for my name to be on billboards. Now it’s here.

Q. Is this show really about the impact of social media and Dre’s pop culture obsession or is her behavior actually fueled more by family trauma?

A. I think that obsession with Ni’jah is just the backdrop. The only thing Donald told me about Dre was that she’s emotionally stunted. The show is ultimately about a girl who has a lot of love and a lot of pain and grief, and she doesn’t know how to process [it]. She’s teetering. She feels very deeply but there’s a thin line between love and hate, and she doesn’t know which one is which. Especially once she loses Marissa, who’s her foundation.


Q. Had you felt a personal connection to characters like Billie in “Show Me a Hero” or Darlene in “The Deuce”?

A. Billie was closest to me. I knew what it was like to love somebody so much who just couldn’t love me the way I needed. Darlene is a sex worker but she was intellectually curious and loved to read and was very sensitive when watching movies. So it was easy to tap into her emotional world and psychology. Darlene doesn’t have to dress like or walk like a sex worker — she is one regardless, so I could play her any way I want and I could play her internal world.

There was always a way to tap in from my personal experience even if the character goes in a different direction. This one, there just wasn’t.

I often talk about journaling to get into my characters’ minds, but with Dre I couldn’t and I didn’t want to. I would get frustrated because there’s no throughline and no thread I could connect. So I had to just allow myself to be super present.

Q. So how do you find your way into a role like this?

A. I watched one video about interrogations and body language and how when someone is lying there are certain telltales. I thought about Dre communicating that with her eyes. She doesn’t know how to respond naturally in certain moments so she tries to compute in her head, searching her memory bank to find what the proper response is so she can go under that radar. But that makes things worse.


Q. What about body language? There’s also a scene where she and her sister and two others are eating in a mall and she is not tidy with her noodles. And she just looks uncomfortable walking or running.

A. It wasn’t, “Let me eat this food weird,” it was that she’s probably really hungry and she lacks the ability to read social cues so she’s not going to eat noodles in a way that’s calm and collected, especially when they’re talking about a party and she wants to ask “Can I come?”

Everyone who has seen it talks about the way she walks. It was not because as an actor I wanted to move my body differently but because the character called for it.

I also love her clothes. I thought Donald and Janine would want her to get more raggedy and rundown as she became more unhinged but she actually gained confidence and looked better. It subverted my idea of what she was going to be like as a serial killer. And so her walk starts to shift too.

It’s not very often that with one character you get to be so many different things. I’m so fortunate.

Q. With all that accomplished, what’s next?

A. I definitely need a juicy rom-com. I want to do comedy and I’m such a romantic — that’s my truest nature. I want to do Shakespeare — Juliet is a dream role for me. And Jamie Foxx is executive producing my one-woman show, “Subverted,” and we’re going to take it out to make it as a special and then hopefully take it to Broadway. And I’m working on a poetry book right now.


Q. That’s a lot of plans.

A. I used to feel like I was racing time and time was my adversary. Now I’ve relinquished control, because when I’ve done that my dreams have manifested themselves even bigger than I could have imagined.

This interview was edited and condensed.


Starring: Dominique Fishback, Chlöe Bailey, and Damson Idris. On: Amazon Prime Video. All seven episodes stream Friday.