Freya Allan was just 16 years old when the opportunity to audition for a buzzy, new Netflix series called The Witcher came her way. Unfamiliar with the story, she did what any young person would do: She googled it. What she discovered was a best-selling book series comprised of six novels and 15 short stories by Andrzej Sapkowski, a massively popular video game trilogy, and a huge fan base. It was clear the project had life-changing potential for a young actress trying to find her big break. “I wasn’t going to be like, ‘No, I’m not going to play Ciri. … That would be a bit mental,” she recalls.
It’s been almost two years to the day since the fantasy series—which is about the legend of a monster hunter with supernatural abilities and a princess linked to each other by destiny—premiered on Netflix, quickly becoming one of the streamer’s most popular shows to date. Not surprisingly, it also put Allan on the map. Landing the covetable role of Princess Ciri was a dream come true for the UK native, but there was a catch: She’d have to wait an entire season to showcase the part of the character she really loved. Where in season one we only get a glimpse of Ciri’s full potential, the second chapter sees the princess really come into her own as a sword-wielding warrior. Not to mention, we finally get the meetup we’ve all been waiting for between Ciri, Geralt of Rivia (Henry Cavil), and the sorceress Yennefer of Vengerberg (Anya Chalotra)—a moment that does not disappoint.
In anticipation of this exciting new chapter, I caught up with Allan earlier this month to talk about the joys of filming season two (including her new obsession with sword training), the challenges with growing up on-screen, and the projects she’d like to take on next.
Your character Ciri really comes into her own this season. What did you enjoy about showcasing this side of her?
I’ve been waiting for this for a whole season because… When I got the job, I immediately read the book straight after, and I thought I would get to do all this training and everything. And then the scripts came through, and none of that was in it, so I was so disappointed. I remember I was at a coffee shop with my mom, and I was like, “Mom! There’s no fighting at all. There’s not even three words.” So I had to wait a whole season. When the scripts came through for season two, I was so excited that I was actually going to finally do the training. But also, I was given a far juicer storyline. I was really excited about that.
In addition to all the action, what are you most excited for audiences to see going into this next chapter?
I’m excited for them to see the three of us together—Geralt, Yennefer, and Ciri—because I know that’s what everyone is waiting for. And also, I’m excited for Kaer Morhen, so me with Geralt and Lambert and Coen. I love the relationship Ciri has with all of those characters. And I think all of them have an influence on her, like massively. So I’m really excited for people to see that, and I think they will like the way it looks as well, Kaer Morhen.
Yes, I love the dynamic between Ciri and all of the boys at Kaer Morhen.
It was so much fun. I was getting to be like the girl amongst just guys. And also, I’m a lot younger than them as well. You think it would be like, “Oh, is that weird or whatever,” but no, it makes you feel like you almost have the upper hand because you can take the mick out of all of them, and that was a lot of fun. There was definitely a brother-sister dynamic between all of us.
Ciri is in full training mode at Kaer Morhen and really pushes herself physically. What kind of training did you undergo to prepare yourself for the season?
A month before filming began, I would go into the stunt department and learn the basic sword work and basic technique because that enables you to pick up more complex choreography. And strangely, that’s actually harder than you would imagine because there is something awkward at the start with learning the basic technique because you have to involve a second hand, and you forget about it. Getting that is like muscle memory. As with dance, you need to just drill it in, and once you get it, it’s so much easier. I was obsessively there. The stunt coordinator one night was like, “You might as well sleep here, Freya. You are always here.” He would come back in and be like, “You are still here, Freya?” And I was like, “Yep!” I just loved it. I also loved the people, so that probably helped as well. So like Ciri, I wanted to do the hardest stuff straight away. But it was like, “Steady on, you need to learn the basics.”
I want to take it back to the beginning. What intrigued you initially about a character like Ciri?
When I got the audition, I think what made me want to play the part was the fact that I googled it and was like, “Yo, this is going to be big.” It was weird because I thought that before, and then I filmed it and was like, “I don’t know what it’s going to be. Maybe it’s just not going to work out at all.” There were so many people who were fans of [the story], so I was like, “Surely, even if it doesn’t do well, people will watch it.”
I was at the age when you are trying to get in there. … I wasn’t going to be like, “No, I’m not going to play Ciri.” … That would be a bit mental. But even if I had all the choice in the world, I was especially into the idea of being in a fantasy show or movie. When I was 14, one of the movies that I really loved… I don’t know what it was about it, but it was Snow White and the Huntsman. So when I saw the role of Ciri, I was like, “Oh my God, that’s kind of like a similar thing, a princess who escapes and becomes a warrior. And then I googled her, and she just looked super cool, so why wouldn’t you want to play her? I remember seeing the role and being like, “This is my dream role.” And I remember thinking… When you’re an actor, you are always too small, or you are too blonde or whatever, but with this, I was like, “I look right for it. This is the one.” I felt very passionate about getting it.
How does a character like Ciri challenge you both as an actress and personally?
With every role, there are always challenges, and it’s almost always the same challenge, which is you are problem-solving the whole time and deciding which direction to take something. There is a lot of chatter about “Oh, well my character wouldn’t do this,” and I’ve got myself saying that, but ultimately, we do stuff that is out of character every day on a daily basis. So I think having that choice of “I could do this scene in this direction or that direction” you learn to just go with your instinct. Once you embody the mentality of the character, then the instincts as to what you do within the context of a scene comes way quicker if you get the mind of them.
To be honest, challenges with season two were just that we didn’t shoot in order at all. We were all over the place. It was like episode one, then episode five and episode three and episode seven and episode four. It’s hard enough to keep up with The Witcher [story line] anyway, let alone shooting muddled. So that was definitely a challenge.
Personally, a challenge I had with regard to season one was that I was going through that stage in my personal life where I was turning into a woman. Having a show come out where I looked so young and no makeup—in fact, not just no makeup but white paste on my face and gray hair and bleached eyebrows—doesn’t make you feel particularly good about yourself. So I went through a little chapter where I was having a crisis of like, “Oh my God, this show is coming out, and I feel like I’m getting older, but everyone is going to see me as this 12-year-old.” I felt a bit insecure about it.
Geralt, played by Henry Cavil, is like a father figure to Ciri. What do you love about collaborating with Henry on-screen?
Ah, you know what. The scene in episode one [of season two] toward the end where we are at the campfire, that was actually Henry’s idea to have that scene, which I thought was a brilliant idea. I remember us doing it, and afterwards, we were both in awe of what had happened. Henry said to me, “I feel like we’ve said more to each other in that scene than ever before in real life or as our characters.” I don’t know how it came across on-screen, but for us, it was a real moment. That’s definitely one of my favorites. You are seeing Ciri open up to him as well. … It’s the first stepping stone to them becoming a duo.
In a past interview, you said that a similarity between you and Ciri is the confidence to use your voice and speak up for what you believe in. You also talked about how you love to speak out about subjects you are passionate about. What are some of those subjects at this moment?
Well, there are many things. Let me just start on a little rant here. I went to a girls school, and I had the best time. I really loved school. But with regards to feminism and equality, I think sometimes it goes in the direction of making women have to do things that are typically associated or numerically dominated by men. So for example, at school, we were forced into doing the science end of things, And this is just an example I have experienced. I think there should be more emphasis on women to do whatever the fuck they want. It should just be completely equal. In terms of even roles, there will be a character that’s a woman, and she kills people, right, and it will be immediately like, “What’s it like playing a strong character? And I can understand that because it’s great to see a woman be strong, but I think there is also something for looking at those character traits that are more typically associated with women, like motherly kindness, etc., as well as that physical strength. There is so much put on the typically male traits, and it’s not like we’re trying to turn women into men. It’s just about making everyone feel like they can do whatever the hell they want. So anyway, that’s my rant. Also, the education system is, I think, just not the best it could be. It should be about learning rather than just trying to get points and grades and not remember anything that you were actually meant to learn. This is turning into a raging session. These things rile me up.
The Witcher is your first big role. How has this project set you up for future roles and/or influenced the projects you seek out?
I really just want to do something that doesn’t have any fantastical elements in it for a second. Even Baghead, we just wrapped, but I really enjoyed shooting it because I actually was able to find a lot of real moments within it. Thank God, because it would have driven me crazy just running away from monsters all the time as usual. But I would ultimately like to do some more real human stories. Obviously, I love the other stuff as well, but I think that will be a nice change and something I’m really interested in and what I’m watching at the moment as well.
What is a project you have found lately that fits that?
Let me look at my list and tell you what I last watched. I recently watched The Deer Hunter. That’s the type of movie that I [want to do]. Why aren’t those movies being made? Don’t get me wrong. There is something to appreciate with the Marvel movies and things like that, that are visually spectacular. They are exciting. They’re colorful. But I don’t know. Those [films like The Deer Hunter] are the ones that really stick with me and that I remember.
Outside of acting, you are a very talented painter and have shared some of your work on Instagram. Can you tell me a little about what inspires you with this art form?
What inspires me, to start with, is my friends because literally three of my closest friends are at art school right now. Especially my best friend, she’s called Sophie, and I just love her work. We have been best friends since like 11, and we did art right through school. So I learned most of my art through school. I don’t do it as much as I would like to, and I want to do it more when I have some time again. Sometimes, it takes will to make yourself do it because you have to be in the right mindset, or I end up getting frustrated with myself—like, “Why can’t I create a masterpiece right now?” So many artists inspire me as well. Sometimes, I find them on Instagram.
Do you find yourself painting when you have downtime on a project?
Actually, at the very end of season two, I started doing a bit, but like really badly. It was actually way harder than I thought because no one was standing still. I would start sketching someone, and then they would be off over there. It was a nightmare! Something I also love, my dad used to be a photographer, and he gave me a film camera for my birthday, and I really got into that because he was amazing at film photography and developing it and everything. I like taking pictures when people don’t know you are taking them. I do set people up because I’m learning… but in the ideal world, I would like to take photos where I’m genuinely catching a moment. I took that on set with me on the film I just did. I didn’t get too many shots because it was a horror film, and it was all dark, like a lot of dungeon stuff, so it wasn’t ideal for lighting, but when I could, I took photos.
So we’re coming up on the end of 2021. Looking ahead, what are you looking forward to most in 2022?
I don’t want to jinx it, because the whole COVID situation is looking a bit bleak again, but I would love to travel if I can, if the COVID situation allows it. I want to go somewhere sunny, and I also want to go somewhere wintery. That’s the idea in my head. I’m excited to hopefully do another project, other than The Witcher [season] 3. I’m hoping to play another character, something completely different. So hopefully, a good script comes along.
The Witcher season two is now streaming on Netflix.