[EXCLUSIVE] Meet The Actresses Who Play Ciri And Yennefer On Netflix’s The Witcher
If somebody ever told you that adapted films or TV series are a far cry from the books, Netflix’s The Witcher is a total game-changer. We’re telling you! The story plot doesn’t go from A to B as a lot of twists and turns keep your curiosity burning.
Basically, you’ll be following Henry Cavill (who plays Geralt) running around the woods (sometimes shirtless) and killing monsters… a lot of them. But that’s not the only highlight, there are also two very important women in his life which we should take note of!
One’s a princess, Princess Ciri (Freya Allan), who can shake a room with her supernatural screams and the other’s a short-tempered powerful sorceress, Yennefer (Anya Chalotra). Imagine the interesting events that would unfold when their destinies are intertwined. Recently, we got a chance to sit down and chat with the 2 ladies. We spoke about female empowerment, how they got bitten by the acting bug and of course their characters!
Before we get into the TV series – The Witcher, can you give us a little background about yourselves and how you landed your roles in the Witcher?
Freya: So, I had always been in every school play growing up… like every school play. And then when I was 11, there was a touring ballet company doing an interpretation of Rapunzel. That was like my first ever audition that I did and I got in. I literally cried when it was over, so that was when I got the bug for it.
When I was 14, I didn’t tell my parents that I sent out emails and got an agent by myself. And then from there, I just went through auditions and made sure I work hard at every single opportunity that I get.
Anya: I started out in musical theatre, really. That was what my school offered and that was what I did. I was quite a shy kid actually and acting really helped with my confidence. I could be anyone and anything, and anything I feel confident enough to be or fail or do in life. That was how I got into acting. I’ve played the scarecrow, and Miss Havisham, all wonderful characters.
After deciding that acting was my thing, I did a year at LAMDA on the LAMDA foundation course and then three years at Guildhall. Two and a half years out of Guildhall until now, I’ve got the opportunity to learn for eight months on the job. It has been an amazing experience. It’s absolutely the dream.
A lot of fantasy fiction has been adapted to the big and small screen today. In your own words, what makes the Witcher stand out?
Freya: I think the fact that it’s not all the fantastical kind of elements that everyone adores, that allows you to totally escape into a completely different kind of world, environment, and headspace. There is this different kind of possibility to which it can relieve people in a kind of serious world that we’re in at the moment. A place with elves, magic and beautiful forests.
At the same time of having that is also a real sense of reality in it like loss, the importance of family, and suffering. It got all those things people can relate to and it also looks at hierarchy and what happens when people are merged together – people from different backgrounds, looking at a different perspective and it also traces a real sense of humanity. There are real humans within the world within such an unreal world. People are multi-dimensional – it’s not clear who’s good, who’s bad. One minute you might side with one person and then the next another. There’s a sense of our world within this world but also very different from our own.
Moving on to the characters, both of you play incredibly fearless, strong and resilient characters. So, how does it feel to be the face of these heroines in the age of women empowerment?
Freya: I think this is an incredible opportunity we’ve both been given to play such amazing roles. They’re so multi-dimensional, have such a great story to tell and great art. And definitely for playing Ciri, I got to explore a different way of showing kind of strength in the fact that you very much see her strength through how vulnerable she is and how she chooses to fight despite the horrific things she goes through.
I wouldn’t judge her if she couldn’t carry on but she does. I think that is very admirable and takes a lot of strength but also I think you get to see her strength through how gentle she is. She has to have a certain kindness to be able to put herself in other people’s shoes and be understanding despite the fact that they might have views that may be opposing to her own. And so it was great to play a character who is so strong but through that kind of way.
Anya: It is an absolute gift to play Yennefer. She has completely changed my life. She really has. I play her from the age of 14 to late 70s. I’m in my 20s. It is an incredible challenge and I relished it. But we didn’t shoot in consecutive orders so that was one of my biggest challenges. She is an incredibly strong character. We’ve got Angie to thank for that.
We’ve obviously based the series from the novels, and we created Yennefer’s back story from hints and glimpses in the books. And to just develop that, we learned in the series from where her power comes from and what her powers are and how strong they make her and how strong her insecurities make her. You know the insecurities she developed as a child. She had a tragic childhood and not much love. So that becomes her ultimate goal and her strength really. It’s a gift to have this opportunity to play this role.
Speaking of strong women, is that what you imagine them to be? If not, what is your idea of a strong woman?
Freya: For me, the idea of a strong woman is someone who sees their choice, their voice as a power and they utilise those things. But a woman can be strong in so many ways and there is definitely no one fixed definition of it.
Anya: I completely agree with Freya. I think that the women of The Witcher have strong attributes and that’s something that we focus on. There are many women that I look up to in my life and that’s what I drew force for Yennefer. But there are so many things which make women… people strong. The way they get up when they fall and the choices they make. I think that for me is what makes people strong.
When preparing for your roles, were there any particular routines or rituals you would do before shooting to get into character?
Freya: I think the main thing I would do is to listen to music and a playlist especially for setting the mood. Other than that, getting into the costume and hair and make-up really allows me to kind of get into character.
Anya: For me, make-up helps me get into the headspace. I had a back piece for the hunch back and a mouth guard for the jaw abnormality. That gave me everything. With that physicality and deformity, I was looking at the floor more and self-conscious. I felt inferior. It was all those things I was given that aided more performance.
Because of its books and games that were so well-received, The TV series garnered quite a lot of attention even before it was out. Do you feel the pressure to live up to the fans’ expectations?
Anya: Yeah, I think if you choose to focus on that then there’s a huge pressure because there are so many fans and expectations towards the show and playing such iconic characters. But there’s also so much positivity out there and if you focus on that it will support you. You have to make the choice to focus on that and I did. That being said, as an actor, you do have your wobbles. You embrace them and you learn from them.
Freya: Obviously, there are people that have already invested in these characters and have their own image of them in their mind. But I think you know, all we can do as actors is try as hard as possible to give the best interpretation that we can. And that I feel is what we’ve all done. So, that kind of makes any kind of pressure irrelevant ’cause we’ve already done everything we can.
Playing such iconic characters would come with people saying things and all that. But do you think it has toughened you up as a person?
Freya: God, I think being in the industry does. Everything you say in the media is… I don’t know. Actually, I think you’re a politician in a way… Being in front of the camera all the time toughens you up. You know being on social media does that as well.
The Witcher has been renewed for a second season, how does it feel to play Yennefer and Ciri again? And what sort of arts would you like to explore with your characters?
Anya: I’m so excited that we have been greenlit for season 2. There’s so much more of the story to tell! For Yennefer, she hasn’t interacted with so many characters and one of her main relationships is with Ciri. Yeah, I’m very excited to meet her. I’m very very excited. There’s so much more to come.
Freya: Oh my god! I’m so excited. Can’t tell you how excited I am. Just because I’m gonna get to show the kind of Ciri a lot of people fall in love with and also get to look at relationships which I’m so excited to explore. I did a lot of filming in season one on my own. I think it would be nice to have the consistency of acting around people instead of me running through the woods on my own. I’m definitely very excited.