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The Baby's Michelle de Swarte: 'I’m proud I'm part of something so deliciously female'

The Baby's Michelle de Swarte talks to us in The Big RT Interview about her remarkable new comedy-drama.

The Big RT Interview: Michelle de Swarte (GETTY)
Published: Wednesday, 6th July 2022 at 10:26 am
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A baby plummets from the sky. A child-averse woman in her 30s catches it. So far, so fairly normal, but then it turns out the baby has a murdering streak that would put Stewie Griffin to shame and has developed quite the attachment to said child-averse woman.

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The Baby, a Sky and HBO joint-production, is a darkly subversive comedy-horror about motherhood, supernatural demon babies and 21st century feminism, and at the centre of it is former model and current comic and actor Michelle de Swarte in her first leading role.

De Swarte talks to RadioTimes.com from her North London home over Zoom, the video conferencing app she owes her role in The Baby to. As the COVID-19 pandemic essentially shuttered the entertainment industry and pushed live venues into extinction, the comedian took to performing gigs over Zoom.

As de Swarte says, watching one such gig was The Baby casting director Aisha Bywaters. “I was doing a lot of corporate gigs and on one of them, the casting director and her partner happened to be watching and she then contacted my agents and sent me the script.”

De Swarte laughs gregariously when reflecting on the one-in-a-million chance of a big-time casting director watching her comedy as the world seemed to be ending: “There was a hefty dollop of luck involved in getting this role. I know stand-ups who refused to do gigs over Zoom and I say to them that’s how I got this job and they look at me like ‘wow’.”

The method of landing the biggest role of her acting life is symbolic of de Swarte’s career at large. There was no drama school, trust fund or nepotism pushing her through a half-open door. Instead, de Swarte has plied her hand at many trades, most notably modelling where she cat-walked for the likes of Gucci, Dolce & Gabbana and Versace. Though modelling is notorious for its cut-throat working practices, de Swarte admits she takes being rejected for an acting role or comedy gig more personally: “When I got turned down for a modelling job, I would just think they picked someone else because they looked more appealing and that’s superficial, whereas if I don’t get a stand-up gig that means some other person is funnier and that hurts.”

In The Baby, de Swarte plays Natasha, a single, childless woman in a friendship circle bursting with babies when, in a Shyamalan-like twist, a little one quite literally falls into her lap. Over the show’s eight 30-minute episodes, we follow Natasha and the nameless baby on a series of homicidal adventures across a play park, mother and toddler group, and even a petrol station while an elderly lady named Mrs Eaves seems hellbent on sending the blood-lusting infant to Hell.

Michelle de Swarte in The Baby

There are obviously lots of surface similarities between actor and character – they’re both childless mixed raced women around 40 with a white English mother and a Black West Indian father; de Swarte acknowledges the parallels: “It’d be silly not to bring my own experiences [to the role]. I have a lot in common with Natasha, there are certain aspects we share, obviously not with a baby going around causing havoc but the dynamics between her friends and family. That wasn’t hard to tap into.”

It’s this interplay between Natasha and her loved ones that grounds the high concept show in something human and real and it's also where de Swarte really shines as an actor. She could play the role much more broadly comic but is restrained without losing any of her natural charisma or acerbic wit – the way she swears alone should bring her a BAFTA.

The dialogue also beats along with a rare honesty, particularly with the unapologetic way it depicts women talking to each other – there’s crassness, dark humour and a working class familiarity to their interplay that doesn’t regress into stereotypes of girly bitchiness: “I really liked that about the script. You definitely don’t see much of that kind of thing but this is how me and my mates interact.”

The Baby is a thoroughly female affair. Not just on camera with the largely all-woman cast but behind the scenes too. Created by Lucy Gaymer (Fleabag’s music supervisor) and Sian Robins-Grace (producer on Sex Education), there’s a female footprint all over the show.

Three of the show’s four directors are women, it was cast by Bywaters, has a score composed brilliantly by Lucrecia Dalt and is shot by Kate Reid and Diana Olifirova (as well as Ben Wheeler). Even in an industry where most of the major players are blokes, The Baby has put together a team of producers that is 90 per cent female and led by former HBO president and Game of Thrones head honcho Carolyn Strauss.

The results are on the screen and de Swarte notices too. “I’m really proud to be a part of something that is so female orientated. This is from a female focus with a female cast and a diverse, heavily female crew. With the topic being about mothers and womanhood and caregivers, I’m proud to be a part of something that’s so deliciously female.”

With The Baby being only her second ever acting role after Netflix sitcom The Duchess, de Swarte is open about the pressure she felt top-lining a show that was bookmarked as a tentpole in the schedules of Sky and HBO (where it aired in April this year). Ironically, de Swarte found comfort by playing with the babies on set: “I love kids! This was my second acting role, first time being a lead and there were times where I got quite a bit nervous but the babies took me out of my own head. They were a really good distraction.”

Read more from The Big RT Interview:

De Swarte is also thankful she was given a lot of room to really develop her character and was allowed creative freedom as to Natasha’s wardrobe and hairstyles. “I had quite a few intense months getting into the character,” she says before detailing all of the things Gaymer and Robins-Grace let her control: “I picked the wallpaper for her flat, what clothes she would wear, what music she would listen to, what she would have on her shelves. It really helped me find the character.”

For de Swarte, it’s now back to the day job of stand-up comedy. As soon as our interview wraps, she’ll be scooting off to her next gig in Soho, endearingly oblivious to the fame and acclaim that awaits her once the show premieres in the UK. “My head’s not that deep in the game,” she says bashfully. “I’m just fortunate to get to do something I like.”

The eight-part series The Baby will premiere Thursday 7th July 2022 on Sky Atlantic and streaming service NOW – sign up for Sky TV here. Looking for something else to watch? Check out our TV Guide or visit our dedicated Drama hub for the latest news.

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