Billie Eilish’s Disturbing Swarm Character Was Inspired by a Real Cult

Keith Raniere's NXIVM cult inspired the pop superstar's role of Eva in Donald Glover's series

Billie Eilish Swarm Real Cult NXIVM Donald Glover Prime Video
Swarm (Prime Video)

    [Editor’s note: The following contains spoilers for Swarm, Season 1 Episode 4, “Running Scared.”]

    Billie Eilish recently made her acting debut in Janine Nabers and Donald Glover’s Prime Video series Swarm, in which she plays a creepy cult leader named Eva. As it turns out, the character drew inspiration from a real-life cult: Keith Rainere’s NXIVM.

    Swarm is set between 2016 and 2018. It centers around Dre (Dominique Fishback), an obsessed fan of fictional Beyoncé-based pop star Ni’Jah who goes on a murder spree against anyone who dares to speak badly about her favorite artist. In Episode 4, one of Eva’s followers helps Dre get out of a situation with a cop and brings her to Eva’s compound, which presents itself as a “female empowerment” commune. After being told she’s “part of the tribe now,” Dre notices all the women wear the same colors and use the same body products — telltale signs it’s actually a cult.


    “There is a cult that existed in the world that was very prominent during that time,” Nabers told The Hollywood Reporter. “And that is the kind of true-crime element to that episode. And I think that when people think of the idea of artists or celebrities, there is this idea of thinking about the cult of Taylor Swift, or the cult of the Beatles or whatever. What we were really interested in was just seeing someone who worships at the altar of ‘something,’ and (exploring) this idea of what is the cult of the mind.”

    Nabers continued, “How can we see the parallels between people who devote their lives to brainwashing the minds of people and indoctrinating them, and then someone whose music may brainwash someone into thinking they are friends with them or is one of the family? What is that? So, that episode was just us looking at those two dynamics. And if it’s a battle of wills, who is going to win?”

    Check out teaser clips from Eilish’s guest appearance below.

    Back in October 2017, The New York Times ran a report about Keith Rainere’s “self-help” group NXIVM. The expose revealed former Smallville star Allison Mack was among the members of the cult who had manipulated women into becoming Rainere’s sex slaves and had participated in NXIVM’s blackmail practices. The actor pleaded guilty to charges of racketeering and conspiracy in April 2019 and later received a three-year prison sentence.


    HBO aired a two-part docuseries about NXIVM called The Vow. Read our review of Season 2 here.