Reporting bright and early from sunny California in November, I had the opportunity to sit down with the brilliant cast and crew of Netflix’s upcoming spin-off, The Witcher: Blood Origin — who checked in to the virtual junket live from the UK — to discuss all things new within the world of the hit series and just what it takes to follow up to a show as massive as the original seasons of The Witcher.
In attendance were Executive Producers Declan de Barra & Lauren Hissrich, actors/actresses Minnie Driver, Sophia Brown, Laurence O’Fuarain, Zach Wyatt, Lizzie Annis, Mirren Mack, Huw Novelli, and Francesca Mills talking about their experiences on set and what to expect from the upcoming season. When asked on how they decided on the Blood Origin story line being the follow-up to The Witcher, showrunner Hissrich said that Andrzej Sapkowski’s sparse mentions of The Conjunction of the Spheres inspired the move.
“The arrival of monsters, the arrival of Humans, the downfall of the Elves — it’s like ‘Okay, we need to know more about that.’” EP de Barra related that the Elves’ struggles were what resonated with him: “The Elves as the broken species who are downtrodden and colonized, and they’re dealing with post-colonization and they’re barely able to function and they’re dying off… And how did they get there? How did the Conjunction of the Spheres play into that? And what was that culture beforehand?”
“We tend to mythologize our past a lot and elevate things, but nothing is sweet. Nothing is absolutely perfect,” de Barra said of the lore and how it relates to our own world and history. On the decision to cast veteran actress Michelle Yeoh as Scian, de Barra explained that the character was fleshed out with Yeoh in mind for the part. “’You know who would Scian be like? She’d be like Michelle Yeoh from Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon as an Elf.’ Yeah, let’s write that! Cut to I’m on the phone with Michelle Yeoh going ‘Would you please do our Elf show?’ ‘I play an Elf? Yes.’” He went on to praise her on set skill as a hard-working actress and her dedication on getting the voices right alongside the rest of the cast.
He also revealed that Sophia Brown (who portrays the warrior Éile) nailed her singing performance in one take in a particular cave scene a few episodes in, despite it being her first time singing on camera. On her relationship to The Witcher, Sophia Brown mentioned she was an avid watcher of the show before audition for the role as Éile, while Laurence O’Fuarain explained that he discovered the books as a result of the Netflix series, starting with the Blood of Elves entry. “One of the stand out things about the show was the stuntwork,” O’Fuarain said. “I think it was 10 auditions… just to see if I had the stamina for it. And then we got brought over two months before the shoot and put through a boot camp with the stunt team, which was invaluable, because we really had to work on ourselves for the stamina to go through the show.”
“It built the foundation for our characters,” Brown emphasized, “I think they were really able to comb through the texts… accentuating our warrior movement, they needed to go hand in hand, so it gave us the time to do that.” Touching on her character Seanchai, Minnie Driver expounded on writer Declan de Barra’s clarity on who she was and her backstory and history. “She’s a shape-shifting, timeless Elf, who can move between worlds and time… it’s a great jumping off point. Plus in Blood Origin she’s the narrator of this new story that heralds the prototype of The Witcher.” Prior to the role, Diver explained that she hadn’t immersed herself in this particular world, but was happy to note: “But I have now!”
When I asked what it means to her to be a part of such a diverse cast and to move the needle forward with strong female characters? “I’ve been waiting. It’s been ‘tick-tock.’” Driver said, pretending to check her wristwatch. “For everything that you’re seeing, it’s what I’d hope film-making can represent, because it’s brilliant. It’s great. It’s time.” On her cast mate Sophia Brown and her performance, she continued “[Éile] is such an amazingly strong character and she [Brown] is such a beautiful actress — not just physically — but who she is and how deep she runs. It’s really cool. And I also love the idea that we’re living in a world, here in The Witcher, where you’re celebrated for your difference and also punished for your difference. There’s a weird equality in The Witcher universe about the
‘otherness.’ Sometimes it’s accepted and sometimes it isn’t.”
Mirren Mack (Merwyn) praised the on-set dynamics between herself and co-stars Lenny Henry (Balor) and Jacob Collins-Levy (Eredin), stating “I have such love and admiration for the both of them. It was great and it was so fun… There was so much singing and laughing and joking — but that’s across the board with the cast, a real warmth was there. It was a really special time!” Zach Wyatt found commonality with his character Syndril’s motivations. “I think he’s quite determined to right the things that he’s wronged, but also to better himself and to push himself.”
“It’s genuinely such a privilege and an honor — as a disabled actress as well — it’s been so special to be a part of a world and universe in which anything and anyone feels possible and the power that comes with difference is celebrated and uplifted,” Lizzie Annis (Zacaré) concluded, “And I think what this show really shows is… what powerful things can be achieved when all different kinds of people come together and celebrate that difference.”
“I think we all want to be a badass at some point in our lives, and then a character like Meldof comes along and I’m like ‘This is my chance!’” Francesca Mills beamed about taking on the role of Blood Origin’s peppy but fearsome Dwarf. “And the heart. She’s has a lot of heart.”
“I think when you hear a name like ‘Brother Death’ you expect it to be one thing and one thing only… it’d be very easy to paint by numbers with him, but he has this heart. This eternal love for characters like Zacaré, which is a real pleasure to play, because you don’t often get to do that with a character such as Brother Death,” Huw Novelli related.
“Fantasy as a genre is something that everybody should feel welcome and should feel like… something they are a part of. If we can do even a small little bit of that then I will feel extremely proud to be part of that,” Novelli stated in his closing thoughts on hopes for the series. “Fantasy should be a safe place for people and a place they can feel like they can exist.”
The series will premiere on Netflix on December 25.