Movies & TV / Columns

The Witcher Stars Anya Chalotra and Freya Allan on Earning the Roles of Yennefer and Ciri

December 20, 2019 | Posted by Jeffrey Harris
The Witcher Freya Allan and Anya Chalotra

Last July, fans gathered at Comic-Con to finally get their first look at the new dark-fantasy Netflix TV series, The Witcher. This was the first official look at the footage for the show, and stars Anya Chalotra and Freya Allan were in attendance for a jam-packed Hall H. 411mania took part in the group roundtables with Chalotra and Allan during Comic-Con as well. Earlier this month, I got the chance to sit down and speak to the actors an exclusive interview to talk about their roles in this highly anticipated new series and how they bring such iconic characters to life.

British actress Anya Chalotra appears ready for a major breakout role in The Witcher as Yennefer of Vengerberg. Her previous credits include Wanderlust, The ABC Murders and Sherwood. With Yennefer, Chalotra plays a very tragic role, a harrowing and dramatic character, and one that has a lot of high fan expectations riding on it, but Chalotra looks absolutely fearless in the role and very up to the task. In The Witcher, Yennefer is one of the central characters integral to the mythos of the popular book series created by author Andrzej Sapkowski, so Chalotra has her work cut out for her. Regardless, Chalotra hits it out of the park in the first season.

Anya Chalotra as Yennefer of Vengerberg in The Witcher. Photo Credit: Katalin Vermes.

Fans of The Witcher franchise are well aware of how monumental the role of Cirilla Fiona Elen Riannon (or Ciri for short) is to the saga. Freya Allan (The War of the Worlds, Into the Badlands) is poised for a huge breakout showcase in her role as Ciri. Incredibly eloquent and wise beyond her years, Allan’s confidence is befitting of such an important role. Considering the role she’s playing, Allan felt a parallel kinship to the character, which seemingly played a key aspect in her landing the part.

Freya Allan as Princess Cirilla Fiona Elen Riannon of Cintra in The Witcher. Photo Credit: Katalin Vermes.

During The Witcher press day at The London West Hollywood, Chalotra and Allan were both very excited and open speaking about what looks to be a new blockbuster hit for Netflix. Here’s what they had to say about the new series:

Jeffrey Harris: True or false question. Joey Batey (Jaskier) has the voice of an angel?

Anya Chalotra: False.

Jeffrey Harris: Freya?

Freya Allan: Well, I don’t know!

Anya Chalotra: *Laughs* He has! He has the most angelic voice! He does. He does.

Jeffrey Harris: Correct. [You both] came out at Comic-Con [to promote the show] in front of 6,000 people. What was going through your heads at that time?

Anya Chalotra: It was very scary. I — I got emotional after it. I came offstage and got emotional because I couldn’t — it was very overwhelming, and my brother and brother-in-law were in the audience. And it’s funny. I think Freya’s mum was in the audience as well, and we just immediately latched onto it. Like immediately saw our family out of 6,000 people?

Freya Allan: Yeah.

Anya Chalotra: We immediately saw the faces that we loved and trusted. And yeah, it was very, very scary.

Jeffrey Harris: Freya, you have a very strong name. Freya is a Norse goddess.

Freya Allan: Yes.

Jeffrey Harris: Considering your character in this show, a young girl who is on the verge of self-discovery and discovering her powers, do you think with your name, it was your destiny to play this role of Ciri? Especially considering that this show is about destiny.

Freya Allan: *Laughs* I’ll be honest with you, actually, I usually don’t get — I go into auditions and try my absolute hardest to get the role. If I don’t get it, I’m like, you know, that’s the way it — *Anya Chalotra is very nicely brushing a hair out of Freya’s face* — You OK there?

Anya Chalotra: You’ve got a — you’ve got a hair in your eye.

Freya Allan: Then that’s the way [it goes]. But for this one, I actually got — I just thought I had to have this one. I thought, I’m going to be so upset if I find out I don’t get this. Like, I went over and over the audition, replaying it to my mum. She probably went crazy because I was just like, “I have to have this one. There’s just something about this one. There’s such a parallel between her and me.” So yeah, I guess so. I just kind of feel like because I never felt that strongly.

Freya Allan as Ciri in The Witcher. Photo Credit: Katalin Vermes.

Jeffrey Harris: For Anya, I’ve already seen the first five episodes. And I have to apologize because when I first heard that you were cast in the role of Yennefer —

Anya Chalotra: You were one of those people who said — [I wasn’t right for the role] *Laughs* Go on.

Jeffrey Harris: I was skeptical. I was skeptical because I had an image of Yennfer and what she should be and look like in my head. This is a very important character to me. And then, first I saw your scene at Comic-Con, and then I talked to you at Comic-Con.

Anya Chalotra: Yeah.

Jeffrey Harris: And then I felt like you know what you’re doing here.

Anya Chalotra: Thank you.

Jeffrey Harris: I feel like you felt very confident. And then by the second, I was just so blown away. You gave everything to this character.

Anya Chalotra: Yeah.

Jeffrey Harris: Did you feel like you gave everything to this character, body and soul, to Yennefer?

Anya Chalotra: I gave everything to this character. And gosh, that really touched me. Thank you. It really has. Yeah, I did. I gave everything. It was eight months. And I do to every character, but this is the biggest challenge I ever had as an actor. And it was such an iconic character, I didn’t let that pressure get to me. But also, in the novels, she has such strong attributes. And the way we developed it in this series with Lauren [Hissrich], the passion, the conversations that happened around it made me intensify my passion and my love for the character. Yeah, and the love that the fans had for this character as well.

Anya Chalotra as Yennefer of Vengerberg in The Witcher. Photo Credit: Katalin Vermes.

Jeffrey Harris: What was interesting with Yennefer, she makes a decision and thinks she knows exactly what it is what she wants. But then that all changes as she grows older. She had to sacrifice something, and now she wants that back. Can you talk about that change and evolution she goes through?

Anya Chalotra: Yeah, absolutely. I think, especially when she transforms, she doesn’t know what that sacrifice means to her until she goes through that process. You know, hindsight’s a great thing, and also, the experiences she has from the transformation of working for years in an environment she doesn’t want to work — she doesn’t really want to work in, and it not being everything that she’d imagined. Her priorities change. She realized within that space of time, and especially in Episode 4 when she has that moment with the baby, which is like the crux of her journey and turning point for her, she realizes that she wants to change things. She wants to change things for herself. She doesn’t want to be the version that society wants her to be.

Jeffrey Harris: Freya, is there a grain of truth to every tale?

Freya Allan: Yes.

Jeffrey Harris: Now, would either of you say the Baby Yoda is the lesser evil or the greater evil?

Anya Chalotra: Yoda? I’m sorry. I would love to be able to answer that question, but I’m not a Lord of the Rings fan. Is it Lord of the Rings?

Jeffrey Harris: Star Wars.

Anya Chalotra: Star Wars fan.

*Everyone laughs*

Anya Chalotra: I got Dobby and Gollum mixed up the other day! And that’s Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter.

Jeffrey Harris: Freya, you must know about Baby Yoda?

Freya Allan: No, I don’t, but I did know that it was not Lord of the Rings.

Jeffrey Harris: The correct answer would’ve been the one true evil.

Anya Chalotra: *Laughs* Oh my god, that’s the best answer ever!

Jeffrey Harris: Would either of you like to share, who has been the greatest mentor in your lives?

Freya Allan: My mum *Laughs*.

Anya Chalotra: Yeah, it would have to be my parents.

Jeffrey Harris: You told Entertainment Tonight that when you worked with Julian Rhind-Tutt on the show, you mentioned how that could’ve been a very depressing day for you, but he made it very fun. And I didn’t understand what you meant, but —

Anya Chalotra: When you watched it! *Laughs*

Jeffrey Harris: Now I understand [after watching Episode 3]. How did he help you through that process?

Anya Chalotra: He was — the energy brought on set. He takes his work very seriously, but he doesn’t take himself seriously. And that’s something that I want to keep in my work every single day.

Jeffrey Harris: Did either of you have input into your wardrobes?

Anya Chalotra: No, I’d have liked more. I’d have liked more, but it wasn’t like I didn’t have the option. It was that –I was very happy with the costumes I was given. Yeah.

Freya Allan: But in Season 2, we’re getting to have some more [input in the costumes].

Jeffrey Harris: Did you get to keep Yennefer’s obsidian star, the brooch?

Anya Chalotra: No, I wanted to take that. I didn’t. I’ve got to use it, haven’t I?

Jeffrey Harris: Did either of you take anything from the set?

Anya Chalotra: Yeah, I took my Yennefer *motions the shape of a canvas cloth director’s chair back* chair back.

Freya Allan: Oh, that’s such a good idea. I’ll do that next time. No, but I have a — I didn’t — Well, no. When I just found out I got the role, and we were flown out to Budapest, and there was like this room they had all the props and things in there and posters of what the visuals were going to be and CGI and everything. And me and the boy who plays Dara just snuck in, and we just took some coins. So, I just got some coins.

Jeffrey Harris: Did you get to do any of those stunts for Ciri?

Freya Allan: I didn’t really have any stunts, but the stunts I did have — I rode [a horse] and that was literally it.

Jeffrey Harris: Was it ever scary when you were on the horse?

Freya Allan: No, I loved it! I wanted — I want stunts. Yeah.

Jeffrey Harris: What were you both doing when you found out, you’re Yennefer; you’re Ciri? Take us back.

Anya Chalotra: When I got the call, I had just walked out from another audition. And my agents didn’t want me to muck that audition up, so they didn’t tell me I got the part. Not that I would muck that audition up, but it would put me in a very different headspace because I would be ecstatic. When I came out of that audition, they rang me to — I usually ring them to say how my auditions have gone. And I was walking along the canal, and they said they’ve got some really crap news. You just got the role of Yennefer, and I definitely — there was a lot of swearing and tears, and then I rang my dad.

Freya Allan: Yeah, I was in my kitchen in my house. And yeah, my agent called and told me. And I was just like walking up and down the kitchen. And I remember my agent saying, “You sound so relaxed. Like you’ve got the role.” But I wasn’t. I was like dying inside. The minute I got off the phone, I was like screaming and then my mum got back, and we went out. And then I remember the first thing, my mum got back, and I was like, ‘I need to do my homework for tomorrow! I’ve got like essays and essays!’ And she was like, “You’ve just landed a massive role! I’ll take you out to dinner to celebrate!” But yeah, I was just — we were so excited.

Freya Allan as Ciri in The Witcher. Photo Credit: Katalin Vermes.

Jeffrey Harris: Anya, let’s go ahead and start an inter-fandom war. You had the violet eyes [for Yennefer].

Anya Chalotra: Yeah.

Jeffrey Harris: It’s an important part of the character. I was so happy we saw Yennefer with violet eyes. They are one of her most striking features. So, were they contacts or a special effect?

Anya Chalotra: So, I originally started with contacts, and on the first day of filming, I had a huge trouble with them. The first scene I ever shot was — We can say this, can’t we? The pig sty. That was the —

Jeffrey Harris: [The Episode titled] Four Marks.

Anya Chalotra: Yeah. Four Marks. That episode. I know, it’s tragic, isn’t it? I know. Awful. And that was the first thing I ever shot. It wasn’t because I had sick all over me — pig slop. I really found it difficult to — [use the contacts]. The only thing I can trust is if I’m nervous, if I’m anxious about anything, is the people I have in front of me. That’s all I have. Forget everything else. I’ve got the person in front of me, and I can see them. And whatever they’re doing, I’ll respond to it. If I can’t — if I haven’t got my eyes, I found that really hard. So, we learned very quickly that actually wasn’t the way I wanted to go, and that if we wanted this, and we desperately weren’t going to sacrifice that for the character, we had to come to a compromise. And that was — we worked it out. I think it looked brilliant from what I’ve seen.

Anya Chalotra as Yennefer of Vengerberg in The Witcher. Photo Credit: Katalin Vermes.

Jeffrey Harris: There was another show where a character was supposed to have violet eyes, but did not have violet eyes.

Anya Chalotra: Oh yeah.

Jeffrey Harris: Daenerys [in Game of Thrones].

Anya Chalotra: Yes.

Jeffrey Harris: So, does that make you cooler and tougher than Emilia Clarke that Yennefer has the violet eyes? Let’s do it *taps on the table*.

Anya Chalotra: *Laughs* Let’s put this down! They’re always in opposition! We should join forces, right?

Jeffrey Harris: No! I want a war! Let’s win this war for The Witcher!

Anya Chalotra: *Laughs* No! There’s too many wars!

Freya Allan: Too much money for the editing of the purple eyes!

Anya Chalotra: Yeah, I was actually very lucky —

Freya Allan: I actually wore all my contacts the whole way through.

Anya Chalotra: She did. It was incredible. I just couldn’t.

Freya Allan: Except for crying scenes.

Anya Chalotra: Ciri — no, Freya’s tougher than me.

Freya Allan: You can’t cry with these contacts. They’re just so thick. So, you got to take them out for those scenes. But other than that, I was always wearing them.

Jeffrey Harris: Where did you shoot Brokilon Forest for The Witcher because it looked otherworldly?

Anya Chalotra: Canary Islands. It was amazing!

Freya Allan: Yeah! It was all location. We were talking about this the other day. It looks like a set, but it was real.

Jeffrey Harris: I like that because once you’re in there, it feels like you’re not even on Planet Earth anymore.

Freya Allan: No, it doesn’t, but at the same time, it’s nice for people to know that it was actually — it wasn’t event built. Those were actual trees and actual rocks and everything. Yeah, it was amazing.

Jeffrey Harris: What do you want fans to take away once they actually get to sit down and watch the show this month?

Anya Chalotra: To feel like they want more *Laughs*.

Freya Allan: Yeah, I want them to feel that. But I also definitely want them to learn something from it. That everyone has different perspectives and put yourself in other people’s shoes and try to understand them.

Anya Chalotra (C) as Yennefer of Vengerberg; Isobel Laidler (R) as Queen Kalis of Lyria in The Witcher. Photo Credit: Katalin Vermes.

Thank you to Anya Chalotra and Freya Allan for taking the time to speak with us. The Witcher Season 1 is streaming now on Netflix. The show was already picked up for a second season last month ahead of the first season launch.