No one knew that Netflix’s The Witcher TV series would turn out to be far more enjoyable that expected a few years ago. The show could have gone so, so wrong, given that a legion of fans of the book series and canon-divergent video games were bound to scrutinize every decision. Yet things went well, and the bewigged Henry Cavill-starring flagship show launched an official Netflix monster-hunting universe with a second season coming in December, and a prequel series, Blood Origin in the works. Before that happens, fans will get to know Geralt of Rivia’s mentor, Vesemir, in a new anime prequel film called The Witcher: Nightmare of the Wolf.
Giving the spotlight to Vesemir seemed like the logical move for a prequel, given that Killing Eve‘s (very mischievous) Kim Bodnia will embody the live-action character in The Witcher Season 2. Yet Vesemir (who’s voiced by Theo James in this movie) is also something of a mysterious presence. He’s a character who isn’t really part of the books’ action; he’s more of a character who exists in conversations held by other characters. So, there’s plenty of ways that Netflix could have chosen to go with him, but one thing is made clear by Nightmare of the Wolf: Geralt keeps his reputation as the grumpy face of The Witcher universe, and Vesemir is something altogether different.
He’s dashing and full of swagger and certainly wouldn’t mind (unlike Geralt) if a pesky, worshipful bard followed his every move. However and interestingly enough, the film’s trailer shared that he, like Geralt, enjoys a good bath. That’s a welcome addition for The Witcher fans, given that the bathtub stuff wasn’t in the books, and the video games added the tub for Geralt to enjoy after romping with monsters. People loved the feature, so TV series showrunner Lauren Schmidt Hissrich made the bath canon. In anticipation of the film’s August 23 release, I couldn’t resist asking Nightmare of the Wolf director Kwang Il Han (The Boondocks, The Legend Of Korra) about his use of the bathtub and received a surprising answer, although damn, it works.
The world was a very different place when this film started production. How did it all come together, regardless?
It was more difficult in terms of communication, but there was also an upside to it, that the creators were not going out, and they were just focused on working on the film at home and got it set. [Laughs] So, that’s a funny upside to the pandemic, I would say. Yet in the [early] process of making this The Witcher film, the pandemic situation was not so severe, so it was not restricted. The only way that things were restricted was to go abroad. I was able to go on a business trip to get the recordings done before the COVID-19, so I was able to get the resources safely, which was good.
Vesemir is not really fleshed out in the books, but a lot is said about him by other characters. How did you go about crafting his origin story without much to work with?
When I am building a character, I try to become like the character myself just like an actor would become like the role they are playing. And I will always think about what would affect the characters if I put them in those elements or if I add an element to this character. So, it started out as a rough guideline of Vesemir, and then I started building up on it, in the development phase. The environment that Vesemir is in was not so widespread or common, as of now. I mean, it could have been more common back in the days when Vesemir was young. Today, it’s not so common, so how I am going to portray this to the current, modern viewers and how I would filter this through, and present it to the modern viewers was a task that I had in hand.
As far as anime goes, you can pull things off that the live action show can’t do. How did you decide what was worthy to include but still be believable?
In the action scenes, what’s really important is whether the viewers would be able to recognize the actions or not, and depending on your age group — whether you’re in your teens or your 20s or 30s — your speed of recognition shows down because of your vision for the moving objects slows down as well. When I was working on the action scenes, I had to consider that aspect, but we thought that this anime would be watched by audiences that might be younger than the viewers of the drama series, so we considered that aspect. And so, we sped the action scenes up a bit as compared to the live-action drama series. And then the concepts had to follow that as well, so that was the price that we considered when we built the action scenes.
There’s quite a difference in personality between Gerald and Vesemir. Obviously, Geralt is not used to not being loved by society, and Vesemir’s more of a rock star. He’s got swagger. He has a sense of humor.
Vesemir and Geralt have different personalities, of course. Part of that is that they were born with different nature, but there would be some differences with experiences in life that would affect their personalities, so we just started off with their nature and all of the things they go through in life to weave their personalities.
Vesemir’s also got a mantra of sorts: “Every deal has a price.” Other than the plain language, this seems very resonant and slightly familiar. What’s going on there?
[Laughs] One of the creators on our team actually worked on the show Full Metal Alchemist in the past, and if you’ve watched that show, they actually used the saying (“every deal has a price”) quite often. The line that was used in The Nightmare of the Wolf actually has the same kind of message. I wouldn’t call it the same lesson, but it’s definitely a message.
People reacted to seeing Vesimir’s bathtub scene in the trailer. The bathtub isn’t in the books, but it’s in the video games, and the TV show made it canon. Were you nodding toward the fans, too?
Actually, there was no bath scene in the script to start with, but as we were developing the scenery for the particular scene, the room had a bed and a bathtub and a dining table. Those layers came together and then to be honest, I didn’t know that there was a bathtub scene for the TV [show]! But then I thought to myself, “It’s the Witcher’s job to slay the monster, and then after the monster, you would be really exhausted and tired, and then what would you do?” You would relax not in the bed, but you would have a spa in the bathtub. That sounds, more than likely, the right thing to do, so that’s how the film’s bath scene came in.
‘The Witcher: Nightmare of the Wolf’ is currently streaming via Netflix.