Making the Witcher (2020) - full transcript

Journey into the extraordinary world of «The Witcher» -- from casting the roles to Jaskier's catchy song -- in this behind-the-scenes look at the series.

[tense music playing]

- [hooves galloping]
- [eerie voice growling]

[indistinct yelling]

[dramatic music playing]

[yelling continues]

[man grunts]

[music crescendos]

[music fades out]

My initial interest in The Witcher

came from a chance experience
with The Witcher games.

Then I heard that Netflix
were making a show

and so, I... I hunted down
the opportunity to play Geralt

and when I'd spoken to...
Had my first meeting with Lauren...

she had mentioned
that it was based on the books.

The books, I absolutely loved,

and they are an extraordinary source
of a wonderful story.

[Hissrich] So, Andrzej Sapkowski
wrote this series of books.

Talking to him about it is fascinating.

He traveled all over the world
as a traveling salesman,

and he started to write
the original short story of The Witcher

and submitted it to a magazine
and it got published,

but he had never intended for...

For it to take hold the way
that it took hold.

- [loud crash]
- [shrieking]

[Cavill] There's something unique
about the way...

Andrzej Sapkowski wrote...
wrote The Witcher.

It's a... a harsh yet relatable world
with some extraordinary characters in it.

- The south needed reminding who was Queen.
- [cheers]

[Hissrich] What excited me the most
when I went to pitch Netflix...

What did you wish for?

...was planting all of the seeds

of Geralt, Ciri and Yennefer
coming together.

[whispers] Find Geralt of Rivia.

[Hissrich] It took me a while.
I went through several versions.

And then I... I literally had one of those
"Aha!" moments in the shower.

"Can I tell all three of these stories
at the same time

and not have it be too confusing?"

It's been interesting
because I do think that

television audiences are really savvy now.

And as a writer, as a creator,
we have that on our side.

So, we do jump through time a lot,

but I think it's an exciting journey
for fans and for, you know,

even audiences that have never seen
The Witcher before.

[Duny grunts]

- [Geralt grunts]
- [knight yelps]

So, what's really interesting
is digging into these stories,

and one of the first things that I did
when I sold The Witcher

is I booked a plane ticket to Poland
because I was really interested

why this book series
was so important to this nation

and how it reflected the spirits
of the people

and that was important to me
for developing the series as a whole.

Witcher is a big part of myself, I think.

Witcher became part of my...

brain and body and mind a long time ago.

But for the rest of the world,
Witcher is a great story,

it's a great character,
it's a great world.

For kingdom and glory.

Tomek Bagiński,
who's one of our Polish producers,

he's very well-versed on the books
and the lore of The Witcher

and there are certain things that are
not necessarily described in the scripts.

We would run those things
by Tomek and his team

to make sure we were staying
true to the source material.

[Bagiński] It's a big part
of the pop culture history of Poland,

which is also, I think, quite important.


it's a game, it's a book, it's a TV show,

it's plenty of things.

It's very, very hard to just box Witcher
into a very simple explanation.

And I hope that we can present this world

to... a much, much wider audience.

I like to say that, for the series,

we actually get to find the story

that's happening between the lines
in the books.

We're trying to be a really
true representation of the books

and trying to honor that material,

but the books also skip over
a lot of things.

That's my lute. Give that back!

[Bagiński] There were a lot of new ideas
coming from the writers' room,

which, eh, some of their...

Some of those ideas were very risky,
but all of them were brilliant.

In the writers' room for The Witcher,

we get together
and we bat around ideas for a while

until we have a clearer picture
of what we're doing for this season,

and once we do that,
we go into individual episodes

and draw from the books.

Like, "What from the books
do we want to bring into this season?"

Once we decide that,

Lauren sends us off
and we write our individual scripts

and we have certain story lines

that carry through
from one episode to another

that we keep batting back and forth

to make sure that we're always giving
new information to the audience.

When you get assigned a script, it, uh...

It's very exciting because,
"Oh, I'm dealing with this story, great!"

When I got Law of Surprise,
people were like,

[sharp inhale]
"Glad I didn't get that one!"

because it is tough to explain.

Asking for payment
with the Law of Surprise

is as old as mankind itself.

- Don't lecture me, Eist.
- [Eist] It's an honest gamble...

as likely to be rewarded
with a... bumper crop,

as a newborn pup or...

a child of surprise.

Trying to get that out,
[chuckles] in a script and in a way

where the actor doesn't look at you
and just slap you, it was difficult.

But that's essentially what it is,

the Law of Surprise, in a nutshell,
is claiming something...

from the person, em... that is a surprise.

When they return to that house,
whatever the first thing they encounter

that they didn't know they had
before they left... that's it.


Yeah, it's just...

It's a lot of different ideas
with a lot of different perspectives,

which is important, I think,
for The Witcher

because it is ultimately...
kind of about all these different groups,

whether it be elves, gnomes, dwarves,
and their perspectives on the world.

So to have the room also, kind of,
represent that type of diversity

is... is very useful for the storytelling.

[anguished scream]

What's great about this
and what we've done with the story is

we've focused on the humanity
and all those human struggles.

[Hissrich] One thing that most
interested me is the women in the books.

They're very, very strong women,
um, that are surrounding Geralt,

the protagonist.

And I asked Andrzej,

I said, "You know,
for books written during the 80s,

I'm really surprised
the women are so strong."

And he said to me, "You know,
you've never met my mother, have you?"

His point was that for a nation
that was so war-torn,

um, had so much conflict,

they... they lost a lot of their men,
um, in those conflicts,

and women became quite the centers
of communities

and even the workplace, not just homes.

That's the spirit
that Andrzej brought into these books.

These characters are survivors.

[indistinct yelling, grunts]

When I got the audition through,
um, there were two scenes,

which had been written for the audition,

and, um, one of them
was between her and Geralt

and she was kind of very...
feisty and stubborn.

And then in the other scene, she had...

She was trying to convince someone
not to stay and die, and she was...

You could really see,
like, her heart in it,

and, um, and a more, kind of,
gentle side to her.

So, I liked the fact
that she had both of those

just shown through these audition scenes
and it wasn't just like,

"Oh, she's going to be
a really cool, badass girl,"

which is brilliant, but it also showed

another strength, which is...
Which is more gentle and kind and soft.

It must have been such an undertaking
to try and find an actress

that can really, um,
embody a character like Ciri,

just because it comes from such lore
but also it's such an important character.

There's so much that Ciri brings.

Ciri is this world, you know,
she's the key for almost every character.

I mean, she's the element
that brings everyone together.

Every time she's on the screen,
there is something truly

special about her,
there's something magical,

there's something in her eyes,

and I do think that speaks
to the character

and, you know,
that Ciri's got that thing inside her

and she's young,
she doesn't quite know what it is yet,

and I think Freya's done an amazing job
at bringing that character to life.

So, we went through the books
and we found all of the places

where Andrzej had talked about
these characters' pasts

and then we wove those things together
into a sort of new story

for both Ciri and for Yennefer

to make sure we're really digging
into their backgrounds,

because to me, find the character,
learn the character

and then see how they change
when they meet one another.

That's the most exciting part.

Before we met,

the days were calm...

and the nights were restless.

But now...

you're important to me.

[fire crackling]

You get the rough idea
when you're in the room

of what this is gonna be
and you beat it out.

"These people are gonna go here,
that's gonna go there."

Then you have the joyous part
where you get to go home as a writer,

by yourself, outside the room,
and come up with cool shit.

And monsters, it's like,

"This is the greatest thing,
I get to write monsters!"

Who doesn't want to do that?

[rapid drumming]

The world of monsters and men...
in Witcher,

those worlds are blended
and it's very, very hard to...

To put a straight line and say,
"Okay, this is where the humans starts,

this is where monster world starts."

[Hissrich] The Continent that we know
was actually, um, inhabited by elves.

And when
the Conjunction of the Spheres happened,

it really opened the floodgates
for monsters, a lot of monsters.


One of the very interesting things
about how these...

species interact...


that some aren't from this place,
which we call the Continent,

and indeed all the monsters
that populate the Continent,

some are from there,
some are created by magic,

and others,

even though they're monsters,
or considered monsters,

are from a different place
or multiple different places

and they...

probably view mankind...

just as much as monsters as we view them.

That's all due to something
called the Conjunction of the Spheres.

It's exactly what it sounds like:

it is a bunch of different dimensions
smashing into each other

and... and changing the world
as we know it.

It's really just a refugee situation.

All these creatures
and beings from another universe

got dumped on this Continent
that's not theirs, as refugees,

and the humans were the ones
who were barbaric enough,

war hungry enough,

and also co-opted magic
from the Elder Races,

to actually take the Continent over
and push the elves out of their lands.

In a strange way,

all the inhabitants of this world
are the guests in this world.

Something was here before.

We don't know the details,

but monsters, dwarves, humans,

they... they all came later.

Because we were looking holistically
at the world we were creating,

I took on the creature concept design

and for a large number of the creatures,

got to, kind of,
do the initial concept design for those

that then was handed off
either to prosthetics,

uh, to create physical creatures,

or to VFX, um,

to then create the three-dimensional
models or the animated versions.

[man screaming]

And then, a lot of the creatures
that we were involved with,

eh, were a combined effort
with the visual effects department

because, sometimes,

it was a creature that was entirely drawn

by the visual effects department

but certain parts of it were built by us

so that there could be, like,
physical contact, uh, with the actors.

Sometimes it was fully built
as a creature.

One of the most interesting things
about doing some of the creature creation

was working with Tomek Bagiński
and talking back and forth

about Slavic mythology and fairy tales

and bringing certain elements
into the creatures

that are true to those stories.

[basilisk snarling]

- [Geralt grunts]
- [basilisk roars]

We talk about monsters a lot
in Witcher world,

but actually, in the original books,

Witcher is not fighting
with monsters that often

because this is the moment
in the history of the world

where the monsters are

pushed from their natural habitats
by people,

and, at some point, we realized

that maybe the monsters are the ones
who need protecting.

[loud roar]

[Hissrich] The stories take place
in a place called the Continent,

capital C, Continent.

It is a big world that we will continue
to explore all through the series.

I think the thing that was most intriguing
about this project is world-building.

Um, this was a real opportunity

to create an environment
from the ground up.

And for a production designer,
that's, you know, that's gold dust.

We wanted to give the Continent
a slightly more global feel.

In many ways, the Witcher world
has a very European basis

and we felt,

discussing this very early on,
that we wanted to grow that...

That world with influences
from lots of other places,

lots of other cultural references.

We looked to, you know,
Japanese architecture,

Indian architecture,
Middle Eastern architecture,

where we could give the Continent
a sense of scale,

um, so we didn't feel like
it's all happening in one region.

So playing a bit with...
architectural realities,

the architecture, let's say of Aretuza,

like the external visage
of the Thanedd Island is quite elevated.

You know, there's a bit of a question
of like, "Wow, where did that come from?

How was it achieved?"

'Cause we want to juxtapose that
with the more human architecture of... of,

"Okay, we understand
how a castle gets built,"

um, but I think mixing those two things up
is really important.

It is set in a sort of medieval period,
but having said that,

um, the influences that I chose to use
were gothic influences of all periods.

So, I chose those,
plus a lot of high fashion.

And, um, another sort of idea

that I brought into it
was using fabric manipulation,

which is kind of, at the moment,
quite a high fashion, relevant technique,

but it has actually been used
throughout history,

which relatively means just,
sort of, pleating, draping,

um, smocking, different ways of creating
flat fabric into a textured fabric

without the addition, say,
of like adding trims,

or, sort of, any kind of,
like, an addition.

So, it creates sort of
an architectural shape

and visually creates
an interesting surface to the costume.

As far as the world goes,
with the costumes and the sets,

it... it feels to me like a found world.

It's not that we're make-believing
or creating,

it feels like we've found this world,
and for a story like The Witcher,

I think that's really important
because it grounds it in reality.

One of the big things
that was discussed was that

this is not an earthbound history;

you know, the Continent is the Continent
and it has its own set of rules.

It has the Elder Races
and there's a history

and there's the monoliths,
and there's a... there...

We're sort of peeling away
layers of the onion

and beginning to do so in series one
and there are a lot more layers that come.

So, we wanted to be able to hint at that,
sort of tease a little bit

what might be revealed
as we get further into the story.

It's a world of magic,
and because of that, it's...

It's limitless, you can do anything...

I did it!

...but with that comes a hell of a lot
of struggle as well, and danger.

It's a very dark...

[man] Now!

[Chalotra] ...violent world.

Where we, sort of, dig into that
on a really practical level is... is,

uh, how does magic work in our series?

Magic is really interesting;
we call it "chaos."

And the cool thing
about playing with chaos is that

we always say
there's a give and take to it.

What we didn't want to do is have a show
where our characters could perform magic

to get in or out of any tricky situation.

There's no, sort of, drama there.

I'm doing it!

Your hand!

[panicked shrieks]

[piercing screams]

[Ndiweni] Chaos is everywhere.

We live in a world where there will be
and there is a lot of chaos,

and there are some people
who have the ability to take chaos

and make it into something positive

or contain it in a way
that it's no longer dangerous.

[Chalotra] Magic is...

It comes to people in different ways,

depending on where it's inherited from,

and the way you channel it,
there's a discipline to it and...

not everyone can do it.

When we started filming, shooting,

you know it says,
"...and Mousesack conjures a wall,"

or conjures something up and, you know,
y-you stand with your director

and, um, Lauren Hissrich, the showrunner,

you say, "Okay, this is how
I think Mousesack should,

um, bring the energy into the room

and, um, what do you think?"

[laughing] And... and so we try stuff.

Um, it has to be otherworldly
and it should come from something unique

that you feel would give you
a powerful energy

and, um, in the end, you know,

it's very still, and out of the chaos
comes control.

- [people screaming]
- [Yennefer breathing heavily]

[Chalotra] Initially, from the audition...

[Yennefer grunts]

[Chalotra] ...I didn't really know
anything about Yennefer.

It was the power she had in the scene
that I was playing,


then I looked, obviously,
researched the character and...

got to know her from the books.

[Chalotra laughing]

Um, I was curious as to why she was
presenting herself in the way she was

and I was...

and I wanted to figure out
what her struggle was.

And I think for any actor...


that... the arc that she goes through

is an incredible challenge.

And I-I love discovering more about her

the more I read
and the more I play her, I suppose.

Anya has brought a depth to the role
of Yennefer that is extraordinary.

I think fans and newcomers to the story
will absolutely fall in love with her.

It was so important to get a character,
or an actress rather,

who could really go through
the transformation that was needed,

could really play a young girl,

who physically had the chops

to be able to play with a disfigurement
that Yennefer has, um,

and then to go through the transformation
into an incredibly powerful figure,

but also a figure who is torn,
who's absolutely desperately torn.

So you needed somebody
who really had the chops to do that,

and Anya delivers that

in spades.

[gentle guitar music playing]

At the heart of our series
are Geralt, Yennefer and Ciri.

And what's fun in the first season,

is that they're never all three
in the same place at the same time.

They're kind of on a crash course
to one another.

I think the parallel timelines

I think is a really interesting mechanism
to tell the story

and I think something that's interesting
about those parallel stories

is when you first start to watch this,
you're going to watch it through one lens,

then when you get to a certain point
you realize these stories will converge,

I think it's really interesting
to then go back and to relook

and you can look for moments where
someone's taking a look to somebody else

and you see it
through a completely different...

through a completely different lens.

[indistinct chatter]

[Hissrich] The great thing about Destiny
is Destiny is an end

based on the choices that you make.

So, that's how we kind of see
this first season,

as a series of choices

that lead these characters
toward one another.

And I think that what Lauren
and her team wrote so well

was characters that made sense,
that actually felt like you and me,

that were actually normal people
in the fantasy world,

and I think that's why
the series will be so strong.

So, it's that we feel for these people
because we understand them.

I think everyone likes to see themselves
in stories, don't they?

I mean,
that's why we all watch television,

it's why we all read books
or go to the movies or play video games.

You want to find how you are represented.

[baby cries]

I think that's...
When you're coming into a world like this,

it's finding those metaphors

for, you know, adolescence,

which is what Ciri's journey is
in some cases.

It's, "Oh my gosh,
I have this magical power

and I don't know
what's going on with my body."

That's adolescence for so many people,
male or female,

and it's kind of finding those touchstones
where you can take the fantastical

and root it in something
that everybody can kind of relate to

and has experienced in their own lives.

[Allan] Geralt has being orphaned
as a child as well,

so I think it's a massive thing is, um...

[indistinct chatter] people...

being together
and having people around

that care for you,
and I think that's what they're all after.

What I like about our adaptation
and about what we are doing here

is a very, very heavy focus on emotions
and the relationships.

I think it's... it's just beautiful.

And all those things are in the books,

and they are very, very important
in the books,

but I think we are giving it
even more attention

and we are bringing it
into a different level.

One of the great elements,
of course, of this story, which is...

I'm very glad that Lauren

and her team
of incredible writers has kept,

because I think it's a very important
part of this world, is the humor,

and it can be very funny at times,
within the destruction and the darkness.

There's always these pops of humor.

What I love about
what Henry has brought to the character,

and, in fact, the writers have brought
to the whole piece...

it's almost...

I mean, you can say it's modern,

but you can also say, actually,
it's timeless humor.

Why are you dressed
like a sad silk trader?

And also the way Henry does the humor,

uh, brings his humor,

because he has a giggle about him,
he has a tickle about him, very much so.

Everyone loves a white knight,
but a white knight with a dry

and slightly off sense of humor

is... is more enjoyable to watch
and to play.

I've watched Henry and Joey
do some of their scenes

and I think there's definitely a bit of -
I always say this -

there's definitely a bit of a Shrek
and Donkey relationship going on there.

Come on, Geralt, tell me. Be honest.

How's my singing?

[water splashing]

It's like ordering a pie
and finding it has no filling.

I remember the email coming in
about 24 hours before the audition,

panicking so...
so strongly because I realized

how fantastic
the role of Jaskier really was.

My sister, at the time, she said,

"How are you doing? What's going on?
There's something's different about you."

And I said, "Yeah,
have a read of this character."

And her response was, "Joey,
are we in a dream that you are having?

Because this is so perfect."

You have the most incredible neck.

- It's like a... a sexy goose.
- [Geralt groans]

And from then on,
throughout the audition process

and also landing the role,
everything felt incredibly exciting

but weirdly normal.

This was... meant to happen.

Every single day has been an exploration
in that natural feeling

and feeling at home,
and finding, creating a new family.

Run away. Run away, Geralt! Oh God!


Had to get it from the inside.
I'll take what I'm owed.

♪ Toss a coin to your Witcher
O, Valley of Plenty ♪

♪ Whoa-ho-ho ♪

[all] ♪ Toss a coin... ♪

[Batey] This song, uh, uh...

was written by our composers,
Sonya and Giona, who are...

uh, who went through
various different versions of it.

Eventually, what we found was, em...

was a folk-like quality to this song
that we really wanted it to...

to travel across this land,

to be...

reminiscent of those folk songs
of the days of yore

where there's a Celtic twang to it.

But also there's a slightly "Pop-y" catch.

It's a fantastic thing
for Jaskier to be able to bring to...

to the Continent, and for the composers
to bring to the show,

is that it is an exercise in PR.

He starts to come up with this song

and Geralt of Rivia immediately notices
that he says...

That's not how it happened.

Where's your new-found respect?

Respect doesn't make history.

[Batey] And I think he understands...

hu... people...

in a... in a different way to Geralt.

He understands that in order
to make your way in this world,

sometimes you've got
to fudge the edges a little bit.

♪ Toss a coin to your Witcher
Oh, valley of plenty ♪

♪ Hee ♪

[indistinct shouting]

There's a huge amount of action
in the series,

and to reflect
the diversity of the stories,

um, we've had a stunt coordinator
who's overseeing the entire season,

Franklin Henson,

um, who's done a phenomenal job,

uh, at just constantly creating
and managing action through the season.

Um, but then to help reflect
the diversity of the different stories,

we've also brought people in

to come and bring different flavors
in the action.

We brought on a fight coordinator,


who has come to help us

um, with some of the fights
that are early on in the season.

- Everything is A-okay.
- [Wolfgang laughing]

It's... He's a positive Witcher.

[Emanuel] The moment
where Geralt is faced with,

uh, these brigands with Renfri's gang.

And I think it's interesting
because we've teased at what Geralt can do

but, at this moment,
we haven't seen what he can do,

and you end up in a Mexican standoff
in this town,

where he's faced with
these seven bad guys.

[Cavill grunting]

[man 1 groans]

[man 2 chuckling]

[man 3] Cameras cut, thank you.

[people laughing]

[Emanuel] We're incredibly lucky
to have Henry as our, uh, as our Geralt.

He brings that quiet resolve
and that natural strength,

obviously, that he has.

He does all his own stunts,
which is a producer's worst nightmare.

If it's Geralt on the screen,
that's Henry...

and he will probably have
ten days of training to do those fights

and it's interesting
because what the fight team will do

is to really lean into Henry's strengths.

I mean, he is a, you know,
he is a huge strong person,

um, and, uh...

And it's really interesting when you lean
into people's, you know, natural skills

how much more believable something looks.

But, yeah,
it's about ten days of rehearsals

for a fight that we'll shoot in two days,

that will be on screen
for about two minutes.

And the idea is that, it's to really have,
like, great set pieces,

um, that reflect the diversity
of the stories.

And I think it's really exciting
that you can watch a whole season

and it's never gonna feel
like "same-y" action,

it's all very different.

- [rumbling]
- [swooshing]

The Witcher stories, I mean, it touches on
everything we're dealing with now:

the fallout of colonialism,

class disparity with the haves
and the have-nots,

indigenous cultures getting fucked over,

racism, sexism.

The world gone mad.

People having power
that shouldn't have power,

people rising up, constant flux.

This world is an ocean and is a tempest
and that's what The Witcher is.

If I had to boil it down,
I would say that the themes...

the theme that resonates
with me most is, sort of,

blurring the lines of good and evil.

And it's my goal that that's what people
talk about after they watch the show,

is that we've worked really hard
to make sure there's not really good guys

or bad guys in our world.

If you start watching episode one,
the person that you think is good

that you think is the hero of the story,

by the end, you may feel
very differently about

because, suddenly,
you have a different perspective.

But love... is one of the strong themes...


its ability to change a person.

And I think something that's interesting
is as we've gone along we've all learnt

kind of what the...

what the tone of the show is
and who these characters are,

and it's really interesting as we go on
to continue to develop that.

Again, I think it's really exciting
to see where the show will go to next.

[somber violin music playing]

[Bagiński] It's a dream come true.

It's one of those situations where
you're really fighting for something

for so long that you stop believing that
it will happen and suddenly it happens.


I am, all the time.

It's just a great adventure.

[Hissrich] I wanted to introduce the world
to the three of them at the same time

and allow them each to really flourish
as characters on their own.

And it's really fun
to sort of track each of them

and see that they do need each other,
they really do need family.

["The Song Of The White Wolf"
by Declan de Barra playing]

Above all of that,

how are Geralt, Ciri and Yennefer
going to factor into this Continent

that is at war
and appears to be at war over Ciri?

[music continues]

So, there's so much set up.

Stick with us, there's much more to come.

[music continues]

♪ The Song of the White Wolf ♪

♪ Is cold as driven snow ♪

♪ Bear not your eyes upon him ♪