When Billie Eilish hosted Saturday Night Live in December 2021, she admitted that, as a kid, she wanted to be an actor.
“My mom and dad were both actors, and so was my brother Finneas, and it was my dream to be in a movie,” she said in her monologue. But when her mom wrote and starred in an autobiographical movie about a mother and son—no daughter!—Eilish “got the hint.”
That said, she killed in her SNL appearance, proving that her mom should have considered putting Eilish in that movie after all. Since then, Eilish has been busy dating a boy, touring, releasing new music, putting out new fragrances, and designing new Nikes; fitting another acting gig into that packed schedule seemed impossible.
But for Donald Glover, it seems, Eilish will find the time. Her appearance in the excellent new Prime Video show Swarm, co-created by Glover and Atlanta collaborator Janine Nabers, is the meaty, enthralling featured role that Eilish has deserved. It’s enough to make you want an entire series starring the singer—albeit maybe in a role less doomed than her turn in Swarm.
(Warning: Spoilers for Swarm below.)
In the fourth episode of the seven-episode show, Dre (Dominique Fishback) continues on in her pursuit of Ni’Jah, the Beyoncé-like artist for whom she has a murderous fixation. Dre has been killing people in the name of Ni’Jah for months now, leaving a trail of blood behind her across numerous state lines.
When she meets Billie’s character, Eva, Dre is on her way to see Ni’Jah perform at Bonnaroo. She’s nearly waylaid by a suspicious cop, however, who tails her on the way to Manchester, Tennessee. But a white woman intervenes and tells the cop off on her behalf, then invites Dre to stay with her and her friends at their house—plus, they’re all going to Bonnaroo too.
Eva is the seeming leader of this friend group, which contains a bunch of bohemian white ladies all dressed in the same colors and concerned with auras. They’ve got names like Isis, Cricket, and Salem, as well as a curiously kind-hearted attitude toward their guarded, Black new friend. “You’re part of the tribe now,” Eva tells Dre, shortly after they’re introduced at the house. “We got you.”
As Eva, Eilish maintains an even-keeled tone and a soft smile, a seeming warmth that slowly draws Dre in. Even as she learns details about the nature of his group—they’re a female empowerment group, interested in training and healing, as “executive director” Eva explains—Dre allows herself to give into the group’s ambitions.
Eilish is so good at playing what turns out to be an NXIVM-style cult leader, especially in scenes where she and Dre sit together one-on-one, performing a kind of practice reminiscent of Scientology’s auditing. She holds deep, intense eye contact, speaks in a clear, instructive tone, and very subtly hints at her more sordid intentions. As Eva asks Dre a series of questions, from “What’s your favorite Ni’Jah song?” to “Are you afraid of death?” a meditative, entrancing air befalls the room, in large part because of both Eilish and Fishback’s dedicated performances.
Playing a take on former Smallville actress and convicted NXIVM ringleader Allison Mack, right down to a series of cultish brands on the bodies of this all-female pack, could be a parodic and two-dimensional endeavor. But Eilish’s take on Eva is believably inviting, her confident-but-quiet voice rendering her brainwashing tactics into something like ASMR. Even when she threatens to ruin Dre’s life near the end of the episode, when Dre decides it’s time to get the hell out of Dodge, Eilish keeps her voice steady and focused.
“You’re with your family now,” Eva tells Dre, as she sits in the front seat and contemplates driving away. It’s insidious, and it’s beautiful, and I would happily buy a record of Eilish saying those words over and over—especially since I don’t have to worry about it secretly indoctrinating me, as the episode ends with Dre repeatedly running over Eva and killing several other “family” members.
Eva might be dead, but I hope this is the start of Eilish’s long and fruitful acting career. I’m in love with her future—can’t wait to see more of her.