By ANGELA DAWSON
Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD—The latest installment of J.K. Rowling’s magical world of wizards moves from America to Paris where a schism is forming among its members as to what course to take over the governance of magical beings in relation to those whom are non-magical. Meanwhile a charismatic outlaw leader is emerging.
“Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald” centers on the titular Dark wizard played by Johnny Depp, who was briefly seen at the end of the original “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.” Like that 2016 action fantasy, the sequel is based on an original screenplay by the “Harry Potter” author herself. Rowling reunites with director David Yates, who helmed four previous “Potter” movies based on her books, as well as the original “Fantastic Beasts.” The sequel takes audiences on a trip through a magical time of the 1920s to explore new and previously revealed characters as they wrestle with a new set of challenges.
The captured Grindelwald has managed to escape custody and is on the run. Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) taps his former student Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), basically a soft-hearted magical creature whisperer, to aid him in tracking down the scofflaw. Previously introduced characters as well as brand-new ones appear in this installment. Returning are Katherine Waterston as an Auror named Tina Goldstein and Dan Fogler as non-magical human Jacob Kowalski, two of Newt’s closest allies, along with Alison Sudol, who returns as the clairvoyant Queenie. Ezra Miller, whose character Credence was revealed to be an Obscurial—a wizard whose powers were to the point of becoming an Obscurus, a parasitical force deadly to its host—is back as well.
Credence’s search for his identity affects nearly every other character in the film, including his friend and confidante, Nagini, played by Korean actress Claudia Kim. Callum Turner plays Newt’s older brother Theseus, who is engaged to Leta Lestrange, played by Zoe Kravitz, whose picture was seen in Newt’s workshop in the previous film.
Some of the supporting cast, along with “Harry Potter” and “Fantastic Beasts” producer David Heyman were recently on hand to discuss the sequel, with its parallels to historic events of the 1920s and even today’s divided political climate.
The returning cast members say they were delighted to have Oscar nominee Johnny Depp (the “Pirates” movies) join them.
“I was really nervous when I met him,” admits Sudol, known for her roles on TV’s “Dig” and “Transparent.”
“I hadn’t worked with him before,” she adds. “He’s quite a legendary actor but he immediately put me at ease. After every take, he was generous and said lovely things about my performance, which was great because I was very vulnerable through the whole movie, but especially in those shots with him.”
She recalls there was a particularly demanding scene she appears in with Depp that required them to do several takes. Her character is screaming and they’re outdoors in an amphitheater.
“At a certain point, I couldn’t stop crying and so I went off into a corner to get my bearings,” Sudol says. “Johnny came over and just started telling me a story about him being invited to a weird political party and how strange it was. It didn’t make me feel self-conscience about the state I was in. He distracted me enough so that I could get back to work. It was a kind thing to do; he didn’t have to do it. He knew where I was at and I really respected that and appreciated that.”
Miller says he enjoyed watching Depp get into character, nearly unrecognizable with his spiky white-blond hair and wearing contacts giving him different colored eyes.
“Watching him disappear into that character was such a unique experience,” says Miller, best known for his depiction of comic book superhero The Flash in last year’s “Justice League.” “I had a striking experience of meeting him initially, and not knowing who he was. I had seen him walk by and said to myself, ‘Oh, that’s the guy who’s playing Grindelwald’ without realizing it was Johnny Depp.”
Producer Heyman says it was Rowling herself who convinced Depp to take on the role of Grindelwald.
“He loves Jo (Rowling) and her work,” he says. “He made that clear from the beginning. He had opinions. He wanted to try things. He was a real collaborator. And he had a real humility. He came in service of Jo and her work. He did it because of Jo and his adoration of her and her work. He was a pleasure.”
For Kim, who was born in South Korea and enjoyed a solid career in Asia before coming to Hollywood, becoming part of the “Fantastic Beasts” universe has been nothing short of a dream come true.
“I’ve done a couple of U.S. projects but not an iconic character like this one,” she says dressed for an interview in a black shirt and rust-colored pants. “To take on a role like this is incredible. The fans have so much love and excitement. That was the biggest change: coming into this family.”
In the film, Kim’s character transforms into a snake. She says she did some of the sequence herself but a contortionist also was brought in to double for her.
“She actually did that move—she bent backwards and her head came through her legs,” Kim marvels. “I had to do parts of it. Not all of it. We had the prop snake so it’s multiple layers, not just visual effects. Of course, that enhances the experience.”
For Fogler, returning as the non-magical Jacob, who serves as the comic relief of the film, was fun. His character and the magical Queenie (Sudol) embark on a secret romance in violation of American wizarding world laws forbidding it. He says humor is key to any part he does.
“That’s my esthetic,” he says. “I always try to find the funny in things. I like sad clown characters because you get to do everything. You get to make (the audience) laugh and cry. Jacob is a sad clown character. I love it. That’s what I naturally go to, so I appreciate that they let me be the guy that does that in this. The creatures do it too. The creatures are hysterical—like the Niffler (a platypus-type creature) and the moment with the Zouwu (a dragon-like creature).”
Turner who, like Redmayne, hails from Chelsea, England, plays the Magizoologist’s kid brother Theseus. He spoke about getting cast as Newt’s brother and their physical similarities.
“My mom has been telling me that for 10 years,” he recalls with a laugh. “My mom was at a pub in Chelsea and came back a little drunk and said, ‘You gotta go down to the pub and hang out with Eddie Redmayne.’ I was like, ‘Why, mum?’ And she said, ‘You want to be an actor? Get down there.’ He was very polite and gave her his chair.”
Heyman sees only a slight physical resemblance between the two actors but says their sibling similarities derive from their performances.
“I think it’s a mark of a good actor because they don’t look that much alike,” he insists. “The performance really helps it. We dyed Callum’s hair a little bit.”
Turner also was made up to have freckles to look more like Redmayne.
“We kind of got it for free because Eddie and I are both from Chelsea,” he says. “There’s an essence to people who are from the same part of the world. We grew up going to the same places and doing the same things.”
Heyman, who’s been a producer on the “Harry Potter” franchise for nearly two decades, say fans of both franchises are similar throughout the world—all of them are enamored with Rowling’s imaginative magical universe.
“On the eighth ‘Harry Potter,’ there was a premiere at Trafalgar Square,” he recalled, referring to the famous London landmark. “People had come from all over the world. Some had camped out for more than a week. The world that Jo (Rowling) has created and the characters she’s written really do resonate with people. All of her characters are, in some ways, outsiders. Whether we’re married or in a relationship, we all feel like outsiders. She’s really tapped into that. There’s a truth about her characters, whether you’re British or American, Japanese, Brazilian, she’s connected because she speaks truth.”
“In terms of fans, all over the world, they’re voracious,” he adds. “Whenever there was a change to the books, we heard about it. But they’re great fans; really enthusiastic.”
Even when the movies diverged from the plots of the books, Heyman recalls that fans remained devoted. Since the “Fantastic Beasts” films are based on Rowling’s new original ideas, there’s not subject to the same scrutiny but her scripts go through a transformation from her first draft to what viewers eventually see on the screen.
“Both on the first film and on this one, there’s tremendous change from the beginning to the end,” Heyman says. “Central themes and ideas, characters, all remain the same but still, it’s a natural development process.”
He calls Rowling’s progression from author to screenwriter a totally natural fit.
“She’s a great collaborator,” he says. “She works very closely with David (Yates) and Steve Clovis (a producer and the writer on all of the “Harry Potter” films). Although (Cloves) doesn’t do any writing on these films, he’s sort of the guiding light. It evolves. And she’s open to discovery that happens on set leading to wanting to explore something else.”
“With David Yates, there is magic on the page, but it’s what happens in-between those moments, the happy mistakes or the exploration of the scenes,” he says, adding that there was a scene cut between Newt and Theseus.
“The little details that emerge in a scene,” he says. “It’s suggested on the page but it’s discovery so the script needs to evolve to accommodate that. It keeps the process alive. That’s really important.”
Fogler says it was a bigger challenge in the sequel to keep things light because of the strains on previously introduced characters’ relationships that develop in the story.
“We have to go through the gauntlet,” he says. “Everyone’s relationship gets stretched in the movie. It’s what you want to happen. If everything’s just fine, it’s not good adventure or drama. You need the boat to get rocked.”
Adds Sudol, who’s character embarks on a darker path this time around, “I was told things way before the script got to us so I was prepared in a certain way for the arc. But, I couldn’t wrap my head around why at all. Even when I read the script, I still couldn’t understand.”
“It took a lot of digging in and I spent a lot of time with so many questions,” she says. “I had so many notes and I was reading different things, archetypes, and I was wondering how this could happen, and what led her there. I spoke about it with (director) David Yates and he was talking to Jo (Rowling) and they were conferring and coming back to me.
“Ultimately, you have this young woman who desperately wants to have a family because she’s an orphan. It’s always just been her and her sister. She falls in love and ultimately the man she falls in love with alienates her from her sister, because her sister is a real rule-follower. They’re not supposed to be together (Jacob and Queenie).
“Right there, the foundation of her family is ruptured. It’s not solid anymore and she wants to solidify it. So, she makes some decisions which are, in hindsight, maybe not the wisest, but she’s just doing what she can out of a lot of fear.”
Heyman sees thematic echoes from the “Harry Potter” series.
“A theme that runs through Jo’s work from the beginning is what Dumbledore talks to Harry about early on. He says, ‘We’re defined by the choices we make.’ This is a film about the choices people make. That’s a theme that runs through all of her work but it’s at the heart of this one,” he says.
Adds Turner, “This film is about taking the responsibility of becoming who you can be. The choices people make expose who they really are. That’s what we’re finding out in this film. Grindelwald is seductive.”
Heyman suggests that Grindelwald may even be scarier than Harry Potter’s antagonist Voldemort because Grindelwald makes sense to certain people.
“Voldemort’s power is fear and intimidation; Grindelwald seduces,” he says. “As much as we hate certain politicians because they don’t speak our language, we have to understand that they’re answering the needs and vulnerabilities and insecurities of others. Grindelwald is doing that. Queenie goes over because he’s making perfect sense.”