In 1994, TriMark Pictures released the film Swimming with Sharks starring Frank Whaley and Kevin Spacey. The film went on to become a cult classic and gave the average viewer a small glimpse of what it could be like for a young, up and comer trying to make it in Hollywood.

Around the same time that film was released, a young and talented Canadian actress named Kathleen Robertson had hit the television jackpot by landing a series regular role on one of the biggest shows, Beverly Hills, 90210.

Fast forward to 2022 and now that young actress is an accomplished actress, writer, producer and showrunner. She’s taken the Swimming with Sharks concept and given it her touch and vision and in the process, a new lens for viewers to see the series she’s created. The six episode first season is now available on The Roku Channel.

We had the chance to sit down with Kathleen to talk about the initial pitch for her to work on this project, why she decided to sign on to the project and how the cancellation of the series Boss was the catalyst for her creating Swimming with Sharks.

Pop Culture Principle – Was the cancellation of the series Boss the catalyst that led you to Swimming with Sharks?

Kathleen Robertson – I started acting when I was a kid and have been an actor my entire life. I think as an actor you are always waiting for that role that checks all the boxes and for me, that was the show Boss. The show was so well-received critically and it was such an incredible role for me. The character was really complex and strong, but also very vulnerable and damaged. It was really rewarding for me to work on that show and then it was canceled after two seasons.

I think we all thought we would be doing the show for many years because of the critical reception and the awards the show had won. It was really hard for me and made me wonder if this show could be taken away from me that quickly, I need to do something to protect myself and my soul to some degree. So, I had always been a writer and written things, but had never let anyone read anything that I had written. I felt like that cancellation was a sign that I needed to do something more than acting. So, that’s when I decided to actually do it and let people read my stuff and get an agent to rep me as a writer and start meeting people as a writer and just really start trying to make it happen!

Pop Culture Principle – When Lionsgate approached you about this project, was there any hesitation or doubt about tackling a movie like Swimming with Sharks that has such a cult following and so well known, especially in the industry?

Kathleen Robertson – I sort of always thought the movie was known within our industry, but I just didn’t think there would be anyway for me to do it or have anything to say in the space if it wasn’t from a female perspective and about two women. So, it was kind of a non-starter for me, and I said that very frankly at the beginning to Lionsgate. If it could be this then I am in, if not, that is totally fine and I’m probably not the right person to execute it. But so far, I haven’t had any flack yet. 😊

Pop Culture Principle – The series format for us as viewers is the perfect way to tell this story. When Quibi fell through, did Lionsgate push for a movie instead of the series format?

Kathleen Robertson – I think when Quibi fell apart, the thinking was to let the series die and go away. I didn’t want that to happen and wanted the opportunity to work the material into a legitimate series and I really believed that it could be a series. I thought the performances were strong enough and it was visually stunning, and I knew that if they gave me the opportunity to spend a couple of months with the editors and make changes and additions here and there, I really believed that it would work. I don’t think that you can see the seams in the series.

Pop Culture Principle – You are also the showrunner for Swimming with Sharks which is another difficult job. Did you seek out any advice from friends who were or had been showrunners and did you also pay attention to and ask questions to the showrunners when you were on set working on series?

Kathleen Robertson – Oh yes, for sure. I read every book about show running and read every article about it and I researched it and I talked to every person that I could, and I also did the showrunners training program at the Writers Guild where John Wells was my mentor.

Everybody did say to me why would I ever want to be a showrunner. If anything for me, that just made me want to tackle the challenge even more and to be honest, I really loved it. You never know until you do something if it will be a good fit because it could have easily not been a good fit for me. It was an incredible amount of work, but it felt natural for me. I thought it was something that I could actually do!

Pop Culture Principle – Does the fact that you’ve been an actor in the business for a while help with your writing, specifically when it comes to creating these layered and interesting characters?

Kathleen Robertson – It’s really interesting now that I have been on both sides. I now understand more clearly why sometimes as an actor you read things and they feel flat, or you wonder why the writer didn’t see that a scene would be boring. I think if you’ve never been an actor, how would you know that? So, everything that I do as a writer, I am always writing from an actor’s brain. What would make the scene interesting or what would give the scene something where Donald Sutherland would want to be a part of the project. It all comes from a place of being an actor.

They want a character to be everything. You don’t want to write a character that is just a “strong” female character, which is a pet peeve of mine. A lot of the new movement in writing for women is essentially a male character with a female name. Women and men are totally different and that should be reflected.

Pop Culture Principle – How much of what you experienced in Hollywood did you put in this series?

Kathleen Robertson – I certainly have seen and experienced things along my way in the industry that have really been impactful. I’ve seen a lot of bad behavior and I’ve been around a lot of bad behavior. A lot of the characters in the show are based on either people that I’ve known or people that I have been come in contact with. My husband, Chris Cowles, who is also the producer of the show, he worked for Scott Rudin when we met and a lot of the stories of his experiences are in this show for better or for worse. It’s obviously heightened because it’s a television show, but a lot of the stuff is based on things that have happened.

Pop Culture Principle – Although the world of both the film and the series are similar and the title of course, those are really only the things these projects have in common. Would you agree?

Kathleen Robertson – The only shared DNA is the title, the fact that it is Hollywood and that it’s a mentor/mentee relationship. The original felt more like a revenge story and was more about a man taking down another man, but this series is not about a woman taking down another woman.

I was much more interested with the weird love story and the obsession and the unconventional nature of this relationship that these women formed who are from very similar backgrounds. They are both survivors and both scrappy and find out that they have more in common than maybe you would think on the surface. That was more interesting to me than just having one of them trying to take down the other. I wanted to do something that felt different than anything we’ve seen.

Pop Culture Principle – If the first season is successful, do you already have plans for more seasons for the series and will the dynamic be the same and set in the same world or maybe have the show take place in a different world, but the core or the show still be the same?

Kathleen Robertson – I definitely know. I have it all in my brain. I just need the thumbs up, and I am ready to go! Fingers crossed, people watch it and like it and we get to do more.

Pop Culture Principle – Now that you have acting, writing, and running a series under your belt, the next logical step in your career would be directing. Are you looking to tackle directing soon as well?

Kathleen Robertson – Yes! I have been offered a few things as a director to direct other people’s material which I don’t think I want to do. I want to direct my own stuff. I have a project that I am working on right now that is based on a book, and I want to direct it. I just sold another show that I am also planning to be in. I am in Swimming with Sharks, but it’s a tiny part.

I now understand why actresses like Tina Fey or Lena Dunham are in the stuff that they write because when you are just creating stuff or just acting, it’s really hard to find time to do both and I really love being an actor and want to continue being an actor until someone tells me to stop. 😊

Pop Culture Principle – When you sit back and think about it, what are you most proud of when it comes to Swimming with Sharks?

Kathleen Robertson – It’s funny, I was thinking about it today. I posted something today because I was having that nostalgia moment and thinking about the journey of this project being over and it finally being out. I think the thing that I am most proud of is that I still self-identify as someone who is still starting out in the business. The fact that I am here now is kind of crazy. If I knew back then at 19 in my little hotel room in the Valley, one day you’ll be promoting a show that you created, I would say no way! I have to at lease allow myself to feel good about it and try hard to slow down a bit and feel it or else it just goes by. 😊

A huge thank you to Kathleen Robertson for taking the time to talk with us! You can watch her series Swimming with Sharks exclusively on The Roku Channel!

**All photos courtesy of The Roku Channel**

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