The Inverse Interview

The Kingdom That Freya Built

The rising star who plays the heartfelt princess of The Witcher is now the lone human taking on The Planet of the Apes. All hail Freya Allan.

A woman with long hair surrounded by blooming roses, giving a serene look into the camera, captured ...
Neil Krug/Inverse

Freya Allan, the main human star in Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes, couldn’t keep her emotions in check as she watched the latest installment of the iconic franchise for the first time.

“I was just sobbing,” the British actor told Inverse, recalling her initial viewing during the process of re-recording her audio in post-production. “I bawled my eyes out. It was towards the end of the film as the music was pumping, there’s this epic score, and that was it, I was gone. And I was like, ‘Sorry guys, I'm going to need to take a second.’”

You could chalk this up to a life-changing role — this is the rising star’s first major lead in a feature, after all — but this might just as likely speak to Allan’s strength as an actor. In Kingdom, as well as Allan’s 2019 breakthrough role in The Witcher, her wide green eyes, stern and sincere countenance, golden hair, and ability to convey deeply affecting moments stand out like a flower in a swamp. She plays the innocent underdog in each role, and as such is the emotional center of these franchises. It seems it’s a part she was born to play. Now, with a piece of cinematic history under her belt, the 22-year-old is hungry for more challenges — and perhaps roles that don’t require days upon days of crawling in the dirt.

Queen Of The Underground

Following a pair of one-off guest-starring appearances on AMC’s Into the Badlands (2018) and BBC’s The War of the Worlds (2019), Allan was cast for Netflix’s highly-anticipated adaptation of The Witcher book series, being told she landed a role that would only span the first episode. But what would The Witcher — a cynical, swamp-infested, monster-laden place — be without Allan as Ciri, the young, lost kid, adrift without her family but bringing all around her hope? The creative team quickly had a change of heart: Instead of that brief, supporting part, Allan would play Ciri, the co-lead opposite The Witcher himself, Henry Cavill.

Allan has since become a fan favorite on the popular fantasy epic — earning adoration (and more than 2 million Instagram followers) for her powerful turn, transforming Ciri from crown princess to battled-tested warrior. A credit to Allan’s performance, executive producer Tomek Baginski has even gone so far as to declare Ciri to now be the Witcher’s main character: “It’s Ciri’s story.” Through a memorable four years and three seasons on The Witcher, Allan gained both acclaim and experience. “The Witcher definitely set up a lot for me, just in terms of being my drama school and providing me with a certain level of confidence,” Allan says. “You also learn so many random skills. I’ve already done a lot of stunt work, I know how to ride horses.”

“There’s something about Freya; she looks like she belongs in that ‘68 world to me.”

Allan was ready to bring light to another, even more storied franchise. Allan’s own mother was sure that Mae, a mysterious human girl in a world dominated by apes, was earmarked for her daughter. “My mom was like, ‘I just have a feeling that this is perfect for you,’” Allan recalls of sharing the news of her audition for director Wes Ball’s Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes. “I knew how much of a monumental thing it is, and I was like, ‘I don't know, there's going to be so many people going for it.’”

“There’s something about Freya; she looks like she belongs in that ‘68 world to me,” says Wes Ball, director of Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes.

Both of their instincts proved to be correct. There was much competition for the major role, which would find the female lead paired with It star Owen Teague, who plays a chimpanzee named Noa. Furthermore, Allan felt like she was at a “massive disadvantage,” being that the European-set production of The Witcher meant that she had to audition over Zoom, as opposed to the other actors who were in-person with Ball in Australia. “I just remember the nerves I felt before those Zoom calls,” Allan says. “Like, how is this going to happen? They’re just going to be like, ‘Oh, there’s the Zoom girl.’” Ball doesn’t dispute that opening hurdle. “I didn't know who she was, and the casting director said, ‘You should watch this one,’” Ball shares, admitting to some reluctance. “OK, we'll try it. And then over Zoom, you're like, ‘That's pretty good!’”

Allan earned a trip to Australia for a final screen test. “We tried several very, very talented people, and she won,” Ball says, believing that Allan conjures up memories of the original 1968 Apes film. “There’s something about Freya; she looks like she belongs in that ‘68 world to me.”

As Ball puts it, Allan essentially landed two roles with Kingdom. While technically a sequel to 2017’s War of the Planet of the Apes, the fourth installment in this reboot series jumps ahead “several generations” to a post-Caesar (Andy Serkis) era, in which apes are the dominant species and most humans have regressed to a more primitive state. The franchise’s new ape protagonist is the naive and innocent Noa, who encounters Mae, a functioning and intelligent human who is compelled to hide this fact in order to survive.

“She is pretending to be feral for half of the movie, but she's not actually, so that was where the complexity lie[s], because I had to strike the balance between convincing audiences that she is that and her trying to convince the apes in front of her that she's that,” says Allan. It’s a complex role that Allan pulls off brilliantly, with a bit of help from movement coach Alain Gauthier. With a few subtle tells — her running gait, a furtive glance, a curiosity in her face — the intelligence and kindness of Mae’s humanity is revealed. In a deeply dark world, Allan blooms.

The Rise Of Mae

It’s easy for Allan to draw parallels — and differences — between Ciri and Mae. “They're both traumatized and they've both got a lot of weight on their shoulders,” she says. “I think Ciri's a bit more … well … fragile, and I think Mae is extremely brave and strong-minded, and what she gets put through and the things that she does, it's kind of crazy.”

What Allan was put through on Kingdom was pretty wild in its own right. For the majority of the film, Mae is the only human character on screen, meaning Allan is acting almost exclusively with co-stars fitted with motion-capture equipment.

“The trick was to forget about the gear that we’re wearing,” Raka actor Peter Macon says. “And it was great working opposite her, because she was in costume, she was dirty, and so it made it easy to just forget.” After shooting with her scene partners, Allan then had to redo the same sequence without them to allow the special effects team to have footage where they could digitally add in the significantly bigger apes.

“They're both traumatized and they've both got a lot of weight on their shoulders.”

“It was definitely a challenge,” Allan admits. “I'd have to remember all the different eye lines, or if they're interacting with me, I'd have to do that myself. Like, if I'm being pulled along, I had to pretend to be pulled. It was the weirdest exercise, trying to remember exactly all the key technical points while working with the camera.”

Noa and Mae’s relationship becomes the emotional core of Kingdom, but, by the end, in line with the traditional theme of Planet of the Apes, there’s a sense of an inevitable doom between human and ape. “You want them to be friends, but there's the logical part that comes into your mind that goes, ‘I don't know if that's possible,’” Allan says. “And it's a shame because they could be great friends in another world.”

Ball is hopeful that this will actually be the start of a beautiful friendship and partnership between Teague and Allan: “That’s why I spent a lot of time casting these characters, making sure they have a lot of depth to mine in future stories,” Ball says. “A door opens up and exposes us to a whole new world that we'll get to explore in the future movies if we're lucky enough.”

Cleaning Up Her Act

As Allan sat down with Inverse to talk Apes, The Witcher is on the top of her mind. She is currently shooting the fourth season, which started last month simultaneously with the announcement that Season 5 will be the conclusion of the series. “I was so kind of finished with it mentally. Initially the challenge was thinking that I had to do two more,” Allan confesses. “It's going to be the end of a massive chapter, which I'm excited for and ready for. But I think when I actually get to it, I'm going to be shocked at how much that hits me.”

The fact that there will now be just two more seasons has some fans concerned that there isn’t enough runway to do Ciri’s story full justice. While Allan has a “vague idea” about what the final season will entail, she’s solely focused on what’s immediately in front of her: the Rats, a band of misfit teenagers with a passion for violence. “This is the storyline that I’ve been wanting and most excited me from the beginning of the show,” Allan says of Ciri, now calling herself “Falka.”

“I feel bad for [the new Witcher, Liam Hemsworth] because he's had so much weight and pressure on his shoulders, joining a new cast as one of the leads and replacing someone else who's already done three seasons. It's a lot. It's been important for the rest of us to really make him feel that he's a part of the family.”

“Ciri obviously has changed throughout, but we really see a different Ciri in this one,” Allan teases. “By the end of the last season she's gone through so much that it's the last straw. And I think she kind of ends up trying to reside in this other version of herself, and … she kind of enters a zone of just, ‘I'm just going to be brutal because I'm sick of the world being brutal to me.’” It’s quite the turn for a character who was the often innocent, always hopeful heart of the series. As Allan sees it, Ciri is “really coming into being an adult and a woman — and not necessarily in the most healthy way.”

Allan is also very much feeling an affinity for a new colleague. Henry Cavill sent shockwaves through The Witcher-verse when he decided to step away from playing Ciri’s adoptive father and protector, Geralt of Rivia. Taking his place as Geralt for the concluding two seasons will be Hunger Games star Liam Hemsworth. Allan is loving the early returns — and, in a role reversal, Ciri is acting as Geralt’s champion and defender.

“He's so sweet and just such a normal guy and so willing to connect,” Allan says. “And I feel bad for him because he's had so much weight and pressure on his shoulders, joining a new cast as one of the leads and replacing someone else who's already done three seasons. It's a lot. It's been important for the rest of us to really make him feel that he's a part of the family.”

“Please, can I not be dirty for five seconds?”

Between Witcher and Kingdom, Allan calls it a “special” coincidence that she’s found herself thriving in the big-budget genre realm. In other, smaller films coming out this year, Allan looks likely to play a familiar role — a defiant figure battling through dire circumstances. A pair of horror features on the way provide their own unique scares for Allan: Baghead finds her inheriting a run-down pub, as well as the shape-shifting creature living in the basement, while Triton stars the actor as one of three young women whose vacation in Greece gets turned upside-down when they meet a group of charismatic gentlemen who are more than they appear. If you take her whole body of work together, from the outside, it seems a bit draining. She doesn’t disagree — and isn’t immune from it all.

“I would run on the spot before each take to get my breath up, and I was exhausted by the end,” Allan says of her Kingdom routine. “And I genuinely still have scars on my knees from crawling.”

Given that, she has a simple request for any post-Witcher and Apes opportunities: “Please, can I not be dirty for five seconds?”

Photographs by Neil Krug

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