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The Witcher's Ciri Actress Thought She Was Playing A Very Different Character

Winning a role on Netflix's highly anticipated adaptation of Andrzej Sapkowski's The Witcher series of novels and short stories was an opportunity of a lifetime for many in the show's rather large ensemble, including A-lister Henry Cavill. But for the actress who played Princess Ciri, it was also a "bizarre" and "confusing" experience. 

In an interview with Digital SpyFreya Allan explained the somewhat chaotic process that led her to the role of Cintra's future queen and the orphaned ward of Geralt the monster hunter. It was such a long and obscure journey that at one point, the actress said, she wasn't sure which character she had truly auditioned for. 

"Well, basically, the whole audition process was very confusing, I must admit," Allan shared. "I never quite knew what was going on, or what was the truth, or what character I really was going up for, or what character — whether there were code names for characters."

The Witcher role Freya Allan originally had

It's not unusual for studios and creative teams behind Hollywood's bigger-budget projects to enforce a level of secrecy around their production decisions. Marvel is famous for its use of odd or even funny project codenames, as are other popular franchises like Alien, Indiana Jones, and The Matrix. But in Allan's case, the actress wasn't actually dodging some tricky production device. Her confusion about which role she had earned was the result of something else that frequently happens in Hollywood: re-casting.

Allan revealed that she had initially been offered the role of Marilka, the daughter of the alderman of Blaviken and the young human girl who helps the conniving wizard and master illusionist Stregobor lure Geralt into killing a vengeful former princess. After learning of her expected part, Allan received a call that several key members of The Witcher's production team would be crossing the Atlantic to see her.

"I never really knew what was happening. I got given scenes, and I did them. But what I do know is that they told me I was Marilka," the actress told Digital Spy. "The next day, they called me up saying, '[Alik Sakharov], who's the director, and Lauren, the showrunner, are coming with some producers from LA to London to see me for Ciri.' I was like: I knew Ciri was the lead role."

The entire team re-considered what Allan's role on the Netflix fantasy series would be, but the actress said that casting director Sophie Holland was the real driving force behind that second glance.

The Witcher's casting director gave Freya Allan a second glance

While Allan's Witcher co-star Joey Batey wooed showrunner Lauren Schmidt Hissrich and casting director Sophie Holland by dressing up as Jaskier the bard and learning to play the lute, there wasn't anything special the then-16-year-old English actress had to do to earn a second chance from Holland. But win one she did, with Allan telling Digital Spy that Holland nudged Hissrich to consider the young blonde for the leading role with high fan expectation and highly specific character requirements.

"Sophie Holland, the casting director, said to [Hissrich], 'I really think you should consider her for Ciri' – even though they were looking for younger people than me," Allan said. "The next day, I found out I got that part. So it was sort of like, 'Have I got two roles then?'"

She continued, "It was a really bizarre, confusing experience. But I mean, I got there in the end. I'm Ciri, not Marilka."

Actors are re-cast enough before or at the start of production that a role swap isn't considered all that out-of-the-ordinary. But for a burgeoning actress like Allan who had no idea how The Witcher's creative team was really navigating their extensive casting process, confusion around what role she was actually going out for is an entirely understandable and reasonable response. It's not every day someone moves from a single-episode character to being considered for a significant starring role on one of 2019's most anticipated TV series. 

Freya Allan's youthful appearance and emotional command helped her win the role of Ciri

The experience may have been a strange one for Allan, but The Witcher's casting director previously explained that it was the result of a complicated audition process that had, up until Allan, yielded few options. In fact, casting any of The Witcher's ensemble outside of the relatively quick and definitive selection of Anya Chalotra, who plays Geralt's on-again-off-again love interest and powerful sorceress Yennefer, was an extensive and arduous undertaking for actors and the production team alike. 

"It was quite a process, I mean, just the hundreds and hundreds of girls that we saw for [Ciri], just trying to find somebody special," Holland told Metro UK in an exclusive feature about casting The Witcher. "Maybe two girls out of the hundreds that we saw could've played that role, so we were chuffed when we saw [Freya Allan]." 

Getting the "right" person for Ciri of the utmost importance, and Holland said once the team saw Allan in her re-considered role, "everybody kind of fell in love with her." This was partly due to her youthful intelligence and "millennial" appeal, but also the emotional depth and command Allan illustrated during that London audition. As Holland noted, "To find a girl who was 16 and could convey in a really emotional way, the loss of her parents, the loss of her grandparents, being pushed out into this world that she doesn't know and surviving on her own in a way that is completely alien to her. Imagine being 16 and trying to show that? When some 35-year-old actors would struggle, we knew she had to be special."

Ciri's casting process was complicated by other issues

Finding someone who could handle Ciri's complex developmental arc, maintain her young, striking appearance, and deliver believable chemistry with her fellow co-stars saw Hissrich and Holland searching high and low for the right actress. It was a journey that took them to professional theaters, schools, youth clubs, and theater groups.

"We knew it was going to be an unknown [actor], and we knew she was going to be super young, and we knew the chances were we were going to find, we were going to have to look really hard," Holland told Metro UK. "When you're dealing with younger children, essentially, finding someone who's genuinely talented is quite a difficult task."

According to a reported Witcher casting call leak, Holland's efforts at one point also involved searching for a non-white actress. Posted to the website for the National Youth Theatre in the United Kingdom, the call requested Black, Asian, or other ethnic minority actresses for the role. Some fans supported or took no issue with the proposed race swap, but another vocal wing of The Witcher fandom responded quite negatively to the consideration of a non-white actress for the role, describing the creative consideration as racist. 

Along with the typical issues around age and ability, opening up auditions to a larger pool of actresses and negotiating potential fandom backlash may have also played into how lengthy the search for Ciri was. But in the end, all that time and a little bit of chaos were worth it because it delivered Allan to Holland and Witcher fans everywhere.

"Thank goodness she walked into our room when she did," Holland said. "We're really lucky we found her! I don't know what we would've done if we hadn't."