Fans from all over the world have long awaited the first season of Netflix’s new fantasy adaptation The Witcher, and now we’re just a little more than two weeks away from the release. So far, much of the spotlight has understandably gone to Geralt actor and superstar Henry Cavill (Man of Steel, Mission Impossible) but costars Anya Chalotra (Yennefer) and Freya Allan (Ciri) will have a big role to play as well.
For both actresses, The Witcher is the first big role as a leading cast member of a TV show. Turkish magazine Episode had the chance to speak with them about their time on set, how they view their characters, what makes The Witcher stand out from other fantasies and more…
Once again, thanks so much to WitcherTurkey for the translation! Note that the questions have been slightly reordered for better readability.
Episode: Can you tell us how this project started? Did you know the books before the show?
Anya Chalotra: In fact, I didn’t know anything about The Witcher until I auditioned. I went to the audition without knowing how big the show was and that Yennefer was so iconic. I auditioned a total of three times. In each audition, the more I realized how important Yennefer was, the more I realized that I wanted the role.
Freya Allan: I learned from my manager that I was going to the audition. Then I auditioned and met director Alik Sakharov and Lauren Hissrich, the showrunner. The next day, they offered me the part and the journey started. I didn’t want to go over the books before I auditioned because there are some parallels between me and Ciri and I didn’t want to disrupt this by thinking too much about it. After I got the part, I read Blood of Elves. I finished it in a day or two because I was so excited. Reading this book, I have learned a little more about the essence of Ciri. Afterwards, I mostly worked with the script.
Episode: Can you tell us more about your character Yennefer? How did you prepare for the role?
AC: I had a lot of inspiring women around me. I learned a lot from them and tried to add what I learned to my character, Yennefer. My main source was the script, but I also read the first book of the short stories. Then what I based my work on was just the script. Because a story was written for Yennefer that was not in the books. I read the script many times. I tried to internalize as much as I could about Yennefer’s way of thinking and I worked on her relationship with other characters.
Episode: Can you tell us more about your character Ciri? Is there a feature in Ciri that you identify with yourself?
FA: Ciri is a very stubborn princess who doesn’t hesitate to express what she thinks. Sometimes she just wants to go out, play and act like a normal kid. She has innocent and naive thoughts about the real world, having never left the safety of her home before and faced the hardships of life. She grew up in a sheltered environment. So when she begins her journey, she starts to see this new side of life, meets many new people and tries to put herself in their place. She learns that a lot of information and secrets were being kept from her, so she has a lot to discover. Like Ciri, I never hesitated to say what I thought. Ciri’s ability to speak is one of the features that make her strong. She’s also a stubborn character. We are very similar in this respect.
Since she was deprived of it at an early age, love is the only thing Yennefer has looked for throughout her life; love and devotion.
Episode: What is the journey your characters go through? What is the purpose, what are they trying to achieve?
AC: Yennefer is looking for unconditional love and she is discovering her powers during this journey. She had a lot of difficulties in her childhood and we will see that she actually got her powers from that time. Since she was deprived of it at an early age, love is the only thing Yennefer has looked for throughout her life; love and devotion.
FA: Ciri is forced to move away from her sheltered world. All her life she has been protected from danger and persecution. Ciri’s journey is a true journey of discovery. Initially, she is a princess with ambitions and wants to be a strong woman like her grandmother. During her journey she is constantly exposed to new things and is constantly adapting to them. She observes other people’s mistakes and tries to learn from them. She gets to know many different people and learns to look at things from different perspectives, using what she has learned over time as an armor. Every day she becomes a more determined and more powerful character.
Episode: How does Yennefer relate to Geralt? How did you communicate with Henry Cavill as an actor?
AC: Henry is a great actor and a big fan of The Witcher universe. It is a great pleasure to work with an actor who knows so much about the project you are working on and loves this world so much. The relationship between Yennefer and Geralt is quite complicated. It’s literally a love and hate relationship. They are incredibly attracted to each other. Like a magnet. And this feeling never disappears. Yennefer needs Geralt although she doesn’t want to admit that. In fact, Yennefer is a character who wants to be independent in everything she does and thinks she doesn’t need anyone.
Episode: How does Ciri relate to Geralt?
FA: Ciri is a character who misses the concept of family and needs someone’s guidance. She needs someone to be there to protect her. She is also looking for someone who can teach her how to defend herself. Ciri’s and Geralt’s relationship is more than fate. It is about Ciri’s own wishes and choices.
Episode: Can you say more about Ciri’s appearance? For example, your costumes?
FA: Of course, I was very excited about it. The costume designers prepared a beautiful and comfortable outfit for me, which I wore the whole season. My costume was affected by the events I experienced; living, changing and aging. I think I wore the costume so often that I felt a little relieved when the shooting was over.
Episode: Can you tell us about your experience on set? What kind of process was it for you?
AC: We had an eight-month shooting process. Everyone on the set was like a member of my family. The Witcher is a huge production. The universe is huge. We’re talking about a series with millions of fans. Working on such a set, you learn something new every day. There are incredibly hard-working people in every department. The costumes and sets are so detailed. Every second was an incredible experience.
FA: Everything was very exciting. I value the relationships with the people I worked with and the new things I learned. I think my favorite place was on a high hill in Budapest, where we could see for miles and watch the sunrise.
Episode: What was your biggest challenge during filming?
AC: Being in such a big production is quite exciting and intimidating. I worked on two projects before The Witcher. The Witcher also has a very fast rhythm. Normally you work with the director for a few weeks [before filming]. We didn’t have that much time but started shooting right from the start. It was a great challenge but also incredibly exciting.
FA: I think I struggled the most during the beginning of filming. We rehearsed very little and immediately started shooting. One of the first scenes we filmed has a very important part in Ciri’s story. It was a little scary but still very exciting. The scenes that needed Ciri to cry were especially difficult. I really tried to get into the character, I tried to feel what it felt. Being emotionally connected with my character and trying to achieve that integration was a challenging but very good process.
Episode: How did you relate to the readers of The Witcher novels? How did they react to the visual world of the show?
AC: The Witcher world has many fans, so they have many opinions about what we do. We received a lot of feedback from fans and much of it was positive. It was very exciting to be in touch with such a fanbase and see how much they connect to The Witcher.
Episode: The popularity of the fantasy genre is obvious. What is completely authentic and unique to The Witcher?
AC: The Witcher contains everything a fantasy series should have, but there are also many themes viewers can relate to their lives; like family. The Witcher questions relationships and loyalties. That was one of the biggest factors that attracted me to this project. The Witcher has many human themes.
She is going through a lot, big losses are happening in her life, but she has the ability to move on and that’s where she gets her power from
FA: The fact that there is no obvious good and bad character. I think this is one of the most important things that distinguishes The Witcher from other fantasy productions. Speaking for my part, Ciri is a very strong, sturdy and fierce character. A changing and evolving character. Then she is also a young and sensitive character who is exposed to extreme danger. She is going through a lot, big losses are happening in her life, but she has the ability to move on and that’s where she gets her power from. Her journey is a very realistic one, different from many female characters in other series.
Episode: What do you think lies at the heart of the story?
AC: Family ties.. the relationships between Geralt, Yennefer and Ciri.. Characters…
FA: I think it is definitely family, though it could be losing a family or longing for that family. The way each character experiences it is different. For me, I can easily say this story is all about family.
Episode: Are there any obvious good or bad characters in The Witcher universe?
AC: This is actually an issue for the audience to decide, but I don’t think there are any bad characters in this world. This is what makes this universe so grounded; There is no true good or evil. There are decisions to be made, choices to be made, and consequences.
FA: No and that’s one of my favorite things about The Witcher. We often see it in TV series or movies but here each character tries to do what they think is right. Each character has weaknesses or dark sides. So you can empathize with most of them. There’s no inherently good or bad character in The Witcher.
Episode: For audiences who don’t know anything about The Witcher world, can you tell them what to expect from the show?
AC: This project doesn’t just feature elements of the fantasy genre. We are trying to explore the complex structure of human beings and the nature of human relationships. We aim to show how people relate to each other and what happens as a result of their actions. This series has everything from the fantasy genre and more.
FA: Certainly, they will see many monsters. There’s a lot of war. There’s also magic. You will see spectacular places, landscapes, and costumes.
And this concludes our series of Q&A translations from Episode magazine. If you missed any of the previous articles, here are their interviews with showrunner Lauren Hissrich, costume designer Tim Aslam, and composers Sonya Belousova and Giona Ostinelli.