Fans are about to see Chloë Bailey in a brand-new light when Swarm arrives this Friday on Prime Video.
She starred on the Freeform show Grown-ish alongside her sister, Halle, for four seasons, in which they played sisters and college athletes. While that show deals with some grown-up topics, Episode 1 of Swarm, “Stung,” sees Bailey’s character Marissa in more mature and adult scenarios alongside her boyfriend Khalid, who is played by Damson Idris.
But don’t ask Bailey about any sex scenes. She doesn’t want to talk about that. Instead, she focuses on what being a part of Donald Glover and Janine Nabers’ latest creation has meant to her. “I was so excited to do this show because it highlights sisterhood and mental health. And Marissa is Chlöe. I had music to save me. So it was like I got to be myself,” Bailey tells Complex. “I am so happy to be a part of an incredible cast and I can’t wait for people to watch the rest and see who else is a part of it, who I know they’ll freak out and love.”
She’s right. Not only does the show star Dominique Fishback as Dre, as well as Idris and Bailey, but it also features some big names as guest stars, like one of the biggest pop stars in the world delivering a convincing and haunting performance, as well as some other beloved actors whom we won’t dare spoil. That’s now to be expected from a Glover show. In his FX show Atlanta, you never knew who’d make an appearance before you hit play. But there was also a special name in the Swarm writing credits. Aside from the familiar names who wrote on Atlanta, Nabers and Glover invited Malia Obama into the writer’s room, someone Bailey grew up knowing.
“Being around her on set was so cool. When we were little girls, we’d see each other in passing when sis and I would perform at the White House and do stuff for Mrs. Obama,” Bailey says. “To now see how us, both Cancers—I think we’re three days apart and the same age—how we have evolved and have come into ourselves and our paths met on this journey together.”
Marissa had been the only one to look out for Dre and love her unconditionally despite her oddities, so Bailey’s character is a central focus of the show since she is her sister’s driving force. Fishback and Bailey play both characters well and especially so in one particularly intense scene from Episode 1, which appears in the trailer, where Marissa decides to break away from Dre. “We were so shaken up to the point where afterward—and I’m feeling emotional talking about it—after the scene was done, we were in a darkish room just crying for 40 minutes,” Bailey says.
Bailey says she only met Fishback a couple of times before they started shooting the show but calls those two weeks she spent filming with her and Idris “the best time of my life.” Ensuring that the bond between Dre and Marissa feels genuine and authentic was key to making this story work; it also had to show how beautiful, and at times detrimental, some family ties can be. And they nailed all of it. “As Marissa was trying to rip away from her sister because she knew how toxic the codependency was, she was just transferring it to Khalid, Damson’s character,” Bailey says. “She hasn’t learned how to internalize her emotions on her own. She never really knew where she belonged emotionally.”
Neither did Dre, who takes matters into her own hands after seeing how Khalid and the world have treated her sister. “That’s why I feel all of the anger that she felt, not only toward Khalid but to all of the people online talking mess about her sister,” Bailey says. “She’s like, ‘OK, I’m fighting for my sister till death do us part. You don’t fuck with my sister.’ I feel like in a way, that was her apology for how things were left off with them.”
Bailey was also able to use the music on the show as an outlet for her own feelings. The show has a strong musical component thanks to Glover being an artist himself, as well as the addition of the Ni’Jah character. Glover tapped Bailey for the music angle of the show, inviting her to come to the studio, where he asked to listen to 30 demos and songs she had produced herself. “What I loved about Donald is how hands-on he is and how he respected my artistry,” she says. “That boosted my self-esteem as a producer.”
One of the songs that she was working on with Metro Boomin for her album didn’t end up as part of the final tracklist but is featured at the end of Episode 1. “I walked into the studio and he played me this insane track. It was already completely done. It had full orchestra strings on it, everything. It felt so haunting and it felt like the scorned woman, kind of murder thing,” she says. “Me, I’m a lover, not a fighter. I don’t even argue or raise my voice. I was like, ‘I got to get it out in that.’ I just didn’t think it would make it on the project. But it had a home here at Swarm.”
Bailey’s compassion and tenderness toward her sister in Swarm may come naturally because of her own relationship with sister Halle, but it also showcases a new level of acting and maturity from her that fans might find surprising. “I’m really honored to be a part of this,” Bailey says. “I was able to show a piece of myself that the world isn’t used to seeing from me.”
All episodes of Swarm will be streaming on Prime Video this Friday.