‘Swimming with Sharks’ shows how dark it can be under the spotlight of Hollywood

Swimming with Sharks
Kiernan Shipka as Lou in ‘Swimming with Sharks.’
Courtesy of Roku

Hollywood is once again examined under a microscope in Kathleen Robertson’s debut series as a show-runner, ‘Swimming with Sharks’—but the story veers away from the typical power dynamics we’ve seen in the past. Taking from stories she’s heard on set, and relationships from the ’90s film of the same title (though the male roles have now become female) Robertson, who was an actress herself, shifts the narrative to be thrilling, and also telling of the times.

‘Swimming with Sharks’ follows Lou (Kiernan Shipka), an eager intern who gets to work for one of Tinsel Town’s most infamous studio CEOs, Joyce (Diane Kruger). As Joyce herself tries to navigate a very unhealthy working relationship with her own dying boss (played by Donald Sutherland), Lou proves to be an asset to the team. But that of course was in the cards, as Lou had done extensive research and set her sights on working at Joyce’s Fountain Studios long before. Peppering in murder, obsession, abusive power plays and maniacal impulses, ‘Swimming with Sharks’ shines a light on how dark it can be under the spotlight of Hollywood.

To delve deeper into the series, Kiernan Shipka sat down to discuss her role and why she wanted to sign on with this project.

Swimming with Sharks
Courtesy of Roku

What was it about this role and show that made you want to sign on?

I thought the script was really compelling, [and] I thought the characters were written with a complexity and with voices that felt really real and right…It felt like a show that was written by an actor and written by a woman. That was very comforting to me, and that was very exciting to me. And the role was just something that I felt played to some interesting strengths of mine and had elements of people I’ve played before, but not to this level. So all of this was a big yes for me. There wasn’t a lot of weighing pros and cons when it came to this, I was really excited to do it from the start.

On the note of this being written by both an actress and a woman—what were some conversations that you had with Kathleen Robertson? 

I got really lucky that I was able to sign on to it I would say, probably, three months before we started shooting. [That] gave me so much time to talk to Kathleen and break down the character. I feel such a kinship with her. We both grew up acting and grew up in this sort of crazy world and understand each other on a really deep level. So, having time before filming to talk things out with her and to just gain a comfort and a trust was really essential. [It] lent itself to doing work that felt really good.

Let’s talk more about your character, Lou. How would you describe her and what unfolds for her as the series goes on?

Lou is such a complicated character. I loved how quietly calculating she was and I loved that she had an internal world that I could know about but no one else would be keyed into. I was very interested in her past and her aspirations and her wantsand obviously, she does bad things. She is maniacal at times, but understanding that the lack in her life is why she was doing those things was really important to me. I’m very passionate about love and having love in one’s life… Her life was pretty void of that. And I kind of know what it feels like to want to be loved more too. So, all of her motivations made sense to me, it was just the actions that I would never do that she was doing because of her circumstances. But she’s unlike anyone I’ve ever played before and I love her for it. I think you have to fall in love with the characters you’re playing even if they’re doing bad things.

Swimming with Sharks
Courtesy of Roku

In the 1994 film ‘Swimming with Sharks’ the lead roles are both men. What does the gender-swap in the 2022 show bring to the story?

Honestly, I think the gender swap changes the whole thing. It really then becomes this kind of bigger conversation and this broader concept that doesn’t only tackle power dynamics and Hollywood and what it means to be in this odd industry that we’re in—but also, what it means to be a woman in this industry and what it means to be a woman. It just added layers of complexity to a story, and I think that that was really essential. It’s also about these two women who have a deep understanding of one another even though they’re kind of an unlikely pair…And all of that is really enhanced and heightened by the fact that they’re two female leads at the center of this big story that we’re telling.

Swimming with Sharks‘ will premiere April 15 on the Roku Channel.