BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — Kathleen Robertson saw the 1994 film “Swimming with the Sharks” as a very dark examination of the underbelly of life in Hollywood. The movie deals with a film mogul – played by Kevin Spacey – and his optimistic assistant (Frank Whaley).
When Robertson was approached to adapt that feature film into a series for the Roku Channel, she knew there was only one way to make the new version interesting. The story would need to be told from a female point of view.
Her version of “Swimming with the Sharks” – scheduled to launch April 15 on the streaming service of the Roku Channel – features Diane Kruger as the tough and determined film studio boss. She is a woman battling to find respect in the boys club of Hollywood while trying to get her own life in order.
A new bright-eyed assistant – played by Kiernan Shipka of “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” fame – ends up being even more driven to find success. And, she is willing to do anything – absolutely anything – to get it.
Robertson, who serves as the creator and showrunner of the series, says, “I have been in the industry my entire life. I started acting when I was 10. So, I felt that I had a lot to say about it. There were a lot of weird and interesting stories I had heard and seen and been around.
“I thought there was something there and that was the entry point for me.”
The Canada native has spent 36 years working in television and film including a long stint on the original “Beverly Hills, 90210.” Her movie credits include “I Woke Up Early the Day I Died” and “Hollywoodland.” Her only other credit as a producer was the 2007 TV series, “The Business,” that examined the world of soft-core porn.
With “Swimming with the Sharks,” Robertson has created a series that is filled with deeply dark psychological twists and turns. Roberston admits that she mined her own career for some of the basic story ideas.
“But, of course, it’s a TV show. It’s fiction,” Robertson says.
At the heart of the show is the emotional, psychological and physical battle between the characters played by Kruger and Shipka. Taking on a strong character is nothing new for Kruger as she has taken on such roles in projects from “The Host” to “National Treasure.”
Kruger was attracted to the unique tone of “Swimming with the Sharks” that combined real stories with the kind of pulp fiction approach that she is convinced will make the series a guilty pleasure. She also liked that Robertson had created two very strong female characters who end up being equally supportive and competitive.
In the case of Shipka being cast as a character who appears to be sweet and naïve but lives and operates in a dark world continues the casting that first brought her to “Sabrina.” She doesn’t go looking for these kinds of roles but assumes she just has the kind of look that show creators want when they are looking for the naïve/evil contradiction.
Shipka was still working on “Sabrina” – a series featuring a dark version of the teenage witch introduced in Archie Comics – when she saw the first script for “Swimming with the Sharks.”
“I can just remember thinking ‘Oh my goodness. This is why I do what I do,” Shipka says. “I am playing this character that I love and I get to pivot into someone completely different right after.
“I was just so taken by Kathleen’s writing and the way that she came to the world very clearly on the page.”
Robertson knows it sounds weird but she had always seen the project as “a weird love story” between the two central female characters. She wanted to make a series that wasn’t just about a newcomer looking to climb to power but more about the differences between an older woman who has come up through the system and a younger woman just starting her career.
Many of the dark elements mined from real life were happening while Robertson was writing the series. But, the Hollywood element wasn’t as interesting to Robertson as the story of two women who have experienced great pain in their lives. They will slowly come to understand that they are far more alike than they are different.
“They are both survivors,” Robertson says.
Kruger and Shipka had to find the connections Robertson wanted very quickly as they didn’t have a lot of time together before filming started. Shipka is certain that quick start helped as they began to learn about each other as actors while building the connection of their characters.
The cast of “Swimming with the Sharks” also includes Donald Sutherland, Thomas Dekker, Finn Jones, Erika Alexander, Ross Butler and Gerardo Celasco.