From showrunner Lauren Schmidt Hissrich and based on the best-selling fantasy books, the Netflix series The Witcher is an epic tale set in the world of the Continent and centered around famed monster hunter Geralt of Rivia (Henry Cavill). In a place where good and evil is not easily identified, and humans, elves, witchers, gnomes and monsters are looking to not only survive but thrive, it’s no easy task to figure out who you can trust and where you can turn, if you succeed in the battle.
During this phone interview with Collider, co-stars Anya Chalotra (“Yennefer”) and Freya Allan (“Ciri”) talked about their audition process for the series, which of them had originally gotten a different role than the one they have now, the aspects of the story that most drew them to it, the escapism of fantasy, the journeys that their characters go on, and what makes this story relatable to audiences, even if they know nothing about the source material.
Collider: How did each of you come to The Witcher? Was there a crazy audition process that you had to go through for this?
FREYA ALLAN: For me, I actually got another role, before I got the role of Ciri. I got the role of Marilka, and then, suddenly, I got a phone call saying that Lauren [Schmidt Hissrich], the showrunner and Alik [Sakharov], the director, were coming to London and they wanted to see me for Ciri. So, I did that audition, and then found that I got that role. So, it was this bizarre situation, where I got two roles in it.
ANYA CHALOTRA: I didn’t know anything about The Witcher novels or the games, before I auditioned. Originally, when I went for Yennefer, I did three rounds [of auditions], and then got the job. My final round was with Lauren and Alik, who directed the first few episodes. It was a really brilliant process. I wanted the part, more and more, every time I went through the audition process.
There are so many layers to this world. It feels both like a world that you can relate to, but also very much not of our world. When you read this, what were the aspects of it that most drew you to this story?
CHALOTRA: This series not only has all of the fantasy elements in it, but it also has a huge family thread, keeping it all together. That’s something that I related to. I wasn’t a huge fan of the fantasy genre. I love Harry Potter. But with this series, I was drawn in by all of the relationships that were created and the depths that they had. All of the scenes were really relatable to me, so that’s something that really interested me.
ALLAN: For me, it was similar, in the fact that I loved the escapism. There’s so much escapism within the series. We take you to so many different places and locations, and there are so many different creatures and there’s magic. That allows for escapism, which I think is really important, at the moment, because the world is so serious. People can be transported to a completely different world and environment, but at the same time, as a viewer, you need something to relate to and something to connect to, and something to tap an emotion that you’ve felt or a situation you’ve gone through. There’s definitely something that everyone would be able to connect to, in this show. There’s loss, and there’s a huge significance with the family. And also, what I loved about it is that the characters are realistically built, in the fact that it’s not clear cut, who’s good and who’s evil. Everyone believes that what they’re doing is right, and it’s not obvious, what is right or wrong sometimes, or who we should be siding with. That’s how the real world is. It’s all about viewpoint and the environment that you’ve been brought up in. So, there are lots of different perspectives, and I think that’s what’s really realistic about the series.
These women each have to learn to become very strong, in order to survive in this world. How will that affect them, throughout this journey? What can you say about that aspect of their story?
ALLAN: For Ciri, that’s a massive part of her journey. She goes from only ever having a certain amount of people around her ,and only ever being in this one environment, and everything has seen kept from her. She’s got a curiosity about everything that was kept from her, so it’s a massive shift for her when, suddenly, she’s thrown into a completely different environment, world and position. And so, a massive part of her journey is that she has to adapt and learn, and she has to be able to see things from other people’s point of view, in order to develop herself. For Ciri, that’s a massive part of her journey.
CHALOTRA: For Yennefer, she goes on this huge journey of self-discovery and discovering where her power actually lies. Her weaknesses become her strengths. All of the insecurities she had, as a child, and all of those fears, actually feed the chaos inside of her and the source of her power, and that’s something that she learns. She learns that she has something that’s different from any other mage. That’s her resilience and the experience she had, as a child. Those two mixed together, really make her quite exceptional. While everyone else sees a wall put in front of them, she will find a crack in that wall and head straight through it. So, she discovers her powers, through the series, and what they mean to her.
I didn’t know anything about these books or this story, going into watching this show. What do you feel people should know about The Witcher, so that they don’t feel afraid to watch it, if they aren’t familiar with it?
CHALOTRA: All I can talk from is experience, and I didn’t have any knowledge of The Witcher before. I know that I’ve been through the whole process of filming, so now I’m very familiar with the story and I have an attachment to it, but for me, it was great not knowing. For everyone else who aren’t fantasy fans or who don’t know anything about The Witcher, this is something that we can experience together because it’s drawn from the novels, but there is so much within the novels that we have developed. Some glimpses that (author) Andrzej [Sapkowski] gave us about Yennefer’s backstory, we’ve developed and no one has seen that. No one has seen an adaptation of Yennefer’s story that’s like this. That’s something that’s going to be new for everyone and for every Witcher fan. From the fans that I’ve interacted with, it’s hugely anticipated because it’s really exciting though that we we’re seeing this adaptation. It’s exciting.
ALLAN: There are things that we’ve changed or are showing, that haven’t been shown yet, and there are added characters. In a way, it’s a new thing for everybody. Some people know more about the characters because of the book, but there are differences. That’s exciting because that’s something that everyone can experience.
The Witcher is now streaming at Netflix.