Un­leash the beasts

Mag­i­cal bat-winged horses, gi­ant fanged fe­lines, and a lov­ing re­cre­ation of 1920s Paris – the mak­ing of a Fan­tas­tic Beasts film casts a spell all of its own. Guy Kelly joins Ed­die Red­mayne, Zoë Kravitz and Ezra Miller on the set of the lat­est ad­ven­ture in

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Ed­die Red­mayne reprises his role as Newt Sca­man­der in JK Rowl­ing’s new film Fan­tas­tic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindel­wald. Guy Kelly vis­its the set

When Ed­die Red­mayne be­gan dat­ing Han­nah Bagshawe in 2012, he felt the need to warn her about em­bark­ing on a re­la­tion­ship with an in­ter­na­tional movie star. At the time he had a se­ries of roles lined up that looked, on pa­per at least, like they’d take him all over the world. ‘I said to her, “You know, with my life there could be a lot of travel, we could be no­mads” – but she was all up for that,’ he re­calls. ‘I then made Les Misérables, which was set in Paris, The Dan­ish Girl, which was set in Copen­hagen, and Fan­tas­tic Beasts and Where To Find Them, which was set in New York…’ And? ‘And all of them were shot in Wat­ford.’ Or Eal­ing. Or Slough, even.

Bagshawe and Red­mayne can’t have been too dis­ap­pointed. The pair mar­ried in 2014, the same year the thor­oughly Cam­bridge-set The The­ory of Ev­ery­thing, for which Red­mayne would win an Academy Award, was re­leased. In a cou­ple of weeks he will re­turn to the big screen with the fol­low-up to Fan­tas­tic Beasts –the Harry Pot­ter spin-off writ­ten by JK Rowl­ing and pro­duced by the same team as the Pot­ter films, in which he starred as Newt Sca­man­der, an ec­cen­tric English wizard zo­ol­o­gist who ends up fight­ing for good against evil with a mot­ley band of ac­quain­tances. When he read Rowl­ing’s script for that film’s se­quel, Fan­tas­tic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindel­wald, he no­ticed that much of the ac­tion takes place in Paris dur­ing the an­nées folles (‘crazy years’) of the 1920s. Bagshawe was thrilled. Red­mayne was sus­pi­cious. ‘Nope, Wat­ford again.’

Un­der fee­ble au­tumn sun­shine, Paris-upon-wat­ford wasn’t look­ing too bad last Novem­ber. At Leaves­den stu­dios – Warner Bros’ film­ing com­plex in the Hert­ford­shire hin­ter­land – whole boule­vards of the French cap­i­tal had been con­structed in pre­pos­ter­ous de­tail, com­plete with work­ing shops (them­selves com­plete with tills), foun­tains and cob­ble­stones.

To a vis­i­tor, it was ex­tra­or­di­nary, but build­ing new worlds is the pur­pose of Leaves­den. Over 80 hectares, there are ap­prox­i­mately 50,000 square me­tres of stages, one of the largest heated wa­ter tanks in Europe (it takes 10 days to fill), pro­duc­tion of­fices, and a 32-hectare ‘back­lot’ with a 180-de­gree un­in­ter­rupted vista – mak­ing it ideal for a bat­tle­field, say, or con­struct­ing an his­toric Euro­pean city from scratch. It was here that all eight of the Harry Pot­ter films were shot. It’s also here, on the other side of the car park, that thou­sands of ‘Pot­ter­heads’ ar­rive every day to ex­pe­ri­ence The Mak­ing of Harry Pot­ter –a per­ma­nent ex­hibit that al­lows fans to wal­low in nostal­gia by wan­der­ing around orig­i­nal sets and pok­ing real props.

Rowl­ing’s mag­i­cal uni­verse is ex­pand­ing fur­ther with The Crimes of Grindel­wald. Un­der the code name ‘Voltaire’ (de­signed to stop de­tails get­ting into the wrong hands), the film was on the fifth day in the 19th week of 22 spent film­ing, and there was an at­mos­phere of ‘we’re nearly there’ about the cast and crew. Hun­dreds of peo­ple swarmed the site, hav­ing worked for much of the year con­struct­ing sets, de­sign­ing props, pre­par­ing char­ac­ters and work­ing with the lat­est tech­nol­ogy to fig­ure out just how to put Rowl­ing’s ideas on screen.

‘Every time Jo de­liv­ers a new script it feels like we are div­ing into a new ex­pe­ri­ence, rather than re­turn­ing to an old one. She’s con­stantly rein­vent­ing and ex­pand­ing the world she has cre­ated,’ says David Yates, who di­rected the last four Pot­ter films and re­mains at the helm of the Fan­tas­tic Beasts se­ries. ‘The first Beasts had a lot of whimsy and charm, the sec­ond has lay­ers of mys­tery and in­trigue. [It’s] more of an emo­tional thriller than a fan­tasy ad­ven­ture.’

In 2016’s Fan­tas­tic Beasts and Where To Find Them, a box­of­fice suc­cess in­spired by Rowl­ing’s 2001 book of the same name, Newt was a bum­bling aca­demic with a brief­case full of mag­i­cal crea­tures – ev­ery­thing from the Nif­fler, a mis­chievous platy­pus/mole thing with a mag­pie’s eye for any­thing shiny; to the Nundu, a fe­ro­cious, gi­ant leop­ard with dis­ease-laden breath that can move in si­lence. He met an un­sus­pect­ing non-mag­i­cal man, Ja­cob Kowal­ski (played by Dan Fogler), in New York, and the beasts were let loose. They also met two mag­i­cal sis­ters, Tina and Quee­nie (Kather­ine Water­ston and Ali­son Su­dol), as well as Cre­dence Bare­bone (Ezra Miller) – a young man ini­tially be­lieved to be non-mag­i­cal, but who was in fact a pow­er­ful Ob­scu­rial, a wizard or witch who de­vel­ops a dark par­a­sit­i­cal force as a re­sult of their magic be­ing sup­pressed through abuse.

Keep­ing up? Good. Flit­ting around New York round­ing up beasts, Newt, Ja­cob, Tina and Quee­nie soon en­coun­tered the un­savoury forces of the wiz­ard­ing world in the 1920s, while Cre­dence found out more about his pow­ers. The film ended with its vil­lain, Per­ci­val Graves, a kind of cor­rupt politi­cian played by Colin Far­rell, be­ing re­vealed as in­fa­mous dark wizard Gellert Grindel­wald – a per­ox­ided Johnny Depp – in dis­guise. We last saw him be­ing wheeled off into cus­tody. But will he stay there? I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say no, he will not.

The new film is the first time Red­mayne has re­turned to a char­ac­ter on screen. ‘When you do a play, peo­ple say, “How can you do the same show for hun­dreds of per­for­mances?” and the

‘Every time Jo de­liv­ers a script it feels like we are div­ing into a new ex­pe­ri­ence’

an­swer is that you never get it right,’ he says. ‘The end­lessly frus­trat­ing thing when you do a film is that you do the scene that day, have all these ideas, then in the car on the way home you have a much bet­ter idea and there’s noth­ing you can do about it. Re­turn­ing to a char­ac­ter means be­ing able to keep bring­ing those ideas to the next [film]. It’s a real lux­ury.’

The Crimes of Grindel­wald picks up roughly where the first film left off. Newt is now a fa­mous au­thor; Tina has re­turned to work as an Auror (an in­ves­ti­ga­tor tasked with ap­pre­hend­ing dark wizards) and is in Paris at­tempt­ing to track down Cre­dence; Ja­cob is a baker (he wanted to be a baker, so that’s fine); and Quee­nie is des­per­ately try­ing to find a way she and Ja­cob can be to­gether that doesn’t break the rules against mag­i­cal and non­mag­i­cal peo­ple en­ter­ing into re­la­tion­ships. There are scenes in New York, Lon­don, and even a visit to Hog­warts, where Jude Law is in­tro­duced as a young Al­bus Dum­ble­dore, but be­fore long the whole gang are in Paris – aka Leaves­den.

In the cor­ner of a mar­quee that’s be­come a gar­gan­tuan can­teen for a few months, ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer Tim Lewis seems con­tent enough with the ar­range­ment. ‘Like many things, most of Paris in 1927 doesn’t ex­ist any more, so go­ing there now, it’s all very clean, like it had a mas­sive jet wash. It looks lovely, but it doesn’t now look the same…’

The city of Paris ‘be­comes a bit of a char­ac­ter’ it­self in the film, reck­ons art di­rec­tor Chris­tian Huband. He and pro­duc­tion de­signer Stu­art Craig – the 76-year-old triple Os­car-win­ner who has over­seen the look of every film in the Pot­ter uni­verse – cheered when they saw Rowl­ing had moved the ac­tion to Europe. Work­ing from pho­tographs, draw­ings and an­i­ma­tions, it gave them a chance to imag­ine how magic might work in not just an­other cul­ture, but a dif­fer­ent lan­guage too. The screen­play di­rected them, but left space for their ideas. Rowl­ing would pop in to see what they’d come up with.

‘Jo cer­tainly has an opin­ion and will wade in with it on oc­ca­sions,’ Huband says, in a stu­dio covered in minia­ture mod­els and com­puter-drawn plans, ‘[but] she doesn’t seem to me to be the kind of writer who’s go­ing to come in and go, “That’s not how I imag­ined it at all.” It’s nice.’

Af­ter mak­ing five films with Rowl­ing, di­rec­tor Yates en­joys it when she chal­lenges him. ‘It wouldn’t be fun if we didn’t have to scratch our heads to fig­ure out how we ac­tu­ally de­liver what Jo’s writ­ten. We have a Thes­tral [a mag­i­cal bat-winged horse] car­riage chase in this one that took months of prep and weeks of film­ing, com­bin­ing the tal­ents of hun­dreds of artists and tech­ni­cians. The more com­pli­cated, the more we get ex­cited.’

An­other dif­fi­cult chase in­volved the Parisian Min­istry of Magic, the gov­ern­ment of the French mag­i­cal com­mu­nity, which gives us a chance to see how spell­bind­ing bu­reau­cracy is done in an­other cul­ture. The de­sign was in­spired by the real Grand Palais, and it’s there that one of the new beasts is found. The Matagot re­sem­bles a Sph­ynx, and qui­etly gets on with me­nial tasks. Un­less pro­voked, that is…

Else­where in the film are a Leu­crotta, a mas­sive moose with a mouth big­ger than its own head; an owl-like Augurey, also known as an Ir­ish Phoenix; and a fly­ing lizard called a Fire­drake, which can set any­thing flammable ablaze with its spark­ing tail. Al­most all of them are cre­ated dig­i­tally, mean­ing the cast – chiefly Red­mayne, as the beast-wran­gler – have got used to act­ing op­po­site pup­peteers con­trol­ling props with sen­sors on them.

‘The video-ef­fects peo­ple on this are re­ally like ac­tors, be­cause they’re my other char­ac­ters in a lot of my scenes. We’re all work­ing to­gether,’ Red­mayne says.

A por­tion of the set, as well as a hand­ful of props and cos­tumes, could be re­cy­cled from pre­vi­ous Warner Bros films – es­pe­cially the first Fan­tas­tic Beasts (some of Paris is made from re­pur­posed New York). For the most part, though, it was all made fresh. Newt, for in­stance, has a new blue coat and a very yel­low waist­coat. Cos­tume de­signer Colleen At­wood, re­spon­si­ble for the first Os­car of the Pot­ter uni­verse when she won Best Achieve­ment in Cos­tume De­sign for the first Beasts film, wanted to ‘change it up a lit­tle’ and give him some­thing brighter. She es­ti­mates that ‘over 2,000 cos­tumes have been de­signed and cre­ated for the film’ (more than 32,000 man hours). Ac­cord­ing to Yates, Depp plays Grindel­wald as ‘part-vi­sion­ary, politi­cian, rock star and so­ciopath rolled into one’, and his cos­tume re­flects that. ‘It’s very spe­cial, and mainly dark,’ says At­wood, who has worked with Depp be­fore. ‘It has a slight in­flu­ence of leder­ho­sen, and some things that make it quasi-aus­trian. He al­ways has good ideas, and we have a good short­hand for cos­tume.’

Rowl­ing was un­der­stand­ably re­strained

‘The video­ef­fects peo­ple on this are re­ally like ac­tors’

in forg­ing plot links be­tween Fan­tas­tic Beasts and Harry Pot­ter with the first film, in­stead choos­ing to let Beasts es­tab­lish it­self. This time, the con­nec­tions be­gin to emerge, es­pe­cially in the new char­ac­ters. We meet Newt’s brother, Th­e­seus, played by Cal­lum Turner (War & Peace), and his fi­ancée, Leta Les­trange (played by Zoë Kravitz) – who is, awk­wardly, a child­hood sweet­heart of Newt’s. Am­a­teur Rowl­ing schol­ars will no­tice that sur­name: if she’s a Les­trange, she must be re­lated to Volde­mort acolyte Bel­la­trix from the Pot­ter films, as well as Sir­ius Black and Tonks.

Like the rest of his gen­er­a­tion, Turner, a Lon­doner born in 1990, read the Pot­ter books ob­ses­sively as a child. Kravitz is only a year older but grew up in Los An­ge­les, raised by fa­mous par­ents, Lenny Kravitz and Lisa Bonet. She was far too cool.

‘I read the first book. That’s as far as I got…’ she says, sheep­ishly slump­ing into her chair at the end of a day on set and pulling a padded jacket tight. Wat­ford’s colder than LA. ‘I think the thing was so pop­u­lar, and when some­thing’s so pop­u­lar you’re like, “I’m not go­ing to read it.” But I think the world is very mag­i­cal, and Jo’s brain and imag­i­na­tion are ex­quis­ite.’

Of the new­com­ers, it was Jude Law whose cast­ing pro­voked the most head­lines. He plays the young Dum­ble­dore as a tweedy, bearded young pro­fes­sor at Hog­warts. ‘Jude had a pretty big pair of shoes to fill, in Richard Har­ris and Michael Gam­bon [who played the char­ac­ter in the Pot­ter films], and he fills them bril­liantly. He has a twin­kle, a warmth, a depth and a grace that make him per­fect for the younger ver­sion of the man,’ Yates says.

Ini­tially, he ad­mits, it was strange step­ping back into the Hog­warts class­room, ‘in part be­cause Dan [Rad­cliffe], Rupert [Grint] and Emma [Wat­son] weren’t there. And then Jude walked in as Dum­ble­dore and I sud­denly felt at home again.’

If any­thing in the new film doesn’t fol­low the lore of Pot­ter uni­verse, the fans will be sure to let Yates and his team know. For­tu­nately he cast Ezra Miller, once de­scribed by a pro­ducer as ‘our res­i­dent Harry Pot­ter en­cy­clo­pe­dia’, as Cre­dence.

‘It’s true that I like Harry Pot­ter a lot,’ Miller says, de­liv­er­ing the un­der­state­ment of the year. He can re­cite whole pages from mem­ory. ‘I’ve def­i­nitely read the books too many times, lis­tened to the au­dio­books too many times, and prob­a­bly seen the films too many times. I’m also in­ter­ested in es­o­teri­cism, an­i­mistic prac­tices through­out the world, and I love Tolkien, Roald Dahl, comic books… I’m a nerd.’

In Cre­dence, Miller has ar­guably been handed the most in­ter­est­ing part of the lot. By the end of the first film it wasn’t en­tirely clear whether he was still alive (‘Af­ter I saw the first screen­ing I went up to David Yates’ as­sis­tant like, “Did I get fired? Am I dead for ever?”’), but Miller was even­tu­ally re­as­sured by Rowl­ing. This time, Cre­dence tries to dis­cover his fam­ily tree and be­gins to un­der­stand the ex­tent of his pow­ers.

Miller – an in­tense, not-ex­actly-shy young Amer­i­can who at­tended a cast event for the film at Comic Con in San Diego dressed in stock­ings, sus­penders and mush­room hat, as Mario Kart’s Toad­ette – de­scribes the shoot as ‘six months of the simil­i­tude of sheer bliss and in­ter­nal tor­ture and dis­il­lu­sion’.

‘It’s bliss be­cause it’s my favourite ma­te­rial in the world, ma­te­rial I’ve been deeply de­pen­dent on and rit­u­al­is­ti­cally con­nected to since I was six years old, and with these peo­ple… and tor­ture be­cause Cre­dence is a very sad boy. He oc­cu­pies a space in me that is set aside just for him, his own lit­tle room, and I found this jour­ney par­tic­u­larly dis­turb­ing, es­pe­cially in the times in which we live,’ he says. ‘Around the time we filmed, Isis at­tacks hap­pened, I was liv­ing in Lon­don think­ing about Brexit and 45 [Pres­i­dent Trump], and why peo­ple give up their power. I also found Grindel­wald to be a re­ally scary char­ac­ter, and his ide­ol­ogy to be a ter­ri­fy­ing, trans­par­ent metaphor for the men­tal­i­ties that en­deav­our to de­stroy us.

‘I like to be a happy and chilled per­son most of the time, but Cre­dence doesn’t leave a lot of room for that. I was al­ready strug­gling to keep him in his lit­tle room in the pe­riod be­tween films, and it’s a lit­tle painful. Play­ing him con­nects me to a cer­tain group of peo­ple in the world, and feel­ing our col­lec­tive pain as sur­vivors of abuse…’

Red­mayne, by con­trast, seems to have found it all bliss. Play­ing Newt is a nev­erend­ing project, with mam­moth shoots, then au­dio­books, video games, and huge public­ity de­mands with some of the most ob­sessed fans on earth – like Miller – and then he does it all again. Rowl­ing would like to make three more Fan­tas­tic Beasts films, and he’s en­tirely up for it.

‘I think it took me a while to open up on the first film. You have to look at it with that kid-like point of view [in fan­tasy], be­cause we get so used to mak­ing ev­ery­thing real, look­ing for truth and re­al­ity,’ he says. ‘It’s just play. There’s a bit in the film when I ride a wa­ter de­mon, and to do that they had me in a tank, with a mas­sive green pup­pet un­der me. Then they had me train to be a scuba diver and spend time learn­ing from one of the great free-divers, who can hold her breath for seven hours or some­thing.’

He laughs. ‘I was sit­ting there un­der­wa­ter with this amaz­ing woman just think­ing, “What do I do as a job?”’

It turns out Wat­ford has all he needs af­ter all.

Fan­tas­tic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindel­wald is in cin­e­mas from 16 Novem­ber

‘I ride a wa­ter de­mon, so they had­meinatank with a mas­sive green pup­pet’

Ed­die Red­mayne as Newt Sca­man­der in Fan­tas­tic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindel­wald

Red­mayne’s char­ac­ter, a wizard zo­ol­o­gist, en­coun­ters a va­ri­ety of imag­i­na­tive crea­tures

Above Red­mayne on set with co-star Dan Fogler (Ja­cob) and di­rec­tor David Yates. Left Johnny Depp plays Gellert Grindel­wald

Above Ezra Miller as the trou­bled Cre­dence Bare­bone. Left Zoë Kravitz plays Leta Les­trange – a sur­name that will be fa­mil­iar toHarry Pot­ter fans

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