Fantasy Interview Movies

Relationships, Secrets, Politics, and Nostalgia: A ‘Fantastic Beasts’ Conversation

This year, audiences will grab their portkeys to journey once more into J.K. Rowling’s ever expanding Wizarding World, when Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald comes to theaters November 16, 2018. The sequel continues the enchanting adventures of magizoologist, Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), and his colleagues, as they race against time to prevent dark wizard, Gellert Grindelwald (Johnny Depp) from fulfilling his goal of wizard domination over non-magical beings. The film, with higher stakes than the first movie and a much darker tone, also features a welcome return to a setting we’ve been missing for seven years: Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

In anticipation of the film’s release, The Nerds of Color were able to meet with returning stars Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler, Alison Sudol, and Ezra Miller, as well as franchise newcomer Callum Turner, and producer David Heyman for a fantastic conversation about the film, their characters, and the return of Hogwarts and Albus Dumbledore.

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“It’s quite nostalgic,” Heyman started, on the topic of rebuilding the iconic bridge to Hogwarts. “When I read the script and you see the connected tissue to Hogwarts [and] to Harry Potter becoming stronger… I confess the set wasn’t as elaborate as it was on the 8th Harry Potter film. It was a bridge with nothing around or under it, as that was all done digitally,” he said laughing. “So in terms of emotion, sentiment, it wasn’t as extraordinary as it might have been had we actually built a lot more of it.”

When asked about Eddie’s performance in this movie compared to the last, Heyman replied, “Newt is more second nature to [Eddie]. That being said the journey in this one is very different to the journey in the first. In terms of Eddie, I think he’s a fantastic actor. It’s really fun to watch him work. It’s fun also when the film comes together, partly because watching the choices David [Yates] makes in the cut. But also, since the film is shot in bits, when you see it as a whole you get an amazing sense of the whole film and how [Eddie’s] character changes over the course of it and see how some of his choices echo and reflect or lead to choices he makes later in the film. It’s really interesting. Especially since we shot it out of sequence.”

Turner plays Thesius Scamander, Newt’s older brother. In the film, Rowling paints a complicated relationship between Thesius and Newt, in part attributed to their love triangle with Zoe Kravitz’s Leta Lestrange. On the subject of said love triangle, Turner had this to say:

“It’s a subtle one. That’s what’s sort of brilliant about Jo’s writing. Leta and Newt are very similar. They became companions at a young age to survive a situation or environment that wasn’t natural to them. Thesius on the other hand, is the opposite to both of them. And I think in any relationship, opposites attract. And I think that’s where Thesius and Leta are in terms of their love. There’s so much acceptance, and support, and generosity towards one another. I think they’re a fiery couple”

When discussing the complex tapestry that is the relationship between Newt and Thesius, Turner stated, “With Newt, it was very important not to play the hardened brother. And, the relationship between Newt and Thesius — Newt is running away and Thesius is worried about Newt. He thinks he’s slightly odd. He’s not part of the same society or system that he’s in. And, Thesius is actually trying to drag him into a line–into what Thesius thinks Newt should be. And I think that’s the mistake. But actually it’s born out of love. It’s not born out of authority or anything. He’s worried. He realizes the world around him is crumbling, but what he’s doing is suffocating him. He’s not allowing him to breathe.”

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Jumping in on the movie’s themes of brotherhood, Heyman added, “What I love about brothers in this film is that ultimately brotherhood is more important than anything. And the two of them begin on opposite sides in some way. Thesius is a Ministry man. Newt is anti-establishment. Even while that is going on, Thesius whispers into his ear ‘their following you’… He’s trying to help [Newt] because that’s his brother — not because he wants him to be on the Ministry’s side.”

The movie, at its core, is inherently about lines being drawn and characters being forced to choose sides to fight for their own personal visions of the future. Caught in the crossfire of that conflict are returning fan favorites, Jacob Kowalski and Queenie Goldstein, portrayed by Fogler and Sudol, respectively. From the first movie on, Jacob and Queenie were both embraced endearingly by Potter fans, given their warm personalities, comedic timing, and the off-the-charts easy chemistry between Fogler and Sudol. In this new adventure, however, that relationship is put to the ultimate test, as conflicts arise from the wizarding world’s policies around muggle/magic relationships.

Here’s what Sudol had to say about Queenie’s role in the movie:

“All [Queenie] really wants is what everyone else gets to have — a normal life. And to love, and get married, and have children. That’s what she wants. And in that desire is sort of a negating of this huge gift that she has, which unfortunately annoys everybody… So there’s starting to be a bit of friction within her, but she’s trying very hard not to have that happen. She has so much optimism and love to give. And that optimism and that love is what takes her ultimately on that journey.”

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When asked about the specific complications that arise for Queenie and Jacob’s relationship within this movie, she continued:

“The only thing that drives [Queenie] forward is making [this relationship] happen. Otherwise she’d just go with her sister. So I think there’s an active hope. [She’s] hopeful…And that’s what we want to hang on to with these two. Not what they’re going through, but what is in them that is indestructible.”

At the end of the first movie, fans were left wondering whether or not No-Maj Jacob remembered Queenie, Newt, Tina, and their adventures around New York and within Newt’s briefcase after the final “Obliviate” spell was cast over the city of New York. While Crimes of Grindelwald specifically does address that question, Fogler was asked to elaborate on how much the character remembers:

“I think he remembered a lot of it. The obliviate spell erases bad memories, and he didn’t have any bad memories. Even the Erumpant was a good memory. He may not remember the scary parts of it, but he definitely remembers being in [Newt’s] case. It became familiar. So he retains it, puts it into his art, with the muffins and everything. And, his dream girl walks into the bakery. And he’s got the scar on his neck. And it all comes flooding back when she smiles at him.”

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On the subject of returning to the franchise, Fogler discussed his experience:

“The first movie was a lot of pressure to get things right. It was a lot of fun. And it was such an amazing experience. But there was a lot of pressure to see if it even worked. Coming back this time was like being a sophomore in college. You know the ropes, and you have your friends. But, it’s still fresh and new and exciting.”

Queenie and Jacob’s relationship isn’t the only one evolving in the new movie. Naturally, the first movie ended with a subtle opening for a romantic relationship to develop between protagonist Newt Scamander and Tina Goldstein.  Die-hard Potter fans who have kept up with Rowling’s writings both within the pages of the novels and via Pottermore have already been aware since before the first film that Tina and Newt do inevitably wind up married to one another. However, neither Waterston nor Redmayne have let this affect their own portrayals of their characters and their on-screen relationship.

“It’s so much fun, because it’s the one area of this thing where the audience has a huge advantage over the characters,” Waterson stated. “When we think the relationship is in trouble it’s serious business… when things go wrong it gets intense. And it was so much fun to fight with [Newt] in this one. So much fun to be really annoyed, because of course that thing when someone’s really gotten under your skin or is really frustrating you is typically some indication that you’re drawn to them in some really powerful way. So it was really fun to resist the romance in a way, to give the audience that pleasure of knowing what we don’t know.”

Redmayne added, “It’s also that we don’t know until we read the script what the story’s going to be. In the first film we got to work together so much. And in this one it was like, ‘what? I don’t get to hang out with Katherine until when?’”

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Redmayne was also asked about the evolution of Newt’s character in the franchise so far, and whether J.K. Rowling gave him an outline of where his character was going to start and end. He responded saying:

“I read the script of the first one before I signed up. And whenever you do a film that’s more than one film, you’re sort of committing your life to it. Potentially 10-15 years of your life to it and your family’s life, so it’s a big step, I think. But for me the person in charge of that step is one of the great imaginations of the 21st century, and that is what I threw myself into. As far as Newt changing in this, what I love is that Newt has always been an outsider. He’s created this cocoon of safety for himself and he’s a good person, and he’s got this great quality with these creatures. But is that enough to be a good morally upstanding person when the stakes of the world are so extreme?  And I feel like in this film, he realizes not only does he have to engage, but he has to get Dumbledore to engage as well.”

Both Redmayne and Waterson were asked whether they were allowed to make any changes or suggestions for the movie while filming was taking place.

“That’s an interesting question,” Redmayne began, “Because the script is — Jo always writes it with great rigor and there’s extraordinary detail. Jo has this amazing thing by which, yes she writes it, and she writes it fully and thoroughly, but she allows us the freedom to play within that.”

Waterson chimed in, “And we also kind of recklessly invent new tasks for the CGI department in a way to problem solve within the scene. When I went into the speakeasy in the first film, I thought ‘she would look like a government official if she stays in her regular outfit, she wouldn’t look right there.’ And I thought it’d be really great if I had the appropriate attire. And we just thought, ‘we got these wands…’ and the CGI department’s like ‘Okay. That’s going to take us a month!’  But they let us do that stuff, and that is really, really fun to be inventive in that way.”

The pair was also asked to comment on their reaction upon reading the political parallels of some of Grindelwald’s speeches within the script as they pertain to current global events today.

“First we saw it on the page. And, I was just thrilled to see Jo exploring these issues that are so the issues of our time, and also the issues of the period in which the film is set,” stated Waterston. “And we know where that led us in the 20th century, and to consider the possibility that we can be hurdling in that direction again is totally chilling. Then you put an actor [like Depp] into it , who show us how this happens. It’s not by being simply terrifying but by being seductive and having logical arguments, and encouraging people to take sides and vilify the other. You see it takes a cunning person to manipulate people that way. And Johnny really understood that and delivered it that way.”

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To Waterson’s point, Rowling has courageously never been one to shy away from expressing her core beliefs openly, whether on social media or within her own works.  In some ways The Crimes of Grindelwald presents the perfect opportunity for the Wizarding World series to provide allegorical looks into the modern-day issues that are plaguing our planet today. As such, it became a hot topic for members of the press to inquire about, as returning star, Ezra Miller, was also asked the same question.

Miller, reprising his role as Credence Barebone, had this to say about the film’s take on today’s issues:

“Obviously something that J.K. Rowling’s work is constantly, clearly seeking to deconstruct is the mechanisms by which we remove compassion or remove the effort to achieve understanding when it comes to any fellow being. And in this series we’re talking about that when it comes to how we all regard each other. And this supposition in the J.K. Rowling-verse has always been that just because it’s a magical world, doesn’t mean it’s a world free from bigotry, hatred, fear, and war-mongering. And so, these films start to further deconstruct some of those mechanisms and really start to look at how is it that we do that, and what leaves us vulnerable to people who would have us do that, just to be pawns for their interests. And I think that’s a timeless message, and a very excruciatingly relevant message right now.”

As Credence’s story within the Wizarding World mythology begins to unfold and take shape, a key part of that development is greatly influenced by his relationship with Grindelwald, both as Percival Graves in the original movie, and his current form in this film. As such, Miller was asked about this relationship within the movie, as well as his relationship with Johnny Depp during filming.

“It was a deeply, deeply immersive experience that we shared, over a short period of time. Definitely a lot was shared and discussed, in the course of trying to create this complicated dynamic. What I really liked was the way it plays in this movie. The continuity between Credence’s relationship with Grindelwald in the body of Percival Graves, transitioning now into his true form — stuff like that we had a lot to think and talk about and work on. So it was a thoroughly engaging and interesting experience for sure.”

As our time with the cast came to a close, it became apparent how much Rowling’s writings, their characters, the relationships between one another, and the film’s messages meant to every single member of the ensemble. And with that transparency came the realization that deep down, even those responsible for bringing this world to life were all inherently Wizarding World nerds, just like all of us. And so together, we’ll be waiting in eager anticipation for the story to continue.

Fantastic Beasts The Crimes of Grindelwald opens in theaters November 16, 2018.