Friday, July 26, 2019
The Witcher Showrunner: Casting Geralt, His Wit, Fighting Style
Not only did we get this sweet spot at The Witcher panel in Hall H at Comic-Con, we also got a chance to ask some questions from the main ladies involved with the much anticipated Netflix series that is set to premiere later this year. First we brought you the transcript of our group's roundtable interview with Anya Chalotra (Yennefer). Now here's the Q&A with showrunner, Lauren S. Hissrich who shares the scoop on casting the show, Geralt's wit and his fighting style, and much more!
Lauren: Hi! I'm gonna chug coffee as we go (laughs).
How excited are you for this?
Lauren: Crazy excited, I'm still basically vibrating after that panel. I went online on Twitter to do an AMA, which I had to ask what that meant... but "ask me anything" and I was like, Oh! okay, great! -- I was trying to keep up with questions and someone finally was like "It's been an hour." I hadn't looked up from my phone... because I'm so excited that the world is finally getting to see a glimpse of what we're doing.
What's your favorite part about creating this show?
Lauren: That is the hardest question yet. You know my favorite part really was making sure that we're giving all the characters their due, if I had to say it simply. You know, I think a lot of people who are familiar with the books are familiar with Geralt... I mean, it's called The Witcher. But to me, the story is about Geralt... but also Ciri and Yennefer. The most exciting thing is digging in and discovering who these women were before Geralt meets them, so that we're not just seeing them through his lense... but we're seeing them sort of find themselves first, be the heroes of their own journeys and then once these characters come crashing into each other, it's all about how they impact each other and how they change each other and that was fun to do.
What was the casting process like?
Lauren: You know, in terms of Geralt and Ciri and Yennefer... they were all difficult to an extent because I was always afraid. This is my first big show, certainly my first show that I've ever run. So going into the casting process, you get to that place where you're like, how will I know? how will I know that they're the right person, how do I know that I'm not saying yes too early. Everyone kept telling me, "you'll know" and I was like... I don't know that I will. But I did. The interesting thing is, Anya we actually cast first as Yennefer. She was the very first piece of the puzzle. We saw hundreds of auditions and there was something about her and she had such a fierceness but also such a sort of, innate vulnerability and she was the first piece of the puzzle that came in. Casting Freya as Ciri was also really difficult. We started with a very young... in her script Ciri was eleven. Very quickly we started looking at eleven year olds, we realized a couple of things: One, the production constraints of the show... it's a huge endeavor, we shot for a lot of days and a lot of nights actually. When you're shooting with someone that young it's very restrictive. One of the first things that I was told, is that if I want someone that young, Ciri is not going to be able to be that big of a part of the story and I was like, well that's not going to work. So we did age up the character a little bit. Freya actually, we had cast her as another character in the first episode and she was signed, sealed and done for that and I couldn't find a Ciri I loved and Sophie Holland our casting director called me and said, "I'd love you to think about Freya Allan for this." I flew over to London and we cast Freya that day. Then, Henry... Henry is a big fan of the franchise and started reaching out to me before I had a script, before I had the green light , before I had anything. Finally I sat down to meet him and was like, great you're super nice, I'm glad you're really enthusiastic but we're not there yet. It took about four months and we met... I met two-hundred and seven Geralts, potential Geralts and I realized in that writing process I had Henry's voice in my head the whole time. So I called him and we met in New York and he read for the part and again, cast him that day. Every time the decision was made, it was made in that moment and I just knew it was right.
After seeing the trailer (..) will there be any funny aspects to the show? because it looked so dark and gritty which is great, but Geralt also has a sharp tongue and there is some really complex funny banter between him and especially Dandelion (Jaskier).
Lauren: Yes. It's funny, we tried a couple of different versions of the teaser with some wit in it because it's all through the show, I mean obviously I think.... uhm... the show is super dark. It just is. It has some really tragic things in it, some really dark things but we always kept an eye on what real people do when faced with tragedy and often times they find humor in it because it's the only way to walk through the world. So, storytelling-wise we always try to keep that in mind. Teaser-wise... the teaser was so big and so dramatic that any time we would try to add something funny in, you'd be like, Oh, no. No, no, no, no, no, no no. We tried many versions, but yes, in the show itself there is a lot of... especially Geralt's dry wit and Jaskier annoying him as much as humanly possible.
Concerning the book, how closely does it follow and also for fans of the game, are there any Easter eggs in the series?
Lauren: You know, it follows the books pretty closely but I like to say it that we also, we find the things between the lines in the books. So there are events in the books or moments in the books that you just kind of speed by them and a reader you're like, okay I get it, I understand we have five-hundred and eighty seven pages here that we gotta get through. But if you had a chance to push pause and dig into that moment a little bit more... there is lots of that in the first season. I think watching every episode, fans of the books themselves are gonna understand every story we're telling, they are going to find the moments... we actually took lines from the books as dialogue. So we did our best to honor them. But I also think there's.. there is plenty of some fun new things that aren't in there to really enhance the stories that we wanted to tell. In terms of the games, uhm... no, you know, we're not related to the games at all so there aren't really Easter eggs for gamers there. But I do think, I'm a huge fan of the games, so I think that if you love them, you probably love them because you love the characters, you love the tone of the stories and those things will definitely be present in the show.
What was the biggest obstacle that you encountered during filming?
Lauren: The weather (laughs). You know, obstacle... let's see. We shot in, what was it seven countries? We show everywhere. It's not actually seven. We shot in Budapest, we shot in Vienna, we shot in Poland, we shot in the Canary Islands... that might be it. I'm missing something... there is no one here to tell me if I'm missing anything. I keep waiting for someone to tell me.. there is no one. We shot in a lot of different places and it's a very big show. Our crew is about three-hundred people and we carry most of them with us most of the time. The most dedicated, sort of tireless crew ever. You know, I think I mentioned on Twitter at some point, I need to stop writing like "exterior woods at night." Because there is a lot of darkness and a lot of rain and you know, a lot of weather. I would say that's really it, I mean it was trying to keep going day after day when the world seemed to want to kill us. The actual planet seemed to want to kill us. But no, everything else was... kind of a joy honestly. I mean, we feel... we all feel so lucky to be able to be bringing this to life.
So you said you saw two-hundred and seven other possible Geralts, what made you come back to Henry?
Lauren: So much. So, you know one of the great things about Henry himself is that he likes to... just as a person, he likes to sit back and watch and sort of take in and process and not constantly verbalize everything and that's something that he brought to Geralt that was really amazing. In the first version of the first episode, I'm a writer, so I'm like (shows hands typing away) like Geralt has so many words and I think you'll see by the finale, we really have toned down kind of how much he says, because Henry himself was able to emote so much and bring so many different layers to this character without saying a word.
How long did it take Henry to get used to those luscious locks? How much does that hair play into his character?
Lauren: It plays in, so much. So, you know I'm not an actor so I don't really have... I don't really understand it but there is something that happens when you put on the costume and you put on the wig and the contacts. What's really funny is that we all got so used to seeing Henry with the luscious gray locks and the yellow eyes that when you see him not with them, you are like, who are you?
He sent me a picture over Christmas to say "Happy Christmas" and it was him and Kal and he just had his normal dark hair and I did one of those things where like... who is this? -- Because he owns it and he embodies Geralt so fully.
You can see it in the photos, it's obvious.
Lauren: Yeah, he brings uhm... all of our actors bring so much passion to this and I think that it's one of those things, going back to the idea of casting it... when it's right. The idea of anyone else playing these characters is really kind of crazy.
What about the (Geralt's) fighting style? I know that he has more of a dancing... that's kind of like a different kind of fighting and we saw some of that in that trailer. What can fans look forward to as far as like the season premiere, and are we going to be seeing a lot of that?
Lauren: You will be seeing a lot of fighting, which means you're seeing a lot of Henry. So Henry did not have a stunt double, he does all of his own work. Anytime you see him, it's really him... which means that, you know he brought... he trained non-stop. Always had swords in his hand and he was always in the training room with his team. But part of what we had to do, is then adapt the fighting style to Henry. So it's you know, you read in the books it's all about piroueting and dancing and then you know... you take a six foot-three man and you say "pirouette" and he's like... So no, it really was about finding the right balance between what we would read that Geralt does in the books and what Henry does and sort of finding and marrying those things together, because again, we wanted to make sure that he was the best sort of portrayer of the fighting.
Look for the interview with Freya Allan (Ciri) in the coming days.
Thank you to Netflix for allowing us to participate in these roundtable interviews at Comic-Con and to Anya, Freya and Lauren for their time.