Maxim Baldry talks to Glass about new show Years and Years

ACTOR Maxim Baldry is hard to place. It sounds strange, but his face has the look of a utopian projection of some beige, hopeful future where singular national identity is a foreign, long-forgotten concept. He could be from anywhere, and everywhere, and in the age of Trump, Brexit and eerily prevalent nationalism, a face that’s hard to place is profoundly comforting. It’s poignant, then, that his should be face of Years and Years, BBC’s unflinching glimpse at Britain’s near future (spoiler alert: the future’s grim.)

Khaki shirt by ARJE at Matches Fashion, belted denim jeans by Prada at Matches Fashion,
black derby shoes by Margaret Howell. Photographer: Liam Bundy

“I’d probably call it a family saga, an epic family saga that spans 15 years. It explores a lot of stuff that’s happening right now in the world, but I think what [writer] Russell T Davies does so well, is that he explores these epic themes in a really fragile and contained way.” Maxim Baldry plays Viktor, an asylum seeker escaping homophobic persecution in Ukraine for the relative safe haven of a shipping container in Manchester, circa 2024. Britain, however, has its own problems – populism and nuclear paranoia are dividing the nation, while technology is dividing the British household. Yet, as Baldry is quick to point out, Years and Years is not your run of the mill dystopian angst-fest.

Brown patterned shirt by Etro at Mr. Porter, striped trousers by Margaret Howell,
belt by A.P.C at Matches Fashion. Photograph: Liam Bundy

“From the start they said ‘this isn’t going to be like Black Mirror, it’s not going to be a dystopian futuristic drama, it’s going to be a drama set in the near future observing life that we can all relate to.’ People will be able to watch it at home at 9pm on BBC1 and say, ‘this is something I can really relate to but OH MY GOD this is terrifying!’ Because where the hell are we going in the world? What is happening? So we take these questions …‘what’s happening in America, what’s happening in China, what’s happening in Britain …’ and explore them in a really cathartic way.”

Grey checked coat by Alexander McQueen, white sweater by Alexander McQueen.
Photograph: Liam Bundy

If there is a criticism to be aimed at Black Mirror, it’s that it lacks subtlety, a fairly common Achilles heel in Sci-fi: Technology isn’t just bad; it will literally kill us all and take selfies on our graves. Black Mirror is also guilty of engaging in a version of the future that requires a fairly hefty suspension of disbelief, taking seismic leaps into the distance. Years and Years on the other hand, very much feels like tomorrow’s world. Russell T Davies has rejected the Sci-fi cliché of stepping into the unknown, and instead offers a peak just around the corner. Equally refreshing in Years and Years is the rejection of national stereotypes employed to represent good and evil. This in particular struck a chord with Baldry.

Brown patterned shirt by Etro at Mr. Porter, striped trousers by Margaret Howell
belt by A.P.C at Matches Fashion, black boots by Alexander McQueen.
Photographer: Liam Bundy

“My mum’s Russian, I grew up speaking Russian as my first language … [at the same time] in everything I’ve watched growing up, Russians have always been the baddies. But I think [Years and Years] has explored things in a different way, in a fair way. It’s not portraying stereotypes, it’s observing real things that are happening right now.”

Russia’s influence isn’t exerted through an Ivan Drago proxy, rather through the experiences of Viktor. We’re led to believe that in 2024 Putin has advanced from the annexation of Crimea to subsume Ukraine altogether, bringing with him the gay concentration camps that are currently employed in Chechnya. Shedding a light on one of todays most shamefully ignored atrocities is clearly something that Baldry feels strongly about.

“In 2017 there were purges among the gay community in Chechnya, where they took gay people in the middle of the night, tortured them, electrocuted them … it got so bad that families; mothers and fathers with gay children, would just hand their kids in [of their own volition].” When conversation shifts back to Baldry’s real-life family, concern gives way to a bashful grin.

Beige v-neck sweater by AMI, grey trousers by Alexander McQueen,
white derby shoes by Margaret Howell, Blue Hexagon sunglasses by Emporio Armani.
Photographer: Liam Bundy

He recalls attending the Years and Years premiere this April with his parents firmly by his side, even in the slightly awkward moments. “My dad and my mum were like ‘Oh, hello!’ They knew it was coming but it was [still] my first sex scene … and it was at the IMAX which is way too big for that kind of thing!” While there’s certainly a feeling of “it’s the end of the world, why not?” about Viktor and Daniel (played by Russell Tovey) first hooking up, it’s still a genuinely tender moment, and it offers a welcome reprieve from the fact that the pilot episodes wild crescendo really does feel like the end of the world.

“We had this great chemistry between us, you know? … Reliving it almost makes me want to cry now! Most of my scenes are with Russell, and he taught me a lot about life outside of acting, about being on set and the processes he goes through.”

Something Baldry and Tovey discussed early on was the debate surrounding identity casting, and Baldry’s credibility as a non-homosexual actor playing a homosexual role. “Russell and I had a talk about it, and [ultimately] it was one of those things that didn’t really matter to us, what our orientation is. I think sexuality, especially for me as I’m quite young, is quite fluid. I’m exploring myself and I think that everyone is free to express themselves in different ways…when it comes to acting I think my own sexual preference shouldn’t come into the roles that I play…having said that I did get to kiss Russell Tovey and it was pretty hot.”

Khaki Shirt by ARJE at Matches Fashion, belted denim jeans by Prada at Matches Fashion,
black derby shoes by Margaret Howell, khaki Trench Coat by Dries Van Noten at Mr. Porter.
Photograph: Liam Bundy

Alongside Tovey are other big British names in Jessica Hynes, Rory Kinnear and Emma Thompson, who ruthlessly disregards her national treasure status by delivering her best performance in years as vile, populist firebrand Vivienne Rook. “I’ve been a fan of all these actors growing up, so [having got the part] I’m thinking ‘oh my god this is amazing.’ It was just a great opportunity to learn from actors I’ve always looked up to.” Sharing the screen with such an esteemed cast didn’t always seem to be on cards for Baldry, though, as after a breakthrough role at 10 years old in Mr. Bean’s Holiday, the decade that followed left him questioning whether acting was a viable career.

On top of all the indiscriminate challenges that affect actors the world over, Baldry feels that his ethnic ambiguity has often factored against him when auditioning for roles.“I think it’s quite hard to place me, because of that thing- ‘where could he be from? Well, he could be form anywhere.’ And that’s not a great thing. I can’t really play an English person, even though I’m English, I can’t play a Spanish person either because I’m not Spanish and I can’t speak Spanish … I mean in theory I can play Russian, but I don’t look Russian … It hasn’t made life easy. It’s hard adjusting to your mental process to that of the life of an actor, because it’s just so temporary. Being out of work … acting is just so up and down, there’s so many variables so you just live week by week.”

Black and red pattern shirt by Fendi, black peg trousers by AMI at Mr. Porter,
strap sandals by Fendi, pink sunglasses by Dior Homme at Matches Fashion.
Photograph: Liam Bundy

“I dropped out of University for a gig, and then it finished, and I was in this, in between jobs stage, which for me took about a year and a half. So I was out of money, back at home with mum and dad, and working as a Deliveroo driver. I almost killed myself! On a pedal bike, weaving through traffic with this huge box on your back, it was not the one.” If killing himself delivering pizza wasn’t enough of an incentive to pursue more auditions, another job in between jobs helped motivate Baldry out of his funk, if only to sever ties with a particular “toothy kid”.

“When I was working in a pub, occasionally people would recognise [me] and say ‘weren’t you in that film? So why are you working in a bar?’ I never usually get recognised for anything, but for some reason when I was working at this bar I would always be recognised as the boy from Mr. Bean’s Holiday. This toothy kid! I didn’t think I still looked like that!”

Beige v-neck Sweater by AMI, grey trousers by Alexander McQueen,
white derby shoes by Margaret Howell, Blue Hexagon sunglasses by Emporio Armani.
Photographer: Liam Bundy


As of this month, however, you feel that a new role will have finally occupied that corner of the brain that urges people on the street, or in the pub to say, ‘Aren’t you that guy from that film?’

by Charlie Navin-Holder

Years and Years premiers May 14 on BBC1, 9pm

Photographer: Liam Bundy

Stylist: Tanja Martin

Groomer: Meredith Lacosde using Dior Homme