Though Kathleen Robertson may be best known for her role as Claire Arnold on the 90s hit series, Beverly Hills, 90210, that was just the beginning of an illustrious career in Hollywood. Taking on more complex and challenging roles, Robertson’s interests and projects have proven that she is just as talented behind the camera as she is in front of the camera. In the 2010s she switched from acting to screenwriting, and recently premiered her binge-worthy hit thriller series, Swimming with Sharks, starring Diane Kruger on the Roku Channel. Here Resident speaks to Robertson about her experiences in Hollywood, career trajectory, and a myriad of interests that brought her to where she is today.
How did starring in Beverly Hills, 90210 shape your career?
KR: It was really the beginning of everything and changed the trajectory of my career. I was very new to the US, and I moved to Los Angeles when I was 19. I was an actor in Canada since I was 10 and this was my first American job. In the 90s, this was the biggest show in the world at the time.
Have you kept in touch with your castmates?
KR: Tori Spelling and I still occasionally will text or message over social media, and I love her. She was my closest friend on the show, and we did Scary Movie together also.
How do you think the industry has changed and evolved from the time you started acting?
KR: I think for women, it’s actually gotten better. A lot of the recent developments in the past few years in terms of Me Too have brought attention to the high-level executives in the industry who have been called out for bad behavior. I think things are better now than they’ve ever been and finally, we’re starting to see more diverse actors getting opportunities, both in front and behind the camera. We’re moving in the right direction.
Tell me about your new series, Swimming with Sharks.
KR: This is a psychological thriller that centers around two women. Diane Kruger plays Joyce Holt, and Kiernan Shipka plays Lou Simms. It’s an unconventional, twisted love story between these two women. In the very first episode we meet Lou Simms arriving at her job. She’s an intern for this notorious nightmare of a woman who is a female and one of the only token female executives working for this massive studio. Her boss is played by Donald Sutherland, who is a monster beyond monsters. You think the show is going to be one thing and then you realize at the end of the first episode that this girl who is seemingly very innocent, has secrets in her past and she’s there for different reasons than it appears. It’s a fun, crazy sexy ride. It’s something that people seem to binge on and it moves fast dropping you into a world that maybe you’ve never been dropped into before. I’m excited for people to finally see it.
How does this differ from the original movie, Swimming with Sharks with Kevin Spacey?
KR: It’s nothing like that one. The tone is completely different. That one was more of a comedy. This is a psychological thriller, and other than this title there are no similarities. I just used the title as a jumping-off point. These mentor/ mentee relationships in Hollywood are the background.
Are there any real-life people that these composites are based on?
KR: I’ve been in the industry for many years, and there are a lot of things that are drawn from my experiences that I’ve either lived through or heard about.
How do you like being behind the camera vs in front of the camera?
KR: I’m the showrunner on the project and I created it. I love it. Because I’ve been an actor my whole life, acting is very effortless, and it’s second nature. I can drop onto a film set and work as an actor, and it just feels so natural for me. But this is all new for me. It’s a very different skill set that uses a different part of my brain and I genuinely love being a showrunner. It’s an incredible amount of work and obviously exhausting, and all-encompassing. This is something I definitely plan on continuing to do more of, but I also love being an actor.
Who has been a mentor to you?
KR: There was an acting teacher that I worked within Los Angeles, named Larry Moss. He was also a person for me that also opened my exposure to a lot of really famous playwrights and literature. The experience of being coached and working with him changed the trajectory of my career and made me focus less on being an actor for hire, and more on becoming a storyteller, which is how I ended up where I am now.
Have there been any roles that you played that mirrored your personality?
KR: It’s hard for me to be objective when I play a role. I try to forget about me and leave my opinions and feelings at the door. No matter what role I play, I like to relate to that person, even if it’s a serial killer, which I have played. I try to find the humanity in a person no matter what choices they make, even if they do extreme things and make bad choices. I approach these roles from a place of trying to understand why people make certain choices and do the things that they do. It’s a full circle, you have to understand the humanity and the journey that somebody’s been on before you can sidestep them.
If you could have any dream role, what would it be?
KR: I think a dream role for an actor is a role that touches on a lot of different facets of that person. One of my pet peeves for so long was about the roles written for women that were simply the girlfriend, the supportive wife, or the arm candy, and now we’re moving into a direction, thankfully, where women are allowed to be more complex. A woman can be strong and tough and also really competent, but she can also have vulnerabilities and things that make her specific to being female. Men and women are very different and that’s not a bad thing, that’s reality. The things that I like to write and the stuff that I gravitate towards are those kinds of complex roles that may appear as one thing to the outside world, but when you go home and you’re not wearing makeup, all of us are a very different version of the person that same person. I just love seeing the sort of complexities of who we all are and the choices we all make.
How did you like starring in the Sci-Fi series, The Expanse?
KR: The Expanse was really my first time ever doing anything in the Sci-Fi genre, and I really loved it. I was intrigued by the dialect and the world that they’ve created with the costumes and the tattoos and it was really fun. The show is really more about these characters and it’s a hybrid of sci-fi and true drama, which I think is what makes it so popular.
What other projects do you have in the works?
KR: I’m wearing multiple hats with many different projects right now. I’m writing a movie for Paramount right now, and it’s my first time writing a big studio movie which has been really challenging and rewarding all at once. I also just sold a show that I am creating and starring in. I have a project that I’m doing with a documentary filmmaker named Joe Berlinger, who did The Ted Bundy Tapes, and we’re working on a scripted project together for Lionsgate that I’m also show running.
What books are you reading that has inspired you?
KR: Right now I’m reading Atomic Habits and also Think Like a Monk by Jay Shetty. I like books that help me learn to relax, slow down and be a little bit more mindful and in the moment, where I’m not working so hard, which is my focus right now.
Do you have any fun summer travel plans?
KR: I have two boys and I’m married, and we have we have a place up in Northern Ontario on Georgian Bay. We’re going to get our boat out mid May when the Marina opens. We will plan to spend some time at our place up North this summer. My boys love it there. I’m Canadian but my boys were born in Los Angeles and have dual passports. They love Canada and love to spend time around their cousins.
What are some of your local hangouts in LA?
I love to spend time in a library in Hollywood that was built in the 1920s where I go to write. On Melrose, I like Osteria Mozza. My favorite sushi place in LA is Shintaro in a strip mall on Franklin and Highland. I also love the Hollywood Farmers Market, and my old school favorite place to go is Musso and Frank’s. where I love to grab a martini at the bar. I love Mr. Chows in Beverly Hills for Chinese food… It brings when I first moved to LA and used to go all the time.
What else do you like to do for fun when you’re not working?
KR: Anytime that I’m not working I’m always with my kids. I have a five-year-old who loves the outdoors and loves to go canoeing and hiking. At home, we build train sets. I have another son who is 13 and he
loves going thrift shopping and buying vintage clothes, which is so funny because he’s literally following in my footsteps when I was that age. We like to go thrifting together and he’s a foodie. We’ll go and have nice dinners together just the two of us to connect and have that time.
We haven’t really done any traveling because of COVID, so I’m definitely looking forward to some of that in the future now that we’re slowly coming out of all this.