Created by Lucy Gaymer and Siân Robins-Grace, HBO's hit horror comedy The Baby comes to UK screens today after a successful run in the States earlier this year. Michelle de Swarte plays Natasha, whose life turns upside down when she brings home an abandoned baby. However, she begins experiencing gory events wherever she takes the little infant. FilmHounds caught up with her to find out how she's enjoyed portraying her first-ever leading role in a drama series.
How did you get involved in your first leading role?
I got involved — sort of by chance really — in the last lockdown. I was doing stand-up corporate gigs over zoom, which is as fun as it sounds. And luckily for me, one of the gigs that I was doing was for the casting director Aisha's partner. So she just happened to be sat in on the Zoom gig. And then they sent the script to my agent and asked me to try out for it.
It's such an amazing character as well. I was sitting there thinking — I'm not quite in my 30s yet — that I'm looking at myself, when you're sort of in the balance of people getting married, having babies but you want your life full of girl's poker games and whatever else. How easy was the character to create for you?
I got a lot of assistance from the writers, the creators, Sean and Lucy, and the director, Nicole Castle. They really helped me build Natasha. I got to watch her flat be built, see what she would wear, what books she would read, what her past relationships have been like, why she is the way she is. I got to ask loads of questions. So by the time we started filming, I understood who Natasha was and the reason she behaves the way she does.
How would you toe the balance of Natasha being judgmental of motherhood, but then also just wanting to live life and be with her friends? How much of that comes from life experiences, or just being a woman in the world?
I think that most of us have a Natasha in our lives, or there are parts of Natasha that we can relate to. I think that it takes some getting used to when your friend circle changes because of the choices that your friends make, and they go off and they make families and you have to make adjustments. Natasha takes it all quite personally to start with. And so she has to go on this emotional discovery in order to accommodate the changes in life that are happening. There were parts of it that I could relate to, but Natasha is a really complex, unique character because yes, she can be abrasive but she's also so charismatic and endearing that you warm to her as well.
You see an HBO show and you think it's probably going to be this huge American production. And then The Baby comes along as really gritty and British, especially within the family and friend dynamics. Do you think you'd have approached the role differently if it didn't have that grounding in UK culture?
I'm not sure. Regardless of there being things that we can identify with as British people, that culturally we understand, I guess the show is looking through a wider lens at women, sibling relationships, mother and daughter relationships, and your relationships with your friends. I think wherever you are in the world, there should be something that is relatable. But hopefully, us here in the UK will have a different kind of connection to it. Because culturally, there are things that we've just grown up with, right? I feel like those kinds of things are a bit more on the periphery because at the heart of it, it's about being a woman and what society asks of you and what's expected of you. Most places in the Western world and you know, beyond that are relatable.
You can definitely tell that this is a very female-heavy team as well. It was so lovely to watch the credits go by and see so many women's names there. What was it like to work in that team? Were they a good sounding board for the show's themes?
It was nice to be in an environment where you understand the shorthand, and you don't have to overly explain things. Because there's an experience that we all share. So that was really refreshing and made it really easy.
We seem to be loving the horror comedy at the moment. Did you find that merging of genres made tackling those kinds of subjects slightly easier?
I think that it can be a really nice emotional break when there's comedy involved, especially for something like this. The show is tackling a multitude of different topics in a short space of time. I think that laughter is such a nice palate cleanser for tension so yeah, it was like that. It was nice that those two elements ran in unison.
Was it an experience like a filming creative experience that you enjoyed, or were you at all overwhelmed?
I really enjoyed it, because again, I understood the character. I understood the assignment! I think when you have as much information as you can possibly get to prepare you for the experience, you feel that you've had the best possible start that you can have. I had a great team around me and everyone was really supportive. And it meant that I felt safe in the decisions that I made.
What was it like working with such an unpredictable co-star (a baby)? Not only are you acting with a baby, but you're also talking to that baby like it's an adult.
What's tricky is that speaking in a tone that isn't ‘baby tone'. Whenever anyone gives me a baby, I make a fuss, and Natasha obviously speaks to the baby like it's one of her peers. That took a little bit of getting used to for sure. But the babies were adorable. That actually made it extra tricky because you just want to be like “oh, they're so cute”. It was fun because they're really expressive. We were really lucky with how the babies reacted in some of the scenes, so you kind of got used to going with it. If the baby did something that was really comical and funny even though it wasn't in the script, you just tried to sort of go with the current of how the baby was feeling that day.
So we've been left with some ends that haven't exactly been tied up in episode 8. Would you like there to be a second season or is it more like, “I've done this. It was amazing. Now it's time for new stuff”?
I think that we should accept that it's a limited series! And I hope that when you get to the end of it, you feel satisfied.
The Baby arrives on Sky Atlantic on July 7th