INTERVIEW: Lauren Hissrich Talks The Witcher Season 1

witcher interview lauren hissrich

The Witcher is Netflix’s portal into the high-concept fantasy novel game, as its based on the books by Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski. The first season drops on the streaming platform in just two days, on December 20th. As said novels have already been adapted into a popular series of video games, fans worldwide have a very specific set of expectations. After the first concept photos and trailers dropped, some of them expressed dismay at the casting choices for Ciri and Yennefer especially, simply because they weren’t exactly like the book or game.

But showrunner Lauren Hissrich has her own specific vision in mind for The Witcher, and it is born from a love of novels as well as a mind to expand the perspective beyond simply Geralt of Rivia. With An Accent had the chance to sit down with the writer, who has previously worked on The Umbrella Academy and Daredevil, to chat about her plans for the show and the shape of its first season.

What was it that inspired you to make Ciri and Jennifer’s perspectives as important as Geralt’s?

Lauren Hissrich: Yeah, to me it was really important. What I’ve always said is that this story is one of a broken family. It is three people who are alone in the world, on their own. They’re basically all orphans living on the margins of society, and they are determined that they don’t need anyone. And, of course, they do. They need each other and perhaps are even destined to be together. When you break down the story that way, taking out all the monsters and the magic and all of the high fantasy elements that will be put back in later, you need to know who all three people are. You need to understand them from the ground up before they meet. If not, you’re not telling a really full story here; you’re just telling a story of one character and two people who meet him.

So, it was one of the major changes that I made from the books, but it’s probably the thing I feel most strongly about. Because we get to know Yennefer and Ciri, where they came from, who they are, who their families are, what they want, where they’re going, what baggage they’re trying to get rid – of all of those things. You get to know them first, then you start intersecting them with one another, and you get to see who this person is in their bones. And then here’s how they start to change each other when they interact and bounce off each other. Here’s how they make each other better; here’s how they bring out the worst. And that was so important to me in terms of telling the story. I just think it’s the only way to understand who this family is.

We hear a lot about the destined bond between Geralt and Ciri. On the other hand, Jennifer and Geralt are immediately drawn to each other when they meet. What is it that you think brings them together?

Lauren Hissrich: That’s a great question. I think that they are both people who are convinced that they need no one. What I love about Geralt and Yennefer’s dynamic is that they’re both kind of broken inside, and they’re both ignoring their pasts. They both come from really troubled childhoods, as victims of their parents, and were sent into institutions – Aretuza for Yennefer and Kaer Morhen Witcher School for Geralt. Things are taken from them there, and things are given to them, then they’re sent back out into the world saying, “You’re the most powerful people that we have.” But power doesn’t mean anything if you can’t interrelate with someone.

One of my favorite things about exploring the Yennefer character is that it’s really about her learning what she wants and what she needs to feel fulfilled. She’s got a big gaping hole inside her, and she’s trying to fill it with various things; she’s trying to fill it with magic and trying to fill it with sex. None of those things are working. And this is a series long journey that she’ll be on, it’s not just season one.

So, I think that their woundedness is what attracts them to each other. Also, they’re both very attractive. But it really is that they both sense a woundedness in the other that they’re both trying to cover up with bravado. And to me, that’s when sparks fly.

While the three leads are meant to be family, each character also discovers their own individual found families: Geralt and Jaskier, Ciri and Dara, and Yennefer and Tissaia’s strange mother-daughter bond. What do they each gain from these relationships?

Lauren Hissrich: Oh, that’s a great question too. The Tissaia thing, because you brought it up, is something that we really found organically when writing the script. It is not what I set out to write when I was writing. If you would have asked me the beginning of the season, what is the most important relationship in this season for her, I would have said Geralt because it’s the one that changes the direction that she’s moving in. What I realized as we went along, though, is that the most important relationship to her this season is Tissaia. And what she is seeking is maternal approval and maternal love, and someone saying, “You are enough.” That’s what we’re kind of driving her toward this season, and what I liked is taking that away from a sexual relationship for a woman. She’s not looking for the man to step in and say, “You are enough.” It’s actually the person whom she can consider her mother that’s going to say that to her.

Geralt and Ciri are really interesting because, as you pointed out, Ciri is driving toward Geralt. she is looking to find Geralt, but Geralt is actively running away from Ciri. “I’m not going to be burdened by a child.”  Funny enough, Geralt and Jaskier have a similar relationship. People always ask me about them, and I like to say that they are best friends except Geralt won’t admit it. They really do need each other. Jaskier is a bard, obviously, he’s an artist. He’s open about his feelings and his emotions. And one of my favorite lines in the entire series is when he’s talking about calling himself a friend to Geralt. And he’s like, “You’re right, let’s not call it that. Let’s wait another decade.” Because Geralt is determined that he doesn’t really need someone, but what we find is that he’s willing to go a really far distance to make sure that Jaskier’s okay.

How involved were you in the casting, and what were you looking for when choosing the right actors?

Lauren Hissrich: I was very involved in casting. It’s a really sort of intangible quality that you’re looking for, which makes casting very difficult. Because what you’re looking for someone to really have the soul and the spirit of the character. There’s a lot said on the internet about the color of people’s hair, the color of people’s eyes, and the color of people’s skin. Like, “This person doesn’t match exactly what I imagined in my head.”

These are based on books; we have some physical descriptions, and we have characters that have no physical descriptions. So, we kind of did our best. And there are certain things we want to honor: the color Geralt’s eyes and hair. He’s called the White Wolf, so that’s pretty important. That being said, what you want when you meet actors is to believe that they are that character.

Meeting Anya as Yennefer was a scene where she was eating an apple that she realized was rotten, which we ended up cutting from the show. It was the first time that she had read it – those weren’t the normal signs that we put out for actors – and she took a huge bite of this apple. And then she spit it all over the floor in the casting room as she realized it was rotten. Then she finished the scene, and she went, “Sorry!” And she got down on the floor and was picking up all the chewed up pieces of apple. That’s so Anya, yet when you see her on screen, she is the fiercest and most powerful yet still vulnerable Yennefer. I’m amazed by what she does in character.

Having not played the games or read the Witcher books beforehand, I was personally amazed by the casting. But when I started reading threads online, I found plenty of fans unhappy with physical details, as you mentioned. How do you deal with backlash from the fanbase before they’ve even seen the final product?

Lauren Hissrich: Well, I think that’s an interesting question. What I have to sort of step back and say is not that I know better, but that this is my interpretation. They’re welcome to their own interpretation, and I want them to have their own, as long as they don’t expect my brain to exactly match theirs. Because there are millions of fans of this property already, and I can’t get in all their brains. What I have to do is try to capture the essence of the books. That’s really what it comes down to: why did Sapkowski write them, what was he thinking about when he created these characters, and what’s the best way to adapt that to the screen?

But I actually love being online and interacting with fans, even those that disagree with me. It’s one of the things that I said from the very beginning, which is that I’m going to make myself available. At one point I’d stepped back, because I was reminded that I had a finale to write, which I wasn’t writing because I was too busy playing around online. But it’s been a really great process, and I think what people have learned is that I love the material as much as they do. So, as long as they trust me to bring that love to the screen, then there’s no losing.

Is there any storyline from the books or like moment from the games that hasn’t been adapted yet and that you can’t wait to get to?

Lauren Hissrich: Oh, god, yes. In Season Two, you’ll see several of them. There are a lot of things that, when you’re trying to flesh out eight episodes and looking at these 3000 pages of material and saying, “Where do we start?” There’s so much that you can’t do.

What we’re doing basically is playing around with time a little bit. There’s things that aren’t in season one that I wish could have been, but we’ll be able to see those in season two.

The Witcher arrives December 20th on Netflix. Check back then for a more spoilery interview with showrunner Lauren Hissrich and the actresses from the cast.