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SDCC 2019: The Witcher Cast & Crew on Fleshing Out the Books’ Flashbacks, Developing the Characters

July 24, 2019 | Posted by Jeffrey Harris
The Witcher Netflix Image Credit: Netflix

Author’s Note: These interview clips for The Witcher are taken from a roundtable media junket with other members of the press at the 2019 San Diego Comic-Con.

This week during the 2019 Comic-Con International, aka San Diego Comic-Con, Netflix held its panel debuting the first footage and trailer for the highly anticipated TV series for Andrzej Sapkowski’s The Witcher. Based on Sapkowski’s bestselling book series, and not the games, the upcoming series will follow Geralt of Rivia (Henry Cavill).

411mania was not only on hand for the panel featuring the first look at footage and the trailer for the new show, but also the roundtable interview sessions with stars Anya Chalotra (Yennefer of Vengerberg) and Freya Allan (Cirilla Fiona Elen Riannon) and showrunner Lauren Schmidt Hissrich. Sadly, star Henry Cavill was unable to make it to the roundtable sessions. Here’s what they had to say about the upcoming Netflix TV series.

Showrunner Lauren Schmidt Hissrich

The Witcher showrunner is a veteran of many a TV show that fans in the genre and comic book community will recognize, including such past Netflix shows as Marvel’s The Defenders and Daredevil. Also, she served as a co-executive producer and writer for Starz’s Power and the Netflix series The Umbrella Academy.

Jeffrey Harris: If I may be so bold, I believe we got our first look at Duny today in the first clip, which appears to adapt a scene from the short story, A Question of Price. Do you want to say anything about Duny and who is playing Duny today?

Lauren Schmidt Hissrich: *Laughs* Um, that was definitely Duny. That was definitely A Question of Price. You know, who’s playing Duny? No, no, no. I’ll leave that one out there. We already try to look at The Witcher as one episode at a time, one season at a time. So for us, it was how best to adapt A Question of Price as a story, and what may or may not come back, who may or may not come back, that’s a later thing.

Jeffrey Harris: There was another clip where Ciri encounters a band of female warriors in the forest. Was this band the Scoia’tel or another band of warriors?

Lauren Schmidt Hissrich: That was not the Scoia’tel. Those were Dryads. So, we’re taking a journey to Brokilon Forest this season.

Jeffrey Harris: In the panel, you mentioned fleshing out details and characters we might have only glimpsed during flashbacks in the books. Do you have any specific visions in your head though of a young sorceress named Visenna dropping off an infant at the Kaer Morhen School of the Wolf, and how that baby would one day be forced to undergo dangerous trials, trials that not all young children in a group will be able to survive, and that child growing up to become Geralt of Rivia? The Witcher Trials or Trials of Grasses.

Lauren Schmidt Hissrich: I don’t want to spoil anything for you. What I will say is that what was fun is, obviously, the books were written with a ton of flashbacks. What we tried to do as much as we could is we tried to take those flashbacks and make it present-day storytelling. We will rarely flash back to things that happen in the past. What we will do is make it so that the audience is on the journey with the characters.

Jeffrey Harris: But is there a grain of truth to every fairy tale?

Lauren Schmidt Hissrich: Yes, of course there is. Of course there is. I think that, especially in season one, there are a lot of fairy tale allusions. And it will be interesting to see if people who aren’t necessarily fans of the source material or have read everything will pick up on them. I think they will.

Jeffrey Harris: Did Henry Cavill ever think of names for the swords?

Lauren Schmidt Hissrich: Henry himself? Nope. Nope.

Freya Allan as Cirilla Fiona Elen Riannon/Ciri

Relative newcomer on the scene Freya Allan lands one of The Witcher‘s most pivotal roles as the young teenage princess Cirilla Fiona Elen Riannon, or Ciri as she’s best known. Her previous TV credits include The War of the Worlds and Into the Badlands. Just one year ago, Allan was taking her exams not realizing she would eventually be promoting The Witcher TV series at the San Diego Comic-Con. Here’s what she had to say about playing the Child of the Elder Blood for the upcoming dark fantasy series.

Jeffrey Harris: Did you have to learn any foreign languages or Elder Speech for the role?

Freya Allan: Thank goodness I didn’t. No. I did not envy the Dryads at all.

Jeffrey Harris: This is a character is a royal, noble young girl, but she also has hidden power that’s fighting its way to the surface. Was that interesting for you to find the center of that character, who has these powers and abilities deep within her?

Freya Allan: Yeah. What was so interesting about it is that she — you see her go from the life she has led for the 14 years she’s existed, very protected, very sheltered, incredibly naive. And then suddenly, there’s this huge shift where she discovers within a matter of seconds so many different things, it’s overwhelming. And so, yeah, it was interesting to explore her power; see her navigate the truth of her past that’s been totally hidden from her for her whole life.

Jeffrey Harris: How do you perceive the relationship between Cirilla and her grandmother, Queen Calanthe? Is she overprotective when it comes to Ciri?

Freya Allan: Yeah, I think she’s so worried about anything happening to her, and she’s worried because Ciri is so relentless and curious, and she wants to know. You know, she’s constantly asking questions and not afraid of vocalizing her opinions and ideas. And so, Calanthe’s aware of that, and she doesn’t want to let Ciri know too much because Ciri is ready to fight and ready to be like Calanthe. And Ciri really does admire her grandmother, and she does take some credible things from her grandmother. Like I said, she values her voice, her opinion. She’s not going to be suppressed because she’s a princess or a girl. She takes some brilliant things from her, but you will see Ciri begin to learn and uncover some darker truths about her grandmother.

Jeffrey Harris: What was the experience like filming in Budapest?

Freya Allan: It was great. Yeah. I loved being in Budapest. Great food. Great restaurants. Did a lot of eating. Yeah, it was good.

Jeffrey Harris: What do you think about unicorns, and what does Ciri think about unicorns? Would she like to meet one?

Freya Allan: I mean, I would love to meet a unicorn. Like I said, I love junior horse riding. So if it was a unicorn, that’s even better, right? Ciri, she’d like to meet a unicorn, I guess. I’m sure. I think most people would want to meet a unicorn, right?

Anya Chalotra as Yennefer of Vengerberg

Anya Chalotra lands her biggest role to date in the coveted role of Yennefer of Vengerberg for Netflix’s The Witcher. Yennefer is a powerful sorceress with a dark and tortured past. She also has a very “complicated” relationship with Geralt of Rivia. Chalotra has previously appeared in such shows as The ABC Murders, Sherwood and Wanderlust. Here’s what she had to say on playing the role of the iconic Yennefer.

Jeffrey Harris: How does your first Comic-Con feel?

Anya Chalotra: Yeah, it’s just crazy. There will be interviews, and just seeing the trailer and bringing it out for the fans, I was so excited about [it] because we’ve been working on it for so long. But yeah, it’s been like nothing else I’ve ever done.

Jeffrey Harris: That clip we saw with Yennefer was so haunting. And she sounded like someone who has lived so long, that she’s become jaded by life because she has lived for that long. Can you tell us about getting into the headspace of someone of living as long as Yennefer has that she rationalizes a young infant dying as a way to “cheat the game?”

Anya Chalotra: Yeah. The way I approached it was, you know, I was playing from 14 to like 77, so with like — I had like prosthetics and dealing with her transformation, we see her at 45 and then 77. And then, that journey, I could only do through breath because I didn’t have any — I wasn’t aging. So that was something which I focused on more, and the points in her — I looked at all life experiences up until that point, which informed the decision I made within that scene.

Jeffrey Harris: But we feel it without the prosthetics, which is the key.

Anya Chalotra: Yeah. Well, I’m so glad, and that took a lot of — because I reread the script again and again. It was my bible. That’s what I — that’s how I worked. I’m still figuring out my process, but it was definitely in the breath. I can’t say anything more than — other than that.

Jeffrey Harris: I always thought it was interesting about Yennefer that she had this strong, maternal drive, and she always wanted to be a mother. However, she’s infertile because she’s a sorceress. Did you get to work with that aspect of the character all?

Anya Chalotra: That was my main drive. Yeah. With that, I remember being in the — I remember the conversation I had with Lauren when I got this job. And I phone called with her and Alik [Sakharov], and we discussed that part of Yennefer’s journey so intensely because it’s just so important.

Jeffrey Harris: In your own opinion, how big of a meathead is Geralt in his handling of his relationship with Yennefer by not putting a ring on it, treating her like the queen that she is, and devoting his entire life to her?

Anya Chalotra: Why doesn’t he do that?

Jeffrey Harris: Yeah.

Anya Chalotra: Oh god. Do you want me to do it from Yennefer or Anya?

Jeffrey Harris: Both.

Anya Chalotra: Both. I think they’re kind of the same person *Laughs*. No, I don’t — you know, every character in this Witcher world believes that what they’re doing at any moment is the right thing. There isn’t a right or wrong. But hopefully, the audience will go on that journey with them discovering whether, you know, the morality of each character. Does that make sense?

Jeffrey Harris: I still think Yennefer would think he’s a meathead sometimes.

Anya Chalotra: He’s a meathead, alright. What am I thinking? *Laughs*

Jeffrey Harris: Did you have to learn any interesting languages or words? Because Yennefer is a very powerful sorceress, and I like that a lot of the sorcery comes from a place of science or a place of logic. But does it involve learning new languages for incantations and spells?

Anya Chalotra: Yes. I can’t wait for you to see it.

Jeffrey Harris: Did you get to work with MyAnna Buring (Tissaia de Vries in the show), and if so, how did you like working with her?

Anya Chalotra: Yes, very closely. Loved it. She’s a wonderful woman and an incredible actress, and you’ll love what she’s done with Tissaia.

Thank you to Netflix for having us at the media roundtable interviews for The Witcher at Comic-Con and to the cast and crew for taking the time to chat with us. The Witcher is slated to debut on Netflix later this year.