While it’s easy to understand why audiences seek the thrills and chills of watching murderous characters on TV, it can be a little more difficult to understand why creatives go through hell and back to deliver well-executed depravity that, at best , turns into something more poignant.
For Dominique Fishback, star of Prime Video’s “Swarm,” a pitch-black comedy about an obsessed music fan who leans into the “Killer” part of being a killer bee, the role of Dre was an opportunity to escape expectations. “I was very used to playing characters who were seen as lovable or likable or easier to embrace,” said the actress who, outside of her BAFTA Award-nominated supporting role in ‘Judas and the Black Messiah,’ had been mostly cast as plucky teenagers. “I didn’t want to be imprisoned by my artistry or my own fears of disappointing someone to do something that was considered ‘obscure’.”
Fishback, who can also currently be seen in “Transformers: Rise of the Beasts,” wanted her “Monster” (Charlize version) moment. “The most fun part of acting is really exploring all the crevices of the human psyche, and I think with characters that go into that dark side, you can really indulge yourself in a way that you never would in real life, hopefully,” she said. at IndieWire.
Coincidentally, quite a few Emmy contenders can identify with taking on that challenge as, in the limited series categories alone, Evan Peters (“Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story”), Elizabeth Olsen (“Love & Death”), Paul Walter Hauser (“Black Bird”) and Domhnall Gleeson (“The Patient”) all join Fishback as actors who are earning a ton of awards for playing killers.
On paper, it may seem a bit morbid to push Emmy voters to watch such brutal content, but director Paris Barclay, who helmed two key episodes of “Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story,” has suggested the murders are just a starting point to get to less hilarious, but more important topics. “I actually don’t like the elevation of psychotic, sociopathic, demented people. The company is having enough problems on its own,” he told IndieWire over Zoom. “But what I like is uplifting those people who tried to stop and fight, and ultimately fell victim to that person.”
That’s exactly what Barclay had to do with the stunning sixth episode “Silenced,” which received praise from critics who even thought the record-breaking hit Netflix series about real-life serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer just didn’t work for them. all in all. In it, viewers see the full life lived by protagonist Tony Hughes, a young gay and deaf black man who was murdered by Dahmer in 1991.
“I can’t think of a better use of my time,” said the director. “You see a much deeper representation of the deaf community in the final product, not just deaf people, but also the families who love them, which makes the whole episode for me, not only richer, but in a way historical sense because I didn’t see that black gay family. I did not see it. I have not seen how they communicate, I have not seen their love. And to bring it to this level, and show it to millions of people around the world, is something I’m really proud of.
Barclay praised writers David McMillan and Janet Mock for writing an episode that “turns the series from Jeffrey Dahmer to the people he harmed, the people he killed, and the impact he had on society at the time” – a del shows that he feels lost to critics who couldn’t get past the first half of the series, which focused more on the assassin’s origin story.
When he stepped in to direct the groundbreaking episode, Barclay used every technique at his disposal “to downplay Jeffrey Dahmer in favor of Tony Hughes,” he said. “I know a lot about what the camera can do. I know a lot about what music and silence can do, and where you place the camera matters a lot. (Tony) was always a little shorter and a little narrower than Jeffrey. These are just subtle little things that people don’t notice, but that we do as filmmakers, to build up the heroic aspect of it.
Likewise, “Black Bird” came with a lot of intricacies that required creator/showrunner Dennis Lehane’s deft pen to nail down. The Apple TV+ crime drama is adapted from James Keene’s 2010 book “In with the Devil” about his deal with the FBI to get a confession from suspected serial killer Larry Hall in order to get his prison sentence commuted to 10 years. Lehane previously told IndieWire that when he conceived the show, he asked, “How do you find common ground with a serial killer? Where does it intersect?” The answer he arrived at in Keene’s case was objectification.
“Everyone objectifies. I don’t care who you are. Everyone objectifies. I know the human being. It’s what we do. (But) it seems only men use it as a weapon,” said the screenwriter and author. “I don’t sympathize with Larry. He was never convicted, but he potentially killed 20 to 40 women, so I don’t sympathize with him. But at the same time, I empathize with the abject loneliness that exists in that person.
Fishback was equally thorough in her approach to portraying Dre. The only real background “Swarm” creators Donald Glover and Janine Nabers had given her was that her character was emotionally stunted, so the rest of her was left to her to flesh out. “Everything I’m learning in my life, comes a role and makes it better. So I was learning the idea of repressed memories and how something can be so traumatic that you don’t remember it happening at all. And so I was like, ‘OK, maybe I don’t need to know her backstory about her,’” the actress said. “Dre’s life has been so traumatic that she may have suppressed it for herself, and so much that even I can’t access it, but it doesn’t necessarily matter.”
Fishback cites Joseph Hacker’s book “Auditioning on Camera” as a resource that helped her understand her roles and that no matter what, her character will be the way she will be no matter how Fishback plays her because it was written in that way. “Dre is a serial killer because those are the circumstances given, so I don’t have to puzzle her with stuff that is serial killer, whatever that might be,” she said. “I can really just be grounded and present and let the script and my gut and my scene partners influence how I respond.”
In contrast to his peers, most of whom walked in well-trodden territory of characters familiar to true crime fans, Fishback also had to factor in representation. After all, it would be hard to name a Black female serial killer off the top of their heads. “I took it very seriously. So even if those are the circumstances given, she’s going to be a serial killer, how can that make that something that we’re proud of as black audiences, say, ‘Dang, I want to do something like this,'” the actress said.
“I’m grateful that I was able to bring everything I had innate to the character and have real ownership of who Dre is,” Fishback said. “I was so specific about Dre’s nuances that some people are like, ‘Oh, did he do that on purpose?’ And 98% of the time it was done on purpose. It was done very specifically and very intentionally, so (it’s nice) to see that people are picking up these things because I really cared about it and really gave everything I had for it.
But it should be noted that he didn’t try to become Dre. “I’m definitely not a method actor,” Fishback said. While similar performances as Joaquin Phoenix in “The Joker” came with stories of the star losing severe weight for the part and losing all self-control, Fishback worked hard to protect his well-being. Having granted his request to be a producer on “Swarm,” Fishback was the one who negotiated the hiring of a therapist for the days they shot the killing scenes.
While there have been reports that Peters has taken a methodical approach to playing Dahmer, Barclay has provided a much-needed clarification. “He was extremely thoughtful of Rodney (Burford) (who plays Tony Hughes), and when he interacted with the other actors, knowing that Rodney had far less experience and obviously didn’t have an Emmy, Evan really cared and really did. it only helped him with the basics,” said the director. “You can’t be completely in your head all the time and still show that degree of care.”
Despite all the challenges, playing the deadly Dre was a fulfilling experience for Fishback. “Being able to tap into such anger for a character was very healing, I feel like I came out lighter on the other side,” said the outstanding lead actress in a limited series contestant.
That said, she doesn’t have much interest in playing another black assassin any time soon. “I want to do a timeless classic rom-com like ‘When Harry Met Sally’, that’s what I want to do. I want to make an epic love story like ‘The Notebook’ or ‘Titanic’. I want to do something fantastic like ‘Harry Potter’ or ‘Children of Blood and Bone,’” Fishback said. “(‘Swarm’) has inspired me to keep going and knowing that there are people out there doing original work that you are excited about.”