By Gill Pringle

An Oscar winner for The Theory Of Everything, and the recipient of equal praise for his stunning turn in The Danish Girl, British actor, Eddie Redmayne now joins one of the most famous film franchises of all time with Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them. A prequel to the hugely successful Harry Potter movies, the film moves the action in both time and space, setting up its fresh new story in 1920s America. Here we find Eddie Redmayne’s Newt Scamander, a wizard and field researcher in magical critters who becomes caught up in an adventure that, according to screenwriter J.K. Rowling (penning her first work direct for the screen), has repercussions for the whole wide world, wizard and muggle alike.

Eddie Redmayne in Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them
Eddie Redmayne in Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them

What was your relationship to the whole Harry Potter before this? “Wowzer, big question. I’d read the first couple of books when I was younger, and I had a little brother who was reading them. He was obsessed with them, so he got me into it. And I, as the world did, fell in love with the world that J.K. Rowling has created. I found it completely hypnotic, and as the films started coming out each year, it was like swimming back into this magical, familiar and yet completely unique territory. What the films did was extraordinary. I also have a lot of friends who got parts in the Harry Potter series, and I’d hear about the experience of making them. I’d never get a look-in, and I’d get really jealous! But I thought that they were fantastic.”

And now that you’re part of this new one… “Yeah, I’m finally getting that wish fulfilment of getting to be a part of that world, and with it comes the thought of, ‘Oh please, don’t let me be the one to screw it up.’ But what has been amazing is that J.K. Rowling has written this script, and it’s completely original from her mind, and there’s a familiarity and yet a completely original spin on it. It feels like we’ve been able to throw ourselves into it afresh, but with a respect for the previous films.”

Katherine Waterston and Eddie Redmayne in Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them
Katherine Waterston and Eddie Redmayne in Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them

Is there a sense of pressure? “When you do an adaptation of a book, or when you’re playing a real person, and you go and do research, sometimes things that aren’t in the script can actually be not useful, because it’s someone’s take on a story. Although there was all this pressure because it’s Harry Potter, in the end, you just had to play your character and your character’s story. It was wonderful having J.K. Rowling there to be like this resource, because she has such an encyclopedic knowledge of it all. She had a massive backstory for Newt, and I could actually go and ask what I specifically needed.”

Was there a lot of secrecy? Did you have to burn your scripts afterwards? “Yes, oh my God! We weren’t allowed to print out scripts. When we did print out pages, they had to be put in a safe at night. I accidentally walked off set at the end of the day with my pages, and it was almost like a police escort had to come after me. I had a meeting about a year before the film was being made, with [director] David Yates in London. It was around Christmas, and he was sitting by a fire. I didn’t know anything about what this project was, and he just gently started teasing out the story. David is the most gentle, kind, wonderful human being in the world, and I literally sat by the fire as he told me the story of Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them. It was the most wonderful way to hear it. And then every few months, I would go back for another meeting, and he would entice me with a bit more of the story.”

Eddie Redmayne in Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them
Eddie Redmayne in Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them

JK Rowling presents your character as being a bit isolated from the world, and innocent. Is that how you see him? “What I loved about Newt is that he’s not your normal hero. He has a great affection for creatures, and he’s more comfortable in their company than he is with human beings. He marches to the beat of his own drum. And that does not make him easy. He can be knotty, and prickly, and he is very happy in his own solitude. He has been damaged by humans, sorry, by wizard people in the past, and so the emotion of connecting with people is difficult for him. But he finally sees someone who is equally an outsider, and equally passionate about what they do, when he meets Porpentina [Katherine Waterston]. That said, it’s not some sort of great romance. It’s gentle. These people start out really not liking each other, but they gently find a way towards each other.”

Did this feel like a lighter role compared to what you’ve done recently? “[Laughs] Yes! It was wonderful and refreshing. I’ve played real people in my last two films, The Theory Of Everything and The Danish Girl, but in having J.K. Rowling with us, she is your everything…she is your resource for everything that you need, so in the end, it was like Newt was real. I’m such a detail fiend, so that was great.”

Dan Fogler and Eddie Redmayne in Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them
Dan Fogler and Eddie Redmayne in Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them

Why do you think that Newt is so ahead of his time in terms of the wizarding world? He has such an affinity for creatures, and recognises them as sentient beings, with feelings, and they’re being hunted, killed, and trafficked, which is something that we can relate to in this world… “I think it goes back to what he knew growing up. His mum bred hippogriffs, so it’s something that he had an affiliation with from an early age. And often, when you see people who are amazing with animals, it’s because they’ve been a part of their life since they were a child. He doesn’t humanise creatures either: his favourite beasts are the more vicious, ugly, dangerous creatures. He loves them just as much as the sweet, little ones…oh, I’m not allowed to talk about that [Laughs]…I keep finding myself going crazy! Warner Bros. are going, ‘Please, no, don’t talk about that!’”

Do you believe in magic in everyday life? “Why would one say no? Who knows, but let’s dream that there is.”

Have you ever had your tarot cards read? “Too scared! That must mean that I believe in it, in some way, because if shit’s coming, I don’t want to know about it! I was actually obsessed with magic as a kid. I used to go to this little shop in London. Beneath Charing Cross station, there’s this shop called Davenport’s, and it’s the most wonderful magic shop. You can buy the thing where you can saw someone in half, and I used to go and stand there and look through the window. So my grandma, when I got this part, was like, ‘Eddie! You actually get to be a wizard!’ And I was like, ‘I know!’”

Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them is released in cinemas on November 17. Click through for our interviews with co-star, Katherine Waterston.

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