There are those who seek out adventure. But that comes naturally to Geralt of Rivia, a magically enhanced monster hunter-for-hire known as a witcher. Based on Andrzej Sapkowski’s popular book series The Witcher, the fictitious medieval tale that explores the destiny between protagonists Geralt and Princess Cirilla gained further fame as fantasy action role-playing video games.
In 2019, the story was brought to life via a live-action television adaptation on Netflix created by American producer and screenwriter Lauren Schmidt Hissrich. Henry Cavill, 38, who returns as the titular character in the second season, shares his affinity for The Witcher.
Esquire: What attracted you to the role of Geralt besides already having an interest in the medieval-fantasy genre and knowing The Witcher through the book and game adaptations?
Henry Cavill: I’d played the games extensively and enjoyed them enormously. But what really drew me to the character was Sapkowski’s writing—the way he’s written extraordinary characters that have so many layers and depth.[Geralt’s] a bit morbid at times. But he’s also a philosopher and intellectual; a white knight but also incredibly cynical. He tries to do the best thing but always ends up in terrible situations because of it. The cynicism comes from what he’s been through. Yet, he still continues to do what he thinks is the right thing. He’s also quite funny at times and witty as well. In that, there are wonderful character moments throughout the books with opportunities to dive into that character as honestly as possible. That has drawn me to portray the live-action version.
ESQ: How do you depict notable character nuances of Geralt from both the book and games to make him familiar with the audience? And did you inject bits of yourself into this live-action adaption?
Cavill: For me, it has to have a fine balance. Because this is very much Lauren [Schmidt Hissrich’s] version of the story. So, it’s about me trying to bring as much of Geralt that’s true to the books to fit into that story—that fine line of playing a character who is necessary for the plot and also trying to colour in as much of Sapkowski’s character of Geralt into dialogue and behaviours. And then, of course, the editing process can alter the characterisation too. But for me, it’s finding that balance between Hissrich’s version of the story and bringing as much of Sapkowski’s into that.
ESQ: The concept of destiny and fate makes recurring appearances like through the Law of Surprise and is even emphasised by Visenna (Geralt’s mother). Do you believe that it’ll happen in real life too?
Cavill: There’s always the potential for it to happen. For that to be realised, one has to work towards it. It won’t happen if I’m sitting on a sofa and not doing anything. But I am a bit of a romantic and I do like to believe in the idea of a state of destiny. I also think that it should be worked for as it won’t happen by itself.
ESQ: What did you learn from being Geralt after two seasons?
Cavill: For the first season, he didn’t do much talking; he wasn’t very vocal and verbal. Since this was the case, I thought, let’s try and make him not going to speak much [but] more of a watcher and listener instead. That’s my portrayal of his intellect and wisdom. He’s between 90 [and] 100 years old after all, so he’s not going to be hyper like a young man and jump into a conversation unnecessarily.
For the second season, I wanted to portray that a little more. I pushed for sounding more intellectual and as someone who’s actually got a plan and [an] opinion. Like a sense of wisdom. For me, I’ve been trying to convey that as much as I possibly can and create this paradigm character.
ESQ: Tell us about the dynamics of working with an expanded cast that was added for season two, particularly Geralt appearing with the witcher clan at his childhood home.
Cavill: I got some interactions with the witchers and others whom I’ve worked with previously. But there are a lot of new characters I would not be interacting with because the focus will also be on Cirilla and [sorcerer] Yennefer’s storyline too. With Geralt, it was about me trying to find those moments to assert the things that I loved in the book with the time that was allowed in Lauren’s version of the story. There are similarities to the book, but it’s loosely based on [Sapkowski’s] Blood of Elves. So, there’ll be story points and events that can be even surprising for fans of the book.
ESQ: You’ve dealt with both magic CGI battles and hands-on combat on the show. Which do you prefer?
Cavill: I really enjoy doing the sword fights. That was a lot of fun for me. I think the magic aspect is fun too. But there’s got to be a set of rules in place and it could be tricky to play around with magic. For now, I really love sword fights because of its wonderful storytelling potential. It could look absolutely fantastic if done right. Like with the Blaviken fight in season one that was arranged by stunt and fight coordinator Wolfgang Stegemann. This fantastic fight contains so much story although there’s hardly any dialogue. So, I really love doing films where we get to do a different way of storytelling so people get absorbed in a way that is beyond dialogue.
ESQ: What are some of Geralt's traits you identify with and why?
Cavill: One of Geralt’s traits that I identify with is that he always tries to do the right thing; his intentions are honest. That’s something I’ll definitely aim towards doing. But thankfully, I don’t experience the same outcome as Geralt because he always ends up in trouble whenever he does it. I don’t suffer from that same ‘curse’, fortunately.
The Witcher Season 2 premieres on 17 December through Netflix.