Filipino fans of the Superman star Henry Cavill were totally gushing when the Hollywood actor visited Ayala Malls in Manila Bay this December 12, giving everyone autographs and a chance to have a photo with him. It was a superb experience for the fans, and it’s all thanks to Netflix and their latest medieval fantasy series, The Witcher.
Ever since the series had been announced, many heads turned towards the upcoming show. And why not? There are just so many reasons to be excited about it. First existing in text through Andrzej Sapkowski’s short stories and books, the franchise became more popular through its numerous video game adaptations. Now we’re getting a TV adaptation from Netflix with none other than Henry Cavill playing as Geralt, and Lauren Schmidt Hissrich— co-executive producer to series like Daredevil, The Defenders, and The Umbrella Academy— running the show. And yes, there’s that Game of Thrones hangover most of us are still trying to cope with.
But what exactly is Netflix’s The Witcher about, you ask? For starters, it is a fantasy tale set in a medieval world where humans, monsters, and magical beings coexist. It is here that the Witcher, Geralt of Rivia, makes his living by hunting monsters that plague the land. Alongside Geralt’s story are two more separate journeys: Princess Ciri of Cintra and Yennefer of Vengerberg. Destiny binds the paths of these three, ultimately bringing together a family of sorts that is surrounded by the threats and dangers of their world called The Continent.
If you want to know more about The Witcher and the process of adapting it into a Netflix series, there are no other people more fit to do the job but two of the key persons who brought it to life: Henry Cavill and Lauren Schmidt Hissrich. A day after the fan event, the local press got the chance to ask them questions through separate roundtable interviews. Here, Henry Cavill talked about his role as Geralt, doing his stunts, and supporting his co-stars. Check it out below:
The Witcher already has a huge following with the video games and the books, did that affect the way you approached the role of Geralt?
Henry: Yeah. I'm a fan. I'm a fan of the books. I'm a fan of the games. I'm a fan of the fantasy genre in general. That's the stuff I do in my free time. So absolutely, it did inform my performance in lots of different ways. I couldn't say any one particular way [because I am a fan] so it's all about my own passions and inspirations which I draw from all of the materials, rather than it be a conscious recognition of things like, 'oh, the fans love this therefore I'm going to try and give them that.' I'm part of that body of fans and because we're all so passionate about this IP, we all have our own different loves or desires. I mean, if you just talk about the games alone, there are people who are team Yen (Yennefer) and people who are team Triss. I personally, in the game, was team Yen and I felt like it was truest to Geralt's true feelings and what he found and sure enough, well, that's what happens in the books. And so I couldn't say any one particular thing or a few things that I drew out of that.
I read somewhere that you didn't leave the set for weeks and you slept in the trailer next to the set. Why did you do that?
Henry: We were quite tight on time on set and because I had two hours of hair and makeup every morning, and I had to go to the gym as well, and we were doing 11-hour rolling days, and then we go into overtime as well. And so that all starts to add up to a certain point. And so with an hour's travel home, and an hour's travel to work in the morning, it just became impossible to actually maintain and I didn't want the the work to suffer. I didn't want us to just not be able to shoot as much. And so I decided that sleeping in my trailer for three months of the production was the best way of achieving this.
Aside from Geralt, who would be your favorite character?
Henry: I do like Yennefer as a character, and Ciri's a fascinating character read. But character wise, there are some magnificent characters, especially in the books. And Regis was a character which I enjoyed reading a lot. He happens later on. He's a very, very interesting character. And that dynamic between Geralt and Regis is interesting.
How about in other video games? Are there any other video game characters that you would love to play if there comes an adaptation?
Henry: I think the simplest answer would be if the Elder Scrolls ever started adapting their work into into TV or movies. I would love to be a part of that, very much so. It's a different kind of thing because the Elder Scrolls characters that you play are not quite the same as Geralt. Geralt is a fleshed out, described character from the books and that's what you're experiencing in the games. In Skyrim, a lot of your character is in your head designed, and it has less of a fleshed out set of character traits. The storylines, you're literally choosing that as it goes along. So to adapt that into movies and TV will be a lot more difficult because everyone's experience is so personal from the Elder Scrolls.
Your co-stars, Freya Allan and Anya Chalotra, they said that you gave them some advice, especially on how to deal with the pressure. Can you share us what you told them?
Henry: I don't know if I can remember exactly what advice I gave them. It's not like I said, 'okay, I'm going to make sure I impart this wisdom upon upon these actresses.' For me it was just supporting them, it is the most important thing. To step out into the public eye, and this be your first dance is huge. It's a massive IP, there's a massive following, and this tour is not a small tour. I've done huge movies and the tours have been of a similar size. And so for this to be their first experience, I can imagine it is somewhat terrifying. And it's just about trying to provide support. And so if they need me, then they can text me, we have a Whatsapp group. And if they need to lean on me for anything, then I'm available to them. But they are, on their own, incredibly formidable people. And I don't think they need me, but I just wanted to know that in case they're having a moment, they can say, 'Okay, what do I do now? Like, this is terrifying,' because I've been there.
Why is it important to you to do your own stunts?
Henry: For me, it's very important that the character exists within the action and the audience immersion, it's important that they know that I'm there doing the same thing. I always liken it to, if I have a crying scene, and for whatever reason I'm having a bad day, and I can't cry, I don't get another actor in to come cry for me. And so for the action, if I'm going to take on a physical role, which has a lot of athleticism to it, or whatever it may be, I'm going to bring myself up to that level so I can perform that role to the fullest. And it's important to me that the audience knows this and they see the character at all times they see all the work that I put into designing this character in every single move, look, glance, shrug, walk, step, whatever it may be, it was very important to me. Even for long shots, they were saying, [Oh, no, no, no,] we're gonna save time because we don't need you in this shot, because it's just so far away. And I said, well, has the person who you gonna have double me studied the way I move as Geralt? And they were like, 'oh, well, you know, he's your double. This is so far away it doesn't matter.' But it does matter because that informs the audience about this character. What we, as people, as human beings, do is that we study people's movement without even knowing it. We're watching how humans interact with the world and how they interact with other people. And we then make a decision upon them, whether it be minor decisions or major decisions, it doesn't matter. And so watching Geralt even from a distance, it's very, very important to me. And so with the action, it's even more important.
We're in a post-Game of Thrones world and people are looking for a show that will bring high fantasy into the mainstream. A lot of people are thinking that maybe it would be The Witcher. What do you think about it?
Henry: The books of The Witcher are just fantastic material. It's exceptional. And so we have exceptional material to draw from, and we know that audiences respond to great book material. We looked at Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones and now, the Witcher. So I think all those elements are in there. And what we have in the Witcher in particular is, aside from all the wonderful fantasy tropes which make for a great access point, we have some mirrors of our own world that we live in and from those mirrors, we can have some introspection. And we could perhaps learn some lessons about ourselves in the process, which I think is something we would like to do. But when we have an access point like a fantasy genre, then it helps and it makes a lot easier makes it a lot less boring.
You've played the hero in Man of Steel and you've played the villain in Mission Impossible. So where does Geralt fall on the spectrum of being a hero and a villain, and what kind of character do you want to play more often? Is it the villain or the hero?
Henry: He is not obviously a hero. He wants to be a hero. His passion, his desire, is very much to be a white knight. But unfortunately, in the world that Sapkowski has created for him, it's impossible to do that without committing dark acts, and therefore you can't be a white knight. And the wonderful thing about Sapkowski's writing is that everyone is the hero of their own story, no matter how you meet them. And so in their mind, they're a hero, and if you're trying to stop them, you're a villain. And so there's nothing quite so clean cut as heroes and villains. And as far as which do I prefer playing, I really enjoy playing Geralt because it's not clean cut and it's not obvious and I get to play both sides of that, that fits.
After Henry, we got to sit with Lauren, and she shared with us her journey to being the showrunner for The Witcher, how she tackled the show, and how she thinks that Game of Thrones changed fantasy for television. Check it out below:
This is the first show that you're actually the head of. You've written scripts for a bunch of other shows. Can you tell us about the experience of being the showrunner of The Witcher?
Lauren: It's an experience that nothing can quite prepare you for and yet my entire career has prepared me for. What I mean by that is that I have served in so many different capacities. I started out on my first show The West Wing as an unpaid intern. And I sort of progressed up the ladder as a production assistant. And as a writer's assistant, I got coffee, I answered phones, I took notes in the writers room, I started to pay attention to how my bosses told stories. And I started to write scripts on my own. So as soon as I did that, then I started asking to be on set, I wanted to understand, after we wrote, what started happening on set. How to talk to directors. How to talk to actors. And what works on a page doesn't necessarily mean that it works on stage. Then I started asking to be part of the post production process to sort of see, okay, we shoot, you know, on this show, we shoot 18 day episodes, and we shoot for 10 hours a day. So 180 hours of film, go into one hour of a show. So then what what do we leave on the cutting room floor? What do we take? All of those lessons that I've learned over my career have prepared me to actually do this job. What I couldn't be prepared for is sort of the emotional part of it. I have never been so proud of a work project in my life. And it is, as I said [recently in Los Angeles, which is where I live], I got teary up on stage. I've been working on the show for two and a half years and it has been my sole focus and drive to the detriment of many other things. And to reach that point where the world is about to see it. Nothing could have prepared me for that.
Which parts of the TV adaptation are inspired by the books and which parts are inspired by the games? And do you plan to expand outside those references?
Lauren: The [main inspiration for the show] is the books, that was our sole source material. And we knew that we wanted to start with The Last Wish, which was the first collection of short stories. Those to me, they're kind of the foundation of the entire world, where you meet Geralt, you understand the role of witchers in the world, and how they fight monsters. But you also learn about the politics of the world, all of the various kingdoms, all of the various players that form this really complicated Continent. So I knew that's what we wanted to pull from. The video games were interesting, because I wanted to see, knowing that a lot of our fan base comes from the games, I wanted to understand what those were about too. And the thing that I really learned from those actually, sitting and watching them, is just how beautiful they are. I think that people tend to see fantasy as a world that is constantly dark, and where everyone is unhappy and it's always dirty and raining and gross. In fact, the Witcher 3 is quite beautiful. There are really beautiful landscapes and sunsets, and you get to meet people who are just getting up and going about their daily lives. And so while watching the games, I remembered or I took with me, that fantasy doesn't always have to be bleak, that we can find moments of beauty to really relate to. And then, I would just continue to pull from the books, you know, I will write the show as long as people show up and watch it. You know, that's what we want, [for the fans] to really love what we're doing. But I'll just continue to go through the books as I go.
In the first episode of the show, audiences were immediately thrown into the action. There's the action scenes, and the princess escaping and all that. Was that deliberate? To really start with the action?
Lauren: You know, I think that audiences are incredibly smart. So I think that you can throw them into a world and drop them in and make them feel like they're part of the journey. That's what was important to me. I didn't just want to tell them a story. I wanted to make them feel like they were on this journey with me, with other fans, and with these characters. That being said, I also think that you always have to keep in mind who's watching your show. We're throwing a lot of information and people from the very beginning and they're very complicated place names. The Continent is a huge place, there's so many characters, so I didn't want the audience to feel like they had to understand it all from the beginning. Sometimes you do just have to sit back and go, 'Oh, if I hear a character name that I don't know, it's going to be explained to me at some point. I don't need to really worry about it now.' I want people to be able to sit back and enjoy watching The Witcher. It shouldn't feel like that much work. So you know, yeah, that was very deliberate.
The books having strong female characters, was this part of the reason why you took the show?
Lauren: See, attention to me was the family at the centre of it, which obviously has female characters, but also Geralt… What I loved and what I really responded to, was the fact that these three people are wandering across this Continent, each in their own specific dramas, each dealing with the pain of a family that they've lost or family that has abandoned them. In each feeling like they don't quite belong. And we see them go on all of their adventures, we see them succeed, we see them fail. And what stays the same is that they each believe that they need no one, that they are fine being out there on their own, and then destiny and returns and they realise that maybe they aren't at their best on their own. Maybe they actually do need someone and this family starts to come together. That is the biggest thing that I related to. What I was surprised to find is just how much I liked writing monsters and magic as well. Those were things that I had no experience with whatsoever. And, you know, we're a bit 'don't take it' at first, the idea of taking on this big of a fantasy world, but that's actually the fun. I call them the sort of fantasy bells and whistles. When you ground a story and character, then you can start adding in all the fun stuff, and it becomes [sort of a really] full picture.
After shows like Game of Thrones, which sort of changed the high fantasy genre, where do you think The Witcher comes into that?
Lauren: I think that I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Game of Thrones because I do think it changed fantasy for television. I think there was a point at which fantasy was considered a genre for a very small group of people. The nerds and geeks of the world. Yeah, fantasy was just for them. And what Game of Thrones said is 'absolutely not, fantasy is a reflection of our real world, and what all people are walking through in different ways.' And I was a huge fan, a Game of Thrones fan, and I wouldn't have considered myself a huge fantasy fan, which is why I came to this project and why I think this project can also do it for the world. I think that audiences everywhere are able to relate to these characters and relate to how they walk through the Continent. And I just think that that's hopefully why it will have that same kind of success, it's because it is relatable to people from all over the world.