Con­tin­u­ing J.K. Rowl­ing’s magic


Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - FRONT PAGE - By Rob Low­man South­ern Cal­i­for­nia News Group

“Fan­tas­tic Beasts and Where to Find Them” is a fresh chap­ter in J.K. Rowl­ing’s mag­i­cal world.

J.K. Rowl­ing’s first Harry Pot­ter novel, which was pub­lished in 1997, had an ini­tial print run of 2,500 copies, but by the time the last of the eight Pot­ter films was re­leased in 2011 the se­ries was a world­wide phe­nom­e­non.

And there was still an enor­mous ap­petite for more.

So Fri­day’s re­lease of “Fan­tas­tic Beasts and Where to Find Them” — a fresh chap­ter in Rowl­ing’s mag­i­cal world that takes place be­fore Harry’s ad­ven­tures — would seem like a time of cel­e­bra­tion for wiz­ards and Mug­gles alike.

Yet an air of mys­tery sur­rounds the es­ti­mated $180 mil­lion Warner Bros film. Un­like the Pot­ter films, which were based on Rowl­ing’s nov­els and al­ready had a huge fan base by the time they hit the screen, “Beasts” is from an orig­i­nal script by the ac­claimed au­thor. So there is some an­tic­i­pa­tion about how the film and its an­nounced se­quels will be re­ceived.

“Beasts” cen­ters on the char­ac­ter of Newt Sca­man­der, played by Os­car-win­ning ac­tor Ed­die Red­mayne. The ec­cen­tric English wiz­ard is first men­tioned in the ini­tial Pot­ter novel as the au­thor of a text­book about mag­i­cal crea­tures writ­ten in the 1920s called “Fan­tas­tic Beasts.” As part of a char­ity ef­fort in 2001, Rowl­ing, us­ing the name Newt Sca­man­der, pub­lished a small book with that ti­tle, which de­scribed the crea­tures.

The film, though, is an en­tirely dif­fer­ent beast, a full-fledged dive into a fa­mil­iar yet dif­fer­ent mag­i­cal world of another era.

“Newt is an un­usual hero,” says Red­mayne. “He is in­cred­i­bly awk­ward in hav­ing re­la­tion­ships with hu­man be­ings, and yet he is en­tirely con­tent in his own skin.”

“(Ed­die Red­mayne) is great at play­ing char­ac­ters who are out­siders, some­one who can be a lit­tle bit naughty and awk­ward and yet he can make them en­tirely re­lat­able, en­gag­ing and sym­pa­thetic.” — ‘Fan­tas­tic Beasts’ pro­ducer Da­vide Hey­man

Get­ting Red­mayne was cru­cial for the project, says pro­ducer David Hey­man.

“We had one and only choice for Newt and that was Ed­die,” he says. “He is great at play­ing char­ac­ters who are out­siders, some­one who can be a lit­tle bit naughty and awk­ward and yet he can make them en­tirely re­lat­able, en­gag­ing and sym­pa­thetic.”

One rea­son Hey­man and di­rec­tor David Yates wanted Red­mayne was be­cause they saw him as quintessen­tially Bri­tish.

“That was im­por­tant,” says the pro­ducer. “You feel like he can ex­ist in any time; so he fits in very com­fort­ably in 1926.”

Red­mayne won his Os­car for play­ing physi­cist Stephen Hawk­ing in “The The­ory of Ev­ery­thing,” which was set mostly in the 1960s and ‘70s. The fol­low­ing year the 34-year-old ac­tor re­ceived a sec­ond nom­i­na­tion for his work in the role of Lili Elbe, one of the first-known re­cip­i­ents of sex-re­as­sign­ment surgery, in “The Dan­ish Girl,” which took place in the early part of the 20th cen­tury.

Red­mayne just laughs when asked about all the pe­riod pieces he’s been in. He men­tions read­ing a quote at­trib­uted to Daniel Rad­cliffe, who, when asked about “Fan­tas­tic Beasts,” re­port­edly com­plained that all he ever got to wear was a hoodie and jeans in the Pot­ter films while Red­mayne gets to wear some great coats and out­fits.

“I thought, ‘I dream about get­ting a role where I only get to wear a hoodie and jeans in a film,’ “he says with a laugh.

“Fan­tas­tic Beasts” not only in­tro­duces Newt but also the friends he makes once he ar­rives in New York City. (The se­quel, al­ready in the works, is set in Paris, mak­ing Newt more of a world trav­eler than Harry.)

They in­clude Kather­ine Water­ston as Tina and Ali­son Su­dol as Quee­nie, two mag­i­cal sis­ters. Tony-award win­ner Dan Fogler plays Ja­cob — a No-Mag, some­one with­out mag­i­cal pow­ers — who stum­bles into the world of wiz­ards.

Un­like the “Pot­ter” sto­ries, “Beasts” in­volves adults in­stead of chil­dren. Red­mayne says his brother, who is six years younger, got him into Harry’s world when the books first came out.

“I was quite in­tox­i­cated by that world,” says the ac­tor who be­came a first-time fa­ther in June. “When the films started com­ing out, I just found the most in­cred­i­bly warm and com­fort­ing place to re­turn to ev­ery year or so.”

What Red­mayne loved about Rowl­ing’s “Beasts” script was that it was only when Newt “meets the other mem­bers of the quar­tet — who are all out­siders in their own way — that he and the oth­ers could re­veal them­selves.”

Rowl­ing says “Fan­tas­tic Beasts” was “partly in­formed” by the rise of fearstoked pop­ulism around the world. This was long be­fore the re­cent U.S. elec­tion.

“I think when you look at Jo’s, work you see themes of in­tol­er­ance, a world di­vided, which is as rel­e­vant in 1926 as it is to­day,” Hey­man says.

When Newt ar­rives in New York, it’s a city be­tween the two World Wars with the De­pres­sion on the hori­zon and strug­gling with eco­nomic in­equal­ity and xeno­pho­bia. There is also a power strug­gle within the wiz­ard com­mu­nity, which feels un­der siege from a group spout­ing anti-magic rhetoric that is rem­i­nis­cent of the Red Scare tac­tics of the 1950s.

While Rowl­ing wrote what she de­scribes as a “re­ally dark” ver­sion of the script, ul­ti­mately she and the film­mak­ers opted for a tone that is more in keep­ing with the “Pot­ter” films, a se­ri­ous un­der­side but filled with en­chant­ment.

Hey­man says Rowl­ing felt free to try things out in her drafts and push the en­ve­lope be­cause Yates and Steve Klo­vis, the scriptwriter for the “Pot­ter” films who came on as a pro­ducer for “Beasts,” “gave her the space and sup­port she needed.”

Yates ob­serves that once Rowl­ing got into the world of “Beasts,” her imag­i­na­tion started run­ning wild. “This was sup­posed to be a tril­ogy. Now she an­nounced it would be five films.”

Rowl­ing is a pro­ducer on “Beasts” and so has more of a hands-on role than she did for the “Pot­ter” movies. She still de­fers to Yates, who helmed the last four of the fran­chise, on film­mak­ing de­ci­sions.

Be­fore cast­ing the oth­ers in the quar­tet, Yates nar­rowed down a group of fi­nal­ists for the roles and flew Red­mayne to New York City to read with them all.

“It was in­ter­est­ing for me that I was cast in the film with­out an au­di­tion,” the ac­tor says. “I knew at some point I was go­ing to have to show my cards to David and Jo [Rowl­ing]. So I was pretty ner­vous my­self dur­ing those au­di­tions.”

A week or so be­fore shoot­ing be­gan, Red­mayne sat down with Rowl­ing to dis­cuss where Newt had come from in her imag­i­na­tion.

“It was a great in­sight and a gal­va­niz­ing way to start the film for me. What is amaz­ing about Jo is that these char­ac­ters just jumped off the page,” the ac­tor says. “But what was lovely was how she al­lowed us — as did David Yates — a free­dom to play within the script so you could come up with ideas on your own. That was lib­er­at­ing.”

While his chem­istry with the other ac­tors was im­por­tant, much of what Red­mayne does in the film is in­ter­act with his menagerie of mag­i­cal crea­tures.

Most of the film was shot in Warner Bros.’ Leaves­den Stu­dios in Hert­ford­shire. The film­mak­ers had con­sid­ered the pos­si­bly of film­ing in New York City but felt too much of the city had changed since the 1920s.

A va­ri­ety of de­vices were used for Red­mayne’s Newt to re­act to when deal­ing with the beasts. For the erumpent — a gi­ant rhi­no­like beast — a gi­ant pup­pet was built to repli­cate its size and shape. A team of three pup­peteers who had brought the ti­tle char­ac­ter of “War Horse” to life on the stage op­er­ated the con­trap­tion.

Since the erumpent was in heat, Newt had to do a mat­ing dance with it to lure it back to his mag­i­cal suit­case, which the ac­tor has called a bit hu­mil­i­at­ing.

“What was riv­et­ing about mak­ing the film for me was that many of those things — whether it was the green screen or with pup­pets — is about open­ing your imag­i­na­tion,” says Red­mayne, “So a lot of it was about re­gress­ing to your in­ner 10-year-old.”



Ed­die Red­mayne as Newt Sca­man­der in Warner Bros. Pic­tures’ fantasy ad­ven­ture “Fan­tas­tic Beasts and Where to Find Them.”

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