A young Henry Cavill intended to serve in the British Royal Marines before the acting bug sent him in a radically different direction. Now, instead of living the military life, Cavill scratches that itch in the screen stories he brings to life. And The Witcher season 2, which brings Geralt and Ciri back into the fold of the remaining Witchers at the Kaer Morhen stronghold, may be the closest he’s come to reflecting that camaraderie and discipline.
“This warrior brotherhood, which lives in the mountains and is misunderstood, both deliberately and accidentally, has gone through things that people don’t recognize or understand,” Cavill tells Polygon. “I have the very good fortune of knowing people who have done extraordinary things in the armed forces. And the warrior brotherhood that I see represented in those people, you realize how soulful these individuals are, and the bond that they have with one another. I was very keen on joining the armed forces when I was younger, and had acting not got me first and I would have joined the armed forces. The opportunity to play a Witcher was similar, in a sense, this very tightly knit warrior brotherhood, with an added element of intense sorrow.”
Cavill is no stranger to Andrzej Sapkowski’s books, and his investment in the character of Geralt has led him to take more hands-on role of the character’s progression throughout the series. When the production of season 2 went on hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020, Cavill asked showrunner Lauren Schmidt Hissrich to look over the scripts and find ways externalize more of Geralt’s feelings and observations in order to make him a more active participant. And when they were on set shooting a pivotal scene involving Roach, Geralt’s horse, Cavill asked Hissrich if he could take a stab at rewriting his lines — eventually directly pulling from Sapkowski’s text.
But one thing that Hissrich wanted in season 2, and that Cavill was dying to see, was Geralt taking Ciri to Kaer Morhen. As Hissrich puts it, Sapkowski gave her the opportunity to do a classic meet-the-family story, and a chance for Ciri to see how Geralt became Geralt.
“The conversations that Henry and I had were were really great,” the writer says. “He was so passionate about showing male friendship in a new light. We talked a lot about the fact that it’s not that male friendship isn’t demonstrated a lot in pop culture. Certainly not this sort of ‘I’ll die for you’ brotherhood that I think he would compare a lot to his family brothers or the military. I didn’t have as much experience with that, so I really relied on his experiences. But we knew we wanted there to be a warmth there. And even though these these men were sort of warriors, and they’re super physical, they actually were quite bonded through their experiences and making sure that warmth comes across onscreen.”
Kim Bodnia, who joins The Witcher in season 2 as Vesemir, Geralt’s mentor, praises Hissrich for working with him to develop the character into a dimensional father figure. “I lived in the forest for 20 years, working, and I used a lot of that knowledge from being with myself alone in nature to ground him,” Bodnia says. “And we had a lot of beautiful talk with Henry, about nature and humanity. Through that we got a lot of trust. You have to understand that when you get together with Vesemir, you need to feel peacefulness. You need to have a chance to look inside yourself and get some answer and find out some answer from the question you probably have about your life.”
As for walking the Witcher walk and talking the Witcher talk, Bodnia looked to his costar. “I was definitely stealing from from Henry, come on! I really did. That’s not a secret. The way he’s talking, the way he’s modeling. So I thought, okay, that could be connected that he took that from his father. He did a nice voice!”
Cavill may be a beacon for The Witcher’s cast, but season 2 comes to life through the actions and playful mannerisms of his cohorts. The new season introduces Eskel (Basil Eidenbenz), Lambert (Paul Bullion), Coën (Yasen Atour), Gwain (Jota Castellano), Everard (Nathanial Jacobs), and Merek (Chuey Okoye), who all challenge Ciri’s perception of Geralt, and perhaps Geralt’s own understanding of the Witcher order. For Cavill, the Witchers’ very existence in the cosmos shakes him not only as an actor, but as a fan of the work.
“They’re a dying breed. There are no more coming and all it takes is the the attack of a monster and then they’re one down and they’re their numbers are finite. And so there’s that wonderful blend there, which excited me about the Witchers. It’s the reason why Blood of Elves was my favorite book [...] My favorite moment is when Ciri sees these Witchers for the first time and they are horrifying monsters to her.
“Then she has a moment of perspective shift. And instead of seeing monsters, she sees these individuals who are looking at her with concern, and whatever their questions in their mind’s eye, they’re probably something along the lines of, ‘Hey, why has girl brought a child here?’ This isn’t this is not a place for a child, and especially not a princess or a female child because there haven’t been any female children in care more than ever. There had never been a female Witcher. That was my favorite scene from the books and I just love that sense of a place that has long since died, but still has these revenants living there, these soulful, emotional, powerful characters.”