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The Witcher Blood Origin: Mirren Mack on “pressure” of the new series

The Witcher Blood Origin is the new prequel series to The Witcher. We spoke to Mirren Mack who plays Princess Merwyn, about her role in the series

The Witcher: Blood Origin - Mirren Mack as Princess Merwyn

Fans of The Witcher have a lot to celebrate as we near Christmas, with the prospect of more seasons of The Witcher, another animated movie, and some all-new TV series on top of that. One of those new fantasy series is the spin-off prequel The Witcher: Blood Origin.

The Witcher: Blood Origin is set over 1000 years before the adventures of Geralt of Rivia. With an epic, sprawling story it explores the ancient kingdoms of the elves, and explains how the monsters that we see in The Witcher came to be. It shows the world in an entirely new light, while remaining identifiable as the setting of The Witcher.

The story within this setting follows a large cast of characters as they journey to seek revenge and redemption. Mirren Mack, formerly seen in hit Netflix series Sex Education and The Nest, stars in a leading (and more morally askew) role as Princess Merwyn. We sat down with Mack to talk about working with Lenny Henry, the pressure and excitement of filming the series, and whether she’d be watching The Witcher: Blood Origin on its release come Christmas day.

The Digital Fix: Let’s start by talking a little bit about your character, Merwyn. It’s clear that Merwyn was a great character, and you must have had so much fun with her. Can you give me an overview of where we find Mervyn at the start of the series?

Mirren Mack: Of course. So Merwyn is a princess born into a patriarchal monarchy. She has lived in the shadow of her brother all of her life. And, her worth has been seen by all those in her life as a pawn in this never ending war, this 1000 year war. She’s going to be only used for marriage alliances. That’s all she’s deemed worthy of.

Whereas for Merwyn, her escape has been to read. She’s so thirsty and hungry for literature and knowledge. And she gets fixated on her idol, this warrior queen. And for Merwyn, she has all these ideas and dreams of a life that isn’t being married off. And so she wants to change her circumstances and she wants to be seen and listened to, and to be an architect for the golden age of elf kind.

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TDF: That’s so interesting, because it sounds like a protagonist’s story, doesn’t it?

MM: It does, doesn’t it! I think I framed it like that for myself just so I can really make her a human that I could get under the skin of – or an elf that I can get under the skin of!

TDF: While you were playing Merwyn what did you learn about her personality? Were there any surprises that you found out the more you got to know her?

MM: Yes. So for me the certain choices that Merwyn – or certain situations – that Merwyn agrees to, especially those that are more violent and heartbreaking. In my opinion, I always thought that she felt more hurt by [those situations]. But as we did the scenes, I realised there’s a bit of relish in that violence and that darkness and I think it’s sort of like flexing your muscles and realising ‘oh, this is something that I can do.’

It’s sort of like that first time – not that I know from my experience – but the first time you kill someone. I think it’s feeling the power for her to take a life and that control that she so desperately wanted but didn’t have. Now she can see that her choices can end lives and give power to new ones. So I think there’s a real sort of hunger for more of that. And once you start it’s like, it’s an unfurling of all these arms and legs of this creature.

TDF: So you touched on hunger, ambition, and control there. While you were getting to know Merwyn were you thinking at any point ‘wow I can relate to this experience’?

The Witcher: Blood Origin Mirren Mack interview: Lenny Henry and Mirren Mack

MM: Well, for sure. Weirdly, I do this exercise with all parts I’ve been lucky enough to play. I always have a notebook and I do this thing called ‘I am a person who…’ and I see, even if it’s a tiny thing like ‘I’m a person who daydreams’, it’s something that I do as Mirren, and I can see in the script, or in the character, that Merwyn does that too and we can meet in the middle.

So, even if there’s something that Merwyn does that I, as Mirren, can’t find a reason to do (which I didn’t, I could always try and justify her through her own words and actions even if I completely disagreed with it) there’s a way in of going: ‘but she daydreams, she loves to fantasise, and she can really imagine what the world could look like’.

And I think I’d say I’m hopefully quite a driven person. I don’t necessarily have an aim or expectation or a roof, but I want to just keep storytelling, and I would like to contribute to the world being a better place. I want to protect the people I love and also give back to people who’ve given kindly to me. So there are definitely similarities. But definitely the way in which we go about those things are different, I’d say.

TDF: And that’s where all the fun is, isn’t it!

MM: That’s where all the fun is because I can’t stab people in day to day business! [Laughs] Okay, which is fine and I wouldn’t want to…

TDF: Never, I’m sure it never crosses your mind! Early on in the series you share some more intimate scenes with Fjall. How was it working with Laurence? And, what was the most fun that you two managed to have together?

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MM: Gosh, so I would say all those intimate scenes were really well taken care of. There is an intimacy coordinator who’s amazing, and we worked together loads. And it felt just really safe and free.

So there was one time where I accidentally bit one of his ears which are, of course, prosthetic. Basically, all I can say is that it was like a savoury Percy Pig, and it was very odd. So that was a funny moment.

And when we were first getting to know each other and we were first filming one of these scenes you’re sitting very closely, or in my case on top of this person, you don’t really know each other and [the crew are] like, “can you just stay there? We’re just lining up.” And it’s that sort of awkward chat of: “So. What’s your favourite meal? I love fajitas.”

TDF: Like in Love Actually?

MM: Yes! Just like that! Exactly. So it was all quite funny and new to me, but felt very calm and not too… well, yeah actually – very weird. But it didn’t feel too weird at the moment. It’s only in hindsight going: ‘yeah, that’s so strange that we did that as our job’.

TDF: That is a weird part of the job, I guess.

MM: And it’s also amazing too. You don’t know this person, and then you’ve got to [do these scenes] maybe within the first day of working with each other, which it was for us. We were very early on in filming having to do these scenes, and having to create that intimacy together. It’s a weird thing. It’s even weirder the love part of it too. Never mind that physically intimate bit, but the intimacy of the heart is really an amazing challenge.

TDF: Another person who you worked with, although not quite as closely, was Lenny Henry. And you shared a lot of screen time with him. Obviously, Lenny had just come off shooting another fantasy series Rings of Power. I’d imagine that you might see him as this source of wisdom. Was that how it was?

The Witcher Blood Origin Mirren Mack interview: Lenny Henry as Balor in Blood Origin

MM: Yeah, I think a source of wisdom as a human being full stop in, all sorts of realms, whether it be fantasy, real life – and sorry on a side note: what a voice this person has. He’s an exceptional singer! And, yeah Lenny and I sat next to each other, and we had a partition wall because it was Covid-19 times and we were getting our ears on and our makeup done. And we’d sit next to each other and not really get to chat because we were singing our heads off with our respective music.

He was someone that I really looked up to. There’s a scene that we get, and we just sort of got to really speak to each other as Merwyn and Balor as their truest selves, rather than in front of all loads of people. So yeah I really enjoyed that, because it felt really bare, and it was so nice to work with him. I’m really excited to see how it comes across on screen.

TDF: Given that the series is packed full of swearing, sex, and blood, it’s a bold decision to release on Christmas Day. Will you and your family be sitting down to watch it together on Christmas day itself? Or is it more of a Boxing Day thing?

MM: [Laughs] It depends how much they’ve had to drink! I don’t know. I’ll know which parts to maybe be like, “Oh, if anyone wants to make a cup of tea now or needs a toilet break” within the first few minutes, I’ll just fast forward it on. Just because I’ve got younger cousins, and one cousin who’s just sort of said, “I would never like you in [those intimate scenes], please, ever” and I said “of course, and I’ll do my very best to warn you.”

But my family is very supportive. And I think even I’ll be the one who’s going to be more uncomfortable, and in those intimate bits they’re all good with all of it. It will only be me going: ‘I’ll just be hiding behind this pillow.’ It’ll be fine!

The Witcher Blood Origin Mirren Mack interview: Mirren Mack as Merwyn

TDF: Yes, it’ll be fun! The Witcher series and the anime movie too are so beloved, and have also been so well received critically. I can imagine that there might have been a sense of pressure knowing that you’re coming off the back of that, because it’s all been so perfect in the past and now you’re adding this new thing. Did you feel a level of pressure due to that?

MM: For sure. I think for me, I really care about the fans and that the people who are such lovers of this brilliant universe feel excited and that this baton has been passed and kept up. So I hope that people feel excited about it. I think there are people who can find people to champion and people to love within this series.

I think also for new fans, you can come to this without knowing The Witcher world and hopefully it will encourage you to enjoy that Witcher world. But I’d say definitely, there is a pressure but there’s also an excitement in joining it.

The Witcher: Blood Origin will be available on Netflix from December 25.