Sure, saving the Earth from annihilation time and again as Superman in DC Extended Universe movies like Man of Steel and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is all fine and dandy. But, as it turns out, what Henry Cavill really wanted to do all this time was ride a flying horse through the sky, buddy up with a human-hedgehog sidekick, and hack the limbs off of knights in an adaptation of the quasi-medieval role-playing video game, The Witcher. “I’m a gamer,” Cavill explained in a jam-packed Hall H panel at San Diego Comic-Con on Thursday. “I was very very passionate about the games. I thought, ‘I really hope they make this into a TV show or movie.’”
In 2017, fate intervened to make his wish come true. Netflix announced it had hired Lauren Schmidt Hissrich, showrunner of Netflix’s popular Daredevil series, to write and produce a limited series based not on the popular Witcher trilogy of video games, but on The Witcher book series by Polish fantasy author Andrzej Sapkowski. From there, the chiseled British actor became uncharacteristically aggressive in pursuit of the role of Geralt of Rivia — a kind of supernatural monster hitman. He’s a character who is taken in from the streets as a young boy by a mysterious group known as the Witchers and trained to “inhuman levels of agility and endurance and subjected to alchemical trials,” according to Cavill.
“They become mutants,” he continued. “Most don’t survive. After that training in the art of monster hunting, that is their one and sole purpose in the world. They’re often rejected by people and not supposed to have emotions.”
First, he repeatedly badgered his agents to land him a meeting with Schmidt Hissrich to lobby for the part. Problem was, she hadn’t yet begun writing the script and didn’t see the point of getting together for a face to face. But after a while, Cavill’s tenacity wore her down. “He was really annoying,” the writer-producer confirmed. “I finally said, ‘I will meet with you. The show is not green-lit. There is nothing.’ I said, ‘Thank you. Now I have to go write the show.’”
Over the following months, Schmidt Hissrich pulled the script into workable shape and read a total of 206 other actors for the part of Geralt. But Cavill’s British baritone was never far from mind for the character, she said, and as she wrote it became clearer and clearer he was the guy for the job. Meanwhile, the erstwhile Man of Steel continued to pester his agent about getting him the role. “It was something I wasn’t going to let pass me by without giving it my best shot,” said Cavill. “I annoyed my agents all the time. They said, ‘They’re not ready.’”
In footage debuted at Hall H on Thursday, fans were treated to a sizzle reel of Cavill’s new sword skills: The actor trained constantly to perform his own sword fighting on the show and refused to use a stunt double. “I spent all the free time when I wasn’t on set with a sword in my hand, getting used to the weight,” Cavill said. “I had three swords where I lived, four at work. It was practice, practice, practice.”
Netflix is clearly teeing up The Witcher as an answer to HBO’s Game of Thrones: an epic, supernatural-tinged thriller full of period detail, sprawling battle sequences, brave knights, and magical heroines. The show doesn’t have a release date yet but is dated to drop a full season to stream before the end of the year. And Cavill, for his part, seems to have deeply internalized his character’s motives and foibles. “He has this dichotomy,” he explained from the stage. “He’s very hard on the exterior. That’s how he believes the world is. But deep deep down there’s this man who has a belief in what the world can be. So there’s moral decisions he makes along the way and all of them get him in trouble.”