“I like babies,” Michelle de Swarte tells Jezebel. “I’m not sure if I could have done this show if I didn’t.” de Swarte is the star of HBO’s The Baby, and its title is a pretty good indication of just how central one particular little person is to the story. Luckily, her tiny co-stars, twins Albie Pascal Hills and Arthur Levi Hills, who were joined by a trio of stand-ins and some realistic-looking dolls, made for great co-workers. “The babies were super cute and actually really well behaved,” de Swarte said, “If you can judge a baby for behavior.”
Natasha, de Swarte’s character in the British horror-comedy series, which airs its second episode on Sunday night, isn’t as big a fan of the tiny tykes. She’s brash and outspokenly anti-baby; when a friend reveals her upcoming pregnancy in the pilot, Natasha jokes that there’s still time for an abortion—a comment that her pal doesn’t much appreciate. Other than the encroachments of her friend group’s growing brood, Natasha is happily child-free until a baby literally falls out of the sky and into her arms. It gets more alarming from there: When she tries to pass him off to the authorities, he keeps showing up at her home. When she tries to enlist friends and family for help, she finds that they’re now somehow under the impression that the baby is hers. If all that weren’t bad enough, she soon discovers that the cuddly little guy appears to be some sort of supernatural serial killer who leaves a blood-soaked trail of death and destruction in his wake. Those around him tumble from cliffs, find themselves crushed under giant rocks, and succumb to a variety of other nasty accidents.
Through it all, Natasha struggles to extricate herself from the baby’s murderous thrall, all while keeping him in clean diapers. The show, which was created by Lucy Gaymer and Siân Robbnis-Grace, toggles adroitly between humor (lacking a carseat, she takes to carrying the baby around in a laundry basket, and just the sight of them makes for a great odd-couple pairing), scares, and the quieter, more chilling terror baked into the series’ nightmare tale of maternity.
The show marks an early acting role for de Swarte, who’s best known for her work as a comedian—which is what ultimately led to her landing the part of Natasha. In the early days of London’s coronavirus lockdowns, de Swarte swore off remote performances. “I was like, ‘No, stand up should be in front of a live audience,’” she says. “And then a few months in I was like, ‘Okay, it’s time to adapt.’ And so I started doing corporate gigs over Zoom.” She caught the eye of casting director Aisha Bywaters during a remote show for Bywaters’ husband’s company. As soon as she saw the script, “I loved it,” de Swarte says. “I was like, ‘Oh, that’s a part I would really like.’”
As she’s still a newcomer to acting, working with wordless and tear-prone scene partners didn’t seem too out of the ordinary. “It was challenging, I can’t lie,” she said, of working so closely with small children. “I also am so new to acting that I didn’t really know any different, you know what i mean? I was kind of like, ‘Okay.’”
Natasha’s efforts to rid herself of the baby bring her closer to her own family, which includes a sister named Bobbi (Amber Grappy) who’s aching to have a child with her partner. In the series, de Swarte and Grappy bicker and bond, carving out a realistically prickly relationship full of genuine affection. “I wish she was my little sister in real life. We had a screening here in the UK, and she brought her real sister. And I was kind of like, ‘Why did you bring her? I’m here,’” de Swarte joked. “I felt a little bit salty.”
Over the course of the series, Natasha attempts to crack the mystery of just how the baby came to be a deeply adorable, yet deeply creepy agent of chaos. It is, of course, an analogy for the horrors of motherhood. That mom and dad fuck you up has long been a theme in popular media, but the ways in which we fuck them up in turn—mom especially—is at the heart of recent works like The Lost Daughter and now, The Baby. “He’ll bulldoze your life, destroy your relationships, and when he’s got you completely to himself, he’ll destroy you,” a character familiar with the adorable little fiend tells Natasha in the show.
“I’m in the same age group as Natasha and I think, whatever your feelings are on children, whether you are like Natasha, or like one of her friends, there’s definitely something that is relatable,” says de Swarte. “I mean, how you deal with it and what comes out of your mouth, hopefully is a bit more considered than Natasha.”