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Swarm’s Heather Simms Thinks Detective Greene Is Still Looking for Dre

Photo: Jenny Anderson/Getty Images

Whether you blazed through all seven episodes of Swarm or caught wind of the spirited online chatter, you surely know one thing: the Prime Video limited series is a rollercoaster ride sure to induce a handful of Gurrrl, what the fuck? reactions and spark meditation on the pitfalls of stan culture.

In the midst of the series’ winding plot twists, a medley of celebrity guest stars, and Dominique Fishback putting her whole foot in every scene as crazed super-fan Dre, viewers are offered a breather from Dre’s antics and insight into her backstory in the form of episode six, “Fallin’ Through the Cracks.” Under the guidance of director Stephen Glover, the mockumentary-style episode is carried by the delightful performance of Heather Simms, who leaves her mark as Detective Loretta Greene. Simms’s take on an investigator leans more toward a familiar and endearing auntie who gets the job done than a run-of-the-mill cop, bringing viewers along as the charismatic, dedicated, and sharp-witted investigator pieces together a string of puzzling murders in a style reminiscent of The First 48 and fan-favorite IRL detective Caroline Mason.

We checked in with Simms, who’s been honing her craft for years in projects like the Broadway production of Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom and the TV series The Kings of Napa, about fleshing out Loretta Greene as a person, the intention that went into Loretta’s outfits, and what in the world that final scene actually meant.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Was there a particular scene that stood out to you where you knew you wanted to be a part of this show?
It was that first scene where you see me going through the crime scene. When I read that I was like, Okay, I feel like I know this woman and I know that she could be played one way, but there’s a lot of humor underneath this and I wanted to excavate that. One of my favorite lines is about being a Black woman and how no one ever looks to us. No one could conceive that a Black woman could do this. We’re always overlooked.

Did you pull inspiration from any characters or real-life people, like Caroline Mason from The First 48?
Yes, I took inspiration from The First 48, Dateline, all of those shows that we watch and we sit back and eat our popcorn and go, Ooooooh. I love seeing those Black women there, with the nails and the hair, cracking the case and just being on top of it. My sister watches a lot of old TV shows like The Rockford Files and Harry O. She’s been saying for years that I need to be the next Rockford. [Laughs.] My sister spoke it into my life.

There are a lot of people in Swarm’s audience, myself included, who are not fans of the police. Despite that, it was still really entertaining to see Detective Loretta in her element. Can you talk about the process of fleshing out who Loretta Greene is and how she operates? 
I think Loretta comes with a level of empathy and integrity that you would want if a murder or some horrible crime happened to you. You would want to know that somebody is there who can see you, and see your family, and say, “Hey, you know what? I just want to get this right for them.”

I think we all approached it with a level of empathy for the character but also a little levity. When you walk into work every day and you’re a homicide detective, there’s gonna be some jokes that you crack because it’s your job. You see these horrible things, and you have to be able to go home each day. So you can crack some jokes, but you also understand that something terrible happened.

I feel like we definitely see that balance explored in the commentary, like when the detective notes that she shares a last name with a person she’s investigating and says, “We could be kin.” On the flip side, was there a line that made you laugh out loud when reading the script?
“If six of you went out …”

The Whitney Houston line, yes!
I remember laughing out loud in that scene. I tend not to watch my work, but on the occasions that I do and when I end up laughing out loud as an audience member, it can be such a funny experience. I’m never entirely sure if other viewers are finding the same things comical because I laugh at myself all the time.

Did you get to do any improvising? And if so, was there anything that made it into the final cut?
I did. Oh my goodness, you know what, it was such a little silly thing: It’s in the moment when I’m in the crime scene and I’m kinda doing the wop. [Laughs.] That was definitely an improv. Any time I’m on a set and I’m with a director who is willing to let me play, I feel like that’s the best kind of collaboration. I love to be able to throw things at ’em. But also, Stephen was so generous. He was able to say, “Hey, let’s try this, and let’s try that.” It felt very theatrical in the best way.

The costumes for Loretta brought a lot more vibrancy and personality than we typically see for characters in her line of work. Can you talk about the creative process for building her wardrobe? 
I felt like it was a very approachable look, but also very much about her giving us her personal style. She’s not afraid of color,  she’s not afraid to be seen. She changes her hair all the time. It was very, I am a Black woman who is not afraid to be seen, and be seen in a certain way doing her job.

We stayed away from the black suits. I could’ve been anybody going to their doors, but they recognized me. Loretta came in with her authentic self, her authentic look, and it was a look that you want to open the door for. If someone shows up, especially in our community, we may not want to open our door to the police or people in those kinds of positions of authority. Seeing someone who looks like your mom, your neighbor, come to your door, you will be curious. I don’t think Loretta could be anything other than that. I don’t think she comes with any guise. She is an authentic personality.

Viewers also noted that Loretta didn’t ever put her purse down and how that reminded them of their Black moms and aunties. 
I didn’t see those comments, but it’s true because we don’t put our purses on the floor. That is something that I’m always cognizant of, anytime I’m on any set I bring that with me. [Laughs.]

Unsurprisingly, there have been calls for a Detective Loretta spinoff. Would you be up for doing one?
Absolutely. There are so many crimes to be solved and Loretta is ready! The positive reception to Loretta and episode six have been so humbling. I’m so grateful.

What do you think Loretta would be up to these days? Does she have a boo? Does she have a social life?
She has her two kids who we saw, who she was making eggs for. I think that Loretta is probably taking swimming lessons, but also, you know, just bought a boat.

Ooooh, good for her! Go ’head, Miss Loretta.
Loretta just bought a boat and she’s trying to get that boat in the water. Do a little DIY and interior design for her boat.

There are so many theories about the Swarm finale. Some people have said that when Dre is hugging Ni’Jah on stage in the finale that it’s actually a hallucination and Detective Loretta was waiting for her at the concert and arrested her. Can you provide any clarity on what actually happened?
I don’t know that I know what actually happened. I think for myself, I’m still looking for Dre. This show is so beautifully layered that you can watch it a few times and come back with a different idea of it. I think it speaks to the theatricality of the writing. Janine Nabers started out in theater, that’s how I first met her. I think that collaboration between her and Donald and the rest of the team, they were able to layer it so well that it feels so big and so theatrical that everybody can have such a different experience of it. And so I can’t say that I know what happened, but I can say that I love the response. It feels like we’re all watching this thing at the same time and we’re able to have such a beautiful discourse around it.

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Swarm’s Heather Simms Thinks Loretta’s Still Looking for Dre