TV records were different pre-pandemic. Before everybody was forced to stay home and binge they meant more. Back in ye olde 2019, The Witcher smashed them, becoming the most streamed series of all time as 76 million households fell under its spell in the first four weeks after its release.
Based on the book series by Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski, which also inspired epic, immersive, lockdown-salving video games, the much-anticipated second series in the TV adaptation launches this week.
Set on the Continent, where humans, elves, dwarves and a bucketload of monsters live, witchers are a breed of quest-going warriors for hire, using special powers to overcome the plethora of foes out there. The Witcher of the title is silver-haired, bath-loving Geralt, played by super hunk Henry Cavill, who this series teams up with Ciri, or Princess Cirilla of Cintra, to give her full title.
We caught up with the 20-year-old Freya Allan, who plays the wannabe Witcher…
The Big Issue: How are you doing today?
Freya Allan: I’m good. Thanks. How are you?
I was at the dentist but it could have been worse.
Most people are just like, ‘yeah, good’.
What did people do before dentists existed?
I don’t think they did anything. I think it was a fashion, it was a good thing to have shit teeth because it meant that you had lots of money and could afford sugar. So it was trendy to have awful teeth.
And the worst part is I have to go back to see them. Anyway,enough about the drama in my life, what’s Ciri been up to since we last saw her?
Well, we pick up pretty soon after season one. She might not have gone to the dentist, but she’s got eyebrows now, so that’s something.
Now she’s with Geralt. She’s carrying everything she experienced in season one with her, which is a big weight on her shoulders. She is struggling to open up fully to Geralt because she’s got a lot of secrets, in terms of the power she possesses. She doesn’t understand it and it’s very scary.
A young woman discovering powers she’s not able to control… is that a metaphor for something?
I think we all have those things within us and those that we’re afraid of revealing or uncovering. I don’t think there’s any particular time when you come into yourself. We’re consciously growing as humans. Maybe it’s representative of that, having those fears within us.
So even though Ciri is dealing with magical powers and fighting monsters, is she still very relatable?
I think so. Definitely in season one, in terms of the fact I’d just finished my GCSE exams. I was very consumed in my school. I had such a determination, which I don’t regret. I wasn’t interested in going out partying like some of my friends were. I was just so dedicated and focused on wanting to become an actor. Then suddenly I got this big role, which involved me having to move country for eight months.
There were some parallels to what Ciri went through. She had a protected, secure homely environment – gone within a night. She’s thrown into the world, albeit I didn’t have to quite go through the same torment. I was filming The Witcher, she was seeing people die around her left, right and centre. So it was a slightly different situation.
‘I think we all have those things within us that we’re afraid of revealing or uncovering. We’re consciously growing as humans’
Destiny is a big theme in the series, is that something you believe in?
No, I don’t believe in destiny but I definitely believe that everything you experience in life, you’re going to get something from it. Even if you have a bad experience, it’s going to give you say greater empathy for others. There’s cause and effect and always something to gain from that.
Why does Ciri want to become a Witcher herself?
She’s got this power she possesses which she’s afraid of. So I think, for her, fighting and training and the idea of becoming a Witcher is escapism from that. The more she gets involved with it, the more she realises she really has a drive to do this.
Going through training, did you pick up any skills useful for real life?
When I go to a club with my mates, I always bring my sword!
Were you able to complete the obstacle course by yourself?
It had to be broken into chunks because of setting up the wires. But I did complete the mission. Unfortunately, I couldn’t just do it all in one go. I would have loved to have done that.
They should build a real one for a Witcher themed attraction.
That would be such a good idea. It did feel like a mini Go Ape. I loved that as a kid. That could be a great thing. Like The Making of Harry Potter but with an obstacle course that people can do.
In series two you’re hanging around with Geralt more. What kind of relationship does Ciri have with him?
Ultimately, it is a father-daughter relationship. Past the middle of this season and onwards it feels more like that. But because of that magical element that connects them, it is almost something slightly different at the same time.
You didn’t work with Henry Cavill closely on the first season but a lot of the second depends on the chemistry you have. How did you know you’d have any?
I didn’t. I was just hoping I didn’t get there and was like, God this guy’s a bloody arse. But luckily, that didn’t happen. As filming went on, we built trust between one another. It felt like our characters in real life, in a way. I weirdly felt protected by him, which was actually a really comforting feeling to have. It was strange how our characters mirror how it felt on set.
How do you enjoy fighting monsters?
Most of the time when we’re on set, someone will come over and show us on an iPad what the monster should look like. But sometimes they end up changing that idea. For example, episode three, there was a bit where I do a bit of sword fighting. Well, no. Basically I just duck out of the way of the creature. They told me where its arms were going to go.
Then I watched it back and the creature didn’t have those arms any more. Just me ducking from nothing. But yeah, they show us the image and then you’re staring at a tennis ball imagining that it’s that creature.
It’s like going back to childhood. When I was a kid, I was queen of make believe. I would tell my friends that they weren’t allowed to say pretend. Everything’s real. So I feel like it’s just like me going back to my six-year-old self, imagining the creatures.
If Witchers existed in the real world, what problems would you send them on a quest to fix?
I think Ciri could be prime minister. She’d sort stuff out. In fact I think she’d crack under the pressure.
Maybe she could grow into prime minister material.
Yeah, maybe I’ll take her on that character journey in season three. People will ask, what was your prep? And I’ll say I just analysed past prime ministers and their many mistakes.
Season two of The Witcher premieres on Netflix on December 17
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