This coming weekend audiences in SA will get to return to the magical world of Harry Potter when Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them debuts locally. It’s already apparated a small mountain of money in the rest of the world, and now it’s our turn to add to it. We’ll have a full review up for you soon, but as we told you last week, the movie is pretty good. Original author JK Rowling, who makes her screenwriting debut here, spins up a new tale that stands alone from the Harry Potter stories as a slightly more dramatically mature effort, but still captures that magical charm.
Of course, this is not the tale of a young boy finding his place in this world, but rather the adventures of Newt Scamander, the magizoologist whose collection of magical beasts are at the centre of this story. And the man bringing Newt alive is Oscar winner Eddie Redmayne. And there was really never going to be another man for the job, as the actor revealed to Variety that there was no audition process as director David Yates hand picked him for the role. Hand picked him very secretively.
It came to me in a wonderfully top-secret way. I got a call, saying David Yates wanted to meet me about an unknown project. We met in a pub called Blacks, which is in Soho in London. As I went to this place, it was pouring rain, and downstairs in the basement, there was a fire and David. The whole thing had a Diagon Alley vibe to it. He started telling me this story that J.K. Rowling was writing, and he talked about Newt and the case. I had taken a suitcase that I had. As he talked more about the case, I gently pushed my case back. I had this embarrassment that I looked like one of those actors that turned up dressed for the part.
And even once he got the part, the secrets didn’t stop.
[I only read the script] in three months time. I never ever have done a film where you have to literally lock up the script in a safe. First, you’re not really allowed a paper script. I was like, “I need a script to write notes on it.”
Occasionally, I would smuggle my script home.
And to prepare for the role of Newt, and how the magizoologist interacts with his outlandish creatures, Redmayne relied on some real world inspiration.
I met animal handlers. I met a guy who tracks creatures, so he showed me a bizarre thing. When you’re trying to track a creature, you try to make absolutely no noise. You put one foot down at an angle, and he stood open-toed.
I met this woman who was handling a newborn anteater and feeding the anteater. The way to make the anteater relax was to tickle her. I could bring little things like that to David, and said: “How about with the Niffler, when it tries to protect its pouch, I tickle him.”
Of course tickling an anteater is a lot easier seeing as it’s a real life creature. Newt’s creatures, like the Erumpent (essentially supersized cross between a rhino and a hippo with the ability to spontaneously combust objects with its horn), of course don’t exist, but even so, Redmayne ending doing green screen acting far less than you would think.
The extraordinary thing about the film is that they built so much of it. I had worked out talking to nothing. But then for the Erumpent, for example, some of the people who worked on “War Horse” built this massive puppet. We would rehearse it for camera, then they would go off and I would have the sense memory of what we had just rehearsed.
Of course one thing that is real is Newt’s wand, which was kind of big deal to Redmayne – even though the wand itself isn’t. He may have messed up the first moment he got to use it though, but he soon learned from some practiced hands.
I talked to the art department, and had long discussions about [Newt’s wand]. He’s a simple guy — nothing pretentious, just a wooden wand with a shell at the bottom. I wonder if the people from the merchandising department went, “I wish he could have gone a bit bedazzled.”
I did watch moments [of Harry Potter], like the wand stuff. There is a sense that every actor is like, “One day, I’ll get my wand moment.” I got my wand moment, and I got stage fright. I got awkward. I didn’t know what to do with it. In the end, I watched Dan Radcliffe, Ralph Fiennes, and Emma Watson. I definitely stole, and thieved.
Another special moment was getting to work with JK Rowling, the woman who created this massively beloved universe. And with her personally steering the ship, Redmayne had no concerns about the fact that what was originally announced as a trilogy of movies has since expanded into five or that he had to now be the new guy leading it.
I had a meeting for an hour with her. When you meet J.K. Rowling, there is such great anticipation, but it was really about talking about Newt. He’s personal for J.K. Rowling. It was helpful and gave me a sense of who he was. When she wrote the script, her characters did jump off the page.
I’m always nervous. But the nerves come out of a place, having enjoyed the “Harry Potter” films and books so much, you get to be part of an extension of that world. You don’t want to be the new guy, the schmuck, that turns up and screws that up. But I think there’s something unique about it. What I loved about the script — there’s a darkness to it, a thriller quality, a comedy, there’s a romance, and there’s heart at the end of it. I was really emotional when I read the script. That’s hard to do; there’s a deftness of touch to it. I just hope we managed to retain what the script had in that way.
I didn’t [worry about staying with the character that long], because I’d love who she’d written. As an actor, if it’s your dream to tell stories, getting to tell stories within the imagination of one of the greatest storytellers in the world is all you can hope for, really. Long may that continue.
But just because Redmayne is perfectly happy with the extended scope of the series thanks to Rowling, doesn’t mean he actually knows what she has planned for it.
No. We really do not know [how the series ends]. I think different actors know different amounts. We probably need to sit down. There was one day when [Rowling] came on set, and she was writing the second movie. She said, “I’m not allowed to say anything.” But she would sort of spill forth, and it was so infectious. Katherine [Waterston] and I were called back to a scene, and I remember the two of us doing the scene, but looking to the right — at Jo. Poor David was like, “Focus on the task.”
And focus on the task they did, as the movie’s turned out pretty good. But don’t just take my word for it.
[JK Rowling] had seen the first cut of the film, and she tweeted a load of faces with heart eyes. I never felt more happy. Who knew that an emoji tweet could make me feel so happy?
Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them opens this coming Friday in local cinemas.
Last Updated: November 22, 2016