BUDAPEST: Despite debuting in late December, “The Witcher,” a fantasy epic based on an acclaimed series of novels, has already become the most popular new Netflix series of the year. Full of monsters, knights, sorcerers and even dragons, the show, created by Lauren Schmidt Hissrich and starring Henry Cavill, is — unlike, say, “Game of Thrones” — unashamed to be a shining example of its genre, both embracing fantasy and moving it forward.
As Arab News visited the set in the remote woods of Hungary, standing in the mud on a cold day with star of the show Henry Cavill brooding in his long white wig nearby — fully in character as Geralt of Rivia — Schmidt Hissrich was invigorated, even five months into a gruelling six-month shoot.
“I think the opportunity for me to write something that so many people are in love with is, honestly, a great honor. It does come with fans that get a little excited sometimes, but that’s what anybody would want,” says Schmidt Hissrich.
When rumblings of the series’ development first began, one fan did get a little over excited, racing around Hollywood to try to find some way into the project. That fan, of course, was Henry Cavill.
“As soon as I heard this was in the offing, I started hunting it down. I got agents on the case and I said, ‘Right, whatever’s happening, I want in,’” Cavill tells Arab News.
Cavill became a fan from the videogames, which he played through multiple times — not on a PS4 or XBOX, he’s quick to point out.
“I’m a gamer. PC gamer in particular. I played “The Witcher 2” many years ago when it first came out, and I played “The Witcher 3” a number of times around. My gaming interests probably came from my father. He liked PCs when we were all kids — me and my four brothers — and we ended up turning our dining-room table into a gaming table, much to our mother’s dismay. We had four or five PCs all linked up and we’d play games that way, and that became a part of our childhood. So as an adult now, in my free time, I do whatever I can just to ease the mind or get some peace by gaming. And 'The Witcher' is a particularly good game, so…” says Cavill.
Geralt of Rivia, a monster hunter, fascinated Cavill, as he was an anomaly in the age of the anti-hero — a truly good person, pulled into a dark world and forced to contend with it.
“Ultimately, at his core, he’s a white knight. But he’s also capable of being incredibly cold and doing what’s necessary… He is the best you can get from a very, very harsh world, and he’s incredible at surviving in it. And there’s something about that which I really like, I mean he’s not all chocolate box and cuddles. He’s the kind of guy who will kill you if you mess with him. If you mess with those around him, he will kill you. But, at the same time, he will put his own life in grave danger to save a complete stranger from harm, and there’s something wonderful about that,” says Cavill.
While the show is built to please its legions of fans, Schmidt Hissrich was careful to build something that would be accessible to anyone, even viewers who have traditionally been turned off by fantasy’s excessive machismo, one-dimensional female characters, and lack of diversity.
“I always call this the “Mom Test,” because my mother would never, ever watch ‘The Witcher,’” says Schmidt Hissrich. “So how do I get my mom, a 60-something-year-old woman in Ohio to watch this? People come in with a lot of preconceptions about what fantasy is, but I think ‘The Witcher' tells a lot of really human stories. Yes, there are monsters. Yes, there’s going to be a lot of blood. But there’s also a family coming together. That has been the theme of the first season: What makes a family? How does a family find each other? Why are they meant to be together? I think people who may not think that they’re fantasy fans will come and find that they are.”
Freya Allan, who plays the young Princess Cirilla of Cintra, was most interested in how many of the characters’ issues she could connect with.
“Of course it’s got brilliant fantastical elements, but there are a lot of relatable topics within it,” she says. “Loss, wanting to find a family, having been orphaned, wanting a child. All of these things go on in this world which isn’t a fantasy world at all.”