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The truth behind Henry Cavill's strange accent on The Witcher

His eyes are yellowed and frenzied like a cat. His hair is a lion's mane of silvery white locks. His physique is the stuff of a Greek God. And still, with all those bizarre, genetically manipulated features in front of them, fans of Netflix's The Witcher are still keying in on the peculiar voice Henry Cavill has selected for his portrayal of the series' monster-hunting sell-sword Geralt of Rivia.

Cavill's accent on The Witcher — sort of a softer take on Christian Bale's gruff Batman voice as filtered through an unidentifiable, not entirely British or American dialect — is indeed quite unique, and is even easier to focus on given the actor uses it sparingly throughout the show's eight-episode first season. As it happens, the sparse dialogue given to Geralt on The Witcher is a big reason Cavill decided to conjure such a strange accent to begin with. 

In a recent interview with Polygon, Cavill explained that the challenge in discovering Geralt's voice lay in the need to convey the duality of the slayer's rich inner world and "stony exterior" in as few words as possible.  

"For me it was about boiling it down to the very essence of who Geralt is. In the books, there are complexities and nuance in long-held conversations, and if I were to use my own natural accent, that would have worked for me," said Cavill. "But due to the nature of there being a selection of storylines, and those storylines being slightly adjusted and there being less of an opportunity to be extraordinary, verbose, and nuanced in long conversations, I had to boil it down to Geralt's stony exterior and directness. And with that, it was in the discovery of the voice. The voice for me really helped with the directness of it, because I could say something so short — and it can be a single word, or it could be three words — and it would mean as much as a sentence, with that particular voice involved."

There's a reason Geralt's accent isn't easily identifiable

Part of what led Cavill to make such a bold choice with Geralt's accent is the fact that he didn't have the luxury of the voiced-over inner monologue present in both the books, the video game adaptation, and the "book on tape" versions of the story. Thus, it became vital to find ways to depict Geralt's otherworldliness and dramatic inner turmoil through performance. 

Specifically, Cavill told The Wrap that he chose to use Geralt's meandering accent to set himself apart from the rest of The Witcher's largely British cast, and to convey the character's lack of place in the Continent at large. And he apparently used his native England as template for that approach. If one were to look at a map of the Continent, a group of medieval-ish lands in which the Witcher story unfolds, it might look a lot like England in regards to being a relatively small space occupied by dramatically disparate pockets of culture and dialects. As such, it would hardly be unusual for someone who travels the lands as Geralt does to pick up inflections from places all over, and have no signature inflection of his own. 

Cavill further expounded on his approach to Geralt's accent by explaining it was ultimately a lack of specificity that became vital to helping differentiate and isolate the character in the series: "It wasn't necessarily about giving Geralt a specific accent which was different from everyone else, because that would be impossible because there are a lot of English accents and eventually you're gonna run into someone who has a similar accent because they are trying something different. So for me it was about bringing a voice to Geralt which was expressing the essence of who he is in the books and bringing that to the space in the format that was allowed within the show."

Henry Cavill also took inspiration from a beloved Geralt voice actor

Cavill went on to praise the stony voice performance of Doug Cockle, who portrays Geralt in the popular The Witcher video game series which (along with a beloved series of novels) helped inspire the new Netflix series.

"I definitely pulled and borrowed from Doug Cockle's performance in the games, which was extraordinary," said Cavill. "He did an American accent, and he had it in a slightly different register. He had a bit more of a whisper to the tone. And I wanted to bring it down to a British [accent], and have a bit more stone and grit in there so it could convey all the necessary things that Geralt needs to convey in a few words rather than in a whole short story."

"Stone and grit" are exactly what Cavill infuses into Geralt's peculiar speaking voice. And while his vocal choices remain a point of discussion amongst those who've walk into the monster-infested vistas of the Continent on The Witcher, few can argue that voice isn't allowing Cavill to build a richness and depth into the enigmatic Geralt that hasn't always been present in the award-winning video games.

Whether you're enamored with the fantastical show or not, Cavill's stone-faced work — equal parts silent anguish, knowing sincerity, and imposing physicality — is helping make The Witcher one of the more popular series in Netflix's ever-growing expanse of binge-worthy original series. It's also helping make The Witcher (which has already received a second season order) one of the more surprising success stories in the typically divisive realm of video game and/or fantasy series adaptations.