Starring role Henry Cavill begged for
He may be a massive movie star, but Henry Cavill happily admits he had to put in some serious legwork to land his latest TV role.
The Superman star takes on the titular role in Netflix's big budget new fantasy series The Witcher, dropping this Friday on the streaming platform. He plays the brooding, beefy Geralt of Rivia - a "witcher" or monster hunter.
Netflix is no doubt hoping The Witcher will fill a certain Game of Thrones-sized hole in fantasy fans' lives. It certainly comes with an impressive pedigree: Originally a series of novels by Andrzej Sapkowski first published 30 years ago, The Witcher was in 2007 turned into a hugely popular video game series.
A lifelong keen gamer, Cavill cast ego aside and did what any jobbing actor would when he heard whispers one of his favourite games was being adapted into a TV show: beg for an audition.
"I called my agents and said, 'Right, I want to at least get into the room as early as possible and see if I could get this. It's really, really important to me'," Cavill said during a Witcher press tour in Manila last week.
Thus started a period of intense pestering, calling his agents every other day and asking if they'd heard from Netflix. "By the time it got to the stage Lauren (The Witcher showrunner Lauren Schmidt Hissrich) was actually taking meetings, they said, 'Look, you've gotta meet this guy, otherwise he's gonna turn up to the door'," Cavill said with a chuckle.
Hissrich helped him fill in the blanks: His beloved video game was actually based on a series of novels, which Cavill quickly devoured.
"I fell in love with them. It was such a wonder to read something so new, a fresh take on the genre," he said,
But it wasn't so easy. The show still had to fulfil a casting process, and it wasn't until seven weeks after that initial meeting that Cavill even got the call saying he was invited to audition. So intent was he on landing the role, he cancelled a planned holiday and flew straight to New York to try out.
"Had they given me 'no' for an answer, that's just something you become accustomed to - you get very used to 'no's' in Hollywood," he said.
Spoiler alert: They said yes.
"It's a dream come true. I consider myself very fortunate - I love acting anyway, but to be able to play a character who I play in my head anyway in my free time, whether it's in the computer games or books, is a dream come true. I hope I've done it justice."
Cavill said he had no qualms about returning to the small screen a decade since he finished up on historical TV series The Tudors and made the leap to bona fide movie star: "TV is becoming a very different thing now - it's an opportunity to longform story tell," he said.
Which is perfect for The Witcher. It's violent, dark and densely packed - viewers are thrown in the deep end on episode 1 and expected to pick up the show's complex mythology as they go along (fans of the books will no doubt need less time to find their feet).
It's all set in the world of The Continent, where humans, elves, witchers, gnomes and monsters battle each other to survive.
"The Continent is not a wonderful place to live. There's a lot of tensions between species, a lot of political tension - it's a tinderbox just waiting for a spark to set it off," said Cavill.
It's also the sort of project that comes with a long list of spoiler alerts, making Cavill's job in promoting the series something of a minefield. More than a few times during his Manila press commitments, he stopped himself mid-sentence lest he gave away a plot point he'd rather audiences discover for themselves.
"For me, no information is better than a spoiler. I'm very particular to not reveal storylines because I know when I read them, I'm so excited to get to these places in the books, and it would break my heart if someone gave it away ahead of time. I like to think I'm good at not giving away spoilers," he said.
Well, if we can't spoil things, let's get superficial. Much has been made of Geralt's look in the series - particularly his long blond hair (equal parts Legolas and Daenerys). Frankly, this writer thinks Geralt's leather pants need their moment to shine.
"The leather trousers … we had our struggles with those. It wasn't getting them off or on. The problem is, leather stretches, and because Geralt leaps around, they end up not looking so flattering after a while. We had to redesign the trousers throughout to make them more suited to the sort of athleticism Geralt carries out on a daily basis," said Cavill.
And those feats of athleticism, just to be clear, are all Cavill - he did all his own stunts on the show, including frequent high-energy sword fights.
"The trickiest thing about fighting on set with a sword is that you're not swinging through something, you're not trying to kill or hit someone. Stopping the sword is the trickiest bit. When you do stunt fighting, especially with a lightweight sword, then it's pretty much par for the course - you're going to make contact at some stage," he said, explaining that cuts, scrapes and bruises were all part of the job.
The famously super-fit Cavill said the role required a particular approach to training, focusing on protecting himself from the hazards of the job.
"Every training experience is different, depending on the job. The trickiest thing is always finding the time to fit the training in. But because of the athleticism of Geralt's fighting style - there's a lot of pirouettes, a lot of explosive movements, and a lot of uneven ground. You're not fighting in a gym, you're fighting on a slope with cobbles and it's raining. So we had to build up the right muscle groups to make sure everything is protected - hips, elbows, joints. That was what me and my trainer focused on - aside from the aesthetic, we had to make sure my body could keep up."
It was as he prepared to film one of the series' most intense stunts that Cavill got a surprise visit from the man who first created The Witcher, author Andrzej Sapkowski. The Polish fantasy writer had dropped by the set to see his creation come to life.
"I was very nervous to meet him. I was in full Geralt hair and costume, and I was wondering what he was going to think. I'm about to do this stunt which involved dropping 15-20 feet. (The fall) was backwards, and I had someone on top of me."
A nerve-racking day on set - and Sapkowski's words hardly helped.
"The first thing he said was 'I didn't write this, so it's not my fault! You can't blame me!'"
The Witcher debuts on Netflix on December 20. The writer travelled to Manila as a guest of Netflix.