Swimming With Sharks Stars Kiernan Shipka And Diane Kruger On Their Characters' Odd Chemistry [Interview]

The upcoming Roku Original series "Swimming with Sharks" premieres on The Roku Channel on April 15, 2022 in its entirety. It's the story of Lou Simms (Kiernan Shipka), a brand new and lowly intern at a big Hollywood studio. But Lou isn't as naïve as she appears. She's obsessed with studio CEO Joyce Holt (Diane Kruger), and does whatever she must to get close to her. 

The season is six quick episodes, and utterly bingeable. It was originally written for Quibi, the short-lived app in which episodes clocked in at around 10 minutes or less. "Swimming with Sharks" is loosely based on the 1994 film starring Kevin Spacey and Frank Whaley, and I got to chat with the new version's stars, Kiernan Shipka ("Chilling Adventures of Sabrina") and Diane Kruger ("Inglourious Basterds"), about what it meant having two women in the lead roles, finding the humanity in darker characters, how writer Kathleen Robertson's acting background gave them a lot to play with, and how the Quibi series was adapted for longer episodes. 

This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

"Two really well-rounded, fully formed female characters"

Kathleen said that it was really important to her to write a story that didn't have women trying to supplant each other. I'd love to hear your thoughts on the dynamic between these two characters. 

Shipka: What I loved about Joyce and Lou and what really resonated for me, and continues to resonate, is that we all have people in our life that we have a ton of chemistry with, even if it doesn't exactly make sense. And you know, you meet some people, you come across some people and you just sort of immediately kind of connect on a level that feels a little bit deeper and a little bit more spiritual. I think that dynamic to me was so appealing to play out as an actor and it made everything else, all of the stuff that happens, makes sense. When at the end of the day, you could justify the fact that Lou and Joyce have this sort of like, soul connection that's very odd and off, but honest.

They're both pretty dark characters, but you always understand their decisions and why they're making them. I'd love to hear you talk about finding the humanity in these characters.

Kruger: You know, that's what drew me to this show: It's so pulpy and it's so fun and outrageous at times, but at the core, I think of two really well-rounded, fully formed female characters and even the supporting actors, all of them have really great storylines, including my husband [Gerardo Celasco]. You know, even though he's a cheating husband, I kind of get where he's coming from and why he cheats. So I love how gray the characters are. Yeah, so to me, that was the fun part of being a part of this.

"It felt like every scene, you were already in the core"

Kathleen comes from an acting background. Do you think that gave her more insight into writing for actors?

Shipka: I do. I mean, you can always tell when you're working with someone who understands actors and understands how to write things that feel right coming out of your mouth. And it's refreshing, and it's so nice when you — I feel like I went to work every day and didn't feel like I had to kind of maneuver the words to make them make sense. It just felt very easy to approach the material and then take on all the challenges that it brought. But there's sort of that barrier level, like entry point situation with some material where you just kind of feel like, "Oh, I can't quite get there because it doesn't really feel real." And Kathleen I think knows that all too well, as every kind of actor does that's worked, and it was just really nice to do something that felt catered toward performances.

Kruger: I would agree.

This was originally written for Quibi, so there is no extraneous stuff in here. It's all juicy and fun to watch. Did that present any challenges for you as actors?

Shipka: I mean, the funny thing is that most scenes are like less than a page and a half because we were shooting it, obviously, for a different format. I don't know if it was more challenging, though. It actually was kind of nice to get to the point of things. It felt like every scene, you were already in the core.

Kruger: I think what helped us, too, and I don't know if this was always the case with Quibi or not, but we didn't shoot episodically. Right? It was shot like a movie. So I think that's why they were able to cut it to 30 minute episodes, as well. You know, it wasn't like a cliffhanger every six or eight minutes, but yeah.

"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.