If you have a subscription on Netflix, chances are Lauren Schmidt Hissrich has produced a show that you love. Having produced shows such as Daredevil, The Defenders and The Umbrella Academy, Hissrich is no stranger to producing quality content for the streaming giant. Her biggest success came when she started serving as the showrunner to one of Netflix’s most popular shows, The Witcher, starring Henry Cavill as the titular character.
Having never done a fantasy series before, Hissrich proved that she has a knack of adapting Andrzej Sapkowski’s critically acclaimed novels to the small screen. When The Witcher debuted in 2020, it became Netflix’s biggest opening season, with 76-million-member households watching the show within the first four weeks of its release. Following the incredible success of The Witcher, Hissrich cemented her relationship with Netflix when she signed a multi-year overall deal back in August 2021.
Continuing her role as the key architect of the live action The Witcher universe, Hissrich’s input remains highly visible in projects like The Witcher: Nightmare of the Wolf as well as The Witcher’s sophomore season. Recently, August Man had the opportunity to speak to the showrunner of The Witcher. In this interview, Hissrich talks about her relationship with Netflix, challenges when it comes to adaptations, as well as the relationships between the characters of the show.
Now that you have expanded your relationship in Netflix, is there any upcoming project that we can look forward to?
When I started my Netflix journey with Daredevil, it really changed the trajectory of my career. I think prior to that I had done shows that were sort of workplace dramas or family dramas, shows that didn’t have any aspect of genre in them. Prior to Daredevil, I had never even read a comic book. After I started working on that show, I became so immersed in the world of comic books, and then that sort of led me into the fantasy world, and now I don’t really want to do much else.
One of the beauties of working with Netflix, and having signed that deal, is that I’m able to take my time to expand The Witcher universe, which is really what I’m focusing on right now. When I started to take on The Witcher, all I wanted to do was to deliver a great Witcher show. I’d never dreamed that I’d be able to expand it beyond that. All I wanted to do was to connect with audiences through these books. And now, I kind of can’t stop the ideas from coming in. [Laughs]
I’m constantly thinking what else could we do, because you know, if you’re a fan of the books, you know that there’s so much mentioned in there. There’s all these Easter eggs and references of the world that aren’t fully explored yet, and to me those are the areas that are so rich for further development through projects like The Witcher: Blood Origin, the spin-off that we’d just finished shooting. The show is all about the conjunction of spheres and that is something that’s mentioned in the books, but we don’t really understand the historical perspective of the event. It’s the event that changed the continent to the one that we are familiar with now. In terms of the future of The Witcher universe, we are constantly exploring for more ways to bring more fans to this property.
What’s the most challenging aspect in turning compelling source material into a successful screen adaptation?
I think the most challenging thing is to decide what to include, and what not to include, and then when to do it. If you’re a fan of fantasy books, you’d notice that sometimes the book will spend chapters explaining the rules of magic, or the geography of a continent, or what exactly does a Witcher do. Oftentimes, you’ll spend pages and pages in a character’s head, establishing how they think, how they approach different situations. But we don’t have that luxury in television.
We can’t sit down and use an episode to explain how magic works. We need to dig into the story and hope that through the action sequences, the plot, as well as character motivation, that we’re able to reveal those aspects of the story. In short, it’s about how to give enough without overloading on lore.
When you approach a series like The Witcher, you also have to be mindful of what you need to set up for the future. In season one, we’d get questions like, “Why did you spend an episode on elven history?” Of course, I knew that it’s because by the time we get to season two, we’d need to understand the plight of the elves, to understand when they were the victims, and when they were the perpetrators, and how historically that cycle has gone.
So, we wanted to start introducing those breadcrumbs early and I think that there are things that we’ve done very well, and I think there are things that if I went back to season one, I would haven gone like, “Oh, we really needed to plant that and we didn’t”. But that’s just part of the learning process and I’m so excited that people are watching the show, and we get to continue telling these stories so that those things that we worked really hard to set up are going to pay off.
The relationships between the characters of The Witcher are often regarded as the highlight of the series. As a writer, how important is it for you that these elements are incorporated into the show?
It’s the most important thing, right? Because if you aren’t interested in the characters, if you don’t care what’s happening to them, then you could have every cool battle in the world, but it means nothing. What we tried to do, what all the writers tried to do in writing season one as well as season two, it’s making sure that the relationships between characters are the focal point of the story.
Whether it’s the friendship between Geralt and Jaskier, the romance between Geralt and Yennefer, or the dynamic between Ciri and Dara. Even though Dara was a character that we invented, he’s important because we needed Ciri to be able to talk to someone. If she didn’t have someone to express her feelings to, to begin to trust, and eventually feel betrayed, then we wouldn’t have understood her story.
The relationships between the characters are where the writers spent most of their time on because we’re always thinking about developing these relationships and complicating them. To give them conflict, as well as these moments of release and vulnerability.