When Netflix revealed it was making a television adaptation of The Witcher, Henry Cavill immediately wanted in. However, producers still auditioned over 200 actors for Geralt before choosing him for the job. Why did it take four months and hundreds of actors before going with the leading man who wanted to be there in the first place? Showrunner Lauren Schmidt Hissrich explains.
During a press roundtable at San Diego Comic-Con, Gizmodo asked Hissrich to elaborate on a revelation from The Witcher panel that they’d auditioned 207 other actors before choosing Cavill, even though he’d gone to the streaming network expressing interest, well, basically as soon as he heard about the show existing.
“As soon as it was announced it was going to be a show, he contacted his agents who contacted Netflix and said he wants to be part of this. And Netflix was like, ‘We don’t have a show yet, there’s nothing to be a part of!’” Hissrich told me. “Once I came on board they expressed that to me, and I sat down and met him. But I was really honest with him and I said, ‘It’s really great to meet you, you seem like a nice guy. But we don’t have a script, we’re not even casting.’ And he sat back and understood.”
Over the course of about four months, Hissrich and the other producers auditioned 207 actors for the part of Geralt of Rivia. That’s not necessarily an unprecedented number, but it is pretty high — especially knowing that Cavill, a headliner who played Superman in several DC films, not only wanted the part but knew The Witcher series like the back of his hand.
Hissrich explained that she thought it would be best to cast a wider net and see who else was out there, because she wasn’t sure Cavill was the right fit. But as talented as the actors were, it kept coming back to him:
The really interesting thing is that I do think with casting you have to see everything to know that you have the right thing. And having met with Henry, I knew he wanted the show but that didn’t mean that he necessarily was the right person for the show. So I met everyone else that also thought they were the right person for the show.
We had great auditions, but honestly I couldn’t get Henry’s voice out of my head as I started writing, and ultimately I called him back and said, “Are you still interested?” And he was like, “Absolutely. What do I need to do?” And I said, “I need to hear you be Geralt.” So we both flew to New York and basically did an audition, and he was pretty much hired on the spot.
Cavill’s casting did result in some interesting choices and changes for the character. For example, Cavill insisted on doing all of his own stunts. Every time you see Geralt performing an action sequence, it’s actually Cavill and Hissrich explained that the actor had all the cuts, bruises and “exhaustion to prove it.”
Hissrich also noted that there was one thing she ended up changing to better suit Cavill’s take on the character: This version of Geralt talks way less than he was originally supposed to.
“One of the things that probably shifted the most once we cast Henry is that Geralt speaks a lot less than I initially intended. In the books, Geralt’s actually quite chatty. He talks a lot. What I found, though, is that on-screen—especially with Henry portraying him — a lot can be done in looks and in grunts. Henry’s a big grunter. I mean that in the best way possible,” she said. “It’s kind of amazing what is accomplished in silence and I think makes him that much more powerful of a character.”
The other interesting casting story from The Witcher is connected to Ciri, played in the series by Freya Allan. According to Hissrich, the whole process was “really difficult.” She’d initially planned for Ciri to be played by a child, following the character’s story and trajectory in the books.
Unfortunately, they couldn’t find the right young actor for the part, especially because they needed someone who could “grow up fast” to match the show’s faster-paced progression. Combined with complicated child labour laws that limit an actor’s ability to shoot at night, eventually, Hissrich came to an impasse.
“Someone said to me: ‘I’m not sure that Ciri is going to be able to be a big part of the series.’ And I was like, ‘Well, that’s not gonna work for me.’ So we skewed a little bit older,” she said.
Hissrich went on to share the story of choosing Allan for the part of Ciri, who was a newcomer who’d initially been cast for a different part:
We had actually cast her for another role. She had signed the contract and was signed on for a one-episode role in episode one. We met everyone we could meet for for Ciri and I still just wasn’t finding it, I couldn’t find that sort of the person who embodied her in the way that I wanted them to... Sophie Holland, our casting director, actually called me and said, “I think we should think about Freya Allan for this.”
In the end, the casting of Cavill, Allan, and Anya Chalotra as Yennefer was kind of kismet. While Chalotra was the first and easiest casting of the trio, all three actors were hired on the spot once they’d finally gotten a chance to read for the roles. As Hissrich put it, it showed they’d found the right fit.
“For Henry, for Anya, and for Freya, each of them was cast in the room when we finally got in the room, which was incredible,” she said. “That’s how you know [you have] the right person.”
The Witcher debuts on Netflix later this year.