FAN­TAS­TIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM

“It was very im­por­tant that Jo Rowl­ing wrote the script”

SFX: The Sci-Fi and Fantasy Magazine - - Contents - Fan­tas­tic Beasts And Where To Find Them opens on 18 Novem­ber.

David Yates wants you to imag­ine that you’re in your favourite restau­rant.

“You go to this place be­cause it’s fa­mil­iar,” he says, “and the peo­ple who look after you there are lovely. You have a re­ally nice time and a beau­ti­ful view; you look out the win­dow and there’s this great lake with these beau­ti­ful trees. You like com­ing back here. But one day they bring you this food you’ve never eaten be­fore. And so the ac­tual sen­sual ex­pe­ri­ence of what you con­sume is com­pletely fresh and new, but in a com­fort­able en­vi­ron­ment that feels like com­ing home.”

This mag­i­cal restau­rant, in case you’re not fol­low­ing, is the di­rec­tor’s anal­ogy for the new, ex­panded uni­verse of Harry Pot­ter – known as “JK Rowl­ing’s Wizard­ing World”. It’s a rel­a­tively new con­cept; a way of telling sto­ries beyond the orig­i­nal nov­els and films; which be­gan in July with stage se­quel Harry Pot­ter

And The Cursed Child, still on­go­ing in Lon­don. Yet the play, if we’re stick­ing to this metaphor, was just the starter. The main course will be served as cin­ema: a new and ex­cit­ing dish called Fan­tas­tic Beasts And Where To Find Them, the first film in a brand new tril­ogy. An idea, ac­cord­ing to both Yates and pro­ducer David Hey­man, that was cooked up not out of fran­chise‑minded cyn­i­cism, but by a pull that nei­ther they, nor JK Rowl­ing, could ig­nore.

“I don’t think Fan­tas­tic Beasts… was a busi­ness man­date,” says Hey­man, “be­cause [Rowl­ing] doesn’t need the money. It’s both an af­fec­tion for her au­di­ence and an af­fec­tion for this world… And Jo has a whole wealth of ma­te­rial in her mind. We would talk amongst our­selves about ‘what could we do?’ One of the pro­duc­ers, Lionel Wi­gram, had the idea of mak­ing a doc­u­men­tary out of [Rowl­ing’s 2001 Comic Re­lief book] Fan­tas­tic Beasts…, where Newt Sca­man­der would be off look­ing for mag­i­cal crea­tures. And when that idea was put to Jo she said, ‘It’s funny, I’ve been think­ing about this my­self and I have a com­pletely dif­fer­ent story set in Amer­ica in 1926’. And of course, it was so much bet­ter than any­thing Lionel or I would ever have come up with.”

Newt Sca­man­der (Ed­die Red­mayne) is only men­tioned once in the Harry Pot­ter books, in

…Philoso­pher’s Stone, as a name on an old, mag­i­cal crea­tures text­book. In 2001, Rowl­ing brought that text­book to life for char­ity. And now she’s fleshed out Sca­man­der him­self: a Bri­tish ma­g­i­zo­ol­o­gist who, after trav­el­ling into Amer­i­can wizard­ing so­ci­ety, in­ad­ver­tently lets loose a load of mag­i­cal crea­tures in pro­hi­bi­tion‑era New York. Un­like pre­vi­ous

Pot­ter films, which were mostly adapted by Steve Kloves, it’s an idea both con­ceived and scripted by Rowl­ing; a whole new chal­lenge for the nov­el­ist.

“She was a fast learner!” laughs Yates. “And she has quirks and qual­i­ties that sea­soned screen­writ­ers do not have; nov­el­is­tic ten­den­cies that we em­braced slightly some­times, be­cause they were pure Jo.”

“It was very im­por­tant that Jo wrote the script be­cause it’s her voice that’s at the heart of it,” adds Hey­man. “On …Cursed Child, even though Jack Thorne wrote it, she was very much part of cre­at­ing the world, char­ac­ters and story. And so too with this. The plea­sure of that imag­i­na­tion in the small­est of de­tails is a won­der­ful thing.”

STRANGE NEW WORLD

Much like Harry Pot­ter, Fan­tas­tic Beasts And

Where To Find Them is es­sen­tially a fish‑out‑ of‑wa­ter story, this time with a bum­bling Brit in a coun­try he doesn’t un­der­stand. For much like the Mug­gle worlds, wizard­ing Amer­ica is a fa­mil­iar, yet alien place. On a ba­sic level, this means dif­fer­ences like re­fer­ring to Mug­gles as “No‑Majs” and hav­ing a Mag­i­cal Congress (MACUSA) in­stead of a Min­istry. Yet it also goes deeper than that. For it’s a so­ci­ety built from an­other his­tory, from the hard‑for­got­ten fact that No‑Majs used to burn witches and wizards alive.

“They were per­se­cuted sig­nif­i­cantly by No‑Majs dur­ing the Salem witch trial era,” ex­plains Yates, “so they’ve de­cided to live their lives se­cretly un­der­ground. It’s much more seg­re­gated in Amer­ica than it is in Europe, in a sense that it’s a com­mu­nity of wizards who have not quite made peace. And Newt, this Brit, lands in the mid­dle of that and finds it of­fen­sive that, for ex­am­ple, they can’t marry non‑wizards. It’s lovely drop­ping a Brit in Amer­ica in 1926; with his suit­case full of things that, if they get out, will com­pro­mise the se­cu­rity of that com­mu­nity.”

And that, of course, is ex­actly what hap­pens, thanks to the fran­chise’s first non‑mag­i­cal main char­ac­ter Ja­cob (Dan Fogler), a happy‑go‑lucky Mug­gle who opens Newt’s suit­case by mis­take. This, as you can imag­ine, sets off a dra­matic chain of events, with Newt, hav­ing lost his crea­tures, now try­ing des­per­ately to get them back. Luck­ily, he’s as­sisted by Ja­cob, MACUSA em­ployee Por­pentina (Kather­ine Water­ston), and her sis­ter Quee­nie (Ali­son Su­dol). Un­luck­ily, they’re also be­ing pur­sued by an an­tag­o­nis­tic Auror, played by Colin Far­rell. And the stakes, as you can imag­ine, are high; with the fi­asco threat­en­ing to de­stroy the peace be­tween wizard and No‑Maj.

As with the Harry Pot­ter sto­ries, which ex­plored eu­gen­ics and racism, the themes of prej­u­dice and divi­sion are clear to see. But

Fan­tas­tic Beasts… is not a “mes­sage film” ac­cord­ing to Hey­man; nor is it too at­tached to the real‑life is­sues of its time, or now.

“The story is very much of the mo­ment,” he says, “but the themes res­onate be­cause alas, they are time­less… Stig­ma­ti­sa­tion, open­ness

It’s whim­si­cal, funny and melan­cholic in places

to the ‘other’; re­pres­sion; divi­sion… We wanted to make a film that was emo­tion­ally truth­ful and fun with an un­der­pin­ning of gravitas and mean­ing.”

SCHOOL’S OUT

For both Hey­man and Yates, work­ing on Fan­tas­tic Beasts… was a “fresh, but nos­tal­gic” ex­pe­ri­ence, with Yates hav­ing di­rected the fi­nal four Harry Pot­ter films, and Hey­man hav­ing pro­duced ev­ery Pot­ter film to date.

“Not work­ing in a school con­text was fun to play with,” says Hey­man, “and work­ing with adults as op­posed to chil­dren too. You can shoot longer hours! Be­cause when you work with kids you can only shoot with them for a cer­tain amount of time.”

“[Work­ing with adults] was a key dif­fer­ence,” con­tin­ues Yates. “The movie feels as grown up as the lat­ter Pot­ter films. It has a lot of dif­fer­ent colours too. It’s whim­si­cal, funny and melan­cholic in places. Go­ing back to that restau­rant anal­ogy, it’s a whole meal; you get your starter and – I should be a chef, shouldn’t I?”

The con­nec­tive tis­sue be­tween Harry Pot­ter and Fan­tas­tic Beasts… doesn’t stop be­hind the cam­era, how­ever. For de­spite be­ing set 65 years be­fore the events of …Philoso­pher’s Stone, there are cer­tain char­ac­ters – wise, an­cient, fa­mil­iar char­ac­ters – for fans to look for­ward to; even if they may have to wait a while to ac­tu­ally see them.

“The worlds are con­nected,” says Yates, “and there are char­ac­ters that ex­ist in both. [We hear of ] Dum­ble­dore in this film, and we see him in the next part of the tril­ogy. He teaches at Hog­warts… The scenes that Jo has writ­ten are lovely. The younger Dum­ble­dore is de­light­ful. He’s very mis­chievous and enor­mous fun and a bit of a po­lit­i­cal an­i­mal. I’m yet to cast him. I’ve got a cou­ple of ideas, though…”

Yates is get­ting ahead of him­self. But it says a lot, re­ally, that we’re talk­ing about the fu­ture of

Fan­tas­tic Beasts… be­fore it has even be­gun. For as the first film in a tril­ogy – the first film in an ex­cit­ing new era – it’s loaded with po­ten­tial; with the ques­tion, “how far can JK Rowl­ing’s Wizard­ing World go?” After all, Harry Pot­ter is not the Mar­vel Cin­e­matic Uni­verse or mod­ern

Star Wars. It’s a fran­chise de­fined by a sin­gle cre­ative vi­sion, and there is a limit to how much one woman can do.

“It feels like the be­gin­ning of some­thing ex­cit­ing,” says Yates, “but in terms of where it goes from here, the sec­ond script which Jo has writ­ten is a re­ally in­ter­est­ing de­par­ture from the first. It’s very beau­ti­ful and op­er­ates slightly dif­fer­ently to this one. Jo cer­tainly has a tril­ogy in her head, but I don’t know if it will go any fur­ther than that. It depends.”

“I think that Jo will con­tinue to write as long as she feels an ur­gency,” adds Hey­man. “I can’t imag­ine her ever say­ing to an­other writer, ‘why don’t you do this’, like the way they do with all those Ian Flem­ing James Bond books writ­ten by other peo­ple. That’s not go­ing to hap­pen. I can’t imag­ine that hap­pen­ing. It’s Jo; the rea­son it works is Jo.”

“And then you turn left at the Co‑op, straight past the lights…”

Di­rec­tor David Yates re­turns to the Pot­ter‑verse.

Shoot­ing an English­man in New York.

Stop! Tiny mag­i­cal thief! Doesn’t he know smok­ing’s bad for you?

Wel­come to the wizard­ing world. We have odd taste in hats.

This can prob­a­bly be ex­plained away eas­ily. One day, Ha­grid will own one of these, we’re sure.

Ezra Miller and Colin Far­rell play Cre­dence Bare­bone and Auror Per­ci­val Graves.

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