Chlöe Bailey on the Complex Darkness of 'Swarm' and How Sister Halle Influenced Her Character (Exclusive)

Chloe Bailey Dominique Fishback
Prime Video

The Prime Video series, co-created by executive producers Janine Nabers and Donald Glover, premieres on March 17.

At first glance, Amazon Studios' new series Swarm is a heady tale of a young woman's obsession with a fictional pop star and how that evolves into a dark road trip with unpredictable encounters. But according to star Chlöe Bailey, it's more a tale of sisterhood than anything else.

From co-creators and executive producers Janine Nabers and Donald GloverSwarm follows Dre (Dominique Fishback), a young woman obsessed with the fictional pop star Ni'Jah, whose body of work and art style are very similar to Beyoncé's. Set between 2016 and 2018, the series follows Dre as her fandom takes her to dark, unexpected places, which begins after a tragic incident involving her sister Marissa (Bailey) and Marissa's boyfriend, Khalid. (Damson Idris). 

"Marissa, she's finding her way, and I think that's why she and Dre click so much because they're holding each other up," Bailey told ET of her softhearted character, revealing that "Marissa has a lot of mental health issues. And while she's trying to keep her sister afloat, she's dealing with a lot of dark things and I'm so happy for their bond and their love."

"Marissa almost uses Khalid, and love from different men, as a distraction to get away from the real world. I really love Marissa because she's positive on the outside, but you don't know the pain that she holds on the inside," she continued. 

Praising her co-stars, the actress shared that she had "the best two weeks of my life" shooting with Fishback and Idris, noting that the trio's connection "felt so right and it felt so real and authentic." Bailey added, "I couldn't have chosen a better scene partner and a better sister, the Dre to my Marissa," calling their bond "the light" in the darkness of the show. 

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Nabers and Glover previously told Vanity Fair that they got their inspiration for the character of Dre from iconic TV antiheroes who were compelling in their messiness and likened the series to Michael Haneke's 2001 Piano Teacher and Martin Scorsese's The King of Comedy.

Bailey revealed that the casting director encouraged her to watch the 2001 drama and all the episodes of Atlanta, Glover's brainchild, to get a sense of where production was going theme-wise before tackling the role of Marissa. "I think what I loved about [Atlanta] so much is [that] it was so funny and quirky and random and dark at times and really funny and light at times. That's what I loved about it, that it wasn't put inside a box," she shared, adding that Glover doesn't limit himself to a single genre. "When I read [Swarm], the first script that Janine and Donald sent me, I was just absolutely floored."

The grown-ish star explained that she watched The Piano Teacher before meeting with Nabers and Glover via Zoom, which has since become one of her favorite films. "It's an incredible French film. You think it's just about an innocent woman, but she has all of these erotic fantasies. What I loved about it is that it showed you never know what someone has inside of their mind," Bailey said.

"You explore that with Swarm and you explore that with Dre and Marissa," the actress continued. "[With the latter] you see this positive bright light on the outside and with the different hints and everything like her scars and little things that she'll say or how she deflects and never really talks about her problems and how she runs away from them, that's what a lot of us can relate to because none of us have it all figured out. We're just better at hiding it."

"I'm such a suspenseful, thriller, murder story girl. Horror films with scary stuff, I can't do, but this I can do," she added. "And when I read [Swarm], I loved the synergy with Marissa and Dre and the shock value with her boyfriend and their toxic love and how they bonded over their love for something that they had since they were little girls. I just love the whole script overall and I was like, 'Wow, this is amazing.'"

Prime Video

Although Bailey has an intimate perspective into the world of fandom and celebrity as part of the GRAMMY-nominated duo, Chloe x Halle, with her younger sister, Halle Bailey, and as a solo artist preparing to drop her debut album, she said that she pulled from her experience as a sister to shape Marissa's character.

"That's what this piece meant to me, the bond of two sisters. No matter how crazy their life gets, that they will always stay together no matter what, till death do them part," she explained. "It's a story about a girl who's figuring herself out, and we all have outlets in which we do that."

Bailey echoed a similar sentiment when speaking about her relationship with her real-life sister, sharing that, despite their similarities and the bond that will always keep them together, they have a lot of different interests. "[Going solo] was very scary in the beginning and we both had separation anxiety, but now I feel like it's made us both stronger and believe in ourselves a little more and in turn, it makes our bond stronger," she said. 

"It's easy to believe in someone else, and it's harder to believe in yourself, so I feel like we've gotten to do the hard self-work on our own, traveling apart from each other and everything like that, so it makes us appreciate each other even more," Bailey concluded.

Swarm debuts Friday, March 17 on Prime Video.