As The Witcher universe expands with the title show’s second season, Paul Bullion proves to be a perfect addition.
Paul Bullion will be the first to tell you he is more than an actor. The Milton Keynes native has played characters on Peaky Blinders, Dracula Untold, and The Bastard Executioner, among other things, but when he’s not on set or perfecting his craft, he knows how to stay busy. Paul can often be found showcasing his love of music at an open mic night in London or posting a cover on Instagram. However, his true after-hours passion is fitness. He sings both the physical and mental health praises of endurance events and has completed two Ironman races to date. When the opportunity came around to combine two of his hobbies in the role of a monster hunter, it was one he could not pass up.
For Bullion, landing the role of Lambert in the second season of The Witcher was a dream come true. The Netflix mega-hit boasted over 76 million views within its first month on air creating an international fanbase and expanding from those already familiar with the novels and video games. The seemly fun-loving actor breathes life to the young, brash witcher through an engaging performance that perfectly melds with those of his co-stars, leading to a season that tops its predecessor in both emotional depth and character development.
Paul Bullion sat down for a chat with 1883’s Sydney Bolen about what it meant to play the role in The Witcher, his time on set, the fitness regime of a monster hunter, and more.
Congratulations on the second season of The Witcher. I’m so excited about it. I watched season one last Christmas and then promptly devoured the books, so I know a little bit about your character from the novels. Tell me about who Lambert is in the show?
He’s a fellow monster hunter. He’s another witcher from The School of The Wolf which is where Geralt was trained. He’s got a lot of the same experience growing up as Geralt and the other witchers. But the way he reacts to things is very different from Geralt. I’ve grounded him in a massive sense of insecurity, which makes him quite short-tempered and spiky.
I really liked him in the books. Something I know fans of the show, games, and books alike are excited to see is Kaer Morhen. What was that set like?
You’re not gonna be disappointed. The set is unreal. It’s so good. I walked in on my first day of rehearsal for my first scene and forgot that I was on set for about 20 minutes. I was walking around thinking that I was in this huge witcher keep. It was so vast and the attention to detail is just incredible. I know fans will not be disappointed.
Did that make it easier for you to get into the mindset of this fantasy character?
Absolutely. Everyone from and everything in every department was at the top of their game. The set builders and set design do half the job for you. Then you’ve got these amazing, detailed costumes from the wardrobe department. There’s also the armourers and the makeup team. Before I even stepped on set, my whole rig got me 80% there. If I was on set, ready to go and we were a little way off from getting a take, I would ask for my sword because the weight affects how I stand and how I walk. It all feeds into the character. It’s not a one-player game. It’s a whole team that makes it happen, especially during the pandemic.
As a fan of the series and someone who lives in LA, I was very attuned to this season’s filming process. Talking to other actors who were fortunate to work under COVID-19 protocols, I’ve found many have looked forward to the release of those projects more than others because they were extra proud of what everyone had come together to safely accomplish. Do you share this sentiment?
100%. I don’t mind going on record saying that I found it a very emotional experience when I wrapped. We were closed for seven months whilst Netflix put all of its amazing safety protocols in place. We went back to filming feeling very safe. But it was different from what I’ve ever experienced on a set before. We were all very disciplined with the face masks and everything, so the whole time you only knew people from their eyes to the top of their heads. [chuckles] I remember after wrapping my final scene, I felt this wave of emotion come over me. I held it together until I got back to my trailer, but I didn’t realize just how much I wanted to “get it in the can” and how grateful I was to be there.
When it felt like the world was ending in February of 2020, I was like, “it’s not going to happen. It’s just done.” Hats off to Netflix for making it happen because they did everything in their power to make sure that we completed filming safely. It was a great experience and I completely resonate with the creatives who have said they look forward to those seasons coming out because the bonds that were formed on that set were deeper than any other experience I’ve had on a set.
I’m excited to see what the outcome is. Obviously, Witchers are monster hunters. They have to be in shape. I saw from your Instagram that you’re a big fitness fan. What was your training regimen for this role?
As you said, we’re hunters that have been through these huge trials called the Trials of the Grasses. We go through these mutations and our bodies are put under a lot of strain. So, I had to put my body under a lot of strain before I looked like a monster hunter. I’ve kept myself in decent shape over the years by doing triathlons. Naturally, I’m a tall guy. I’m quite broad. But this role required a different type of training. My very good friend Leanne Marshall is a personal trainer. I contacted her and said, “I want to look like I could scale the side of a building.” She said, “right mate, let’s go.” She came up with a nutrition plan for me, which meant that I couldn’t see much Marmite on toast as I normally would. [laughs]
I learned a lot through that process and everything became functional. Then, I had to adapt because of the pandemic. I had to get resistance bands and an Olympic barbell that could use him on this seven-by-seven-foot patio that I had outside. That became my gym for many months. When I was on set, I was using resistance bands because there was no access to gyms or anything. When you’re playing a monster hunter and you want to look like a monster hunter, you just have to do what you’re told. That’s how I work. The actual formula is easy: do this and eat this and you will look like this. The execution is the hard thing, especially when you’re in a lockdown when all you can do is bake.
I didn’t even think about the fact that you guys had started filming and then there was a break. Did you guys have any idea when production was going to try and come back or did you just have to perpetually stay in shape?
Since it was an ever-changing situation, there was no estimate for when we would be able to come back. Netflix was just brilliant. They said we would return when was safe to do so. They worked behind the scenes very hard and didn’t want to give folks false hope. Once they had a date and they got the green light, that’s when we found out. I think we were given six weeks’ notice. That’s when I rang Leanne again. I had to get all my bread weight off.
[laughs] I remember that beginning stage of quarantine: The banana bread stage.
I did all sorts. I became an expert. But I returned to set in better shape than I was before the lockdown because I had nothing else to do. I’d go from my outdoor exercise, which for me was just a nice long run, to a weight program later in the day. Coming back was filming my dream role in a nightmare scenario because of the state the world is in. But, again, Netflix looked after everything. I’m so very, very grateful to them.
The Witcher season 1 amassed over 76 million views within its first month on Netflix, making it one of the platform’s biggest debuts ever. Stepping onto the second season of a show of that calibre, what did you expect and what surprised you the most?
I knew it was going to be a lovely bunch of people. Because the casting team—Sophie Holland and her team—like to cast nice people. It was like stepping onto a set with people that were familiar with each other but very welcoming. They wanted to bring you into the fold. The cast and crew made me feel very welcome very quickly. There was a lot of love on set. The Witcher is this epic, big, fantasy show, but at the same time, it’s very intimate. That was lovely. With a show so big, it’d be easy to be disconnected, but the environment it has comes from the top. [Showrunner] Lauren Hissrich is someone who leads from the front. She will go directly to people to make sure everybody’s included. It’s a very personal touch that feeds through the whole production. I think people produce their best work when they feel part of something. Every single actor, from the series regulars to the day players, felt important. I think that goes a long way.
Once you wrapped on the season, did you find there was anything you took away from your time as Lambert?
I think most actors would say this, but during that time I had a deeper appreciation for being able to do what I do. Now, I live for the moment rather than worrying about what’s around the corner. I say, “well, today I’m going to film. That’s amazing.” Especially when you’re getting tested daily. When you get that negative result back, you’re like, “yes! I get to play today. I get to play rather than thinking about my next project.” The part of me that worried about what I was going to do in six months is gone now. I know nothing is guaranteed. You’ve got to live in the moment. I love that.
Yeah, that’s a good thing. You’ve completed two Ironman races, one of which was a triathlon. I must know- what motivates you to voluntarily participate once and then to do it again?
[laughs] I think for me part of it is that I work in the creative industry. You can have busy spells, but it is inconsistent. No matter how successful you are. Even the most successful actors have quiet times whether that’s by choice or not. The only consistent thing for me is making sure that I don’t get all of my joy and all of my worth out of my career. I love it. I chose this career because I love it. When I was a kid, before I even knew you could do it as a career, I was doing it because I loved it. I’ve tried to keep that playful energy with me in my career, but I can’t derive my value from it. I think that is something that a lot of people realize as they get older.
So, instead, I set myself challenges so that I have other things to talk about, and I have another focus. You can’t always get out of bed and go, “today I’m going to be the best actor I can be” because you’re human. Sometimes you don’t feel like perfecting in an accent or trying to memorize a Shakespearean monologue because you might need it one day. Some days you just want to eat bread and cake. The way I countered acted that is by getting into triathlons. I had a quiet spell in 2016. I finished a play at the National in late 2015 and I could just feel my mind going off course. I needed a focus. So, I signed up for an Ironman Triathlon.
I looked up the distances before this interview. It’s no joke.
Yeah. I gave myself 12 weeks to get ready for it. I used to swim as a teenager and I cycled everywhere. But, I’d never run a marathon before. The first time I was going to cover the marathon distance was at the end of the Ironman race. I thought, “I’m a confident enough swimmer, which is what most people struggle with. I can do the bike. I’ve got power on the bike. I’ve cycled long distances before” However, I’d never done it after a swim that long. My strategy was to just hold on and see how far I could drag my broken body. I did it. It was an out-of-body, incredibly emotional experience. It made me realize anything is possible and I don’t have to take my worth from the industry. I can go back and do things outside the industry that make me feel valued. You raise a lot of money when you do silly distances. You just get the bug for it. So I’ve done all kinds of distances and triathlons now. I do half marathons, marathons. I try to do multiple events a year because you only get one chance at life. I like to feel part of something and I recommend it to anyone. Multi-sport is the way forward because the positive mental health side effects are huge. Not to mention, the fitness results as well.
Speaking of raising a bunch of money with your endurance events, are there any causes in particular that you’re passionate about?
Yes. This year I participated in two triathlons, two half-marathons, and a marathon. I might do one more before the end of the year, depending on what my schedule permits in December. I raise money for a friend’s charity. She works for a charity called Refugee Women Connect. They help refugee women and their children who are fleeing horrid situations, either domestic abuse, political unrest, or what have you. The charity provides counselling and routes to a safer environment. This year I dedicated my events to that. In the past, I’ve raised money for mental health charities. A scary fact is most men my age have experienced a friend taking their life. Suicide is the biggest killer of men under 45 in the UK. I’m sure it’s the same in America and other countries. Men don’t talk about how they feel. If I can draw people’s attention by running a silly distance, it’s a great way of trying to lessen that statistic.
Another charity I’ve raised money for is called Open Door. There’s no way I’d have been able to go to drama school without the funding I got from the BBC or the scholarship that came later. Unfortunately, it’s difficult for working-class people to gain access to these colleges. Open Door works with young people from low-income backgrounds and helps them find a path into drama schools, whether that’s through workshops or helping with audition fees or train travel or things like that. I dedicated my 2018 Ironman to that. It blew my mind because I realized how many actors in this industry are very aware that if it wasn’t for funding they received from other sources, they would not have this career. It’s lovely if your parents can afford it, but not everybody is fortunate enough for that. It doesn’t sit well with me that some people are stripped of an opportunity to flex their creative muscles because of a bank balance history. Everyone’s got a right to tell stories. As you can tell from how I’m speaking, I’m very passionate about that.
I can. I love hearing about the causes people are passionate about. Those all sound like great ones. While acting is what you chose to pursue professionally, you’re also a musician. I read you are partial to Damien Rice. What’s your favourite song of his to cover?
One of my favourite clips of Damien Rice is when he sings a mash-up of The Blower’s Daughter and Elephant since Elephant is a continuation of The Blower’s Daughter story in a way. It’s so simple chord progression-wise, but the amount of raw emotion from what he must have been going through when he wrote that song is astounding. I think that’s why I’m into folk music more than anything. I love all genres of music, but Damien Rice tends to go to a really dark place. It was an odd choice of music for 14 or 15 year old to be listening to. I listened to other things. I had the Lincoln Park album. But, folk has always been my favourite.
Is there a world in which you see yourself pursuing music professionally?
Well, I trained in musical theatre, so I love it as an art form. I love telling stories through song. I think the closest I’ll get to being a paid musician would be if I were to play a part in a film or a play that required me to play my guitar. Joey Batey, who plays Jaskier in the Witcher, is a legit musician. He is unreal. I sat down with a guitar with him one night. I was just messing around with some chords. Then he plays and I was like, “Yeah. I’m not gonna embarrass myself anymore.”
Some of the simplest songs I could play along with, but he’s a multi-instrument genius. I wouldn’t want to insult any professional musicians by saying I’m going to make an album or anything. I do want to write some of my own stuff moving forward and challenge myself in that way. If people want to listen to them, I’ll make them available, but I’m not going to try to get a record deal.
Lastly, to bring everything back to the Witcher, if you could give Lambert one piece of advice for what he goes through in the upcoming season, what would it be?
I’d want to give him a hug. [laughs] Don’t take things so personally. He’s got a tendency to take things to heart.
Season 2 of The Witcher is streaming now on Netflix. Follow Paul Bullion at @paulbullion.
Interview by Sydney Bolen
Photography by SNHFOTO Photography