FAN­TAS­TIC MAGIC

JK Rowl­ing’s lat­est ad­di­tion to the Harry Pot­ter fran­chise has at­tracted fans old and new to its cast, writes Philippa Hawker

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Film -

The prospect of a new movie in the Harry Pot­ter uni­verse caused anx­i­ety for many ded­i­cated fans. Can you have too much of a good thing? Could Fan­tas­tic Beasts and Where to Find Them, from an orig­i­nal JK Rowl­ing screen­play, pos­si­bly mea­sure up?

Ac­tor and Pot­ter devo­tee Ezra Miller — who plays a char­ac­ter called Cre­dence Bare­bone in the movie — was ut­terly con­fi­dent from the out­set. “It comes di­rectly from the mind and voice of JK Rowl­ing, so for me as a huge fan there was never a mo­ment of doubt.” He knew, he says, “what she would de­liver would be mag­nif­i­cent. Some­thing spe­cial, not just the run-of the-mill spin-off to ex­ploit the ready au­di­ence of a fran­chise.”

Fan­tas­tic Beasts and Where to Find Them is set in New York in 1926. It be­gan as a pass­ing ref­er­ence, the name of a text­book used at Hog­warts school. In 2001, Rowl­ing pro­duced a fac­sim­ile of Harry’s an­no­tated copy in aid of the char­ity Comic Relief. Now it’s a film fea­tur­ing the book’s author, Newt Sca­man­der (Ed­die Red­mayne), in an ad­ven­ture that takes place in the US, an en­tirely new mag­i­cal lo­ca­tion.

Miller, who played the ti­tle role in We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011) and will star in The Flash, can’t say enough about what it means to him to be in it. His char­ac­ter in Fan­tas­tic Beasts is a young man, one of a troop of or­phans who have grown up in the charge of a woman ob­sessed with rid­ding Amer­ica of witches. She’s bru­tal to them all, but par­tic­u­larly to him. Mean­while, Cre­dence is bur­dened with a se­cret: he re­cently has been ap­proached by a mem­ber of the wiz­ard­ing world seek­ing his help.

Miller says he “lost it com­pletely” when he learned he had been cast. His fa­ther read him the first Harry Pot­ter book when he was seven and he de­voured the books and films as they came out. But it was the au­dio record­ings by English ac­tor Jim Dale that stayed with him. “I re­ally feel like it’s one of the great­est per­for­mances in any medium, and one of the most influential ones in my life.” The au­dio­books “were a sanc­tu­ary for me as a kid, as an early ado­les­cent, even into my ado­les­cence” from bul­ly­ing he ex­pe­ri­enced.

When he au­di­tioned for the role, he had to im­pro­vise scenes from a few small de­tails he had been given about his char­ac­ter. He’d love to see a tape of it now, he says, to see how much his image of Cre­dence had changed.

He talks about the way cos­tume de­sign­ers and other col­lab­o­ra­tors pro­vide “canes and crutches and pogo sticks” for ac­tors to help build char­ac­ters. Cos­tume de­signer Colleen At­wood and hair and make-up de­signer Fae Ham­mond helped him to cre­ate the fig­ure of an iso­lated young man who suf­fered abuse. Ham­mond brought him some pho­to­graphs from the 1920s she had been us­ing as ref­er­ence points, “and to­gether we chose the hair­cut. It was si­mul­ta­ne­ously so au­then­tic and tragic.”

Fan­tas­tic Beasts is a de­par­ture in many ways for Rowl­ing. There’s more ac­tion in the non­wiz­ard­ing world than in the past, and the story takes us to a new mag­i­cal ter­rain. At the same time there are some fa­mil­iar ref­er­ences from the Pot­ter world, from beasts to fa­mous wiz­ard­ing fam­i­lies to the Deathly Hal­lows sym­bol. Most of all, there’s the fig­ure of Gellert Grindel­wald, a European wiz­ard who was once close to Dum­ble­dore but went down a dark path. An open­ing mon­tage of head­lines in the mag­i­cal press show Grindel­wald is on the move, and witches and wiz­ards fear his in­flu­ence.

Miller says Rowl­ing’s de­pic­tion of Grindel­wald’s “mag­i­cal fas­cism” is the kind of de­tail that mat­ters to him about the Pot­ter books. “They have al­ways con­fronted the darker as­pects of the hu­man species in re­ally pro­duc­tive and ad­mirable ways, and have served as a re­minder to all of us who have loved these sto­ries of all the gifts and tools we have to com­bat this el­e­ment in the world: our com­pas­sion, our kind­ness, our love. We are re­minded again and again through these sto­ries that love is the high­est magic.”

He likes to think his gen­er­a­tion will view Fan­tas­tic Beasts in this way. “I see it even as a call to arms for those of us who love this ma­te­rial and have per­haps pur­sued cre­ative works and works in so­cial jus­tice with the in­ten­tion of ef­fect­ing change pos­i­tively in our world, par­tially be­cause of the Harry Pot­ter in­flu­ence in our for­ma­tive years.” And, he be­lieves, it’s a re­minder that’s needed now more than ever.

Will we see more of Cre­dence in the fu­ture? If Miller knows, he def­i­nitely can’t say, but there is one thing of which he is cer­tain: “I’m just so grate­ful to have been in­volved with this project.” He uses a He­brew ex­pres­sion to sum up his feel­ings. “In the tribe of my lin­eage we might say ‘dayenu’ — it is suf­fi­cient. Which I mean quite sin­cerely.”

Kather­ine Water­ston, on the other hand, has a de­gree of cer­tainty about her char­ac­ter’s fu­ture. She knows, at any rate, that we’ll see more of Por­pentina Gold­stein, who is men­tioned in the author’s notes in the fac­sim­ile book, and who has be­come close to Sca­man­der.

Water­ston ( Board­walk Em­pire, In­her­ent Vice, the forth­com­ing Alien: Covenant) wasn’t a Pot­ter devo­tee like Miller but she has em­braced the world Rowl­ing cre­ated. Read­ing the screen­play, she says, what she saw on the page was a witch with ad­mirable and vul­ner­a­ble traits, some­one who is a mix­ture of con­fi­dence and in­se­cu­rity. Por­pentina — known as Tina — lost both par­ents when she was young and she takes care of her younger sis­ter. She is im­mensely proud of her work as an au­ror, a mem­ber of an elite squad trained to catch dark wiz­ards. She has been de­moted re­cently, how­ever, for rea­sons we dis­cover in the course of the film. They have a lot to do with her com­pas­sion.

Cos­tume, too, is im­mensely im­por­tant to Water­ston in cre­at­ing char­ac­ter. When she went for fit­tings with At­wood, she asked if she could try on a pair of trousers rather than a skirt. “And I don’t know why,” she says, “but when I put them on, this whole con­sid­er­able chunk of her back­story came to me in that room with Colleen. I said, ‘ What if these are her fa­ther’s trousers?’ She’s prac­ti­cal. She doesn’t go shop­ping, she doesn’t have the money, nor does she have the time or the in­ter­est in her in­te­rior self. She’s all func­tion.

“OK, so the dad’s old trousers were too big in the waist, she took them in at the waist and now they’re too short, but they’re out of her way. That’s fine, she can get her job done. And the blouse, I thought, ‘ What top would she have? Maybe it’s some­thing of her mother’s.’ So that’s why it’s more Vic­to­rian-look­ing than some­thing re­ally hip and what would have been the fash­ion at the time.

“That’s where the hair­cut came from, I thought, ‘ Well, she’s not go­ing to have a sleek

Ed­die Red­mayne as Newt Sca­man­der in Fan­tas­tic Beasts and Where to Find Them; JK Rowl­ing, above

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