Yennefer, one of the two women leads in Netflix’s new show, The Witcher, has a secret. Even if you played the games, which are based on the original novels, you might not have noticed her significant secret. It’s a crucial part of her character introduced in the books and the trailer strongly alluded to the fact that the secret would be a major part of her storyline in season one of the show as well. So naturally, we had to ask if that was the case.
If you were curious why Yennefer is being played by the 23-year-old Anya Chalotra and her love interest Geralt is being played by the 36-year-old Henry Cavill there’s a good reason.
Yennefer is much older than she looks.
During a press roundtable for The Witcher at San Diego Comic-Con, Chalotra confirmed to io9 that the Yennefer in the show will match the one in the books and video games—meaning that she’s a much-older sorceress who uses magic to keep herself looking young. She described the pre-magic origin story, where we see Yennefer with a hunchback, as her “backstory” that will be explored in the series.
We asked her what the unique challenges were in portraying a character with age, wisdom, and perspective beyond her years.
“It all comes down to breath,” she told me. “I mean, that’s the most challenging thing, and that’s with any character I approach. Sometimes it’s not enough to just change an accent, or to just change your hair colour or to change an outfit or costume. It’s the way someone breathes. And that is something that I find most challenging, but it’s why I accepted the role. Because I didn’t have someone to age me [with makeup or prosthetics], I just had to change.”
Of course, there’s still the issue of Cavill and Chalotra having a 13-year age difference, which appears to play into the common Hollywood practice of casting much younger women to be in romances with older men. But it does match the character, as the Yennefer in the books and video games were described as a woman who appeared in her early 20's. Besides, there was another reason The Witcher’s Yennefer was cast young.
When describing the casting process for Yennefer, showrunner Lauren Schmidt Hissrich said she wanted to make sure her actress could portray Yenn’s past as well as her present, which meant having a younger actress for her backstory scenes. Hissrich said Chalotra was the first lead she hired for the series, specifically because she felt the actress could handle both.
“Yennefer is a sorceress who’s actually quite old but looks very young, but has the experience of someone who’s lived for a long time. But also we knew we were going to be telling a little bit of her backstory, so I wanted someone who could portray her at a younger age as well,” Hissrich said. “And that’s a really really difficult thing to find: Someone who can look young and yet have that life experience.”
The Witcher arrives on Netflix later this year.