The Witcher lands on The Mighty Dragon blog, with Tom Canton, otherwise known as Filavandrel, King of the Elves!
Multi-award winning The Witcher has been a phenomenal smash hit with audiences. The Witcher follows the life of Geralt of Rivia, a solitary monster hunter, who struggles to find his place in a world where people often prove more wicked than monsters and beasts.
I am delighted to have Tom Canton as part of The Mighty Dragon interview series, discussing his career and, of course, The Witcher!
Tom is a British-Irish actor whose work encompasses both TV and stage. He studied at the prestigious Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. I was curious to know what elements of this training had the most impact on him while preparing and portraying his characters.
Tom discusses his view on the Elves storyline in The Witcher and how this reflects outside fantasy into the real world. Having just returned from the Emerald Isle myself, it was interesting to hear that Tom’s research for his character took him into Irish Mythology. Something which fascinated me too while I away.
As a fantasy writer myself, I dream of reaching the levels of imagination that make The Witcher such an incredible series.
Tom’s account of his character and experience in the fantasy genre gives us all such a great insight into the cogs that make these productions and characters truly unforgettable.
Thank you to Tom for this interview opportunity and the folk at Luber Roklin Entertainment.
How did your acting journey start?
I had the acting bug as long as I can remember. I didn’t come from an industry family at all but the truth is I remember acting out a nursery rhyme in nursery school and from the get go I always said I wanted to be an actor. I wanted to do all the school plays and clubs, I joined any and all local amateur dramatic groups I could find – I then left school at 16 and went to an astonishing place called The Miskin Theatre in my hometown of Dartford in the South East of England – a vibrant and electric hotbed of working class edge and a passion for “the work”. Running as a working model of a theatre in the industry – from day one you were not behind tables or desks but on your feet on rehearsal floors as part of a Theatre Company – learning what that is, how to build that…. working under industry professionals on texts that were political and searching for a truth in the work and a respect for the craft. I spent three years there which really taught me what Art is, or can be, and how it has the possibility to impact change or really have a voice in society… of Arts Necessity.
It really founded and nurtured the very seed kernel of the sort of artist I realised I wanted to try and work towards being – before I then, at 19, went to train for 3 years at The Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA).
I got my first job in my third year without an agent playing Dorian Gray in The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde at The Abbey, Ireland’s National Theatre, directed by Neil Bartlett OBE, which was again an education all in itself.
What do you most like about your character Filavandrel – the King of the Elves in The Witcher?
That’s a really hard question to answer for me because there is so much in him… he has this fascinating mixture of this searing, so sadly battered purity… and heart of gold… yet at the same time being such a flawed character in so many ways… he is complex. He really is an amazing character of such rich texture and experience and the biggest gift for an actor to have played across this many series and the Anime feature…
As an actor I find the roles that have those very real yet very strange contradictions within themselves and their behaviour – there is something so true to life in that… something very human… how nothing in this world , or in people, is really black and white – everything true exists in the shades of grey… We exist inside Duality all the time. Two opposite things can be true at the same time – I find that very interesting in characters I’m drawn to.
But saying that, probably the thing I love about Filavandrel the most is what he represents in his storyline and journey – the themes and metaphors the Elves and their tragedy show us – especially in how they are crafted into the storytelling of the world of The Witcher – and like all the great parables, what they reflect back at us in humanity and the mistakes we make century upon century. I think the Elves of the Continent have a great ability to show us our mistakes in the world we ourselves live in.
How do you prepare for portraying a character in the fantasy genre?
So further to the previous question – I think as an actor approaching any scene – a fantasy scene is no different – you mine the character and the circumstances in which they inhabit and find the universal truths in their experience that way – and play that with as much truth as one can find.
As an actor – there is no way I can see to think “how do I act like an Elf” – not at all.
But the Elves show us themes of racism, of oppression, of genocide, of xenophobia… they show us that age old story we see in human history again and again, they show us the story of indigenous races who live at one with the land, and live relatively peacefully, being overrun and pushed out and ultimately destroyed by newer, bigger, more powerful races from afar…
So I suppose for me and my process it was helpful to immerse myself in research of those stories from human history – and unfortunately the present day – and somehow try to play the reality of existing in those worlds would be like, alongside the foundations and structures of all we know of Elven society, politics, religion, architecture, and belief systems and ways of interacting with humans and each other…
The Aen Seidhe Elves in Sapkowski’s world happen to be taken a lot from The Aes Sídhe Elves of the ancient Irish Mythology stories that I grew up with… so that is a particular source of research for me too.
Can you share any funny moments / behind the scenes from The Witcher?
One funny moment I remember – as we started filming Season 2. I had met Mecia Simson who plays Francesca, the Elven Queen – in her final audition during screen tests for what’s called a chemistry read. We then rehearsed a few weeks later and arrived on set for our first day filming together – and I remember us chatting over coffee that first day before we were both whisked off into hair and make up and to get into our costumes.
Later as I was dressed as Filavandrel – I was standing outside my trailer saying hello to the Elven dressed Supporting Artistes that walked past me who were there for the day to play our Soldiers in one scene –
I said hello to one as they walked past and asked them their name and how they were, nice to meet you that sort of thing – and they laughed at me.
Which appeared odd.
I asked them again and they frowned in confusion…
It turned out it was Mecia. In costume as Francesca. I had no idea!!!
When she had in those contact lenses she wears and in full costume with her characters wig and clothing – I absolutely 100% had no idea it was a woman I’d known a good while and worked with and spoken to an hour before.
How’s that for transformation!!
You trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, what part of the training do you feel benefitted you most as an actor?
I use my training every single day I go to work. I think the training of Stanislavskis method via Stella Adler, Sanford Meisner etc is an unrivalled approach into preparing a character and exploring and creating a role. It is also a classical theatrical training which I agree seems to me to be the best way to be able to access any text.
To over simplify it – the thinking being – if you can access as an actor the most complex and incredible texts of Shakespeare and the great writers for example – you can access anything.
Certainly – if you think about the nature of fantasy – it too has its roots in some way in the theatrical – it is epic, it is grand, the ways of speaking and expressing have that gravitas and weight of the Ancient Greek plays or Shakespeares epic monologues at the precipice of battle or the extreme struggles of human existence.
It lends itself well to the dialogue and substance and, again, that word -the epicness in size of the fantasy genre, in every way that means.
There’s a huge interest in fantasy genre series – why do you think this is?
I think fantasy is one of the most incredible genres there is.
I think the power of its excitement and enchantment for so many lies in its ability to totally transport people into a world where anything is possible – I always say – theoretically in fantasy literally anything can happen – a dragon can fly through a window at any moment or some new magic beyond imagination can be sprung – yet at the same time, and where I think fantasy is at its best – is where although it has this magnificent capability for the supernatural or otherworldly – it succeeds when at its heart are the characters and their relationships and their struggles across what they face – and in that way – fantasy has the power to educate and guide those that get lost in those worlds – being as they are an extension on the ancient mythologies of the ancient cultures across time – in many ways what were the bibles or holy teachings of their day. They exist as stories with the power to show us something about ourselves and the world in which we live. It’s an amazing genre with qualities that I think The Witcher has in abundance.
As a stage actor, do you think every actor should experience theatre in their career?
Personally, for me, absolutely. Yes. Without a doubt.
For me it is an essential – there’s something about the repetition of it to me that feels like the boxers gym as oppose to the world title prizefight of filming. For me – no world champion ever won a prize fight without being in the gym – learning that craft, and honing that muscle – because acting is a muscle. It’s about feeling. It’s an emotional muscle.
It’s like going to see The Rolling Stones play a live gig as opposed to listening to Vinyl.
Both have their place – but for me there’s something unique in the danger and excitement that exists in the liveness of theatre. Things can (and do) go wrong. Every single audience is different and you can feel that – and obviously are playing with and alongside that – that invisible thread that exists between us onstage and the audience – you really do feel and respond to that – and so each individual performance is different and a one off. If you’re doing it right.
Also – the artform of the storyteller of the theatre – it is ancient. And seems to be a need that is absolutely innate in human beings. We look at ancient Greece, Rome, across the world – even back to cavemen times where cavemen drew animals on cave walls to tell stories of what they’ve experienced – we’ve always needed the Storyteller. And his presence live to work on our imaginations, to help us see the world in some new light – to feel – to relate. It’s something magical. So yes!! I’m as much a believer in theatre as I am the art of filmmaking.
What type of characters do you like or would like to portray?
Through my career I’ve played a lot of anti-heroes, or ambiguous villains… characters like Dorian Gray, or Heathcliff – characters who are not straightforward, but flawed. But beautiful for it. Complex, and layered – who exist in those grey areas I spoke about before. There is something really exciting to me about mining the darkness of those characters and finding how to understand them, and why they do the things they do or behave the way they behave. It’s all about what’s underneath the words. No villain believes they’re a villain. I like following those avenues of curiosity and finding out what makes those great characters really tick, and finding out how they feel from the inside.
Is there a genre you haven’t tried yet that you’d like to?
Many!!! Many many many!!! Saying that, I could live in the world of fantasy and the surrounding worlds forever quite happily. I was a total Tolkien nerd as a kid, I love it. Equally I’d love to explore other worlds – there is so much being made that is super exciting.
But I am a storyteller and as such I’m drawn more to great stories and well written characters, and the chance to continue to work alongside and collaborate with more amazing artists in our industry. I think more in those terms than in particular genres.
What do you have coming up?
I’ve just signed with my new managers stateside in LA – Lena Roklin and Matt Luber at Luber Roklin Entertainment, which is super exciting. I have a short film coming out in festivals early next year and the third season of The Witcher is now streaming on Netflix.