After the blockbuster success of Season 1 in 2019, Netflix’s series adaptation of author Andrzej Sapkowski’s best-selling “The Witcher” fantasy book saga is back in a big way, and with a lot of new faces, to boot. Created by Lauren Schmidt Hissrich, “The Witcher” stars Henry Cavill as Geralt of Rivia, a charismatic, mutated monster hunter tasked with protecting the magical Princess Ciri (Freya Allan) of Cintra after the characters finally met at the end of Season 1.
New to the cast for Season 2 is Paul Bullion as Lambert, a fellow Witcher from his childhood who Geralt reunites with when he returns to his ancestral home of Kaer Morhen, with Ciri in tow. It’s there where Lambert challenges Ciri’s capabilities when she insists on training and undergoing a transformation to become a Witcher herself — and pushes the young woman to her limits as a result.
A veteran of the London stage, Bullion’s screen credits include such films as 2014’s “Dracula Untold,” and he’s made guest turns in the Netflix series “Peaky Blinders” and the FX’s “The Bastard Executioner.” Plus, in a skill seemingly tailor-made for the physical demands of “The Witcher,” Bullion is an endurance athlete, having competed in two Ironman competitions, including an Ironman triathlon.
In an exclusive interview with Looper, Bullion shared his impressions of Cavill and revealed the influences of “The Witcher” books and smash video game series as he helped build the character for the series. Bullion also discussed his passion for music and singing, and he playfully imagines a scenario for the series involving his musically gifted “Witcher” co-stars Joey Batey (Jaskier) and Anya Chalotra (Yennefer).
What part of “The Witcher” experience — and I would call this an experience since it consists of books, the video games, and Season 1 of the series — got you interested in auditioning to join Season 2?
I was very aware of just how much attention — just from the fact that Netflix was going to make “The Witcher” — it was getting. I auditioned before Season 1 came out. All the trailers were out, and then I actually went for an audition not knowing 100% that it was actually for “The Witcher” because, a little inside knowledge, what they do is they code sides [which are scenes in a script]. So, obviously, they’re worried about things leaking, which is inevitable when scripts are getting sent out to multiple actors. So, yeah, they code it, basically, and so, when you are auditioning, they give you the scenes, and they call the characters by different names and the title of the show is different. But I had an educated guess that it was “The Witcher,” and I had a friend that was in Season 1, and had a brilliant time when they were filming over in Budapest … Of course, I wanted to be part of it. I’ve always wanted to try my hand at a fantasy world, and I think Lambert was the right fit.
You were pretty sure that you were auditioning for Lambert?
Yeah. So, I did a bit of research before I went in. I could tell that with my audition scene, since I was training somebody, and he was quite short tempered. So, I thought, “Okay, it’s got to be one of the Witchers.” I needed to do my research because I suppose I didn’t know too much in detail about the world. I was very aware of the video game, but I delved into it, and I saw the main kind of characteristics of the main Witchers, and I said, “I guess this is Lambert.”
What I didn’t want to do was try to do an impersonation, so I didn’t really look at how Lambert is in the games or anything like that. I used what was in the scripts that were given to me, and I brought myself to the role, and they must have seen something because they got me back in for another audition with a couple of more scenes, So, I didn’t want to kind of interfere with that. I just wanted to go my own instinct, show them what I showed in the first audition, and then once I got the role, that’s when all the research really started happening. I read all the books, and I started dabbling in the games to make sure I understood both worlds.
In the age of social media everybody has their opinions — especially when it comes to actors playing a character of a beloved piece of work, whether it be a book and a video game. Are any of the creative choices that you make on this show influenced by what the fans might want to see or do you follow Lauren Schmidt’s lead along with the original source material and the video games?
You have to respect the creator of the show. What I try to do is collaborate in that if I believe in something. What’s brilliant about Lauren — I think she’s absolutely fantastic what she does if you look at her body of work. What’s fantastic about her as a showrunner is she’s open to collaboration. She wants you to have conversations with her, because you might spot something or a potential way of doing something that they might put in, and she’s very open to that. I think that’s why Lauren’s brilliant being a showrunner and creating this type of art, if you like, and storytelling. That’s what makes good storytellers, collaborators.
Playing a character that’s obviously a fan favorite within the games, that comes with challenges. And I just have to make sure that … I went into it trusting the creative team because the creative team had given me this role based on what I did in the auditions. I can’t then go in and do something different. So, I’ve always said that I was there to do an interpretation, not an impersonation. So, when I read the books, it’s very clear the temperament of Lambert. And I understand in the games, a very famous poem that has been reread to me, or rewritten to me, like thousands of times online, “Lambert, Lambert, what a prick.” And he is. He’s short tempered. He’s fiery.
But most people that are short tempered and fiery comes from a very real place. They’re not born bad, it can normally comes from an experience or something they’re feeling. So, I made sure in the show — and I don’t know how it came across to you — but I made him quite insecure. He has his moments where, basically, because he doesn’t want to have a genuine connection with someone because he’s a Witcher, he’s been abandoned, he was orphaned, he’s gone through these horrible trials. And he’s got his brothers that he trusts because they’re family through shared experience. He doesn’t like these challenges, because he’s got these new energies coming into care more, and he’s got young Ciri, and he’s like, “What’s this little energy around me? I’m not used to this.”
Plus, he’s used to getting his own way. When Ciri just stands firm, he’s like, “Well, I want to do what a Witcher does.” Lambert doesn’t know to take it. So, he’s like, “All right, we’ll see how far we can push you.” And Ciri just doesn’t budge. I think that’s a great kind of bit of growth in Lambert, I think.
Since you mentioned about Lambert being a prick, I think watching that behavior, sometimes as an audience member, it’s funny. One great part about the series is the fact that, yes, you’ve got some pretty serious situations going on here, but the series definitely has a sense of humor, too. I think Lambert has a sense of humor, and that really must make the character much more well-rounded to you.
Oh, absolutely. I mean, people that don’t know “The Witcher,” they’ll ask me like, old friends of mine, or some family members, they’ll be like, “So you are goodie or baddie?” And I say, “Well, no one’s really a baddie, and no one’s really a goodie. They’re just people going through having experiences.” And I say, “Well, Lambert is short tempered with a good heart.” And I think like he often is … And I think [those types of characters are] fun to play as well, because like I said, like the fun thing was to ground his short temper, and his prickliness in something where he’s not happy about himself or his own experiences. And that’s often where kind of those, that bully kind of mentality comes from. I often say the one thing that Lambert needs more than anything as a hug.
I’m continually amazed at what Henry Cavill does as a performer. I mean, everything he touches, from his “Mission Impossible” film, “Enola Holmes,” and of course, “The Witcher,” which just brings him to a whole new level. It shows that his Superman wasn’t a fluke. So, no matter how much prep work you did for Lambert, did you find just being on set with him, being in his presence, do you think that it upped your game without you even knowing it?
Yeah. I mean, obviously, you notice that, “Oh, there’s Superman.” Like, he is Superman. What he’s brilliant at doing is very quickly getting rid of any preconceptions of why is in the position he is in. He’s in the position he’s in because he works really hard more than anything. He’s an absolute grafter. He works so hard. When he got documented that when he got injured on set, he was doing rehab at half past 4 in the morning before coming to set. He works really hard. That spreads, you know. I pride myself in working hard. I do Ironman triathlons, and I put my body through silly things. But knowing that I was going to be on set, stood next to somebody like Henry, who has played all the parts that you’ve listed, and he really looks after himself, I had to go right in order to look average. I had to work harder than I’ve ever worked in my life.
So, I went and got into the shape of my life before we even filmed. I mean, during the lockdown, all I could do was work out. So, I made sure that while I was playing a monster hunter, it’s the detail that Henry goes into. He goes into the detail of, “Okay, well, what are these witches been through? We’ve been through the Trial of the Grasses. We’ve gone through mutations; we’ve done all these horrific trials,” like everything that Lambert puts Ciri through, he’s been through, and the battles he’s seen in his life. So, yeah, it just does raise everyone’s game. Just to see somebody that’s obviously worked to the level and to the quantity of work that he’s done in the years he’s been active, but to still, for him to just still be so hungry to tell a good story, that’s also very inspiring because reason why he keeps working is because he loves it as much as the day he started it.
That energy is very similar to mine. First and foremost, I became an actor because I really enjoy it, and I like telling stories. Now, I’m just happy to be telling story in a massive show on Netflix. But when I started my career, I was touring around in a Monty Python show, and I did a musical above a pub because I just love telling stories. Now, I’m just doing it on a bigger scale, and the same goes for the rest of the cast. Henry leads by example, but everybody in that cast, they’re just they’re collaborators. They love to bounce off each other. And that energy’s amazing to be around.
You should be very serious about what you do, but at the same time, they’re going to be comical mishaps during a scene. Are there any fun stories involving you and Henry behind the scenes in the production or during of the show that you can share?
Involving me and Henry? Yeah. We’ve had a wind machine incident, which I can’t go into too much detail because It’ll spoil [something] for you, but there was a wind machine in a particular sequence and for various different takes. We would get bits of paper stuck on our face when we’re in the closeup or whatever, and we’re trying to bat it away, but the wind’s blowing it back in our face again. And that’s very funny when you’re trying to be stoic kind of heroes or witch it up and arm it up to the eyeballs, and then you get in all these props blown in your face. It’s very funny.
Also, I suppose, for me, what I always found funny was trying to get to expanding my vocab with the world of “The Witcher.” I’d just find myself just looking at the different variations of how particular words have been said in different scenarios, whether it’s in the games or whether you hear fans talking about a particular Witcher law, and then you go to set and you second guess yourself and sometimes you go, “Am I pronouncing the name of that monster right? Am I emphasizing the right bit of the word?” And often, I’ll find that quite funny … You do have fun. I mean, even in, like you say, in the serious moments, you can’t help but laugh. Like the scene that you’ve seen where I’m training Ciri.
We’ve got wind machines, we’ve got fake snow, we’ve got a prop dummy that has to break at a particular point, and I was struggling to do that. When you’re doing a long, long shooting day doing half a scene, you’re going to laugh when things go wrong. And we’ve had snow landing in people’s eyes. For me, it was like, when I get snow stuck in my beard, and I’d often inhale and I’d start choking, that would always set like people off, because again, I’m trying to be angry, but I’m choking on a bit of the fake snow. So, yeah, it was lots of stuff. And obviously there’s sour-sweet competition, which I’ve spoken about before. Me and Fraya, were very competitive. One day, I bought in a load of sour sweets, and I challenged her to a sour sweet eating competition, and she beat me. But she went to set with a blue tongue, so I was very pleased.
You mentioned how much you put into the work physically for the series and working out with the Iron Man triathlons. I think that sets you up for a physically demanding role in the DC Universe or the Marvel Cinematic Universe. If you had your choice of role in either comic book realm, is there any particular role that you’d love to take on in either DC, or the MCU?
Oh, that’s a really great question … I’m very interested to see how it’s done, and I’m sure it’ll be fantastically done in the new Batman film, “The Batman,” but The Riddler. [I’d] play him really dark and real because it was amazing to see “Joker” in 2019. Again, people aren’t just born bad, they’re born of society and things that have happened to them, and that’s a perfect example. I think obviously for a long time now, superhero films have gone away from kind of the comic book cartoonesque feel that they used to be, which are still very enjoyable and entertaining, and now, they’ve made superheroes grounded in reality, and that it would be possible for this to happen.
So, I think, yeah, I’d definitely be more of a villain. I think villains are more interesting to play in superhero franchises for me, personally. So yeah, [I’d like to play the] Riddler in DC. … Although I just said villains, if “Thor” [in the MCU] ever came up for a reboot, it’s been done fantastically at the moment, but I wouldn’t mind trying my hand at Thor in a few years.
You were talking about Monty Python before, and I’m just wondering, there had to have been a spark that lit the flame for acting for you at some point. Do you have like an all-time favorite film, a film that you could say, “You know what? This is the one that got me on my path.”
When I was a kid in England, or Britain, Channel 4 would always show a big family film on a Sunday afternoon, and I was just fascinated watching “The Goonies.” I must have only been about 4 or 5, and I was like feeling all these different emotions watching one film. I was laughing, I was scared, I was sad, and [it had] this brilliant monologue [by Sean Astin’s Mikey], if I can remember, “Up there! Down here, it’s our time. It’s our time down here.” I was like, “This is brilliant!” I remember that finishing that film as a kid thinking, “Wow, that was a great experience.” I was watching the characters who were similar to my age at that point. So, I was fascinated, and I knew with acting, I could be something other than myself.
I realized that quite young, and that was very appealing to me. I had a lot of energy. I often used to get stuck in my own head quite a lot. And so, I started going to a drama club on a Saturday afternoon, and it was just joy being able to be someone else and explore in a healthy way, other emotions … I loved to sing, and I trained in musical theater, again, because I like any format of storytelling that’s interesting. It kind of snowballed from there really. I went to drama school, and drama school led to learning my first professional job. [After that], I always kept an open mind, and I think it always comes back to watching “The Goonies” as a kid. It was like, “There’s no set format to what I find entertaining.” I like the idea of making somebody feel their emotions watching something, because I think that’s very therapeutic.
Since you’ve done musical theater, do you ever break into a song when you’re on the set of “The Witcher,” just to kind of drop a little hint that there’s more than one person other than Joey Batey who could possibly sing in this series?
Well, like I think it’s well documented that there’s quite a few really good singers in the show. Although people are aware, Anya [Cholatra], she’s got a beautiful voice, like absolutely stunning — and obviously Joey [Batey], he’s in a band called The Amazing Devil. I don’t know if you’ve listened to their albums, but they’re absolutely amazing. I think it used to wind Joey up that I used to be in my trailer and play Amazing Devil songs. He could hear that I was playing them, but he just knows I love that kind of music. Joey’s a lovely, lovely guy. I’d just strum around in my guitar, blagging a few chords and singing a little bit, but he’s proper. He can play multiple instruments to a very high standard, and it is really quite incredible because he’s so humble as well. He’s a very humble man. But, of course, like it’d have to be a drunken Lambert stealing his lute and having a little play. Yeah, that’d be great. I’ll be up for that. But we’ll see if that happens in future series.
Otherwise, strength in numbers, Paul — if you can get all those musically talented people on the show together, go to Lauren and say, “How about we do a musical episode here?” How about that?
Yeah, that’d be brilliant. That’d be fun. We’ll call it “The Witchers of Eastwick,” or something, I don’t know, like a little play on words. Yeah, it’d be great.
Maybe the wave is already rising, but I would imagine it’s going to get plenty big once Season 2 of “The Witcher” drops, when people are going to start encountering Paul, aka, Lambert, on the streets. Are you ready for that tidal wave? Because it seems to me, with the enormous popularity of this show, more and more folks are going to say, “Hey dude, how about a selfie here?”
Yeah. I mean, it’s strange because it’s already started happening and the show’s not out yet. There’s such a following that people were up to date with the casting, and I was over in Ireland, and I got stopped in a shopping center over there, even with my mask on because my hair is quite distinctive even when I’ve got it up. It’s quite distinctive. And you know what’s lovely? As long as like I’m not with like nieces, or nephews, or with kids, with loved ones, then great. I mean, I’ve got time for anyone that loves the show and just wants to come and say hi. That’s absolutely lovely. But I’m glad that it’s happened to me later in life than when was younger because I’m able to take it for what it is, and I know who I am in myself.
I did the Brighton Marathon [in England] a few weeks ago and this couple came over from Poland that knew I was doing it, and they were following me around the course. I said, “Well, thanks for giving me that time and support.” And they waited whilst I was getting treated by the ambulance at the end because it was very hot, and I was very dehydrated. But they were lovely. And I think, “Well, if someone’s giving up their time …” It was the same with the premiere that we just had. They’re giving up their time, and they’re standing out in the rain and the cold. I’ll give my time, obviously, and gratefully as well, because without the fans watching the show, the show isn’t anything, is it? We need an audience to play to so, I’m not one of those ones that will get angry by it … I think if I’m running late for a train, maybe I’ll be very quick. But no, it’s lovely when people show appreciation for the show and for the character, I can separate myself from the character. It’s something you realize you can do when you’re older as well. So, yeah, I have time for anybody that wants to show appreciation for the show. It’d be lovely.
“The Witcher” season 2 premieres December 17 on Netflix.
This interview was edited for length and clarity.