15 Minutes with Dominique Fishback

The BAFTA-nominated actor sat with LAMAg to discuss fame and fandom ahead of her the release of her dark new Amazon Prime series, ”Swarm”

Dominique Fishback has gained a reputation in recent years for playing characters that are both loveable and reliable in critically acclaimed performances in Judas and the Black Messiah, for which she received a BAFTA nomination for Best Supporting Actress, and David Simon’s HBO series The Deuce and Show Me a Hero.

Looking for a new challenge, Fishback took a drastic creative shift as she leads Prime Video’s Swarm. The show, directed by Donald Glover and co-starring Chloe Bailey, follows Dre (Fishback), a young woman whose obsession with a pop star takes a dark turn. 

In addition to her starring role in Swarm, she also has a leading role in the upcoming Transformers: Rise of the Beasts, which hits cinemas this summer. Fishback spoke to LAMag about Swarm, preparing for the fame that Transformers could bring and the importance of self-care. 

LAMag: Swarm is a crazy and wild show—what was your initial reaction reading the script?

Fishback: I read the script knowing that they initially wanted me to play Marissa [Dre’s sister, now played by Chloe Bailey] but when I heard the story before I even read the script and I was kind of like, “Oh man, I want to play Dre!” I wanted the opportunity as an actor to stretch myself and see what I was capable of.  As actors you get to explore the human psyche in all its ways, whether it’s easier or harder or however you want to feel about it, you get the opportunity. I wanted the opportunity, like so many other actors that I admire like Charlize [Theron] in Monster and all of those films like that. So I mentioned it to Donald [Glover] and he said, “If that’s the role you want, that’s the role you get.” The rest is history.

It must have been such a challenge to take on that complex character.

The most challenging thing for me was to get out of my own way and my own fears of perception. I’m so used to playing characters that are “easy” to love, or easy to like at least. They are often light, loved, and considered the heart of something and that’s my forte and that’s where I like to live, but I wanted to stretch myself as an actor and not be imprisoned by my own fears of own artistry and see where I can go and then decide after, “Do I like going all the way over there? Will I do something like that again?” I don’t know where I want to go but I’ll allow myself that freedom. 

When I was watching Swarm, it reminded me a lot of Joker or King of Comedy, those kinds of vulnerable protagonists who are beaten down by society. As an actor, was it easy to feel empathy for your character? 

That empathy came from my journaling prior to filming and getting out of my own way. Any judgments or any fears I had, I had to say, “Why do I have that judgment?”; “Is that really my idea or Is that a societal idea?”; “How do I feel about this?” In order to clear myself to be a vessel where empathy could possibly be felt for her. Because, as an actor, we are taught that you can’t judge a character. If we start from a judgment place, then we are not organically or authentically portraying them.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve had to cope with your fame as you’ve risen up the ranks?

I think maybe I’ll have to answer that question after Transformers comes out! right now I’m pretty low-key with a lot of incognito things. so when I go places where people recognize me I’m just like “Oh, cool!” In Peru, where we were filming Transformers because they knew me and Anthony [Ramos] were there, so if somebody said, “that person from Transformers is at the market,” then everybody would go to the market. 

That’s a little taste of what’s to come then! Are you nervous about that reaction when it comes out?

No. I’ve listened to stories of people who didn’t get time to prepare—like they went to sleep and then one day woke up and their show or project took off and all of a sudden they can’t walk outside. I’ve been wanting to be an actor for a very long time, since I was a kid, and had an idea of what I wanted to do. I always knew I wanted to do something like Transformers and that would come with this. So I think I get a slow burn to prepare for it. Also saying goodbye to the other things that I may have taken for granted like the last time I went on the train in New York and I just rode the train all summer because, who knows, maybe this summer I won’t be able to do that!

Did Swarm make you look at your own fame differently? 

No, if anything it just confirmed what I care about and what I want to talk about. I’m talking about healing from the inside out and using this lifetime to grow and evolve as a soul. That means that there are multiple experiences and traumas that are stored in the body that you have to release. And I’m thankful because I feel like the freedom that I get from portraying Dre allows energy to move in. It’s like those adult break-it rooms, you know? It’s obvious that as people we still need to release that kind of energy and that kind of anger so we have these rooms where you can break and throw things. As an actor, whether it’s on stage or on set, I got to break things. There was one scene in the show—it’s not in the show anymore—but she just goes in a room and she gets to break stuff. And I was like, “this is kinda fun!” 

What was it like to be directed by Donald Glover?

It was cool. The show is really interesting and very specific, so I thought it might have been really tedious for the direction and the way he wanted it to be. But it really wasn’t. I was asking questions like “Is she like this?” or “Is she like that?” He was just like “Nah, I don’t think she’s like any of those things,” and not really giving me a certain way to think about her or how to approach her. It was like, come to set, see what I have and move from there. But not put something on me and move from there. I really appreciated that.

It’s also really interesting about the journaling you do—can you tell me a little more about that? 

I love video journals because there’s something interesting about being able to look back at yourself Reading [one’s journals] is also cool and I have so many of those journals, but looking back and seeing my eyes and seeing how I processed something, or that I was crying about this thing or I felt so frustrated about something—knowing now in hindsight that is going to be alright.

Finally, what can people expect from the upcoming Transformers movie?

Definitely different from Dre! I think it is back to being the light/adorable version of myself, but I think she’s really funny. I haven’t seen the edit yet but I remember having a really good time with Anthony and Steven [Caple Jr.] and there are moments in the movie that I can’t wait for people to see because it’s really funny!

Swarm arrives on Prime Video on March 17.

Stay on top of the latest in L.A. news, food, and culture. Sign up for our newsletters today.