Ask anyone in Hollywood if they have any horror stories and they're bound to pull up at least one.
Swimming With Sharks' showrunner Kathleen Robertson even admitted that the Roku Original series—following a studio intern who gets way too caught up in the dog-eat-dog world of entertainment—takes inspiration from some of the most infamous tales to come out of the TV and movie industries. But as Diane Kruger explained in an interview E! News, "this is the worst-case scenario."
As in Fountain Pictures intern Lou Simms (played by Kiernan Shipka) isn't just reading scripts and fetching lunch but also engaging in some light sexual coercion.
But Kiernan and Diane said that the series, a remake of George Huang's 1994 movie, is not entirely based in reality. "This is a pulpy, fun show with Hollywood as a backdrop and it's a take on a movie about Hollywood in a time where it was very much a boys' club," Diane explained, adding that the film was slightly more true to life in the sense that it followed men who "were allowed to have really bad behavior that was somehow acceptable."
As such, she didn't include the original movie, starring Kevin Spacey, Benicio Del Toro and Frank Whaley, in her research. "I didn't want to go back and watch something that was very much of that time," she explained. "And it was a male performance, so I didn't want to replicate that because the fact that we're women changes everything. It's like I can't even compare that and Hollywood is different today than it was back then."
Kiernan saw the movie but said it isn't required viewing for new audiences. Though she noted that the Roku Original includes quotes from the film which might be fun Easter eggs for the OG's fans.
The movie featured Spacey as Buddy, an assistant intent on exacting revenge on his manipulative boss Guy, played by Whaley. It was dark, gritty and violent, cashing in on the behavior that's commonly associated with men. But in making two women the leads of the show, Robertson has turned Swimming With Sharks into a commentary about mental health and the lengths people will go to succeed.
Diane noted her uptight and determined character, Fountain Pictures exec Joyce Holt, has "gone through every wringer, has jumped through every hoop" to get where she is, but she's struggling to "hold on to that and navigate the rest of what life throws her way: Fertility, cheating husbands and so forth."
Then there's Kiernan's Lou, who serves as Joyce's foil, with Diane describing the intern as someone "of her time," which is code for Gen Z. "So what was acceptable to me is not to her," Diane explained. "So that's really what the show is about: What will you do to get to the top?"
This tale of ambition is at the core of the series, with the actresses emphasizing that they wouldn't enter this line of work if it was actually this terrible. "The positives outweigh the negatives," Diane insisted. "Otherwise, we wouldn't want to be here, right? We're lucky to be working actors."
They really do mean it when they say they like creating content. As Kiernan shared, "I love being entertained and the fact that people give that to me, I feel lucky. And the fact that we can give that to people is a really cool thing. It feels nice."
And it's certainly a fun job when you get to work with the likes of Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain. "There's nothing better than being on set and creating something with your peers," Diane said. "All the other stuff is, like, two percent of what we actually love doing."
Of course, being famous has its downsides. Having earned her role as Sally Draper on Mad Men at the age of 7, Kiernan was raised in the spotlight. But she admitted that she's still trying to figure it all out: "There's so much to grapple with as far as mental health goes and managing your work and your own personal life and vanity and now social media... So I would be lying if I said it wasn't tricky to navigate."
But overall they can't complain. As Kiernan said, "I'm extremely lucky."
Swimming With Sharks is streaming now on the Roku Channel.