As Billie Eilish treated herself to a bowl of soup the day after her headlining performance at the first weekend of Coachella 2022, she learned that Donald Glover was looking for her.
“I was on some management call, and I remember being told, ‘There’s this show, but it’s during a period of time where you’re not available. It’s a pass,”’ she says about the first time she heard about Amazon Prime Video’s “Swarm.” “I was like, ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa, what the fuck are you talking about? This is my dream!”’
The daughter of actors Maggie Baird and Patrick O’Connell, Eilish grew up acting in plays, but as her pop music stardom grew, she shelved those ambitions. “I was like, ‘Oh, I don’t wanna do this anymore.’ I did, but it’s always been a deep thing that I’ve been reluctant to talk about because I thought I was really bad.”
After finagling her schedule and enlisting Baird as her acting coach, Eilish still “couldn’t have been more nervous.” But that changed when she found herself up close and personal with lead Dominique Fishback, who plays the socially inept serial killer Dre. Eilish’s Eva runs an NXIVM-like cult that sucks in Dre. The first scene they shot together was also their most intense: a therapy session where Eva manipulates Dre into revealing her true identity.
“She came into my trailer and sat her butt right down next to me. We were touching legs. I felt so connected to her,” Eilish recalls about Fishback’s offer to run lines before their episode. That chemistry translated into off-the-cuff moments that startled Eilish when they eventually shot the scene. “She was cracking up, then being really serious, then smiling, then crying. At one point, I broke, and was like, ‘Are you good?’ She just kept going and I was like, ‘Sorry, that was part of it?”’
Soon, Eilish began to find the same freedom in her own role. In a later scene, Dre panics because she can’t find her phone. Eva, who has stolen it, distracts her and draws out another confession of violence before getting physical — an unscripted moment Eilish and Fishback found together.
“It’s so fucked up and classic. This hippie, white bitch is gaslighting this Black girl, and then reaches out and grabs one of her fucking braids,” Eilish explains. “She’s telling me she’s murdered all these people, and instead of me being like, ‘Oh my God, you’re so fucked up,’ I’m tearing up and saying that she’s a warrior, and holding her hands and getting close to her and playing with her braid and leaning in. We wanted this upsetting, weird, seductive, sexual-but-also-not power dynamic. Eva’s reaction to all of it, somehow, is to kiss her.”
Eilish continues, “Some of the fans have talked about how they love Eva [and think she’s] so comforting. Guys, no! It’s a front! She wants the worst of the worst! And that happens where people bring you in and make you feel comfortable and safe, and then they abuse the shit out of that.”
That dangerous perception by viewers unfortunately aligns with the premise that made Eilish resonate with “Swarm” in the first place: Dre murders anyone who speaks badly about her favorite pop star, the Beyoncé-like Ni’Jah (Nirine S. Brown).
“That fan passion is so real, and it’s so beautiful, but it’s also really scary,’’ Eilish says. “And I think the show is a metaphor for this power — how people really are in the delusional nature of, ‘She’s gonna see me and we’re gonna be best friends!’ Fans are really, so powerful, and I think maybe they don’t realize how powerful they are.”
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