RI Interview: The Witcher’s Tomek Bagiński talks Slavic spirit, Sapkowski’s set visit and Season 2

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Tomek Bagiński probably needs no introduction at this stage, but in case you don’t know, he’s the godfather of Netflix’s The Witcher. He worked on this project for years and it’s finally being released on December 20.

We briefly met Tomek almost a month ago at Lucca Comics & Games. We shook his hand and laughed about what we do. “You Redanian spies!”, he said. Now we had a chance to ask him a few questions about the production process, Andrzej Sapkowski’s set visit, Season 2 and more. Read our full Q&A below:

RI: How did you first run into The Witcher? What made you fall in love with this saga?
Tomek: It was a short story “Grain of Truth” in a local science-fiction magazine. I loved it instantly, quickly tracked “Witcher” short story, which was published earlier in the same magazine. And since then, I was hooked. I was waiting first for every new short story, and then for the books. The popularity of Andrew Sapkowski in Poland skyrocketed very quickly. Short stories were very popular even before “The Last Wish” was published as a book. 

This project has been with you for about four years in its various iterations. How does it feel now, this close to the show airing?
Good. It was a long journey, but it is also just the beginning.

What was it like walking on to these sets for the first time?
Not that different from other sets I was on through the years. When I first came to Budapest, we were still building, so every set was like a huge construction site. Magic comes later – on screen. It was fun, though.

It is known that Season 1 will be covering many of the short stories from “The Last Wish” and “Sword of Destiny“. What’s your favorite short story, and why?
The Lesser Evil” – sets up the moral code of Geralt in the best possible way. In the world, when morality is corrupted by power or by vengeance – he just stays with the people. In his world, some things you just don’t do – there is no lesser evil. You don’t get bargaining about human lives – even if the reason is noble. This makes Geralt also a stubborn boar – but this is who he is.

You were the one to pitch The Witcher to Netflix many years ago, but back then, it was meant to be a movie. Can you tell us more about the original film?
It was a mix of “The Lesser Evil” and “The Witcher” – two stories that unfold the most about who Geralt really is. We went quite far in development with Platige and Hivemind, but we also always felt that a TV show might be a better medium for this story. Then after several meetings, we got Netflix interested, and Lauren brought a great idea how to actually tell this story as a modern TV show.

You originally had plans to direct an episode for the show, but chose to take, as you put it, a more strategic position as an executive producer. Do you intend to keep it that way or do you have any plans to direct in the future now that Season 2 is already confirmed?
Most probably, I’ll stay on EP position, as it is usually more difficult to fill, although doing some second unit on Season 1 was fun. (Especially killing dozens of Nilfgaardians on screen).

While on the topic of Season 2, it was reported that The Witcher’s production will move to the UK. Can you comment on how that will change the process, and are there any plans to return to Central Europe for location shoots?
We are still scouting in all Europe, including Poland, so it is hard to say how much we will shoot and where, but the plan is to have some great Central European locations on the screen.

Towards the end of production, significant reshoots were done to rework the pilot episode, and several roles were recast. Can you shed some more light on the reasons behind these changes and how the process came to pass?
Building a world, especially for the first season, have a unique set of challenges. It is quite common to have re-shoots in a case like that. Happens with most of the large scale productions. The first season of the show is also a learning process for all people involved.

Henry Cavill is a true fan of the books and the games. He knows Geralt very well, and he knows the lore. Did he have any creative input during the production process aside from acting?
Yes, often. Henry became Geralt. He knows this world like a 100-year-old Witcher would know.

The father of the Witcher saga, Andrzej Sapkowski himself, visited the set earlier this year. Do you have any funny or interesting anecdotes from his set visit? And is there a chance for a Sapkowski cameo in the show?
Cameo – no. Even a simple role is big work to do, and Andrew is a writer first. It was a fun day. We were shooting a very difficult stunt with Henry and a monster, hours of prep for one 3 second shot, all in one of the biggest sets. Most people who are not in the industry don’t realize how many people and how much effort is needed for 3 seconds like that, and Andrew was also impressed. But the most fun he had in the armory. Our armorer – Nick Jeffries connected with Andrew really quickly. And Andrew knows a lot about swords.

You accompanied Lauren Hissrich to Poland, which she described as her favorite location and important to capture the “Polish Spirit” inherent in the Witcher series. Can you describe what that means for the show? Where will we get to see this influence?
I think the most important is the bittersweet tone, the unique mix of drama, and dark humor. I’m really, really happy Lauren was able to hit this note so precisely. There are, of course, some more direct references to Slavic culture, monsters, etc. but for me, the tone was certainly the most interesting.

Lauren Hissrich said that the first season will also explore what happens between the pages, delving further into events that were only ever mentioned in the books. As we know from the trailer, Ciri will be having visions. Moreover, characters like Yennefer open many possibilities to explore the extensive history of the Witcher world. What are the chances that crucial events like Falka’s rebellion or the Curse of the Black Sun will make it into the show?
I can’t disclose those, I’m sorry. We are expanding the world of Witcher, but how – you have to see it on screen.

Which is your favorite episode from the first season? Can you tease something about it without giving too much away?
Every episode has moments or scenes I love. Physically I’m most connected with the second block (3-4), and Episodes 1 and 8 – because I was there, and my bones remember every muddy day, every drop of rain, and all these freezing cold nights, but I can’t point out an episode I love the most. You have to watch it all.

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