WITH Comic Con come and gone and the first Witcher trailer out, some of you may feel a little like Jaskier probing Geralt for information. We have been thoroughly fed, but we want more! If you’re dreading the thought of a four-months news-drought, fear not. We have you covered!
Our latest interview is with the fantastic and funny Lucas Englander. He plays the elf Chireadan, a secret admirer of Yennefer’s from the short story The Last Wish. Read on below for what Lucas has to say about his role as an elf, themes of racism in the show, and working with actors Henry Cavill (Geralt), Anya Chalotra (Yennefer), Joey Batey (Jaskier), and director Charlotte Brandström.
Ceádmill Aen Seidhe! Ess’ve vort shaente aen…
REDANIAN INTELLIGENCE (RI): We remember when you were first cast, we looked at your showreel and talked about how we could totally see you as an elf! But how did you first find out about the show, and what was your reaction when you learned you were going to be part of it?
LUCAS ENGLANDER (LE): Thanks! Elves have definitely been some of my favourite fantasy characters growing up, right next to the Tau of Warhammer 40k, so having the chance to be one was quite… to be honest, overwhelming. It definitely made me laugh and let out a “this is crazy” for some days in a row after I received the news.
I first learned about the show being made into a series through my friend and wonderful actress Aggy K. Adams, who has Polish heritage and felt a strong connection to the stories of Andrzej Sapkowski. She was also a big help to me in finding the character during the casting process. Teamwork. I love teamwork. So kudos, Aggy! Apart from that, two of my close friends love the games and I think telling them that I was going to be part of the show was the really exciting part. They were going crazy about it and it was great to share that moment of joy with them.
RI: The Witcher is a story really close to the hearts of many people. What’s it been like seeing the fans so excited about the show? When you were on set, did it feel at all special?
LE: About the excitement of the fans … wait, let me call one of my above-mentioned friends who love the games real quick. [Phonecall]. I asked. Here’s his answer, to be read in a loud Romanian voice with the crackling sound of childish joy: “Yeah bro!” That was it. Nothing else. He also just hung up on me right after that. No “how are you?”. Nothing. That’s real friendship right there.
Being on set felt very special. Henry Cavill is such a fan of the games and really knows everything about the world. He was an incredible help in moments where I felt a little lost about the standing of elves in specific situations. You see, he really knows what’s going on and why. It was second nature to him and that made it all feel like a very enriching experience to a young actor like me. I hope we’ll cross career paths again one day. Also, because there are really exciting new writers attached to the show – like writer/producer Sneha Koorse – who were on location and in contact with us actors. The entire experience felt very wholesome to me.
RI: Many of the actors playing characters in Rinde are of German or Austrian descent. Did you have to speak with a German accent? And what kind of camaraderie was there on set?
LE: No voice spoilers here – I still want to be allowed to read full scripts in the future! The camaraderie was very real and I came back to London with new friends and the feeling of having created something together. The camaraderie transcended nationalities.
RI: In the books, Chireadan was a hearty and loveable character. What can you tell us about the character we’ll meet in the show?
LE: Here’s what I’ll say: Love, discrimination, new friends, acceptance, loneliness, va fáill. Also, I do hope that Chireadan returns in the future as I would love to continue telling his story and that of the outcast elves of The Witcher universe. There’s so much to talk about there! So much to discover!
RI: The elves we meet in The Witcher are much more tangible than the otherworldly, composed figures we know from fantasy productions like Lord of the Rings. Can you tell us more about how elves are portrayed in the show and what it means playing one of them? Did you have to learn Elder Speech to prepare for the role?
LE: These are big questions, so allow me to take some time here. I personally learned a little Elder Speech. I hope my accent is correct. If not, please correct me, life is learning.
To me, The Witcher books and games tell an incredibly vivid tale strongly looking at discrimination involving all sorts of beings that exist in that universe. So the story holds up a mirror as to how westerners still like to perceive the world through the eyes of the white straight man who needs to hold up a certain body of social standards that are often passed on through the fear of losing one’s role in the world and unregarded trauma through conditioning.
Being a white man myself, I was glad to open a little door inside of me as to what it feels like to be discriminated against on the basis of race. Through Chireadan I was allowed to relate to the story of “wanting to be seen for who you are past your physical appearance”, which definitely isn’t my main struggle in real life as it is still for many people of various colours and countries. I hope this doesn’t sound arrogant, as this was a fictional experience, whereas real-life discrimination continues to take place and we need to continue to find creative ways to build tables for all people in our world. We’re all just conscious beings.
I’m glad that “white male straight privilege” is finally being turned on its head to create space for the acceptance of everybody for who they are and truly want to be. Why, as a white man, am I not afraid of this? Because I’m also just me and would like to take action as such, and not on the basis of being white and a westerner. I am aware of my current privileged situation though, and do hope that we can all collaborate to find… well, love and respect. This is such a big topic. I’m sorry if I made a big circle now, but it feels important to articulate these things openly in our times without fear of judgement. And it all ties in with Chireadan and being an elf on the continent. Let’s leave it here though for another night of dwelling thoughts.
RI: Racism is a recurring theme in Andrzej Sapkowki’s The Witcher books, as elves and humans have fought each other for centuries. How did that play into your scenes?
LE: As the above answer. Well, you’ll see. Hopefully it’s there and creates conversations among the audience.
RI: Despite their dark themes, the books are often silly and humorous. The Last Wish, the short story where Chireadan appears, is one of the funnier chapters in the series, also featuring Joey Batey’s Jaskier as a comic relief. What kind of mix can we expect?
LE: Joey is absolutely hilarious and touching, and to be honest, I think I’m gonna go home now and reread the books because now I miss the humour and characters.
RI: What was it like working with director Charlotte Brandström?
LE: Oh man, I’m so glad we exchanged contacts after the shoot because I wanna work with her again. She’s so human. She listens, she’s real, she feels truth and also when you put something on that’s fake or just not needed, yet she doesn’t shy away from experimenting in a scene. Most importantly for me: she takes her time and makes room for scenes to feel like ensemble pieces. That’s such a great attribute to have as a director. To create a commonly shared playground and not have each actor be in their own world. When you share the imagination, it expands. That’s the play. She gets that. Man oh man, now I miss her too! I just wanted to have a quiet night, eat something and grinningly fall asleep. Uhhgg! Now I’m all nostalgic… Gawd.
RI: Anya Chalotra’s Yennefer looked stunning in the trailer, and we think Chireadan would agree. Did you get to share any scenes with her? If you did, what was it like working with her?
LE: Ah I thought everybody knows? So basically the story has been rewritten entirely and now Chireadan and Yennefer are together. I know the trailer doesn’t give it away, but that’s just marketing, you know? People are more familiar with Geralt, but really it’s about the adventures of Yen and Chireadan. I’m serious. Ask Netflix or Alexa. Every algorithm knows. Chireadan for the win! Jokes aside, I wish I could tell you. From what I’ve seen and felt Anya has created something raw, special, and multi-layered. I wonder what she’ll shoot next. I’m sure it’ll be exciting to watch her as a variety of characters on the big screen.
RI: The Witcher is a show with magic and monsters. One key sequence in The Last Wish involves the destruction of the town by a djinn. We assume a djinn didn’t actually destroy the set – so as an actor, what is it like filming for scenes with heavy special effects, such as that one?
LE: What if I told you that the Djinn did destroy the set and I am now keeping it in a sealed bottle with me in London, just waiting for the right moment to release it and take over the world? (Insert Dr Evil laughter here … and yes, my pinky is at my lips.)
Special effects are great. It’s exciting because you have to rely on your imagination to create a reality that others see as well. Basically the basis of play. I love it! It’s so free and non-judgemental.
RI: We can’t help but notice how stoked you seem for the show as a whole. With the teaser finally released, do you have a favorite part? How exciting was it to finally see the show you worked on brought to life on the screen?
LE: I am truly excited. I love fantasy, sci-fi, and multi-layered fictional universes that show us alternative ways of looking at our reality, as well as anything that’s a little weird. I like to imagine. My favourite part is actually the moment when we see Yen in her first form. I’m just amazed by this transformation from an acting point of view. I love mask and physical work, so I’m just in awe of how Anya portays this character together with the make-up and costume departments who did an amazing job!
RI: While we wait for the show’s release at the end of the year, we’d love to check out some of your other projects. Where else can we Witcher fans see you in action?
LE: Most of my films and shows will come out over the next months and next year. There will be HBO and Sky’s Catherine The Great with Helen Mirren by Philip Martin, which I’m really stoked about. And then there’s also the French feature film Valses de Vienne with French actress Karin Viard by Marc Fitoussi, coming to cinemas 2020, as well as the German cinema film A Gschicht über d’Lieb with German actress Svenja Jung, by Peter Evers. That’s in cinemas in Germany this summer/autumn. All three were true passion projects, with three very strong leading ladies who all enriched my understanding of life. Also I was allowed to play very different characters and have different approaches to acting and filmmaking. Let me know what you think! There’s another project coming soon which I’d love to talk about. It’s highly political. But I’m not allowed to say it yet. Soon.
LE: Thanks for the interview and enjoy the show! I’m one of the loud show watchers, so I’ll jump around on the sofa yelling, crying, laughing my heart out, I’m sure. It’ll be one of those moments that I hope I’ll find one day on 9gag and show my kids whenever they’ll think that dad’s just not cool enough. Then I’ll go cry on my friend’s shoulders because my kids won’t get my humour. I don’t even know why I’m talking ‘bout kids. I don’t even have kids. But I definitely know that I like 9gag.
We’d like to give a big thanks to Lucas for the honesty, thoroughness, and humor that went into this! And a thanks for giving us a first insight into the events of The Last Wish, which we’ll see unfold in episode five of the The Witcher’s first season. We too hope the writers can find a way to fit Chireadan into future seasons, despite him not appearing in the novels. He’d be easy to integrate and a big win for sure, so if you’re reading this Lauren S. Hissrich, make it happen… please!