Netflix’s The Witcher has found its female leads. The Hollywood Reporter revealed that Freya Allan and Anya Chalotra have been picked up as Ciri and Yennefer, thus completing the casting of the series’ primary cast. The main character, Geralt, will be played by Henry Cavill, and word is still out on whether his beard will be CGI.
Allan and Chalotra are relative newcomers to Hollywood. Allan has appeared in shorts before and one episode of Into The Badlands, and Chalotra is primarily known for her role as Jennifer Ashman in Wanderlust, but neither has experience with a production on this level. But it’s not just these two who are unknowns; Most of the revealed Witcher cast is comprised of relatively unknown actors, including, but not limited to, Jodhi May, Björn Hlynur Haraldsson, and MyAnna Buring.
Lauren Hissrich, the series showrunner, was subject to intense fan backlash over a casting call that specifically requested nonwhite actresses for Ciri. Ultimately, nothing came of this; Allan is white, after all. But after reading her comments on the issue, I have great respect for Hissrich’s ability to address these fan concerns with civility. You don’t have to be a genius to figure out what they were or the context of the remarks (it is 2018, after all), and if you sat on your keyboard you could probably replicate a few.
Nevertheless, Hissrich maintains her stance on the issue:
“One of the things I feel most strongly about is people being afraid that we’re going to strip out the cultural context of ‘The Witcher,’ to remove its Slavic roots, the very thing people in Poland are proud of. That couldn’t be further from the truth. What I’ve always wanted to do is take these Slavic stories and give them a global audience.”
Hissrich also states that the books are intended as the primary inspiration for the series, and that she wants to “pull back” from the “visual representation” that the video games have already established to give the Netflix adaptation its own unique look and feel. She notes that the series has a number of strong characters, both male and female, to round out the cast, and points out that “the journey of one man is never going to be very interesting.”
Perhaps a bold claim to make, but she’s not wrong. Netflix is here to make a story-driven, linear TV series, not a video game with branching paths and choices. The blandness of a protagonist will always be lost in a video game because the player will project their own personality onto the character. I haven’t read the books, but in the video games, Geralt is an incredibly boring protagonist. He’s super talented, uses two swords (because he’s just so cool), and does all this awesome magic and alchemy and stuff. Supposedly, he is shunned by society for being a witcher, but nobody seems to hate him all that much since he’s doing everyone’s quests. As such, Hissrich’s choice to cast a wide net for as many talented actors as possible is a smart move. An interesting story requires interesting characters, and Hissrich aims to look to the other characters in the source material for that magic spark.
This provides an enormous opportunity for the lucky few who get cast to show off their acting chops. Think of how many careers this series could create! It wasn’t too long ago that being cast in genre movies and series was a career killer or something for washed-up stars to do. But in the age of big pop culture, actors like Chris Evans and Chris Hemsworth can build entire careers out of a superhero franchise.
Hissrich’s co-producer on the series is Alik Sakharov, who has also worked on Game of Thrones, so I find it unlikely that this multiple strong characters direction will fall flat. If anything, I’m more interested in this series now than I was before.