MCM London: ‘The Witcher’ TV Panel With Creator Lauren Schmidt Hissrich & Ciri AKA Freya Allan

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29 Oct 19

MCM London: ‘The Witcher’ TV Panel With Creator Lauren Schmidt Hissrich & Ciri AKA Freya Allan

The last big panel we have for you from MCM London Comic-Con features Netflix’s highly tv anticipated adaptation of Andrzej Sapkowski’s The Witcher novel series, with series creator Lauren Schmidt Hissrich and Freya Allan, who stars as Ciri. Due to the fact they were showing clips throughout this panel, we were not allowed to film, but we did take a lot of notes, so here is what we discovered.

‘The Witcher’ is an epic tale of fate and family, set in a world where humans, elves, witchers, gnomes and monsters battle to survive and thrive, and where good and evil is not easily identified. Geralt of Rivia (Henry Cavill), a solitary monster hunter, struggles to find his place in a world where people often prove more wicked than beasts. But when destiny hurtles him toward the powerful sorceress Yennefer (Anya Chalotra), and Ciri (Freya Allan), a young princess with a dangerous secret, the three must learn to navigate the increasingly volatile Continent together.

What is a Witcher?

Lauren handled this question on the panel, although admitted she gives a less detailed explanation than Geralt himself, Henry Cavill, who was already a massive geek about The Witcher books and games before he even got the role. “We were laughing earlier because this question was asked at San Diego Comic-Con, and if you asked me what a Witcher is, a Witcher is a monster hunter,” she commented. “Thank God they asked Henry what a Witcher was because he gave about a five-minute diatribe about growing up and children and elixirs and mutagenic alchemy.” She continues “Geralt’s a monster hunter and monster… Witchers are created by mages in order to solve a monster problem on the continent. And what ended up happening is they’re actually now almost as hated as the monsters themselves. So they are a really marginalised piece of society.”

Lauren “has form” adapting books to screen

Unless you pay attention to the credits, you might not know the name Lauren Schmidt Hissrich, but she has served as exec producer on some great shows including ‘Daredevil’, ‘The Defenders’, and ‘The Umbrella Academy’, so she is no stranger to tackling projects with a passionate built-in fanbase. When asked if those experiences helped when taking on ‘The Witcher’ she responded “Well, Daredevil was my first show with Netflix, so that was exciting because they’re such great creative partners and really allow people like me to have a lot of creative freedom in what I do, which is exciting. The big thing that I learned on Daredevil and Defenders and Umbrella Academy is about adaptation, and about taking something that has a huge fan base, and that people really, really love in its existing form, and translating it to a new form. And the changes that have to be made, between a comic book and television, or between a beloved book series and television. With comic books, I think it’s great because there’s a real economy of language, so we have to kind of fill in the gaps. And with the Witcher, there are eight books. There’s not a lot of gaps that need to be filled. It’s a tonne of words. It’s like 4,000 pages of them. So really, we went straight to the books as our source material and it was really fun to adapt because there’s so much to do.”

Is the tv show based on the purely on the books, or will any elements from the games feature?

For many people, they came to ‘The Witcher’ via CD Projekt’s brilliant trilogy of video games rather than the original novels. Those games also make some changes from the source material. Given their popularity, it would be fair to ask if the tv series looked at incorporating any plots from the games into the tv show. The answer is no. “I’m a huge fan of the games,” said Lauren. “I will admit that I suck at video games. I’m better at drinking a beer and watching my friends play video games. I love them. They’re beautiful, and it was really inspiring for me to watch them at the beginning. That being said, the books provide plenty of source material. Netflix could keep us streaming for 20 years and we still wouldn’t be able to cover it. The simplest thing that I always go back to is that the video games are an adaptation of the books, so I don’t really want to do an adaptation of an adaptation of the source material. For us, the source material has everything that we need.”

Lauren goes on to say “There are eight books. Obviously, I’ve read all of them. That’s where I started. To me, it was really about the books start with a series of short stories called The Last Wish, which is my favourite book of the series. And I knew that that’s where I wanted to start because that’s really the foundation of the world. It’s when you get to understand what a Witcher is, the monsters that they’re hunting. Really the political climate of the continent.”

About those changes you mentioned…

If there is one thing that gets fans a little nervous, it is when a showrunner mentions they have made “changes” to a book they love. However, Lauren does explain the reasoning behind making tweaks to the story when developing things for tv.

“There was a big problem for me in The Last Wish, which is that Ciri, who Freya plays, and Yennefer, who Anya Chalotra plays, are not huge characters in it, and I really wanted them to be big characters in the series from the beginning,” she adds. “I didn’t want to wait until Season 3 to meet them. So one of the first changes that I made is I really elevated stories of Ciri and Yennefer, and I brought them more to the forefront. And what I think is great, and Freya can speak to this, is that you get to meet Ciri for instance, for who she is and her world and what it’s like to live as a princess in Cintra. And you get to meet her before she ever interacts with any of the other characters. And she’s a fully formed character by the time, then she starts changing again when she starts meeting the other characters.”

Although Ciri and Yennefer’s parts have been heightened for the tv drama, we will still be getting lots of Geralt. “Geralt’s on the screen a lot, don’t you worry,” commented Lauren. “The big thing for me was also making sure that Yennefer and Ciri get their due, and that we understand them so that when we put all the characters together, which eventually we will. That’s not really a spoiler… Maybe it is… When eventually we will, we’ll understand each of them individually so we can understand their dynamics together. There are definitely episodes that are more Geralt heavy. There are some episodes that are more Yennefer heavy, and there are episodes that are more Ciri heavy.”

Another change they made was the introduction of new characters who are not in the original text, such as Dara (Wilson Radjou-Pujalte), a young boy Ciri meets when she is escaping through the woods. “Dara is a very kind of crucial part of her story this season because he is the main source for her of a different perspective, a different viewpoint, and he’s vital at keeping her going,” explains Freya. “They really do become a team. And what’s so interesting is that they are from completely opposing backgrounds. They’ve been brought up in totally different ways, and yet they find a commonality in it. And it doesn’t become important anymore where they’ve originated from because they’re going through very similar emotions, loss. And so they really do become a good team.”

“Ciri’s journey this season is, she’s really on the run,” adds Lauren. “She’s bouncing from place to place and meeting a bunch of different characters, and we actually wrote, this is from episode 102. And there was a version written without Dara, but it basically was just Ciri wandering through a woods by herself. And it was not very interesting because she didn’t have anyone to talk to. And immediately it’s like, we needed to create a character who could, exactly as Freya said, mirror her experience in so many ways but also broaden her experience in others.”

The clips

As I mentioned at the top of the article, we were not allowed to record the panel due to them showing various clips of the show. Whilst I don’t want to give away too much, I will try to give a brief explanation of what we saw (it all looked fantastic by the way!)

The first clip was a fight sequence set at a wedding reception, featuring some impressive swordplay by Henry Cavill, alongside a “hedgehog man”… I’m sure he has a proper name, but Lauren referred to him as “hedgehog man”, so we shall too! She goes on to point out that it is Henry doing his own work in those scenes. “The great thing about scenes like that is that Henry does all of his own stunts. Sometimes to our dismay. We’re like, ‘Just let someone else do it. Don’t know hurt yourself.’ He does everything, so anytime you see Geralt on screen, it’s actually him. This was a fight that was shot over I think about five days total. And we were in a wedding sequence here, and of course, there’s a hedgehog man as there is in good wedding sequences. And this is Geralt’s sort of first run-in with destiny in the show, and it really changes his journey for the entire rest of the season.”

Clip number two featured Yennefer sat on a beach cradling a dead baby, reciting a beautiful monologue. It is a powerful and emotional scene, and very different from the sword fight we saw earlier. “You can have all of the action in the world, and there’s a lot of violence in the show,” comments Lauren. “There’s sex in the show. There’s blood, there are dead babies. This particular sequence had a banner across it for the longest time for visual effects saying ‘make baby dead’, because that was a live baby…” She does go on to joke “No actual babies were harmed in the making of Witcher.” She continues “It was just as important to us, if you take out all the monsters and the magic and the violence and sex and the sort of fantasy elements, there are some really great moments of pure drama and characters struggling with things that all people struggle with. And that’s the interesting part of fantasy, right? Which is normal people in abnormal situations or in abnormal places.”

Freya then adds “I think often a lot of films and TV are kind of getting slightly suffocated with CGI, and constant, constant action that you’re thinking, ‘Where’s actually the heart in this? Where are those moments of silence, and connection and stillness with a character?’ I think that’s a perfect example of one of the moments of the show where you get that.”

Clip three features Ciri meeting the aforementioned new character, Dara, for the first time whilst she is on the run in the woods. “It’s Ciri at both her most stubborn, because she has been a princess for a long time. She’s always gotten what she’s wanted,” explains Lauren. “She’s been feisty and brave because she’s been really protected. And then suddenly she’s out in the world, and you see her vacillating back and forth between being brave and strong, and be fucking terrified about what’s about to happen, and who’s after her.”

What does author Andrzej Sapkowski think?

According to Lauren, “He was super excited”. Although she does joke “Anyone who knows Andrzej, excitement for him means maybe you get a little half a smile or maybe you get a little half a smile.” She continues “He actually was wiping tears away at one point. He was so excited, I think to see his world come to life, but also to see how dedicated we were to bring it to life. It’s a really big show. It’s a lot of sets. It’s a lot of locations. We have cut no corners trying to bring it to life. And I think he was super excited.”

Having said that, Lauren does go on to point out that he hasn’t seen a completed episode yet. Not because they haven’t let him, but because he doesn’t want to. “He was telling me that he doesn’t want to see the ingredients of the soup. He just wants to taste the soup at the end,” she explains. “He has access to all the scripts I’ve pitched in the series. He gets dailies if he wants them. And he actually, as soon as he came and visited and saw that we were dedicated to his vision, he stepped back and wants to see the show with the rest of the world.”

As to when that will be, we still don’t have a premiere date for The Witcher on Netflix, but it will be arriving soon, so keep your eyes open for an announcement!