Netflix’s newest fantasy offering The Witcher has already been dubbed their answer to Game Of Thrones. Ahead of its release on Friday 20 December, Stylist sat down with one of the show’s stars, Anya Chalotra, to talk about her exciting new role portraying the series’ powerful and unapologetic sorceress, Yennefer of Vengerberg.
Anya Chalotra’s life is about to change. Massively.
Until now, the young actress has had but three TV credits to her name, including a supporting role in 2018’s Wanderlust and a part in the BBC’s adaptation of Agatha Christie’s ABC Murders. But on Friday, when The Witcher – a brand new fantasy series – lands on Netflix, Chalotra will star as the powerful sorceress Yennefer of Vengerberg in a series which is already being compared to HBO’s Game Of Thrones.
“I’ve never watched Game Of Thrones, but I obviously know how huge it is and how the fans responded to it, and I only hope for similar success with The Witcher because wow – that would be amazing,” Chalotra says. “I don’t think there’s a pressure – it’s only an excitement – and it’s very flattering.”
Adapted from a series of novels and short stories by Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski, The Witcher follows the story of monster hunter Geralt of Rivia (played by Henry Cavill) as he travels around the “Continent,” a fantasy realm overrun with evil beings both human and magical. Along the way, he is joined by a young princess fleeing her war-torn kingdom (Freya Allen) and Chalotra’s character, the unapologetic and determined sorceress Yennefer.
As the most powerful sorceress in the land, Yennefer isn’t afraid to let her rage run loose in order to get what she wants, and it was this, explains Chalotra, that made the role so intriguing to her.
“What sets her apart from all the mages on the Continent is: if there’s a wall, and there’s a crack in that wall, she will find a way to get through that crack – whereas most people will just say no, there’s a wall and I’m not going to get through it. I think that’s something I recognise in me and which attracted me to play Yennefer,” she says.
“She has so many amazing attributes. She’s very unapologetic and she uses her rage – which is exciting for any actor – she’s strong-willed, she’s witty and she’s very intelligent and quick. [Across the series] she goes on this epic journey which is such an exciting challenge for an actor. I play her from the age of 14 to when she is in her late 70s.”
Alongside being a successful book series, The Witcher is also a popular video game, with a well-established fan base across the world. And while that popularity is good news for the show’s profile (a second season was announced on 13 November over a month before the first season’s release date), it also means the show has remained under a lot of scrutiny since the cast were first announced.
For Chalotra – a British-Indian actor cast in a role many of The Witcher’s conservative fans see as a solely white character – that scrutiny came in the form of social media criticism. But still, she explains, she refused to let the negative comments impact her.
“It’s very overwhelming,” she says of the size of The Witcher’s fan base. “Of course, there are so many opinions flying around – and with that comes negative and positive comments – but I only take the positive away, and there is so much positivity out there. If you focus on that, it’s an exciting time.
“It hit me like a ton of bricks when the casting came out. I’m in control of my social media, I can shut it off when I want to and when it gets to in my head, and I can interact with the fans when I want to, too.”
She continues: “I can only do my job and do the best I can as an actor. I only want to believe that the best person for the role will only ever be chosen, and I do know that is what has happened with our show. It’s a fantasy genre, so those brackets are opened – anyone can play these roles. A fantasy is a world where anyone fits in.”
While, Chalotra admits, she was completely unfamiliar with the world of The Witcher when she went into the first audition (a decision she ways was “really good for me”), she made sure to catch up with both the books and the video game before filming started – and fell in love with the character of Yennefer in the process.
“She is just a very strong character because of all her attributes, and I think that is something to be celebrated and hopefully will be in our series,” she explains.
“I know from my experience that I’m very apologetic and I am actively trying to change that,” she adds, explaining what she’s learnt from playing such a strong character. “I don’t necessarily embrace being angry because I feel like I second guess myself and say it’s coming from an irrational place, when actually it’s rational and it’s needed.
“Yennefer has changed my life. She’s taught me so much because I’ve been able to exercise [my anger] and it’s such an empowering thing to be able to show and explore.”
The Witcher lands on Netflix this Friday 20 December.