Maxim Baldry readily admits that being cast in The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power has changed his life. For a start, he had to relocate to New Zealand to make the enthralling first season, which is now premiering weekly on Prime Video. “I made a life out there, I made friends,” the 26-year-old actor and musician says when we meet at a Soho members’ club. As we settle into a quiet corner booth, he’s immediately warm and friendly, drawing attention to the fact we previously met a few weeks earlier at the show’s junket. Not every rising star, sadly, would do that. “But the nature of being an actor,” he continues, “is you do your craft, you make your network and then you’re ripped out of it. You’re never in one place for very long.”
Season two of the lavish fantasy series – reportedly the most expensive TV show ever made with a $1billion budget for its five seasons – will be filmed in the UK. Baldry has just moved to West London to be closer to the show’s new production hub, Bray Studios in Berkshire. “I’m someone who likes to plan and I’ve always thrived off structure,” he says. “But I think what this job especially has solidified for me is that this is my lifestyle now. As an actor you do become a sort of travelling vagabond.”
That’s a romantic way of putting it, but Baldry doesn’t gloss over the nuts and bolts of the job. He won’t be heading into Soho after this interview, he says, because he has to go home and learn his lines. Season two is about to start shooting and will take up much of the next eight months, though some days will be longer than others. “We’re not always on [set],” he says. “You might have an intense month and then a couple of months of more limited filming.”
In the less intense periods, Baldry plans to focus on his band Terra Twin, which started out as a solo “bedroom project” in New Zealand. You can find a couple of tracks Baldry made on his laptop on Spotify, but Terra Twin has since evolved into a five-piece band featuring his old school friend Jake Goodbody and three other pals: Lewis Spear, Alex Wadstein and Joel McConkey. Baldry and Goodbody have been playing together for years – at one point they called themselves Moonage in tribute to David Bowie – but Terra Twin is more serious. “It’s the first one where we’ve gone, ‘OK, let’s do this. Let’s play gigs, let’s play festivals,” Baldry says.
“Terra Twin is my rock, it’s my constant”
Baldry’s passion for Terra Twin is palpable. He says “nothing would make me happier” than bundling the band into a van for a European tour at some point in the future. But in the meantime, they have a few London dates to look forward to, including one this Saturday (October 1) at east London venue Dream Bags Jaguar Shoes. “Terra Twin is my rock, it’s my constant,” he says. “It’s something I have creative control over that I can really pour myself into.”
Interestingly, Baldry says he isn’t the sort of multitasker who comes up with song ideas in his trailer. “I’m very compulsive and when I’m on set, I fully immerse myself in what I’m doing,” he says. “But when I come back from set, I can switch off and I always gravitate towards my guitar. I just love weird, abstract stories, and what better way to tell them through music?”
He describes his multi-instrumentalist bandmate Goodbody as a “virtuoso genius producer [who] can turn anything into a beautiful ’60s or ’70s sound”. This definitely comes across on ‘I’m Coming Up (Again)’, the band’s vibey new track dropping Friday (September 30), which builds from a hushed ballad into something more psychedelic. Baldry says Terra Twin chose it as their debut single proper because “it’s the most intriguing” of their songs and “doesn’t give too much away”. At the same time, the “insane release” of the crescendo’s guitar riffs are meant to be emblematic. “We’ve been kind of in the shadows for so long, so it sort of emulates where we are as a band. We just want to pop,” he says.
Thanks to his part in The Rings of Power, Baldry’s acting career is already popping. Everything about the show is supersized: from lavish visuals that make House of the Dragon look a bit budget (well, almost) to a regular cast the size of a football squad. Mainly based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s appendices to The Lord of the Rings, it’s set in the Second Age of Middle-earth, thousands of years before Peter Jackson’s Oscar-gobbling films. There are a few characters familiar from the movies – Morfydd Clark plays a younger version of Cate Blanchett’s Elven Lady Galadriel – but Baldry’s role as Isildur presents a slightly different challenge.
That’s because we think we know him, but really don’t. Isildur (played by Harry Sinclair) appears very briefly at the start of Jackson’s first film because he makes the terrible decision that begets the whole epic saga. Any fan of Tolkien’s iconic novels also knows that when Isildur cuts the One Ring from big baddie Sauron’s hand – and is duly corrupted by its power – he kickstarts the entire Third Age of Middle-earth. He’s often seen as a quasi-villain, but the new series wants us to empathise with him.
“You meet Isildur and he’s like Michael Corleone,” showrunner Patrick McKay has said, comparing Baldry’s character to Al Pacino’s protagonist from The Godfather. “He’s the young member of the family who has optimism and immaturity. Trace that guy to the tragic, final decision rather than the mistake of a fool.” Baldry knows this is no mean feat. “That’s the element I’ve struggled the most with – the fact we know he does this one specific thing right at the end [of our story], which is to keep the ring and not destroy it,” he says. “But now the question is: why? It’s up to Patrick and J.D. [Payne, fellow showrunner] to create a character that we love and believe, but we also have to understand why he does that.”
“Isildur really is trying to be a good son”
Baldry believes the Isildur we meet in season one has “a deep sense of duty” but also hints at some daddy issues: his father Elendil (Lloyd Owen) is a great warrior who will eventually lead an alliance between Elves and Men. “He really is trying to be a good son,” Baldry says. “But in the process, you also want to find yourself and understand why you’re doing what you’re doing. It’s that classic tale where your dad lived the life that you’re living before you, so he knows the mistakes you could potentially make. But that doesn’t really influence you as a young adult – the only way you learn is through those mistakes.”
The Rings of Power will definitely level up Baldry’s acting career – expect to see more fan accounts like @maximumbaldry – but it isn’t his first high-profile role. When he was 11, he “got lucky” and was cast in Mr. Bean’s Holiday, a hit film that follows Rowan Atkinson’s clown on a typically chaotic trip to France. Baldry plays Stepan, a young boy who befriends Bean after being separated from his father.
Touchingly, Baldry says Atkinson has “really supported” him ever since. In fact, they’re still lunch buddies 15 years after the film came out. “It’s sort of a deep friendship where I can ask him questions about the craft and this lifestyle that he’s lived for a lot longer than I have,” Baldry says. “He knows a lot more of the quirks and personalities [involved] and he helps me through those moments. And I’m very grateful for that, because it can be a very lonely road as an actor.”
Catching a break at such a young age impressed on Baldry that an acting career requires hard work and sacrifice. He also acknowledges that his parents have always been incredibly supportive. Soon after Mr. Bean’s Holiday, he appeared in a production of Tennessee Williams’ The Rose Tattoo at London’s National Theatre. “Every day after school my mum would drive me into the city from this little village in Buckinghamshire where we lived so I could do the play,” he says. “I was really hellbent on doing it and I loved every minute.”
Baldry believes this love of performing is in his blood. Though his parents aren’t classically creative, he was inspired as a child by his grandfather, a saxophonist, and grandmother, a ballerina. “She would put on these amazing shows for me,” he recalls. “I can remember seeing her dancing and fluttering around and thinking ‘Wow, that’s magical’. And I got my emotional connection to music from my grandad: music was just everything for him. So I think that’s where it all started for me.”
Baldry’s mother is part Russian and part Armenian. She grew up in Moscow and met Baldry’s father, who hails from Leicestershire, while he was working in eastern Europe. Baldry spent the first six years of his life in Moscow and found it tough when the family moved to the UK. “I came to London with Russian as my first language and a very thick Russian accent,” he recalls. “I remember being at school and not really getting the British culture because it’s so different to the culture anywhere else.”
“I didn’t understand the British culture at school”
While trading football cards in the playground, other boys mocked him for mispronouncing the names of certain players – an experience that proved formative. “I’m a hybrid of nationalities [and I’ve] never really fit into a mould,” he says today. “I’ve felt like that for my whole life. That’s probably why I have an attraction to playing outsiders [and] people on the fringes of society. I like playing people who are always looking in, because I feel like I’ve always been looking in.”
After Mr. Bean’s Holiday, Baldry appeared in three episodes of the HBO historical series Rome, then spent the next six years “just doing the odd acting job here and there”. At 18, he went to Edinburgh University to study literature, but instantly regretted it and dropped out. He returned home and worked as a Deliveroo driver and in a pub when acting jobs proved unforthcoming. Sometimes a punter would recognise him from Mr. Bean’s Holiday. “I remember one saying to me, ‘So you swerved the acting thing then’. That was a bit tough on the ego,” he says.
Baldry’s luck improved when he joined Hollyoaks in 2016 – he played Liam Donovan, a “ladies’ man” with a “dark side” – but he doesn’t sugarcoat his year-long stint on the show. “I learned to work quick, dip my toe in and get the hell out of there,” he says drily. “It was an experience and I met some amazing people doing it, but I knew it was never for me long-term.” Baldry says some people advised him not to take the role in the first place “because of the snobbery” that surrounds soap actors, and initially these fears seemed well founded. “Afterwards I couldn’t get into a room for an audition,” he says.
However, Hollyoaks ultimately proved to be a blessing in disguise. Russell T Davies, the visionary writer of Queer As Folk and It’s A Sin, was so impressed with Baldry’s performance as Liam that he cast him in his dystopian 2019 miniseries Years and Years. Baldry played Viktor Goraya, a Ukrainian refugee whose partner drowns while they are crossing the English Channel on a raft. “Russell soaks in so much of the culture, distills it and makes it into a masterpiece,” Baldry says. “I couldn’t believe I got my break in Years and Years because of Hollyoaks, but I never looked back.”
He got the call for The Rings of Power soon after – it was nearly three years from his first audition to the show’s launch – but Baldry is still looking forward. Terra Twin will release their first EP before Christmas and he has grand designs for their future gigs. He recently saw Perfume Genius at End of the Road festival and was struck by the way the Seattle musician turned his performance into a “piece of art”. “Without wanting to sound too wacky,” he says with a slight self-deprecating eye role, “I was like ‘wow, that’s really beautiful.’“
Baldry doesn’t sound wacky, just romantic, but that’s only one side of his ambitious character. After spending four months learning to ride to play Isildur, he’s keen to put his new skill to good use. “Get me on a horse!” he says with a grin. “I’d love to play a cowboy in a Spaghetti Western. I love sort of dirty, earthy characters – characters that aren’t too clean – so that’s definitely my dream role for the future.”
Terra Twin’s debut single ‘I’m Coming Up (Again)’ will be released on September 30