The Witcher Showrunner on Everyday Monsters and Magic
The Witcher is just days from being released, but it’s already got fans of the books and video games prepped and ready to download the series the moment it drops. On December 20, the world will finally be introduced to Geralt of Rivia in Netflix’s TV show adaptation of the popular fantasy series by Andrzej Sapkowski. And the person responsible for making this happen is The Witcher’s executive producer and showrunner, Lauren Schmidt Hissrich.
A writer on the political drama The West Wing and a producer for Netflix’s The Umbrella Academy, Hissrich has even more critically acclaimed series under her belt, but it's only with The Witcher that she has stepped up for the first time as the showrunner. And on her first try, The Witcher has already been picked up for a second season despite not being released yet, and Hissrich has already mapped out stories for seven seasons.
The Witcher is set to be the next big fantasy show, this time with magic and monsters galore. Esquire Philippines had a chance to chat with Hissrich on the show’s direction when the producer dropped by Manila for a fan visit with Henry Cavill. Here’s what she had to say on high fantasy, racial diversity, and possibly introducing Asian cast members in the future.
ESQUIRE PHILIPPINES: You originally planned to tell the story through Ciri’s perspective. Why was it important for you to expand that from just one POV?
LAUREN SCHMIDT HISSRICH: So you know, originally I wanted to make sure that we were telling the stories of Geralt of course—the show is called The Witcher and Geralt is the Witcher. But Yennefer and Ciri were important to me as well because it really is the story of a whole family and we need to make sure that we’re understanding all of those people to fill up that family.
I’d had an idea originally of starting the entire series with The Lady of the Lake, which is the next to last book in the saga [by Andrzej Sapkowski] and telling that sort of in flashback through Ciri, but what I realized really quickly is that, if I was doing that, then the stuff that happened before Ciri was alive, I’m not going to be able to explore that in the right way.
So I scrapped that idea pretty quickly and moved on to what is now currently in the show, which is starting with the collection of short stories, The Last Wish, which really are Geralt’s adventures and setting up the entire foundation of The Witcher world. What we’ve done though is just bring Yennefer and Ciri’s stories up a little bit.
ESQ: The Witcher tackles a lot of things from monsters to magic and family, like you mentioned. How can you relate this high fantasy show to the current times and the audience?
LSH: Well that’s the thing about fantasy. A lot of people see fantasy as escapism, but I think it’s kind of the opposite. I think fantasy is of course, a fantastical environment, that’s the idea. There are monsters and magic and things we don’t see in our everyday life. But we, as an audience, need to be able to relate to them so that’s where I go back to character, really—if I can have these three people walking through this world where they all feel lonely and alone, they don’t belong any place, then start bringing them together and have them start to choose each other and come together as a family.
That’s something the audience can relate to, no matter where they’re from, no matter their upbringing. And to me, that’s sort of the key to fantasy, is making sure the audience anywhere can tune in and say I can see myself in that show.
ESQ: Fantasy is also notorious for its predominantly white characters. Was it a conscious effort to try to break that mold?
LSH: Well I think what’s weird is that if we’re talking about fantasy reflecting our real world, our real world is not all one color, we’re not all walking in the same place with the same experience. We don’t all sound the same. We have different accents, we have different skin colors. We have different ways of dealing with situations, so to believe that the Continent of The Witcher is somehow small and narrow and everyone looks the same and acts the same and sounds the same—it’s not actually serving the fantasy element.
So yes, it was very much a conscious decision. In terms of casting though, we also wanted to make sure we were getting the best people for the roles. It’s why we chose to do worldwide casting calls for the main characters. It’s because no one should be held from being Geralt. If you have the soul of Geralt and the spirit of Geralt, then that’s what we’re looking for. More than a specific hair color or eye color or skin color.
ESQ: Is it possible that there will be Asian cast members in the next or future seasons?
LSH: Absolutely. I mean again, I think, especially as we get deeper into the stories, season one covers a lot of years but it’s only taking place in a couple of cities throughout the continent. As the series continues, we’re going to more and more cities, we’re finding different places we’ve never been. From the very beginning, we’ve had a credo of casting anyone, and I think we’ll just continue that and I think our world is going to get bigger and bigger and bigger.