How Henry Cavill Became the Sword-Wielding Geralt of Rivia in ‘The Witcher’

Henry Cavill as Geralt of Rivia in 'The Witcher'

Henry Cavill is no stranger to feeling the pressure from fans to look right for a role. Since being announced as Zack Snyder’s new Superman in 2011, he’s had the weight of the DC Universe on his shoulders. But with The Witcher, a book series and video game franchise based on the writing of Andrzej Sapkowski, Cavill was thrust into a new feverish fandom. So when it came time to wield the sword of Geralt of Rivia, he showed up on set more than ready.

“It’s nice to see that all the hard work we did on set and in the gym was worth it,” says Cavill, on the heels of releasing a hugely popular second season of the Netflix series. The actor actively campaigned for the right to play the magically enhanced monster hunter before having it confirmed in 2019. “In the end, I just want to do justice to these characters people love so much, myself included.”

Men’s Journal spoke with Cavill about his training evolution, putting on the Witcher costume, and his love of video games, where he first found this passion project.

You got familiar with this character through the video games. What does gaming bring to your life?

I use video games as a way to relax. They take me to an inspirational and creative mind space. That’s what I get when I’m playing games like The Witcher or Total War: Warhammer 2. The worlds are so rich and massive that there’s really no bounds to where you can go or what you can dream up. And then there are these epic battles you can have in these landscapes. I find it creatively very inspiring. It’s a place for me to relax and test myself in a different way, in a mental way.

How often do you get to play these days?

There are full weeks where I’m not able to play, of course, so the anticipation does build. When I have a day, a week, or even a month off, I can really get into it. I’ll load up saved games and it does make a big difference for me. Total War: Warhammer 2 released some new DLCs recently that I’ve been excited to load up. It’s a time where I’m not having to be on video, working, or answering any messages. The time is only for me.

I think you guys did a great job with the first season of The Witcher, but I’m sure there were advancements you were looking to make. How quickly after that first batch of episodes did you start working on the next?

The work for season two of The Witcher started almost immediately after we wrapped up the press tour for the first one. The process began with me having a conversation with the stunt and fight coordinators. There were new athletic elements to consider in workouts with my trainer, Dave Rienzi, especially since I was going to be wielding a sword. The work we did translated directly into the explosive power I needed when playing that character, as well as doing those action scenes.

The Witcher / Netflix

Henry Cavill on His Favorite Fights and Monsters From 'The Witcher'

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Did you have any setbacks this time around?

I actually tore my hamstring sprinting on set during the second season—a grade 2 hamstring tear. I was upset, but it also became a learning experience where I learned how to accept not being my best and how to dial it back when necessary. It’s been a growing experience for me, and probably a very necessary one. I was lucky that I was connected with physical therapist Freddie Murray who was able to get me back in action sooner than expected. I had a sprinting scene I had to do right when I got back on set.

There are a few projects you’ve done that required you to wear a superhero suit or costume. How does this one compare?

When it comes to the Superman suit, there’s undoubtedly a lot more pressure, because it’s so iconic and a little more formfitting. There’s no escaping reality when you put a suit on. There’s a bit more leeway when it comes to The Witcher outfit, but I’ll concede that it’s a nightmare for the costumers to get it tailored just right. It can be tricky, especially if you get fitted for a suit at the beginning of a film, then train hard throughout the lead up to do a shirtless scene you need to look especially good for. Having to stand for a bunch of tailoring appointments isn’t fun.

Do you have any ideas on how you might want to train differently for the third season?

For this next season of The Witcher, I want to tweak the physique a little bit. My goal is to bring that character as close to what’s seen in the comics as possible. I liked the sprinting work we started to do last season and, with Dave, I’d like to combine that with workouts that focus on hypertrophy. Fingers crossed I can continue to bring an even more Geralt-like Geralt in the next one. I imagine we’ll get going again sooner than later, so these days I want to be in shape all the time, and not have these ups and downs. I like that feeling of being ready for action at any moment.

Looking back on your career, what are the big defining moments when it comes to how your train for roles?

Over the course of my 21-year career I’ve gone through peaks and valleys with my fitness. Even though I played rugby growing up, my brothers were always in better shape. But I didn’t start working hard in the gym until I got Immortals. During that time on set, I was putting in time with Roger Yuan, who has an impressive background in stunts and martial arts. I had to be lean for that role and the training we were doing really aligned with that. I felt that ability to perform at a reasonably high level. I liked that feeling.

The job I got right after Immortals specifically wanted me to be out of shape, so I remember eating everything around me with gusto. I got to experience going back and forth like that early, but I’ve had quite a few more roles that’ve required me to get in serious shape. Everything went to that next level when I was connected with Mark Twight while we were working on Man of Steel. That was a growing process both mentally and physically, the first time I actually changed size. I had to put on some real mass for that movie, and that required a big push. I built a good engine during that time as well. That continued through Batman v Superman and Justice League.

Do you have a film or project in the past that was especially difficult to prepare for?

They’re all pretty grueling in different ways. I know there have been some rowing sessions that were absolutely brutal. And some squat workouts as well. Some of the cutting weight sessions were tough to get through, especially when you’re trying to maintain that roundness to the muscles. I mean there’s a certain point in which you’re smelling water. People are asking you if you want a glass of water, and you have to say no, which absolutely kills you. Because there’s nothing you want more than a glass of cold water!

Henry Cavill in 'The Witcher'

You did an intensive camp with MuscleTech where you looked to push yourself even further. What have been the results?

I started my training relationship with Dave Rienzi more recently, and he’s shared great insight into building a full-body aesthetic. That’s become very useful for me, because of how long the work days are and how difficult it can be to find time. I hit a point in which I was no longer interested in doing these super long, drawn-out sessions that burned me out. I don’t want to be starting a long shoot day already exhausted. I had been doing that process movie after movie, and there comes a point when you start to ask yourself whether or not there’s an easier, more efficient way. That’s what I was able to key into with Dave.

Now I know how to create my own workout spaces that can travel with me. In the past, I used to spend all of this energy trying to find a gym or a hotel that would let us train, especially at the time we’d need to be in there. And there’s also the matter of privacy, which is important, as well during these kinds of projects. Now I have the ability to do it effectively everywhere. I found more balance in my exercise routine and enjoyment in trying new things.

I have this real passion for interval sprints, and have seen real improvement in my ability since starting that journey. It’s made me better at my job. There’s a great hormonal response that comes with running as well, that makes muscles look good, which always helps.

Since you enjoy gaming when you can, have you found any other characters from that world you’d like to bring to life?

There absolutely are, but I’m keeping those under my hat for now, just in case someone decides to steal the idea!

The Witcher is now available on Netflix.

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