What is it like getting to bring one of your favorite characters to life on screen? Apparently, not as easy as it sounds! Henry Cavill, who plays the title role of Geralt of Rivia in the Netflix original The Witcher, was a longtime fan of the character before being cast in the role. In an interview with Vanity Fair, Cavill realized that he was his own harshest critic as he struggled to embody the intense, deeply complex character of Geralt.
“For me, there’s a heavy responsibility to do the character as much justice as possible from the source material,” said Cavill, who was already familiar with the character from both Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski’s original books and CD Projekt RED’s video game trilogy. Despite the additional pressure, the actor prefers to take on existing roles when he is already a fan of the IP.
When asked how he used his knowledge of Geralt to inform the role, Cavill admitted that he spent a lot of time reviewing the script and re-working lines. Due to the “grueling” filming schedule for the series, he often spent time annotating and editing his script during the two hours he regularly spent in hair and makeup donning the Witcher’s iconic white wig. The actor also confessed to sending multiple emails to showrunner Lauren Schmidt Hissrich discussing his thoughts and opinions on the character’s personality and way of speaking. While not all of these emails made it into the final script, some of them definitely did!
Cavill also told Vanity Fair that he found it difficult to portray such a reserved character accurately. In the original books, the readers get to know Geralt primarily through his inner monologue; CD Projekt RED adapted this into their games by having the Witcher talk aloud to his beloved horse Roach. The actor eventually chose to adapt a “less is more” style, having the character speak infrequently but giving his words weight and importance when he did talk. For that purpose, he gave the character a deep, rumbling speaking voice inspired by Doug Cockle, the voice actor who plays Geralt in all three Witcher video games. (Fans certainly thank him for this decision – Cavill’s interpretation of the Witcher is extremely easy on the ears.)
When asked which elements of Geralt were important to convey, Cavill proved himself much more talkative than the stoic Witcher. “I wanted to really show Geralt’s perceptiveness, his intelligence, his old age, his wisdom, because he’s an old man, essentially, as far as we’re concerned,” the actor explained. He continued by adding that the character’s quiet nature did not make him any less complex, especially given that Geralt, as a “mutant” Witcher enhanced by potions and experiments, has already lived several decades and possibly even longer by the time the viewer first meets him in Episode 1 of the Netflix series.
One behind-the-scenes secret which might surprise Witcher fans is how dedicated Cavill was to portraying Geralt as appropriately dirty, scuffed and beaten-down. He told Vanity Fair that he regularly argued with the costuming department, insisting that the dust they added to his costume was not nearly enough for a traveling monster hunter who lived life on the road. “So I’d go stand out in the rain. Sometimes I’d roll around in puddles. I would just try and get as much of the world on me, so this character looked like he had lived within it,” he clarified. Talk about dedication!
Cavill also took some time to talk about the two most iconic elements of Geralt’s appearance: his snow-white hair (the source of his in-universe nickname, “White Wolf”) and cat-like yellow eyes. While putting on the white wig was a difficult process which could take up to two hours, the actor actually had more trouble with the colored contacts. While filming in the Canary Islands, his eyes became scratched due to the contacts trapping volcanic dust underneath them during filming. According to Cavill, the injuries took three weeks to heal.
Generally, Cavill was satisfied with how Geralt was brought to life by the Netflix series’ creative team. He spoke positively about both Geralt’s character moments – in particular his interaction with the old, fading King Foltest in Episode 3 – and his fight scenes – especially the now-famous Blaviken fight scene in Episode 1, where the Witcher faces off against the bandit leader Renfri and her men.
“I wanted [Geralt] to look like a living weapon,” the actor explained. “He can still hold a conversation and try and save someone’s life while they’re trying to kill him.”
If his fondness for and dedication to the character didn’t already show through in his interview, Cavill admitted that he also has remained active in the Witcher fandom following the release of the show’s first season. He described his process of planning to return to the role as involving reading critical reviews and online forums such as Reddit. He values the opinions of fans very highly – in his own words, he wants to “make [them] feel comfortable that I do actually understand this character—and love this character just as much as they do.”
The first season of The Witcher is currently available to watch on Netflix. The second season is anticipated to resume filming again soon following necessary shutdowns and delays due to COVID-19. It is expected to release sometime in 2021.