CS visits the set of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them!
I’ve been on giant sets before. I stood in the X-Mansion. I walked the bridge of Ronan the Accuser’s Dark Aster. I went to Pym Tech. I watched a Civil War break out on a runway in Germany. This one, however, is the largest and most elaborate set I’ve ever seen. I’m in London, but really I’m in the streets of New York in 1926, and on the set of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.
Here the team has built roughly four square blocks of the city in a perfect working order. There’s also a recreation of the Central Park zoo from the time and a frozen lake from the same park. Authentic cobble streets line the roads, actual manhole covers lie in the middle of them (and fly into the air when coaxed), and authentic-looking businesses have working doors featuring real-enough newspapers. You may never even see this part of the set, but its a testament to the work and detail that J.K. Rowling has populated her Wizarding World with.
“Manhole Burst from the Street in Freak Incident, Experts Stunned”
“What’s the Truth Behind Trail of Destruction”
“Mysterious Dark Mass Still Baffles Authorities”
There’s also the matter of an apartment on the street with a massive hole blown out of it. Things aren’t as they seem here in New York, in a number of ways, and Eddie Redmayne’s Newt Scamander is only adding to the list of problems when his case of fantastic beasts explodes and lets them loose.
“What was important for me was that Newt has a different relationship with them, but also that they have a relationship with each other,” Redmayne said of his titular animals. “They all kind of live down in this case and I think he’s in some way parenting their relationship with each other.
In fact, Newt’s fascination with these magical animals isn’t as simple as “he likes them.” Before the events of the film, the character has spent the last year of his life in the field studying and researching them.
“What was wonderful was to be able to share some of the stuff that I’ve done of meeting people who have trackers or people who work with animals and zoologists and seeing some of these guys who literally — a tiger cub is born and they sleep with them for the first five days — and then they will go into the cages and all these extraordinary stories… What’s wonderful about J.K. Rowling and David is that they also really enjoy collaboration, like you can come with ideas and throw stuff in.”
Director David Yates offered another explanation for Newt, saying: “Newt is this wonderful character who has chosen to spend most of his time with his extraordinary creatures in his case, because he’s not good at really talking to people or identifying.”
Scamander is a fish out of water in more ways than one in the film. He’s not only a wizard in a world that is very resentful of the existence of magic, but he’s one of the only British characters in an all-American world. Among those Americans is Porpentina “Tina” Goldstein, played by by Katherine Waterston in the film.
“I’m nervous to tell you anything,” she admitted when we spoke to her. “Oh my God…”
The things we are able to piece together, however, is that Tina was formerly an Auror for MACUSA (the Magical Congress of the United States of America, aka the US version of the Ministry of Magic) but has had her wings clipped, so to speak. She’s an organized and by-the-book type of person, but that doesn’t mean she’s the “new Hermione.” When we find Tina, she’s stuck working in the wand permit office with her “free spirited” sister Queenie, played by Alison Sudol.
“What I love about Queenie is that she’s incredibly smart, she’s kind, she’s beautiful, she has that pizzazz in femininity,” Sudol explains. “She’s completely unashamed about it, and not vain at all. She’s just a good, good human being. I think as actresses, it’s part of our responsibility to show all different sides of a character and of women. There’s not the sort of the fancy one and the serious one, but we’re all sort of very deeply-layered human beings that happen to be women.”
It may sound like the pairing of the two makes for an “Odd Couple” dynamic between the sisters, but Sudol explained more about their relationship, which is between two young people that have had each other’s backs for years.
“I think it’s a really beautiful relationship. It’s two sisters that have basically raised each other, because their parents died when they were very young. So, there’s a kind of mutual caring for each other. It’s not like older sister-younger sister, because I think in some ways Tina is more grounded and an adult, in some ways. But then, Queenie has this deep empathy and such an unbelievable amount of just perception about everybody but especially about Tina. So, there’s a real care and a warmth.”
These three are thoroughly entrenched in the world of magic, but the fourth pillar of the film is one whom American wizards would call a “No-Maj,” Dan Fogler’s Jacob Kowalski.
“I kind of equate him to Bottom from A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” Fogler said. “You know, he’s a baker, he’s a rude mechanical, regular kind of guy. We find out he’s not such a regular schmo. As the thing goes along, we realize he’s really quite unique. But he, just like Bottom, gets to play in the forest with Titania and the fairies. And he gets to play the hero and the romantic lead and the comedic maniac.”
What brings Jacob into this world isn’t an accidental sighting of a creature or seeing a spell, but in fact something that even Newt can’t quite deal with despite his expertise: a nasty bite from one of the beasts.
“The MACUSA is cracking down on any kind of magical happenings around the city. So, when I come in, I get bitten by one of these things… That’s the mark on my neck. And I guess a No-Maj has never been bitten by one of these things. So, they’re like what’s gonna happen? You know, is he going to die? So, they feel very responsible for me in the beginning ’cause they’re just worried about me.”
Which of these beasts it was, Fogler wouldn’t say.
Much like the streets of New York itself, MACUSA is another expansive set for the film. The home of the wizarding government in America, the main room features beautiful columns and statues but also plenty of desks filled with descriptive papers, one referencing the “Young wizards daycare” on Floor 200 and that Floor 304 has a Leprechaun outbreak.
At the center of the room is a monument with four columns featuring Phoenixes and in the middle a statue commemorating those that died and were persecuted in Salem, Massachusetts. The entire magical community in America is rooted in this tragedy of their past. Four latin words can be found on the floor of the monument, too — Integritas, Unitas, Virtus, Magia — roughly translating to Integrity, Unity, Valor, and Magic.
One of the people that works at MACUSA is Colin Farrell’s Percival Graves, a serious man with a serious job.
“I am a very powerful wizard and naturally skilled,” Farrell says with a smile. Though it might seem like he’s a grunt “wizard cop” for lack of a better explanation, Graves is the right hand man of President Picquery, the leader of MACUSA played by Carmen Ejogo. Yup, there is a female president in America.
Graves has an important mission in the film, one that we’re still not entirely clear on.
“We’re completely living in absolute hiding and secrecy and denial of our own existence in relation to No-Majs, in relation to common citizenry. So, there is something happening in New York that threatens to expose the world of magic and it’s incumbent on me… to try and figure out what’s going on. And then, Eddie’s character comes into the frame and it unfolds from there.”
That something that is happening might have something to do with Josh Cowdery’s Senator Henry Shaw, his father Henry Shaw Sr. (played by Jon Voight), and the mysterious “New Salamers Army.” With a name like that, and the MACUSA’s remembrance of the Salem Witch Trials, one can connect some of the dots of what is being set up here. At the center of those dots, however, is an even more mysterious character – Ezra Miller’s Credence.
Miller has a reputation for picking bizarre and interesting roles and Credence is no different. The photos we saw reveal him to have a Crispin Glove-like oddness, a comparison that Miller denied as being intentional with a laugh.
“I think that the ethos is to try to do a lot of different stuff and try to do stuff that interests me,” Miller says of playing a number of ‘disturbed’ characters. “And it’s sort of as simple as that. I cannot confirm or deny that this character is disturbed in any way.”
At the center of all these new characters is a man with a firm grasp on the Wizarding World, director David Yates. Having brought the final four Harry Potter films to life, it’s a bit of a surprise the director would return for a spin-off and even he wasn’t sure that he’d want to do it at first.
“I wasn’t certain because I’d spent six years here on those four Potter films, and they sent me the script and I was really nervous because I had to really fall in love with it to come back. And I didn’t know if I could come back. Then it was just the most delightful read. It was charming, moving, tender. It felt fresh and it was with a bunch of people that I really love working with, so it was a bit of a no-brainer.”
Producer David Heyman, who is the reason there were even Harry Potter films to begin with, spoke about the importance of bringing back David as well.
“David knows this universe very well and here’s a short-hand and ease in terms of bringing him up to speed. We felt that was important given that we were going to go straight in and move forward. Also, someone who would have a really good relationship with Jo which he’s built up over the last four films. That was important to us.”
Yates even had a Potter-like simile to compare making those final four films and starting the new “Fantastic Beasts” series.
“With Potter the train had already left the station when I jumped on it. You know, it was half way along the tracks and I got to do my thing with it but all the pieces were already on the table. Whereas with this movie I built it from the ground up effectively. So, for a filmmaker and the story teller that is always the most exciting thing – to sort of cast it, to create it, to build it. I loved Jo’s concept of just dropping it into New York in 1926. Taking her universe but putting it through that paradigm was really exciting, and works.”
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them will debut in theaters on November 18.[Gallery not found]