‘Game of Thrones’ Vet Kristofer Hivju on Nivellen’s Tale in ‘The Witcher’ Episode 1

Nivellen, The Witcher, Kristofer Hivju
Q&A
Netflix

[Warning: The below contains MAJOR spoilers for The Witcher Season 2, Episode 1, “A Grain of Truth.”]

Since The Witcher premiered, the Netflix fantasy series and book adaptation has earned plenty of comparisons to HBO’s award-winning Game of Thrones for tone, style, and well, just what kind of show it is. But in the Season 2 opener, The Witcher invited one of Thrones‘ former fan-favorites onto their side.

Kristofer Hivju, who played fiery warrior Tormund Giantsbane, appears in Episode 1, “A Grain of Truth,” and is barely recognizable as the cursed Nivellen, an old friend of Henry Cavill‘s Geralt of Rivia who was turned into a boar/bear hybrid. Nivellen’s tale is an adaptation of Andrzej Sapkowski’s short story A Grain of Truth. In the episode, the exiled but boisterous Nivellen tells Geralt and Ciri (Freya Allan), who are spending the night on their way to Witcher compound Kaer Morhen, that he was cursed for robbing a temple. But, well, we later learn that isn’t at all the case, and that Nivellen’s story is actually much darker.

Below, Hivju breaks down his process of getting into character and whether Nivellen deserved forgiveness at the end of the episode.

You’re so unrecognizable as Nivellen. Was that something that drew you to this role?

Kristofer Hivju: The funny thing is that, when I auditioned for the role, I didn’t get that he was a boar-meets-bear-meets-human. I read him as a lonely guy, you know? So, my first take on him was just [playing] the human being, and trying to figure out how the world looked through his eyes. I found the guy first, and then we added all the elements to build the whole [character]. He’s almost Shakespearean in how he plays around and his emotional range.

The Witcher, Season 2, Kristofer Hivju

Netflix

How was the costuming/wardrobe process for you?

It was an enormous process. First, they did a sculpture of my full body, and then built the suit upon my body, so even my nipples fit into that suit. [Laughs] Everything you see — my hands, my feet, my body; it’s prosthetics. And that was amazing. We could have done this with me running around in a slim green suit, you know? So, I think it was a fantastic choice to do it, so I could be in the room with the actors and play for real. [Ed note: Visual effects artists at Industrial Light & Magic worked their augmented magic to create the final finished product onscreen.]

How long did it take for you to become Nivellen?

Well, I had seven people around me to put on the suit, so it was a great deal of teamwork. The longest process of course was to make the suit. Also, I had the huge challenge of finding this character’s movements. I studied boars, I studied bears, to really find out how he could move. You have to play the suit, you know, and make it full of life. I felt like I was a puppeteer and the puppet at the same time. It was a new experience for me, but I felt he was so emotionally rich — the character just popped out of the page.

Did you find any similarities between being on the set for The Witcher and the set of Game of Thrones?

Well, they’re both huge shows, and Netflix’s set pieces are enormous. The whole mansion was built beautifully — they built every room and it was like a full mansion inside the studio. It was extremely impressive.

The Witcher, Kristofer Hivju

Netflix

At the end of the episode, we learn he’s done a terrible act to get himself cursed and he admits his act to Geralt and Ciri. Then he asks Geralt to kill him, which of course, he refuses to do. Do you think that Nivellen deserved any mercy at that moment?

I’m not sure if Nivellen thinks he deserves it himself. He’s hidden this truth for so long and to say something like that to his best friend, or his only friend, it’s extremely hard. I think that he needs to get over that. I think he has to forgive himself before Geralt can do that. It was an emotional scene.

Yeah, absolutely. And the most interesting thing is that he’s found this version of true love for another. What do you think that says about the character and his possibility for redemption that he still has this capacity to love?

I think that’s the beautiful thing about him. Even though it’s so easy to become bitter, your heart can become a stone, for me, that element of hope, even though life has taken him in a very strange direction and he’s haunted by this deed and by the shame and the remorse that he still has the ability to find love. I think that was a beautiful thing and a horrible thing.

The Witcher, Season 2, Streaming, Netflix