“It’s a story about good versus evil...” - Eddie Redmayne and Katherine Waterston talk Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them
It’s been five years since Harry Potter made his last big screen appearance with the second part of the Deathly Hallows, five years that has seen author J. K. Rowling try her hand and excel at both detective fiction and gritty thrillers as well as assisting with a play that caps off the Harry Potter story. But ultimately, she couldn’t stay away from the wizarding world for long.
In September of 2013, it was announced that she’d written Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them, a script based on her 2001 book that brought together all the magical creatures in the Harry Potter universe, and the excitement that millions of Potter fans thought they’d never feel again suddenly came flooding back.
The movie is set 70 years before the events of Harry Potter and follows the adventures of Eddie Redmayne's Newt Scamander, a wizard at the heart New York's secret magic community, who arrives for a meeting with a briefcase full of magical creatures, some of whom end up escaping, creating a big problem for the Big Apple’s deeply divided wizarding community.
The movie stars Redmayne, Ezra Miller, Katherine Waterston, Colin Farrell, Alison Sudol and Dan Fogler. The movie has been directed by David Yates, who was behind the camera on four of the eight Harry Potter films and is the start of a series of five movies.
To celebrate the movie’s release on DVD, Blu-Ray and Blu-Ray Steelbook (which is available exclusively at hmv), we sat down with stars Redmayne and Waterston to talk about diving into Rowling’s wizarding world…
Fantastic Beasts is the first time J.K. Rowling has written directly for the screen, as opposed to a book being adapted. Did that affect your approach to creating these characters?
Eddie Redmayne: "There was the book she had written for Comic Relief, a glossary, titled Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. That is the book Newt is researching in this film. But it didn’t say much about who Newt was. When we read the script, the most amazing thing about it was not only was the dialogue kind of wonderful but when J.K. Rowling writes a script, the detail in between was so intricate and so exotic and enticing."
Katherine Waterston: "With Fantastic Beasts, because each character is so multi-dimensional and well-drawn and vivid, it was sort of like starting on the varsity team. It felt like we already had the muscles we needed because she’d given us so much already from the start."
Eddie: "It was all there, and so fully formed. I had an absolute sense of who Newt was pretty much from the first time I read it. Then, when I met with her, about a week before we started filming, she talked about where Newt came from in her imagination and in her life, and – as with everything with J.K. Rowling – it comes from her soul. And it was amazing – that conversation kick-started me in the right direction."
Eddie, you signed on for this role after winning the Oscar for The Theory of Everything. Was signing on for what could be a franchise a big decision for you?
Eddie: "The reality is that, for us, if you’re lucky enough to be in a position to choose work, it’s all about who the character is and what the story is. The way I came into this film was that I met with David Yates in a cryptic, top-secret meeting in a club in London. It was winter and it was pouring with rain; he was sitting by a fire, and I have this suitcase, this little case that I use in life. I came from the set of The Danish Girl, and this case had all my work in it."
"So, I arrived and didn’t know what we were going to be talking about. But I sat down and he started telling me the story. He said, ‘J.K. Rowling is writing the script and this is where the story is going.’ And he started describing who Newt was and talking about this case – at which point I gently start nudging my case backwards in order that he doesn’t think I’ve become one of those actors who’s turned up dressed as the character."
What a coincidence! Still, it must have really exciting to be invited to be part of all this?
Eddie: "I was literally being told the story, and I found it so intoxicating that when I finally read the script, genuinely my mind was blown. There was a thriller element; there was a darkness to it, but there were great humour and that thing that J.K. did in all the Potter films. It has great heart at the centre of it, too. I just found it completely hypnotising."
"In terms of it being a franchise, all I knew was that this story was wonderful. It felt like something I haven’t read before. And the speaking to J.K., and knowing how protective she is, knowing that she is doing this because she has a story she wants to tell. The way into it is through Newt and the case, but it’s a much bigger story about good versus evil. And knowing that she will be in charge of all of these films, I wanted to be a part of that journey."
What was the aspect of your characters that most attracted you to the roles?
Katherine: "One of my favourite messages of the film: that there’s so much more to people than initially meets the eye. I think it’s one of the great discoveries in the film, at least for Tina as she gets to know Newt. At the beginning, he’s not very engaged; he’s prickly; he really wishes she’d probably fuzz off."
"She thinks he’s got an interest in a ridiculous subject, and one that’s dangerous and a nuisance. But it’s through getting to know him better that she comes to understand what these creatures really mean and what they can be. And through seeing his relationship with the creatures, she comes to see there’s so much more to him than just the prickly, standoffish and disinterested outsider she meets at the beginning of the film."
Was that the same for you Eddie?
Eddie: "Yeah, I completely agree. It was one of the things that I loved – the idiosyncrasies within these characters, as you say. Tina was someone that presents as incredibly strong, and yet she has the fragility as well. And similarly, Newt has a seeming awkwardness and shyness, and a complete incapacity to relate to other people. One gets a sense that that stems from some sort of damage. It’s also because he is someone who has grown up with these creatures, so he has great empathy for them. And he’s his own person."
"J.K. Rowling writes about these characters who all appear to be misunderstood or outsiders in some way, but when they find each other, they bring qualities out in each other. Both Newt and Tina have a certain pre-judgmental notion, and yet when they really look and listen, I feel that they see each other."
Can you talk about some of the scenes you have in the film when there is no dialogue but you’re interacting with something magical, something that would have been added in post-production?
Katherine: "Scenes without dialogue are really tough. You realise how much of a crutch dialogue can be for an actor, and without it, you become hyper-conscious of the rest of yourself. It can be awkward at first. There was a lot in the film that you might imagine was done on green screen, but, actually, we had puppets [for the beasts] and we had a lot of visuals quite often."
"But they couldn’t simply rig a plate swinging across the room for us to imagine, so we had to really work it out. We had to slow down the rehearsal that day and kind of took over for a minute and just said, ‘Hang on. We need to do this like a dance.’ So we did it to this beat; we’d open the cupboards and the plate moved across the room, and we’d salt the fish or whatever it was. We had to do the whole thing so that we saw it, we knew that she and I were both seeing the same things, and then we could be free with it. It’s just magic, who cares?"
Eddie: "David Yates allowed me the freedom to rehearse a bit before we started filming and then say what we needed. So, for the scene with the Erumpent, for example, we had a gigantic puppet made by some people who had worked on War Horse, and three puppeteers operating it, and we rehearsed together. Then, when it came to shooting, we would rehearse with the puppet on camera, so the camera would see where it was. And then the puppet would go and I would remember what it was I’d see and then interact after it on sense-memory."
If you could pick any Harry Potter character to make a cameo in Fantastic Beasts, which would it be?
Eddie: "Can I give you her answer? I kind of agree with her. Bring back Dobby."
Katherine: "Dobby. I’ve not recovered from his passing. That scene was so devastating to me. It just pops into my mind when I’m having a nice day and then I just get really sad. Thanks, J.K. Rowling, Dobby is a beautiful character."