“Swimming with Sharks” has waded into dangerously realistic waters while showcasing the abuse at the heart of Hollywood, but showrunner Kathleen Robertson wants to clarify that the Roku Channel series is anything but a woman-versus-woman cautionary tale.
The psychological thriller, now streaming, stars Kiernan Shipka as a Los Angeles newcomer who becomes the assistant to an ambitious studio executive played by Diane Kruger. Inspired by the 1994 film of the same name, “Swimming with Sharks” gender-swapped its two lead characters for a female-driven story.
“My feeling was if I could use this world as a jumping-off point, but have it be told through the eyes of two very complex women, there would be something there,” writer-producer Robertson told Black Book Magazine. “I’ve been a working actor since the age of 10 so this industry is very much a part of my identity. I grew up on sets. I have my 10,000 hours, and the stories and experiences I’ve been privy to inspire this series.”
Robertson starred in series like “Beverly Hills 90210” and “Bates Motel,” plus films such as “Hollywoodland” and “Until the Night.” She also appears in four episodes of “Swimming with Sharks.”
“Writing ‘Swimming with Sharks’ was an exploration for me of my experiences in Los Angeles,” Robertson said, relating to Shipka’s character. “Hollywood is simply the backdrop for the story of these two women. I was always more interested in the strange and unexpected love story component, looking at obsession and the complexities of their relationship.”
Even though the #MeToo movement was “very much” on her mind when penning “Swimming,” Robertson clarified, “I’m less interested in making a political statement about female power in Hollywood than I am in what makes these women tick. They are both survivors.”
She continued, “The show is about this very complex relationship and, in particular, a very lost and lonely young woman looking to be seen and find love after the loss of her mother. This is not ‘All About Eve.’ Lou (Shipka) loves Joyce (Kruger) and wants to lift her up, not take her down.”
And despite the “gods clearly conspiring” against production — its original streaming home Quibi folded, a key actor was lost due to a higher-paying gig, and series producers were “canceled,” Robertson said — she hopes the message of “Swimming with Sharks” is an anchor for viewers.
“Thankfully, young women today don’t have to ‘play nice’ in the same way when bad behavior is front and center,” Roberston said.
Lead star Kruger previously told The Times that the series is prescient in certain ways.
“When I first started out there were very few women in these positions of power,” Kruger noted. “And oftentimes they were incredibly harsh, also towards other women, because they felt like they had the sense of, ‘Oh my God, I have to be double as tough to justify where I’m at.’ I think that’s changed over the years.”
“Swimming with Sharks” has been deemed a “watershed moment” for the Roku Channel, receiving critical acclaim and viral intrigue. The show is now streaming.