On beasts, wands, and wizard bonds
Harry Potter fans usually end up in two camps: those that don’t enjoy the Fantastic Beasts films and those that do. I personally fall into the latter, and have been digging this series since the first film that introduced us to the introverted Hufflepuff Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), a bit of an antihero with a menagerie of magical creatures at his disposal. That first film in the series transpires long before the boy who survived graced the Great Hall and worked to not only revive the IP, but to introduce a new cast of wizards who were equally as eclectic and engaging. The first entry really managed to capture the wonder and heart of the previous series and locked me in going forward. The second film, while a bit rough around the edges, pushed forth an interesting narrative forward that had Albus Dumbledore’s (Jude Law) former significant other Grindelwald (Johnny Depp) looking to take out all muggles, who he deemed as inferior to magic users.
It’s a battle that continues here in this third film Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore, as Dumbledore assembles yet another “army” to take on this threat against the wizarding and muggle worlds. A few weeks ago I had the honor to sit in on a Zoom with four of the stars, three wizards (Law, Redmayne, and Mads Mikkelsen, who was recast in Depp’s role) and a muggle (Dan Fogler) to pick their brains about this latest installment, sadly before seeing the film. It was the kind of chat that I dare say was magical, since all four were very thoughtful in their answers and as charming as you could imagine.
Dan Tabor: First Jude, I have to ask what appealed to you about diving into such an iconic character like Albus Dumbledore’s story as an actor?
Jude Law: I mean, it was kind of no brainer, you know. Would you like to play Albus Dumbledore? Yes! I would. I felt like I’d been in preparation subconsciously, from the minute I started reading the books to my children. There’s just so much in the character to mine and to investigate as an actor and that’s before you even get into this extraordinary world of magic, that’s just him as a human.
But the magic’s really fun too.
I remember Eddie telling me that on the second film — the first film for me, where he talked about, “You know, if there’s a situation or a problem with a scene, you know, you remember you’ve got magic at your disposal.” The scene in Berlin, when I had to basically pass on information to the team, went from being a scene where I was basically passing over maps to a scene with a magic hat and all sorts of things flying out, and that, again, that was the excuse. It’s magic. So I can do that.
Tabor: So Albus Dumbledore has been with us from the start of the Wizarding World. How has he changed? And which of his qualities do you think are consistent with the Albus that we know and love?
Law: So it’s not a process of change. It’s more a process of regression, I suppose. One of the joys that David [Yates] really allowed me to investigate was, rather than feeling the weight of the brilliant performances by Michael Gambon and Richard Harris, was to really go back and understand that he’s not the fully formed Dumbledore of the Harry Potter books and films. He’s a man still finding his way, still confronting and resolving his demons, and that’s what I mean by regression, I suppose. In this film in particular, he’s facing the past, he’s facing himself and his own guilt. But if there were a quality that links him, I would say it’s his mischievousness, his humor, and his belief in people. He sees the positive. You think how Dumbledore believed in Draco. He believed even in Tom Riddle, you know, he sees the good or the potential good, and I think that’s something that he’s always had.
Tabor: Eddie, in this film it seems that Dumbledore is treating Newt more like an equal, giving him a position of leadership within the team that he assembles. Can you talk about their relationship and what it’s been like working with Jude on his second film?
Eddie Redmayne: I love the new Dumbledore/Newt relationship. For me, what I love is that it’s got that complexity of sort of master and apprentice, but it’s evolved throughout the movies to being something almost fraternal. I would say in this one, a sort of older brother, younger brother [relationship] and there’s a moment in this film where when Newt even takes it upon himself, sees the vulnerability in Dumbledore, and tries to pass on a moment of wisdom to him.
What I love about Newt is fundamentally, he’s an introverted guy and is most comfortable with his creatures and in his own world. But Dumbledore has seen a quality in him that has the potential for leadership, albeit in an unconventional way. What I love about this movie is it’s like a wizarding heist movie in which this group of outsiders all band together. All of us are unconventional, and there’s a kind of wonder in that.
As far as working with Jude, I adore this man, he was a friend before we started working together and one of the real joys about working on a series of films is you get to push things. You get to feel so comfortable working with each other that you can kind of push boundaries, I suppose, also there’s a kind of shorthand. So that was kind of joyful in this.
Tabor: Dan, it appears Jacob and his bakery have fallen on hard times from the trailer. Can you talk about where he is at the start of this movie?
Dan Fogler: Yeah, he kind of reflects the times, in a lot of ways. We’re heading into the Great Depression and he’s extremely down on his luck, and it seems like he’s just in this constant state of loss. He’s lost his love, he’s lost his appetite, he’s losing his bakery. He’s like losing his mind, you know? So that’s where you see him. He’s very sad when you first see him, but he still holds that glimmer of hope that Queenie is gonna come back. He’s hallucinating and, um, and then Lally comes and offers him a chance to come back and join the adventure again. He does it all for, for his love. That’s his whole motivation.
Tabor: So Mads, you’re new to Wizard world and you portray one of the most powerful dark wizards….
Mads Mikkelsen: One of them?
Tabor: Of his age—of his time.
Mikkelsen: All right. I got you.
Tabor: That decade.
Mikkelsen: Let’s do that.
Tabor: What was it like for you to enter this world and how did you approach Grindelwald?
Mikkelsen: Yeah, I was thrown into it a little later than the rest of the gang. I mean, they’ve done two films and then they were halfway through when I joined the party. It’s like a family you visit and you just can only hope that they will adopt you, and they did. The gang is fantastic. The crew is fantastic. David is fantastic and if they’re the family, he’s the godfather and he’s done this so many times, so he makes everybody feel at home.
Tabor: You’ve played many villains in your career.
Tabor: Yeah. You’ve played many complex characters who are misunderstood. How did you take that journey to understanding Grindelwald? How did you find the balance between his menacing behavior, but also his charm?
Mikkelsen: Yeah. I mean, it’s not something I find in myself, it’s in the story and then it’s in David’s head. For this character, he is very linked to Dumbledore, so me and Jude had quite a few conversations about what their relationship looked like, so my character was shaped out of that role. Nobody in history started out saying “I am going to be the bad guy.” So we have to figure out what his mission is. What’s his goal? Why is he trying to make the world a better place in that manner? You know? I think that they started out having a common and a mutual goal as young adults and then it got blurry. The ways of getting to the goal were different than they imagined.
Tabor: Jude, so this film will explore what brought Dumbledore and Grindelwald together and what tore them apart. Could you talk us through a little bit about their relationship and how you and Mads also worked to establish that rapport on screen?
Law: I mean, a lot of it was just sharing our perspective or our imagined take on how they met and what that meant to them. To me, it was always really important to think of who Albus was before he met Grindelwald. I always imagined that being Dumbledore was actually quite a lonely place, being that he was brilliant and outstanding at a very young age to the point where he probably felt slightly isolated or [like] someone who was maybe diminishing his own sense of power, self, scope, and ambition. Then suddenly he meets someone who is as brilliant and matches him and inspires him and that kind of connection is very, very, very powerful, more so when you’re at a young age. I think it’s important then to also remember what their time together would’ve been like, incredibly dynamic, incredibly cherished and special. And then, this awful kind of moment where you realize you are on a different path, you’re actually moving away from each other.
But that doesn’t necessarily take away from the explosive kernel, the firework that went off initially. In fact, it makes it harder.
It felt very fortuitous being able to play this character at the age I am at now, because it was wonderful being able to reflect at my age, you know, 25 years back and sort of think who [is] the person I’ve become, are there mistakes I’ve made and being able to still sit easy with that, but nonetheless still feel how alive it is within you. We just talked an awful lot about all of those areas and of course, at some point his opinion was different from mine because of our characters.
Mikkelsen: Yours is different from mine.
Law: That’s how I remember it. (Laughs)
Mikkelsen: I think Eddie said it right, we have to remember there’s magic here. If you add the magic, then a lot of things happen to us as characters as well, but also it goes the other way. We wanted this to be real. We wanted the magic we take for granted, it’s been with us since we were born. We can’t be wearing the fanboy hat and go, oh my god, this is, this is magic, right? So we wanted that really to be real, real people, real situations, real disappointment with each other and then we are wearing a hat that is magical, but we kind of tend to forget it in some of these scenes.
Tabor: So Dan, Jacob got a wand, that had to be a big deal?
Fogler: Yeah. I watched for two movies, everyone got a wand and they go to their training sessions and I always was wondering like, well, maybe one day someone will drop one, then I’ll be able to like pick it up, and give it back to them or something. I felt like it was just an enormous honor to be handed this wand from Dumbledore. I mean, through Newt from Dumbledore. I just thought, man, there’s a lot of potential for some great comedy and action moments, which are in the film, with this muggle just trying to have things work, and just trying to figure it out. It was just great just having it, holding it, putting in my pocket. Um, if you see Jacob, he was not given any training, so he just kinda holds it like how a soldier would hold a gun or something. So yeah, it was just so cool. It’s like being in a Western and not having a gun, you know, suddenly I was, or being in Star Wars and not having a lightsaber, like I was handed a lightsaber, you know, for me, that’s huge.
Tabor: Finally, let’s end with a fun one: Which of the fantastic beasts would you like to bring from the movie into the real world?
Fogler: The Demiguise, because why? Because he could tell the future. You can take it to the track, he could give you lottery numbers. You know what I am saying, you could take him to Vegas. You could make a lot of money.
Redmayne: That is very sweet, in a very specific way.
Mikkelsen: You could get the niffler doing that stuff. You can make a fortune…
Fogler: He’ll steal everything.
Mikkelsen: No, you can train him to hand it over. “Come over here, sit down, hand it over!” I could train a niffler.
Tabor: Speaking of which, does everyone have a favorite beast?
Mikkelsen: Yeah, the niffler.
Tabor: How about you, Eddie?
Redmayne: Pickett and the sweet, and incredibly complicated niffler Teddy. They join forces. And you realize that they’re kind of like the siblings that have had a consistent rivalry either in my coat pocket or down in that case and here they’re forced to step up, and they do. Spoiler alert.
Law: The way in which those characters have evolved is kind of nothing short of fascinating really, because even in the script they’re detailed descriptions, but they’re completely imagined characters. Like Eddie said in this film, suddenly they’re kind of saving the day and they’re doing stuff. I mean genuinely for us to sit and watch and go, hold on this whole scene’s about Teddy, what’s he do. He’s brilliant. You know.
Redmayne: HBOMAX series coming soon, Teddy and Pickett. I’m watching. (Laughs)