The Witcher season 3 is here, and it’s Henry Cavill’s final outing as the White Wolf. The Netflix series broke records when it debuted with its first season back in 2019, as the British Superman actor won over legions of new fans with his grunting, swearing, nearly-silent portrayal of Geralt of Rivia.
Donned in black leather armor and equipped with a mighty sword, the actor danced his way through epic fight sequences and continues to do so now that the fantasy series is back for the third time. His weapons and protection, and the way he moves, are as much a part of his character as his dialogue, and two people in particular are to thank for bringing the physicality of Geralt to life, aside from Cavill.
Those are Wolfgang Stegemann, second unit director and stunt coordinator, and Nick Jeffires, the series’ armorer. Their work on The Witcher goes far beyond Henry Cavill, though, and they’re on the quest to make the battles of the Continent shine. With The Witcher season 3 now upon us, we spoke with the pair about the challenges they were faced with on the Netflix show, working with difficult requests, and tailoring their skills to suit the individuals within The Witcher cast.
How much does your work, Nick, inform Wolfgang’s, and vice versa?
Nick Jeffries: Quite a bit. I mean, I have to be very mindful that everything I design and make works for stunts. So we try and make the weapons as universal as possible, and then anything special that stunts would want we then discuss as an extra on top. But yes, fundamentally, what we design needs to do the job it needs to do. If Wolfgang was standing there and going, ‘Well, we can’t do anything with this,’ then it’s no use to anybody.
Wolfgang Stegemann: Nick and myself and my team have a very very close relationship. We’re working so professionally together, basically like a family, which makes it very easy for us to handle those beautiful weapons. We have a great connection, and we’re constantly updating each other. Also, Nick and his team are joining our choreography process so we can find the best solution to how the weapons can work and Nick is so amazing at tweaking those weapons to make them work for the stunt guys, or for Henry.
Nick, I have to imagine that Henry in particular has some very strong feelings about the weapons. How much input do the actors get with the design of the weapons?
NJ: They do get an input to a point. Obviously, the higher up the cast numbers they are, the more input they have. A lot of the input is to make sure that everything fits. So the grips are the right size for their hand, that they can do everything they need to do.
And then if there’s any particular requests we discuss them. They still need to fit the overall look and idea of what we’re doing, we can’t go too mad with anybody’s ideas, we have to keep it a little bit sensible.
It sounds like you’ve had ideas come through that you might have had to politely tone down.
NJ: Occasionally you get requests, sometimes you can do it, sometimes you can do part of it, and sometimes unfortunately it doesn’t fit in with anything that we’re doing, or that would work for stunts. There’s no point in making something so weird that you’d have to be an olympic champion [to wield].
Wolfgang, the Butcher of Blaviken scene in season 1 is so instantly iconic because it says so much about the characters and their relationships in the way they move; more than dialogue could. We get a hint of that early on in this season, but you must be itching to do some more 1:1 fight choreography, like we saw between Geralt and Renfri?
WS: Yes, absolutely, this is all about stylizing the fights and keeping to the style of the characters. It’s all about storytelling and understanding the background of each character so that you take care of not losing [the character]. This is a beautiful challenge, to design those kinds of fights, especially the Blaviken fight which Henry and I designed together. He was a fight coordinator as well.
And the same now in season 3, we have some beautiful fights. In particular we’re working on those character moments; it’s not just having a fight. It’s really character driven. The whole storytelling is told through whatever the camera’s catching. That’s the most important thing.
And what were some of the more challenging moments for you both, this season?
NJ: The biggest challenge for me, as it is every season, is that we developed certain styles with certain people and certain races, and it’s expanding that within the theme. Making things which still work, and still look different and good.
Obviously the danger is that you could argue: a sword is a sword. How many versions and changes can you come up with within that? So really the challenge is really to always think of something new and relevant, not just new because you’re trying to make it different.
WS: For me, it’s very similar. The challenge for us is to design all the different action scenes and to make each fight look different. And then obviously, another one take. But this one take has an absolutely different dynamic; the focus is different, the storytelling is different. And to approach those challenges, yeah, that’s intense. But it’s what we love.
Wolfgang, we get to see Ciri fighting a lot this season. The way she fights does seem to take cues from Geralt, but she’s also a bit more nimble. What was the extent of Freya Allan’s input on this?
WS: On season 1 we didn’t really work together. On season 3 we met for the first time and so I did an assessment and looked at her talents and skills and then included her into the choreographic process.
Then, obviously we wanted to increase her fighting style and let her fight more, and she had an amazing input, because she has a vision, you know? If you just dump standard fight choreography on top of her character it’s not a reflection of her. So her input was essential. Her input was so amazing, she basically created her own style. Working with her was very nice.
For more on The Witcher, you can read our The Witcher season 3 volume 1 review, or learn more about the fire mage Rience and the Wild Hunt. Or, take a look at our picks for the best TV series and best fantasy series, and see what’s new on Netflix.