- Film And TV
- 26 Dec 22
Heading back to The Witcher’s roots, stars of Netflix’s thrilling fantasy The Witcher: Blood Origin – including the Irish showrunner and lead actor – discuss the task of bringing a spin-off to life.
Fantasy fans are in for a treat this festive season as The Witcher: Blood Origin hits Netflix on Christmas Day. Going back in time, the series is set in an elven world 1,200 years before the The Witcher. Blood Origin tells the story of how the first prototype Witcher came to be, highlighting the events that led to the pivotal conjunction of the spheres, when the planets of monsters, men and elves merged.
Bringing these magical characters to life are some well-known names along with a host of newbies. Blood Origin is a limited, four-episode run, which packs a punch despite its short length.
Using one of the series’ original stars, Joey Batey, the writers bring familiar characters into this ancient world. Showrunner and executive producer, Declan de Barra, took all efforts to ensure the show lined up as much as possible with the main series.
“It had to feel fresh,” de Barra insists. “It had to set up the world of literature that we know in the books and in the TV show, but it had to bring something new to the stage. It also had to be self-contained as a story, so that people who didn’t know the world would actually understand it.
“It was very easy in one way, because we have this great dynamic thing that Andrzej Sapkowski set up, which is the elves. Where we meet them in the world of The Witcher, they’re beaten and downtrodden, and barely surviving. So, we got to play the flip of that. In a way, their world’s almost more magically and scientifically advanced than the world of The Witcher portrayed it. So that was the balance.”
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Declan admits to an Irish influence on the show.
“Anyone who grows up in Ireland does so with all the stories of the Tuatha Dé Danann and Cú Chulainn, so you’re already primed for it,” he reflects. “You’re born into the genre, and then you read fantasy novels, they’re great, but they’re not a patch on the stories we hear as kids. I wasn’t doing something fresh - Andrzej Sapkowski dips heavily into Irish mythology, as well as other European mythologies. Even some of these names use a lot of Gaeilge. I did the same then with Balor – a nod to the leader of the Fomorians in the Cú Chulainn story. I wouldn’t have been a writer or a musician at all if it hadn’t been for those stories.”
Irish actor Laurence O Fuarain, who viewers might recognise from Game Of Thrones, Rebellion and Vikings, brings a cheeky joy to the screen, with his Dublin accent on full show.
“Declan definitely had his own twist with the Irish-isms,” says the actor. “I’d like to say I brought a few – especially when they gave me a chance to improv a couple of the lines. Some of them stuck and some of them didn’t – but if anyone asks, I had a little bit of an input.”
O Fuarain plays the emotionally scarred Fjall, born into a clan of warriors sworn to protect a King. Finding it impossible to settle or make peace with himself and the world around him, Fjall finds himself intertwined with travelling bard Éile (Brown). As the series moves on, we meet other remarkable characters like Brother Death, Meldof, Zacaré and Syndril.
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Also among the cast is the renowned Michelle Yeoh of The Karate Kid, Memoirs Of A Geisha, Tomorrow Never Dies, Crazy Rich Asians, and more. Known for her incredible combat scenes, her co-stars were excited to work with her.
“Michelle demystifies herself straightaway,” says Laurence. “It was a lot of pressure meeting her for the first time, but she walked up to me, had one look at my ears, knowing we all play elves, and went: ‘Right, I see why they cast you,’ and walked off. She had me sold from day one.”
Recalling their favourite scenes to film, Francesca Mills (Meldof) and Huw Novelli (Brother Death) laugh about their last day on set, which coincided with Yeoh shooting a fight sequence.
“I remember Declan de Barra came down,” Francesca chuckles. “I was like, ‘What’re you doing here?’ and he said, ‘Michelle Yeoh is fighting today.’”
“The word legend is kind of chucked about willy nilly, but if there’s anyone deserving of it, it’s Michelle Yeoh,” adds Huw.
From one iconic actor to another - Lenny Henry (Chief Balor) reveals how deeply important playing a character in fantasy as a black actor is to him.
“There’s always going to be a little group of people who don’t like something because it’s changed,” he says. “But what’s great about The Witcher universe, and indeed, the new Power Of The Rings universe, is that people have started to go, well, actually, we’re going to shake things up a bit.
“Change is glacially slow, and patience is difficult, but it is a virtue. I think we can push back particularly with the shows that we make for broadcast media. After all, when you’re watching things on the television, the whole thing of, ‘If you can see it you can be it’ comes to light. In 20 years’ time, you’re going to see massive change. It’s just difficult to wait for it.”
The show has a beautiful range of representation, from black actors to queer relationships to disabilities. Henry mentions that one of his favourite moments shooting Blood Origin was when he worked with the deaf actress, Amy Murray.
“I had to do lots of scenes where Amy was signing, and I don’t sign,” says Lenny. “So, there was quite a lot of laughing as she was saying things and I was missing my cues, because I was fascinated with her fingers. It was difficult not knowing sign language, but it was really interesting. Signing should be a language that’s mandatory at school.”
• The Witcher: Blood Origin is available on Netflix now.
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