Home ExclusivesInterviews Quintessa Swindell on Championing Diversity and DC’s ‘Black Adam’

Quintessa Swindell on Championing Diversity and DC’s ‘Black Adam’

by Michael Slavin

Quintessa Swindell’s rise to prominence in the last two years has been absolutely stratospheric. The 23-year-old first broke through as Tabitha in Netflix’s vastly underrated teen series Trinkets, before a scene-stealing cameo as the ethereal Anna in HBO’s hit show Euphoria. This was compounded shortly after by being cast in the upcoming sci-fi film Voyagers and HBO’s In Treatment, and then the big one: the announcement of joining the DC universe as the hero Cyclone alongside The Rock in Black Adam. Quintessa’s talent and the fantastic roles they have chosen has taken them right to the top of Hollywood in an incredibly short amount of time, and you can imagine with a career trajectory like this, the sky is the limit for future projects.

Watching Trinkets, however, it is no surprise that Quintessa has been chosen for such huge roles. The dramedy about teen shoplifters is a fascinatingly multilayered and diverse show that achieves so much in its short two season run. Quintessa’s character, Tabitha, initially seems to be a stereotypical rich girl, but the depth brought to the role by both the writing and their thoughtful performance produced a deep and inspirational final product. Alongside its engaging core trio, Trinkets developed a rabid core fan base through its fantastic representation of young LGBTQ+ experiences, respectful portrayal of abuse survivors, and powerful broaching of racism in America. Despite this, the show decided to end its story at the end of season 2, leading to a satisfying conclusion and, in particular, Tabitha – who plays a core role in the emotional heart of the finale. Quintessa explains how they felt about the finale and specifically where Tabitha left things off.

Minor spoilers for Trinkets follow!
Brianna Hildebrand, Quintessa Swindell, and Kiana Madeira posing on park bench together as seen on Trinkets on Netflix.
L to R: Brianna Hildebrand, Quintessa Swindell, and Kiana Madeira on ‘Trinkets’ courtesy of Netflix

Quintessa Swindell: “I feel like you always hear actors talk about having done a project and then not being satisfied with it in the end or where, I guess, the people who had created it had decided to leave it off. Specifically for Trinkets, however, I feel like they had an idea of what it was in the beginning and because everybody who was involved with it was so unified and everyone who was involved just stuck to it through that second season. And so those ideas remained and I feel like the creators always had a special place for it in their hearts. So they weren’t ever going to let it derail and have storylines be told in a regressive way. 

Specifically for Tabitha, I was so blindsided with where they were going with it. But when I read the final script, I was like, ‘Oh, all right, well yeah, absolutely.’ I agree fully with where they decided her to go and her storyline is amazing. And it’s crazy because I’ve gotten so many messages from younger kids who all have gone through similar experiences as Tabitha, as well as like younger teenagers and even adults. They were all so pleased with where it ended, also because it kind of formulated like a tableau of possibly how they should have handled their abuser, not in the specific way of like putting everything on show for the rest of the school, but as far as where Tabitha went mentally and emotionally, which made me so proud. I’m so happy with where it ended.”

Ironically, with a character who the actress has recently admitted to sharing a lot in common with, Swindell initially auditioned for both the other main roles before eventually trying for Tabitha. This progression from not even wanting to audition for the character to understanding them deeply and seeing a lot of themselves in Tabitha was fascinating, and Swindell went on to tell us what that process was like.

Quintessa Swindell: “I actually feel like it was a little bit of the character changing over the course of the show and a little bit of my perspective on the character changing over the 2 seasons. In the beginning when I got the script, I initially identified the most with Moe, but I feel like the comfort with that character was mostly just like, ‘Oh, here’s someone that I can relate to.’ And, you know, it’ll be easy to not have to go through all of the emotional depth that Tabitha had experienced or was about to. So that was like initial ego. I guess you could say it was just my own perceptions of who this character was and ‘Oh, no, that was so far from my experience in high school’ that I don’t think I could do it justice. But when I auditioned for it, I remember Sarah our first director was like, ‘Yeah, that’s the most on-point it was!’ 

And I was like, ‘Oh, really? Okay!’ So how I started to understand Tabitha definitely developed. By the end of the first season, I feel like I understood the totality of her rather than the perception of who she thought she was, which she just constantly put out. When you get a script or one specifically for television, you usually only initially get a very small portion of information that the creators give you and then just a few scenes of the character. So based on what I got for Tabitha, I was like, ‘Oh, she seems a little bit shallow,’ but that’s also something that they teach you in drama school not to do. So I had to regress from that and be like, ‘Oh, I’m judging the character, I can’t do that.’ Obviously, she’s coming from a deeper place. So that definitely transitioned. And that comfort definitely came from just being way more open, more perceptive, and understanding of where someone comes from and how they navigate their life. Putting on those different types of barriers.”

One of the real joys of Trinkets is the core trio, who portray a beautiful and genuine friendship of support and found family. Based on interviews with the cast and speaking with Swindell, their off screen friendship bled on screen and it’s clear when watching the show.

Quintessa Swindell: “They’re all fabulous. Like on and off screen. I feel that’s something too that people commonly say – people don’t get lucky in film and television with being good friends off screen. And it was also my first project too. So I was really nervous, but they were so giving in so many different ways, person to person wise and especially because we all left our homes and then went to live in Oregon. We were all hanging out with one another outside of work and then just talking through everything. So that was really helpful. It was really beautiful that we all just kind of became such really great friends. I don’t know. I really treasure that experience. We finished it and we were all just like, so should we get like matching tattoos?”

L to R: Brianna Hildebrand, Quintessa Swindell, and Kiana Madeira on ‘Trinkets’ courtesy of Netflix

Featuring in both Euphoria and Trinkets, Swindell is one of the leading voices in a new generation of teen viewership. Gone are the days of an all-white cast of straight characters, totally unreflective of the diversity and beauty of the various stories about teenagers that can be told. The new breed of teen shows, led by the aforementioned projects, are setting a new standard for diversity. Speaking to Swindell, it was entirely clear how proud they were to be a part of that.

Quintessa Swindell: “Oh my god. Like if Trinkets was 100/100 then Euphoria was like a million/100 in every way. Sam Levinson, their director and creator, he’s just a visionary. That whole process of us filming, the scenes that I was part of, it was so new and so amazing. I had just never done it before. So it was another step in a direction that not only made me really comfortable as an actor but also just as a person, especially as a non-binary person. To be part of something that is contributing to a much larger picture of trans people within media and trans people within the world was a dream come true. And Hunter [Schafer], I mean, she’s… I don’t even have the words! She was phenomenal – all of them, every single person on that set was phenomenal. So it was an honor, honestly.”

One thing was clear from Swindell’s time working on Euphoria: The diversity, representation, and acceptance preached in the show extends far beyond the screen.

Quintessa Swindell: “So every project is completely different, right? You have a different set of people working on it, different crew, yada yada yada. What really set Euphoria apart was just that it was beautiful in a different way. You know, if I got misgendered someone would come up and be like, ‘So I heard that happened. I’ll inform [the whole crew] about your pronouns.’ And it wasn’t very this is by the book or this is what’s appropriate. It was just very human, especially being part of a show, you know? It was so comforting.”

Quintessa Swindell smoking a joint in a neon red room as seen in HBO's Euphoria.
Quintessa Swindell in ‘Euphoria’ courtesy of HBO

Moving on from Euphoria, we set our eyes forward and began to speak about one of Swindell’s big upcoming projects, Voyagers. While staying tight lipped around details surrounding the plot and characters, their excitement to be in a science fiction film was palpable.

Quintessa Swindell: “It’s so sick! I love sci-fi and I’m a big Star Wars fan, so anything involving space I was like yes! Same thing too [regarding the on set dynamics]. I feel like I’ve just been really lucky with every project I’ve done so far, especially with the actors I’ve worked with, everyone who was a part of that was amazing just as much. It was interesting kind of like how it was with Trinkets, we were all taken out of the place we’re most comfortable, our home. Then we’re transported into Romania! And so that was an aspect that bonded all of us together. We’re just in this foreign place that maybe we never would have been in the first place. We discovered different things about its architecture and history. 

So it was really connected in that way, like part of the work we were doing on set. Then that was really interesting too, just being in a spaceship – what that meant and how the character development kind of shifts. It was really great and our director he was phenomenal and also is another visionary as well. He had a broad perspective of what Voyagers meant as a whole and what it would mean for a project like this to be released in the world that we’re in, especially today. I thought it was really interesting and he trusted every single one of us to bring our own ideas and collaborate with one another. So that was really a great experience as well.”

Finally, we moved on to a discussion about their recently announced role as Cyclone in DC’s Black Adam. With this being their first interview since the announcement, we found it fitting to ask the simple question anyone would ask in this situation: How does it feel to be a superhero?

A graphic of The Rock as Black Adam next to the DC heroine Cyclone, soon to be seen in the live-action film.
The Rock as Black Adam and DC’s Cyclone

Quintessa Swindell: “I’m gassed bro (laughs)! No seriously, I’m very very excited. I’ve been watching so much DC, Marvel, everything – stuff from back in the day to stuff that’s come out recently, trying to wrap my head around what it means to be a super hero and what responsibilities one takes when they pick up an opportunity like this one. I’ve just been doing so much research, but I’m really happy. I’ve landed in the DC universe mostly because I didn’t realize it, but when I was in high school I was really obsessed with Watchmen. And then I found out just recently, ‘Oh, wait, the two are connected.’ I’m like, what?! You know, like I’m in Rorschach’s world? What is this? It’s crazy. So it’s a really massive honor. I just picked up training for it. It’s hard, but I feel like the payoff will be just so great with a lot of preparation and an understanding of what it means in the greater scheme of things.

I wasn’t aware of who [Cyclone] was though! I would have known about her kind of in passing, but not really no, so it was all very brand new. That was just a really beautiful experience of reaching out to different people and seeing what they knew. I feel like more and more, it kind of starts to come out about who she is and her background. So it’s been really cool because she’s a multi-tiered superhero and she’s brand new to it all as well. So it’s kind of like myself really. It’s coming fresh into something that means so much and just figuring out my place in it, I feel like it’s exactly what is happening to her as well. So yeah, it’s pretty cool.”

When asked whether they believed being the first live action depiction of Cyclone gave them a certain level of freedom people playing iconic characters like Spider-Man and Batman aren’t afforded, Swindell responded with some fascinating insight.

Quintessa Swindell: Actually, that never really came to mind honestly. I feel like I’ve seen actors talk about what it means to play a character who has been played before and the different things that come along with it. And I don’t know, because I feel like each person’s rendition of a character is just as fresh as the last one. It’s constantly being reinvented, so like if someone had played her before, you know it would be just that – that person’s rendition would be their own. I feel like it’s all kind of the same, but I’m excited to be given the opportunity to just do it in general.”

When discussing the research and time put into what it takes to be a superhero, however, Swindell has an ace up her sleeve: Trinket co-star Brianna Hildebrand who played Negasonic Teenage Warhead in both Deadpool films. Though that conversation, surprisingly, has yet to have taken place.

Quintessa Swindell and Brianna Hildebrand consolidating each other on a park bench as seen in Trinkets on Netflix.
Brianna Hildebrand and Quintessa Swindell in ‘Trinkets’ courtesy of Netflix

Quintessa Swindell: “Oh my god, you’re reading my mind. Literally, I was thinking that this morning. I had finished working out and was like, eh, you know, I should really reach out to Brie and see what her experience has been. I haven’t done that yet, but I will.” 

Swindell’s casting in Black Adam was a historic moment, with Cyclone one of the the first ever superheroes to be played by a non-binary actor. This is an undeniably large step forward, but Swindell isn’t focusing on that – instead using their voice, admirably, to once again promote even further diversity and progression in the genre .

Quintessa Swindell: “I hadn’t thought about it like that. That’s cool if that’s the case. I feel like it’s amazing that someone like me in general has become a superhero, aside from my identity, like being non-binary is one part of a whole. It speaks loads, but I don’t think it’s necessarily a defining factor. I also feel like it wouldn’t delineate anything differently on a performance because the character herself is not non-binary, I’m more excited for when [a non-binary superhero] happens, you know?”

To end things off, we spoke about Quintessa’s excitement to get started with production on Black Adam. The film has an all-star cast, with Aldis Hodge, Noah Centineo, and most famously Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson so far being announced to play fellow JSA members and the titular character respectively.

Quintessa Swindell: “You know, I’m honestly excited to work with every single person in that cast. From Aldis to Noah, to Dwayne as well, it’s like each and every person has a different history of how they’ve come up and acting, they’re just experienced in general and I feel like it’ll be really cool to just go on set and then be working collaboratively with them, but also learning about their history and what have they realized from their work as actors. It’s all so different, for Dwayne particularly, I’m just excited to meet the man and work with him. I feel like everyone just brings something really unique to it. But I also feel like I’m going to get lucky on it. Every project has been so good for me. I feel like this one will be another really beautiful experience.”

Before heading off, we were sure to ask Swindell of what they have coming up outside of what was already discussed, and any personal projects to look out for.

Quintessa Swindell: “Currently, I’m working on the show In Treatment for HBO, opposite Uzo Aduba and that has just been an amazing experience and we’re almost to the halfway mark of having filmed it. So that is a beautiful thing that people can watch soon hopefully. But then there’s also just personal things I’ve been working on through quarantine that I’m so proud of and excited to share with people sometime soon, maybe within the year. I’m excited. There’s so much to look forward to!”

Trinkets is available on Netflix and Euphoria on HBO Max!

Follow writer Michael Slavin on Twitter: @MichaelSlavin98

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