Michelle de Swarte isn’t a mother, and she doesn’t play one on TV either. Instead, in the HBO horror-comedy series The Baby, she plays Natasha, a woman whose happily child-free existence gets complicated when a mysterious infant literally lands in her arms. That’d be enough for anyone to handle, but things get even more complicated when Natasha realizes that the baby might be, well, evil. Certainly people keep dying when he’s around. It’s a whole thing.
De Swarte didn’t have much acting experience prior to the series — as she tells Consequence, she booked the job thanks to her work as a stand-up. “I speak about myself, my past experiences, and how it informs the decisions that I make now ultimately,” she says of her typical set. “I speak about therapy, living in the States — as I lived out there for a number of years — my childhood, and some of the silly things I’ve done along the way. Hopefully, I can justify some of them by using them as material.”
While her stand-up might not have a direct connection with The Baby, she did identify strongly with Natasha’s perspective as a childless woman, though as she says, it’s a good thing she personally likes more than her character does. Below, she tells the story of how she got cast, what it was like working with all the different infants on set, and what was the biggest challenge for her as an actor in making the show.
I want to start off by asking — how did this show arrive in your inbox?
I am a stand-up comedian, and in between lockdowns, I was doing corporate gigs over Zoom. The casting director’s husband was watching this Zoom gig, and she was with him, and she saw me do that, and then they contacted my agent. My agent sent me the script, and I was like “Oh, my god, I really want this.” So that’s how this started. It’s a really odd way to get cast for a show, from a stand-up gig over Zoom.
I do know a lot of stand-ups did attempt to do comedy over Zoom during the pandemic, but I don’t feel like we ever cracked the code into making it work as well as it could.
It’s a code you don’t really want to crack, if I can be honest with you. You can’t think of it like stand-up because generally, you’re in your kitchen and half the time, people don’t have their mics turned on, so you don’t get laughs. You just have to adapt and approach it like it’s a monologue almost. I have to say, I was reluctant to do gigs over Zoom. But I thought, “Why not?” You have to adapt. And I’m glad I did it, because I got this show out of it.
Thinking back to that set — do you remember any material that ended up being in alignment with what The Baby is about?
No. [laughs] It’s just so completely different and also — I’m not a mom. I think if I was, it would be a lot of things that I could draw parallels from. Much like Natasha, I also don’t have any children.
Do you feel like that was almost a benefit?
Yeah. I think as far as playing Natasha, it was really helpful. It is something that I share with her; I could relate to not having children and also be in a situation where your friends are having kids.
After you got the script, what was your initial reaction to the story?
It was so refreshing, and I was so excited about it. I love the genre of horror, and obviously, I’m from a comedy background. To see these two things come together was great. I absolutely loved it; I was really excited. As a woman to portray something about womanhood which is pretty kick-ass and heroic — to raise a human being — to do it without any cutesy frills like you sometimes see women portrayed, which I don’t relate to… To see so many kickass women in one series was exciting. To see it in a script and see all of the dialogue and how harsh they are with each other was really exciting.