Henry spoke with Vanity Fair and discussed the eye damage, multiple wigs, and impromptu mud baths behind the hit series, The Witcher!
Vanity Fair: When you take on roles like Superman or Geralt, which have an existing fandom, is your approach different than it would be while playing a role that doesn’t come with that burden of expectation?
Henry Cavill: I suppose it is. I approach every role in the same way, with 100% effort and dedication. But with an IP attached, more often than not, I am already a fan of that IP if I’m playing the character. For me, there’s a heavy responsibility to do the character as much justice as possible from the source material.
When you approach a role from the perspective of both a performer and a fan, do you give more input? Do you feel more ownership over what a character like Geralt might or might not do?
I do think it carries more weight if an actor is well-versed in the lore. And it’s certainly beneficial to my performance if I know the world. There was collaboration in the process. I would make notes because the schedule was grueling, to say the least. I would often do my work in my two hours of hair and makeup every morning. When it came to getting to set, I’d have a few suggestions about dropping lines that felt they were too obvious. When it comes to book Geralt, it tended to be a bit more complex and nuanced than that.
Ultimately, [this was] Lauren’s vision and it was my place to represent Geralt, my character, as accurately to the books as I possibly could. I would email her every now and again, when a new script came through and she would always be receptive of the emails. [But] it was entirely up to her whether she chose to apply the thoughts in [them].
What were the challenges in translating a character like Geralt, who has a running inner monologue readers can follow along with, to the screen?
In the books, he has a very grim exterior and everything about him is potentially unlikable. When you couple that with the book’s inner monologue, you forgive him and you have an understanding for who this character is, because he has these long complex conversations with kings and queens. And he can have those same conversations with thieves and villains. And you really get an idea of the level of the philosophical nature of this character.
Lauren’s vision was more of an ensemble piece than the first Witcher books. It’s driven a lot more by the characters of Yennefer and Cirilla. So instead, I decided that less was more. I wanted to really show Geralt’s perceptiveness, his intelligence, his old age, his wisdom, because he’s an old man, essentially, as far as we’re concerned. That, for me, was hopefully going to give the audience—it’s almost like they’re trying to crack a cipher when it comes to Geralt. So when he does say something, it means something. He’s not shouting from the rooftops, and yet he is as large as a house of a character.
How much of that comes through in the actual voice that you developed for him, which is very different from your natural speaking voice?
The voice work really was very much in line with the idea of the character saying little. With Joey [Batey], who plays an amazing foil for Geralt in Jaskier, it’s nonstop jibber jabber. A lot of it’s very funny. I took rather obvious inspiration from Doug Cockle, who voices Geralt in the games. He has a slightly more whisper tone than mine. And it’s an American accent. But mine, I tried to make it as different as possible, so I’m not just copying him. A lot of my inspiration came from there, but I didn’t work with any voice coaches. I just found it as I went along.
With the look of Geralt, you could have gone a couple of ways. If you wanted to distinguish him entirely from the video game version, you might have chosen a different wig.
The wig was a long, long journey. Jacqui Rathore, who was in charge of the wig for me, she was having nightmares about that wig. She was taking it home every night—I think she had three of them—she was taking them home every night, working on them more and more and more. But by the end of the show, by episode one reshoots, fortunately, the wig was just on point. For me, for the character, it was important to have that white wig. It’s gray more than anything else now, because white on camera, in those lights, ends up shining like the moon and it looked, frankly, ridiculous.
Read the full interview at Vanity Fair!