The beasts are back. Two years on from Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, J.K. Rowling’s prequel-of-sorts to the Harry Potter series, the second installment is upon us. Directed again by David Yates – now on his sixth Rowling-inspired movie – Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald reunites us with Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), the ex-Hogwarts pupil and Magizoologist who, last time out, tore up New York as he came into contact with Dark Wizard, Gellert Grindelwald (Johnny Depp).
Set in 1927, Crimes of Grindelwald continues the story, with Redmayne returning for his second outing as Newt. With Grindelwald gathering a dangerous army of followers to rule over non-magical beings, Newt and his friends – no-maj Jacob (Dan Fogel), Queenie (Alison Sudol) and her sister Tina (Katherine Waterston) – head to Paris in pursuit of the disturbed but powerful Credence (Ezra Miller), whom Grindelwald is hoping to lure to the dark side.
Best of all, Potter fans will get to see Hogwarts headmaster Albus Dumbledore – played by Jude Law as a younger version. As a newcomer to the Potter/Beasts universe, Law is “immensely proud” at joining forces with Rowling’s imagination. “We live in a world where franchise movies are really dominant,” says Law, when FilmInk meets with the cast at London’s plush Rosewood Hotel. “This is one particular franchise I’ve really admired. It’s got a real humanity and complexity and it doesn’t patronise.”
For many of the main cast, it was the first time they’d revisited a character in a movie. “It’s fun as a reader to get the next chapter of a story and find out where your character goes,” says Waterston, the American star critically acclaimed for her work in Inherent Vice, Steve Jobs and Alien: Covenant. “I was intimidated that it might get dull. [As actors] we normally just spend a couple of months on something at most. I thought maybe I was hooked on that, but I found it enjoyable to return.”
It wasn’t simply about reacquainting with your own character. Redmayne was able to reunite with the visual effects team who were in charge of the digitally-created “beasts” that Newt is friendly with. “By the second film,” he says, “you’re so much closer to them that you can start having conversations with them about what the Niffler [the cute creature that often hides in Newt’s pocket] will be doing and those relationships become much more intimate.”
Set in a time where the wizarding world is more divided than ever, Waterston was impressed with the way Rowling – who scripts again – made it feel so pertinent to the present day. “That’s such a sign of a brilliant writer…paying attention to those early signs of this stuff before the whole world wakes up and realises, ‘Holy hell, this is happening everywhere.’ Obviously, she wrote the first one before Trump was elected, and he was elected around the time the first film premiered. She definitely has her finger on the pulse.”
Once again, Rowling’s script deals with real-world politics – “the fear of the other”, as Redmayne puts it. “It’s set in a very specific time in Muggle history,” adds the actor. “I think Jo is drawing attention to our contemporary parallels.” According to Law, Crimes of Grindelwald “raises the stakes considerably” from the first film, which dealt with issues of inequality and xenophobia – not least with magic driven underground and hunts akin to the Salem Witch trials. “One of the questions the film poses,” he notes, “[is] what side are you on?”
It’s a dilemma faced by the lead character, says Redmayne. “One of Newt’s characteristics is that he’s his own person. He’s struggled socially, and he’s learnt to create his own world and he connects with creatures and that is his comfort zone…what he says at the beginning of this film is, ‘I don’t do sides. I’m myself.’ But when the stakes between good and evil are getting so rigorous and so strong, one of the things that the film calls for is for him to take sides. And I feel like there’s extraordinary resonance in that. And as we’ve been making the film, it’s become more and more extreme. You can’t sit on the fence.”
For Law, he faced the difficulty of following not one but two legends that played the older Dumbledore in the Harry Potter films – Richard Harris and Michael Gambon. “It was a certain responsibility, obviously, and pressure because you’re talking about two really fine actors,” he acknowledges. “But I felt free in that I had all this time, separating where he is in his mid-forties to [his age] in the first Harry Potter [story]. It was a real blessing. It felt like all this turmoil that he goes through in the books, I’m able to in some ways manifest [it] and show that journey.”
Without venturing into spoiler territory, it’s already been revealed that Dumbledore and Grindelwald, in their youth, struck up a close friendship. Rowling previously stated that she believes Dumbledore to be gay and, when he was younger, had feelings for Grindelwald. Did this factor into Law’s interpretation of the character? “She’s very careful at how much you learn about a character at any given time,” he says. “I don’t think I use it any more than any other detail of this character, no. It’s just another layer that I put into his makeup.”
With Rowling so heavily involved in the screenwriting process (unlike the Harry Potter films, where she took a step back to allow Steve Kloves to adapt her best-selling books), the actors were given a wealth of detail to consume. Redmayne points out that there is a new character, Bunty, played by Victoria Yeates, who briefly appears as Newt’s assistant. “You only see a moment of this, but Jo wrote two pages on Bunty and Newt’s relationship.” With Rowling planning three further Beasts movies, it’ll be no surprise to see their friendship flourish.
Likewise, Law remembers asking Rowling for some detail about this period in Dumbledore’s life. She sent him the equivalent of “a short story”, he says. “I was reading stuff about Dumbeldore’s past that I assumed had been published. She was like, ‘No, I just wrote it for you!’ The detail all goes in. There are some actors who don’t want to know all that stuff. I love it. I feel like it’s going to show somewhere, in the back of my eyes. To get it and read it and have that passion and detail is really great.”
While the first Beasts movie took audiences to 1920s New York, Crimes of Grindelwald transports the characters to Paris. It meant recreating the City of Light at Leavesden Studios, the home of Harry Potter, just outside London. “It was the biggest build in Leavesden history. The streets went on and on and on,” says Law, an actor who has seen his fair share of impressive movie sets after working on A.I. Artificial Intelligence, Sherlock Holmes and The Grand Budapest Hotel.
It helped that the film’s cinematographer, Philippe Rousselot, is French and took inspiration from the dazzling 1950s Paris he recalls from his youth. “When he was a little boy, they had a change in Paris,” explains Waterston. “They had not done anything to clean up the buildings in hundreds of years and it was covered in a thick grey layer of soot. He went away for the summer and came back and it was blinding. It was so bright because they bleached-cleaned all the buildings. So he was seeing it [for the film]…as he’d seen it as a little boy.”
The elaborate sets were overseen by triple Oscar winning production designer Stuart Craig, who previously worked on all the Harry Potter movies. But even he couldn’t arrange everything to be perfect. “There was one moment in the film, when we skulked down some stairs to be by the banks of the Seine, and they hadn’t built that,” says Redmayne. The actors had to pretend to walk down some steps after running around a corner, but some were better than others. “I was crap at it!” he chuckles. “That’s what was so great about it,” Waterston adds. “There’s still that element of the spirit of an independent film.”
Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald opens on November 15, 2018