In Netflix’s hit fantasy series The Witcher, Anya Chalotra plays the enthralling and powerful sorceress, Yennefer, alongside Henry Cavill’s titular character of Geralt the Witcher. Yennefer is a woman of many mysteries, and one of the things not known about her is her age. She starts off the first season as a young woman in her early 20s, and by the end, she is estimated to be close to 100 years old. Fittingly, Chalotra is herself—in every sense of the word—an old soul.
She bursts into a bright laugh when I bring this up in our Zoom call, a good half hour into our conversation about her personal and acting journeys. “Some would say I’m a very deep person,” she jokes. Fresh-faced with her feathery brown hair tossed over one shoulder, she is dressed in a simple sweatshirt for our interview and carries no airs of the massive success and fame she has achieved recently.
The Witcher has been a breakout role of sorts for Chalotra. While she had a main role in 2018 British television drama series Wanderlust alongside other voice and acting parts, none of her past projects have matched up to the mainstream popularity of The Witcher. Based on a set of Polish novels of the same name first released in the 1990s, the material of The Witcher is abundantly rich and has a cult following—spawning countless media adaptations and even an uber-popular video game trilogy that has sold over 50 million copies to date.
Chalotra, however, was a relative stranger to the saga till she was cast. Hence, she was somewhat unprepared for the avalanche of success that was to follow. “I wasn’t quite aware of how big the fan base of The Witcher was before I started the series and I also did not expect it to grow the way it has,” she shares. “But the main thing that I’ve gained from the series so far is experience. And that just comes from filming so much—for season one, we filmed for a year and a half. No one gets to film for that amount of time. I’m really grateful for that time because it has allowed me to grow in confidence.”
With that, I catch my first glimpse of a young woman who is wise far beyond her years. Chalotra had spoken pensively earlier in our conversation about her personal struggles with anxiety, something that had ostensibly driven this growth. “I have an internal struggle with the expectations I have of myself and wanting to fulfil them. The world is so immediate and when you work at such a pace, you feel like you have to keep up with everything. Sometimes you just can’t.”
Relatable as this notion is, I imagine that for Chalotra, who was at the centre of such a massive production, anxiety must be quite a task to cope with. The 25-year-old, however, seems to take it all in stride.
“Sometimes I’m confident, sometimes I’m not. Sometimes I’m scared to be in a group environment and sometimes I relish it. And sometimes, I can’t string a sentence together”
“I have good days and bad days. Sometimes I’m confident, sometimes I’m not. Sometimes I’m scared to be in a group environment and sometimes I relish it. And sometimes, I can’t string a sentence together,” she confides. “It’s all to do with my body and my hormones changing day to day as a woman. I genuinely feel like I’m evolving every day. It’s very important to me that I check in with myself to make sure that whatever mood I’m in, I’m good to myself.”
Her brand of thoughtful self-care is an important message for many young women in her position, whether or not they are in the public eye. She dishes out some sage advice for anyone dealing with anxiety, pulling from tips she has accumulated over the years: “The biggest thing for me is changing my breath. If I’m really anxious, meditation might help, but that is honestly not as easy for some people as it is for others. If you don’t usually practise meditation, you may end up putting more pressure on yourself because it’s hard to get into. In that situation, I’ll go out for a walk or a run. And just the immediacy of changing your breath and pumping blood around the body completely changes my mindset, so it’s something I do if I need to help myself quickly.”
Surrounding herself with family and indulging in simple pleasures has also been essential for her mental health. “I had a lovely weekend,” she gushes. “I had my brother and his girlfriend around for an early dinner on Sunday, and I made vegan naan for the first time in my new air-fryer. That was probably the highlight of my week.” Chalotra has been eating a plant-based diet for almost four years, and rattles off her recipe for naan excitedly when I ask. “I don’t put butter in. I made it with spelt flour, coconut yoghurt, warm water, yeast and some maple syrup. It was absolutely delicious if I do say so myself. I was showing off and making my guests compliment my naan about 10 times during the meal.”
This discussion of naan not only makes my mouth water, it also brings to mind Chalotra’s mixed heritage: she was born to an Indian father and English mother in Wolverhampton, England. “I’ve been heavily shaped by my Indian heritage, it’s a strong influence in my life. My dad is from Punjab and he is one of eight siblings. He wasn’t going to let me forget that I’m Indian just because we didn’t live there.” Chalotra visited India for the first time just two years ago and was greatly impressed by the warmth of the experience. “My dad took me to his hometown and I met my aunties and family. It was such an amazing time.”
“My dad is from Punjab and he is one of eight siblings. He wasn’t going to let me forget that I’m Indian just because we didn’t live there”
Her sense of style, too, is shaped by her Indian roots. For The Witcher’s 2019 world premiere in London, she walked the red carpet in a silky Manish Malhotra cocktail sari, a standout choice among her peers. “I love saris and Indian fashion and to wear a sari for one of the biggest events in my life just felt right,” she says, bashfully acknowledging that for young brown girls watching, seeing Chalotra confidently flaunt a sari on such a big platform meant something precious. She confesses sweetly: “That’s one of the reasons why I feel so thankful to have been cast as Yennefer as well. I’m really glad to be able to claim her. And I can’t wait for viewers to see how her character develops in the coming season.”
Photography Paul Scala
Styling Fabio Immediato
Hair Daniel Martin
Makeup Neil Young
Manicure Emily Lord
Stylist’s Assistant Tiziano Viticchie
Digital Technician Thomas Carla
Lighting Assistant Rachel Man