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Tchéky Karyo talks Julien Baptiste and why series two was his biggest challenge yet

The actor is reprising his role as the iconic detective 

Francesca Shillcock

Baptiste star Tchéky Karyo is set to return as the brilliant Julien Baptiste for the second instalment in the BBC series. For fans of the gritty drama, which serves as a spin-off to 2014's The Missing, it's been a long two-year wait to see the character back on screens – but the iconic detective is a shell of the man he was before. 

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Within minutes of Baptiste's return, viewers are met with anger, despair and alcohol – setting the precedent for what's going to be another fantastically gripping six episodes.

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Tchéky Karyo is back for Baptiste series two

Ahead of the first episode on Sunday evening, we spoke to Tchéky in an exclusive interview for HELLO! Spotlight. The iconic actor opens up about Baptiste's "darker" journey in the new episodes and why series two was his biggest challenge yet. 

Thanks for joining us! It must have been great to reprise the character of Julien Baptiste - tell us about his journey in series two...

Well, this character is going through so many different levels of temper. And so when we start he is at the bottom of himself and the bottom of a lot of bottles. [To him], it's like there is no issue, he is angry, he is violent. He's a masochist with himself and he's wounded. 

Eventually, because of his skill and his obsession with the inquiry, he will get this empathy and feelings for this woman, Ambassador Emma Chambers, and he will start to eventually get out of that trap he put himself into.

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WATCH: Julien Baptiste is back for season two

We've waited a couple of years since series one now. How did you find getting back into the roll? 

It's always a journey and I love that journey. And because that journey is together with this incredible team, they're really creative and full of joy and ambition... The project is really a fantastic journey to do. And there is a lot of work so, yes, it's challenging but I'm always surprised by very creative people, so it's great.

When you joined The Missing in 2014, did you expect that the character of Baptiste and his story arc to continue and grow for so long?

I didn't know it would grow like that. But what I realise now, thinking back, is that the seeds of what he became were there already. It's true that we started with a shiny character growing bees and honey and who had a happy life with his wife. He had this little problem with the daughter that he was trying to solve, but the seeds of what he became were there already, [like] the fact that he was so obsessed with going on James Nesbitt's journey with him. So we already had some of what he became.

But we didn't know [how much he would grow] and I guess with the recognition and the embrace the audience gave to him, they started to think, 'How are we going to continue with it?' And that was really great.

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The actor spoke to HELLO! about the new episodes

© Joseph Sinclair

As you say, audiences have embraced Baptiste and he's become a fan favourite, does that feel great as an actor, or does it add pressure to the job?

No pressure at all, no pressure – on the contrary, I was growing wings. I mean, we know that through love and through empathy, you get the best out of people and hate is the worst, the worst. So it takes time maybe for some to understand it. But yes, it's fantastic, and for the brothers also – they started their production company from it, the Two Brothers Production. It was a kind of launch for a lot of people, even for producers and people now working for BBC. Yeah, it's a fantastic adventure this, The Missing and Baptiste. 

Baptiste is going through a darker period, would you say that series two continues in that direction? 

Yes, it's darker. But part of the excitement of working on this project is that the brothers are not afraid to be bold and question. Especially in the country where we shot, Hungary, they don't forget that life is a tragi-comedy, so there is a lot of humour and also an irony, while they question the society we are in. Because when Baptiste goes to Hungary, he has to deal with different people, different cultures and they also use this as part of the story. The situation we are in today in different countries throughout the world, the paradigm is changing. We are going to a new era that we have to try to understand and deal with.

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Tchéky has enjoyed huge success in his acting career

© Joseph Sinclair

You're obviously given a brilliant script, is there much artistic collaboration when you're on set?  Do you get to have your own input on how Baptiste says certain things?

You know, I'm not questioning. I mean, I work on a lot of what's happening behind the lines and we exchange with the brothers and they give input. They understand that we can add things, you know, and they are ready to collaborate, but the main work is made by them and the BBC going back and forth. But we question, we exchange a lot and we are not afraid to say how we feel with it and they're ready to give the opportunity for us to make it ours.  

Did you have any setbacks working in Hungary?

We started shooting and we knew coronavirus was going on at the time, but we were far away, we thought we would get through it. And then suddenly production comes and says, 'We have to pack up Hungary will close the borders, France is going to confine and same for England'. All the English people started to get freaked out that they wouldn't be able to enter their country. So in one hour, we packed everything on the 16 March. And everyone went on a plane and I arrived in France on the 17 and then France was a lockdown. Then we were just dreaming that we would be able to finish the production.

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Tchéky first debuted Julien Baptiste in The Missing

© Joseph Sinclair

We've got the great Fiona Shaw joining you for series two, what was it like working with her?

Super! What I love is that it's like a real duet, a great duet. I've been doing duets with men and then suddenly there is this woman who comes with this incredible stamina. She's not afraid to question and punch the situation and try a different direction. I mean, she doesn't take things for granted and she has humour, which is great. 

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Still, yes, it's a challenge. It's exciting to come on set and have to fit with that personality, you know. There is a real challenge between the two characters, you know, they kind of have to go through a lot of sparks together and that's super.  

You can see that the two of you bounce off one another so well – that must be ideal as actors coming together on set? 

Yes, we are more or less the same age and we've been through the same experience as actors, through theatre. She did a lot of theatre work on classic plays – as did I – she knows very famous and good French directors, as I did. She's worked in French also and she's not afraid to go through discussions and let the brain travel so it's fantastic to work with her. 

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The actor will be joined by Fiona Shaw for series two

Was there anything in series two that you found particularly challenging that you hadn't come across before?

I really enjoyed the different timelines. It was the first time I had to, for five or six months, not accept any [other] job or work, because one of the important things I had to do was to let my beard grow. Because it had to be really big to understand how the time passed and how scruffy the character is – this was special for me. I had to turn down some interesting stuff but you know, for me, Baptiste was my aim, my direction. 

To start with this crazy character knocking on a door, being drunk, angry, losing himself, to fighting those two cops and getting stubborn, stuck and trapped with himself – this was challenging as an actor to show how much pain he's going through and express the lost mind. This was a challenge for me but an exciting challenge. Because the material is there, when you have the material you then have to play with your skill and experience and that was super to do. 

Without giving too much away, do you think that fans of the show are going to be quite satisfied with the ending?

I don't know if it wraps up. There is always something else possible. There are so many characters, especially with Emma, who has to go through a journey, it's like a threshold. It's the threshold of love and intricacies.

What do you think the future holds for Julien Baptiste? Do you think there are more stories of his to tell in a series three? 

Well, so far, it looks like no. But maybe there is still a skeleton in the closet but they are very quiet at the moment, the bones are not shaking, there's no noise. So it looks like it's the end. 

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Fans are reunited with a lost and angry Baptiste at the beginning of series two

In series two, Julien Baptiste has his darker moments but, as a character, he's very calm and measured – would you say you're like him in any way?

Yes, I am. I also have the boiling nature and I have to deal with it, I have to deal with my demons as a human being. I've learned to tame those demons, but they are there, they will never be gone for anybody. When you have demons they don't go away, you just learn how to deal with it because it is part of us, it is part of our own special history that we have with family and with the world we grew up in. But I learned to be calm and take time to look at things. 

I think it's safe to say that detective shows and murder mysteries are popular all around the world – what is it about the genre that you think audiences find so captivating? 

I think it's an outlet for fear and for all the questions the world is asking today. It helps to get relief, it's like, 'It happens somewhere but not here' – that's possibly one of the reasons. One likes to be at home in the warm, on the couch and look outside – it's an outlet to go deep, to see other people go through difficulties. It's like somebody else is experiencing it for you, it's like we need to see other people doing it for us. 

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BBC confirmed Baptiste series two would be the last

You've done a lot of film work in your career but now in modern times, it seems as if TV is really taking the helm with streaming sites like Netflix and others. What are your thoughts on where the industry of cinema and TV is heading? 

You know, TV is just a space, a field. I mean the content, the material, the way we do things are the same like TV, movies, video you know, that is just a matter of form; there is no difference for me. The difference is that TV and those platforms give opportunities for actors and creators to work in a longer way. 

Like in a series you do six episodes, eight episodes – the experience is like running 100 metres and then running 40 kilometres, so that's the difference. But comparing TV and movies we still have a camera, an audition, it just gives us more opportunity and it's exciting. And now, when I'm doing a feature film I feel like I'm doing a short movie, and when I'm doing a short movie it feels like a video clip! 

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The actor revealed he's already working on his next major role

What's next for you, do you have any more exciting projects in the pipeline? 

I'm working now with TF1 International. It's a series with a great cast of women. It's called Le Combattants, The Fighters but female fighters. It's the story of how women were involved in the War and it's very interesting fiction. I play a general who is helping them to find a way to take care of the wounded soldiers and they talk also about the incredible bloodshed that was the First World War. 

You've had so many great roles in your career, is there anyone that you haven't worked with that you would like to?  

I would love to work with the new generation. I hope they won't be afraid to call me, because I want to share my experience with the younger people and not forget that we live in the same moment, you know, I don't want to be stuck in my past – I want to share my experience with those guys.

Baptiste continues on Sunday 25 July at 9pm on BBC One. Watch the entire series on BBC iPlayer now.

Photographer: Joseph Sinclair

Stylist: Krishan Parmar

Grooming: Daisy Holubowicz

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