Swimming With Sharks Showrunner Kathleen Robertson On The Show's Relentless Pacing [Interview]

Kathleen Robertson ("The Expanse," "Beverly Hills 90210") is an actress who has moved into writing with projects like the upcoming "Little Bee," starring Julia Roberts. Her latest piece is the upcoming series "Swimming with Sharks," loosely based on the 1994 TriMark Pictures film starring Frank Whaley and Kevin Spacey. The series, which will premiere in its entirety for free on The Roku Channel later this month, tells the story of Lou Simms (Kiernan Shipka), a young intern freshly arrived in Hollywood who is obsessed with studio CEO Joyce Holt (Diane Kruger). Lou will do anything to get close to Joyce, and is definitely more than what she seems. 

I got a chance to speak to Robertson about creating this story for a modern audience, drawing on personal stories in Hollywood, originally writing the series for Quibi, and the motivations behind Lou and Joyce.

This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

"I would be lying if I said that there weren't a lot of things in this that were very, very personal"

I love the show, and I'm really curious what it was that made you want to jump on this project with your huge history in acting?

Well, for me, it was just a no-brainer. I grew up in this industry. I started acting when I was 10 and I just felt like I had something to say in this space. And I, of course, wanted to tell it from a female perspective and have it be kind of a female-centric story and really examine the differences between what the experience is to be a brand new 21-year-old girl coming to Hollywood in 2022 versus Diane Kruger's character, who's been in the business for 15, 20 years, and just how much things have changed for the better.

You have this background in acting — it must have been really interesting to write people when you've sort of experienced their doppelgängers. Are there any particular examples of people that you met, interns, things like that? Obviously I know you can't talk about studio heads....

Yeah, yeah. No, definitely. I started writing about 10 years ago professionally. I've always kind of been a writer, and written things, and not let people read them. But I really started letting people read my things and really, truly exploring this about 10 years ago. And for me, yeah, everything I write and everything I do comes from character, and it's all about writing great roles for actors. I would be lying if I said that there weren't a lot of things in this that were very, very personal. The show was obviously heightened. It's a TV show. It's fun. It's kind of salacious and sexy and kind of crazy, but there's a lot of stuff in there that actually is rooted in a real place of truth and a real place of depth. And yeah, there's a lot of stuff in there that's definitely from my life and that's real.

"I feel like it's a bit of a weird love story between these two women"

You wrote some amazing and really juicy characters for women here. And I'd love to hear your thoughts on how everything switched from the original story, the original film, because of having two female characters.

Yeah, the original film was much more about a younger man trying to take down or become this older man. And that component didn't interest me, that sort of "All About Eve," another woman trying to take down another woman. I certainly didn't want to tell that story. If anything, I feel like it's a bit of a weird love story between these two women. And I think that, if anything, Lou sees her mother in Joyce and, if anything, wants to sort of be in service to her and help her succeed. So it's really more about that dynamic: Another woman seeing another woman and their friendship and their relationship is more about them almost seeing themselves in one another than it is about ... it's not a revenge story. It's not that.

This is really fast-paced and I know originally this was written for Quibi, but it sort of cuts all the fat out. Everything is juicy. So I'd just love to hear your thoughts about reworking it for this.

It was super challenging. But it's funny you say that, because I actually felt like in the editing process, there was elements of that format. When I wrote it for Quibi, it was 19 episodes. It was 19 10-minute episodes. And the thing about that format was that there was always had to be, every 10 minutes it was like, "Holy s***. Holy s***. Holy s***." So the show really does feel like all of the fat's been cut away and it's just kind of like a freight train just going, which has definitely informed my writing since then. When I'm working on things now I'm kind of like, "Oh yeah, we need those things to hit every so often." Because it does really keep you kind of engaged.

Do you want to keep doing short, quick things like this?

Well, I definitely feel like this format really works for ... I don't know. I have two boys. My husband and I watch a lot of stuff and we always are looking for those things at the end of the day where it's just like, "I want to be entertained. I want something interesting. I want to be dropped into a world that I don't maybe know a lot about and I want to just get to it and get to it quick." So there is something about that that's appealing to me and, knock on wood, I'm hoping we're going to be able to continue this and keep going and do some more seasons of this. So that's the goal.

"Swimming with Sharks" also stars Donald Sutherland, Thomas Dekker, Finn Jones, Erica Alexander, Ross Butler, and Gerardo Celasco. You can stream all six episodes on The Roku Channel beginning April 15, 2022.