‘The Witcher’s Henry Cavill Says ‘Tough’ Geralt Has a ‘Heart of Gold’

Katalin Vermes/Netflix

It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s a…monster hunter?

That’s right, Henry Cavill, who shot to superstardom with 2013’s Man of Steel, is up against scaly, scary creatures instead of Kryptonite these days, playing a medieval mercenary on Netflix’s The Witcher. It’s based on Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski’s fantasy novels, known as The Witcher Saga. The books have sold 15 million copies, been translated into 37 languages, and inspired a major video game series that, in turn, inspired Cavill.

“I’m a big gamer,” the self-confessed geek admits. “I played the games and read the books, and I love both of them. [The show] is a wonderful opportunity for us to adapt the books our own way.”

Like Game of Thrones, a fellow fantasy novel adaptation that wrapped its acclaimed eight-year run on HBO in May, this bloody epic shot all across Europe, with Hungary, Austria, Poland, London, and the Canary Islands standing in for the savage world patrolled by Geralt of Rivia (Cavill). Geralt is a supernaturally gifted Witcher — faster and stronger than the average man, with heightened senses and rapid healing abilities — who has been trained to ruthlessly slay the kinds of creatures that haunt childhood nightmares. Viewed as a necessary evil in an area plagued by beasts, the few remaining Witchers are outcasts; in fact, they’re considered monsters themselves.

In the series’ early episodes, however, Geralt proves to be more than just his homicidal calling. “He’s seen nothing but brutality,” Cavill says, “but despite being this incredibly tough hunter, he has a heart of gold.”

That softer side helps once Geralt is drawn into heroic quests with a pair of fierce maidens: sheltered princess Ciri (Freya Allan), thrust from safety after the invasion of her family’s kingdom, and Yennefer (Anya Chalotra), a deformed, hunchbacked sorceress-in-training, who may be Geralt’s soulmate. But in this iteration, their journey doesn’t play out exactly as it does on Sapkowski’s pages.

(Katalin Vermes/Netflix)

“The [stories] have been out for almost 35 years,” executive producer and showrunner Lauren Schmidt Hissrich says. “In one form or another, this franchise was always meant to be onscreen.”

Netflix first toyed with a feature film prior to landing on eight cinematic episodes instead. “I love the perpetual storytelling TV allows,” the veteran writer (The West Wing, Daredevil) notes, while acknowledging that “adaptations require changes” to sustain longevity. So she’s made tweaks to keep it fresh: “We’ll skip an adventure in the short stories, or push two stories into one, but really, the characters are my guiding light.”

Which is good, because with an early second season renewal and all sorts of threats on tap (human and otherwise), this trio is in for some dark times indeed.

The Witcher, Series Premiere, Friday, Dec. 20, Netflix