The Entertainment Weekly Fantastic Beasts magazine spread has finally been released! You can view the scans by clicking the images below:
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We find Newt Scamander far from his natural habitat. The world-famous “magizoologist” is manoeuvring along a bustling street in 1920s Manhattan. He’s a bit of an awkward fellow, and from a short distance away, the careful observer can detect clues about his origins and habits. See his open gait? That’s because he’s usually skulking around the jungle. That ill-fitting tweed jacket? The eccentric Englishman is unaccustomed to city clothes. His reticence when he’s approached? He’s uncomfortable around people. And then there’s that odd, weathered tawny suitcase that he clutches so protectively. Something inside is very precious to him.
We are stalking Newt on this sprawling replica of New York City at Leavesden Studios outside London because, like one of his creatures, he is the rarest of breeds: the first lead of a film in the $10 billion Harry Potter screen universe who isn’t Harry Potter. Played by Oscar winner Eddie Redmayne, Newt Scamander is the hero of next November’s ultra-mysterious Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, the first instalment of a planned Warner Bros. Franchise based on a mini-encyclopedia of magical fauna (e.g. skeletal thestrals, biting doxys).
Written by J.K Rowling and first published in 2001 at a mere 42 pages – it typically took Harry longer than that just to leave the Dursley’s house – Fantastic Beasts is a textbook, authored by Newt, that is used by students at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry in the Potter novels. It has no plot to speak of. So how do you make a movie from a slim catalogue of creatures? One idea involved crafting it into a faux documentary – think Animal Planet with hippogriffs instead of hippos – but when Rowling heard about that plan, she offered up another: “She just started writing,” says long-time Potter producer David Heyman.
Although Rowling had creative input into the Potter movies, Fantastic Beasts marks the first time she has ever written a screenplay. And that made waiting for a draft nerve-racking for all involved, especially Redmayne. The 33-year-old actor was courted five months before Rowling turned in her script, which placed him in the unenviable position of potentially having to shoot down the world’s most loved (and most lucrative) storyteller. “I read those [Harry Potter] books and watched the films, and you don’t want to be the one who comes in and…” Redmayne leaves the rest of that thought hanging in the air. He does this a lot actually. “There was nervousness because what if I read the script and…” Yep. Gotcha.
The ginger-haired Brit, who earlier this year took home the Academy Award for Best Actor for his portrayal of Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything and is considered a front-runner again this year for his performance as transgender pioneer Lili Elbe in The Danish Girl (out Nov 27), needn’t have worried. Rowling’s initial draft had everything the filmmakers had hoped to see: a fully fleshed-out story that, oddly for the uber-English franchise, was set in New York City in 1926. “There were things that were breathtaking.” Heyman says from his “war room” at Leavesden, lined with spoiler-stuffed storyboards and a sign on the door warning the cleaning staff to stay out. “It had her trademark incredible imagination.”
Redmayne experienced that imagination firsthand when he sat down with the author to discuss his role. “She could talk you through everything, every intricacy,” he marvels. “You’re not playing a ‘real’ character, but in J.K Rowling’s mind Newt is entirely three-dimensional, and you can talk to her about what his life was like.”
In the film, directed by David Yates (who helmed the final four Potter instalments), Scamander’s adventures take him to an early-20th-century America where wizards have been living underground for centuries. Those Salem witch trials didn’t exactly improve community relations, and now most Muggles – called No-Majs in the U.S. – don’t believe wizards even exist. Newt inadvertently threatens the status quo when his rare and endangered beasts gets out of his case.
So, about that case: It’s enchanted and, not unlike Mary Poppins’ carpetbag, is much, much, much bigger on the inside than it appears to be on the outside. It is, in fact, a sort of portable wildlife game park, teeming with beasts that all live in their own unique habitats. Now, if this is starting to sound like a boy-and-his-three-headed-dog tale, fear not. Newt find some American companions.
Like the Potter films, Beasts is about a tight group of friends, only this time there are four instead of three. Newt teams up with Porpentina “Tina” Goldstein (Steve Jobs’ Katherine Waterston), an ambitious worker at the Stateside version of the Ministry of Magic, which is called the Magical Congress of the United States of America (MACUSA). Tina introduces Newt to her sister and room-mate Queenie (newcomer Alison Sudol), who is a “legilimens” (a mind reader) with a big heart. And then there’s Jacob Kowalski (Balls of Fury’s Dan Fogler), a factory worker who becomes the franchise’s first main No-Maj character. “At the beginning of the story, Jacob breaks up with his girlfriend and gets swept into this magical world with this sense of wonder and openness,” Heyman says. “He’s our window in.”
The foursome are destined to draw comparisons to Harry-Ron-Hermione, which is perhaps equally unfair and unavoidable. “The assumption is that Newt’s front and centre, but it’s a quartet,” Redmayne says. “So that feels like it slightly takes the [pressure] off. At least, that’s what I’m telling myself.”
Filling out the cast are Colin Farrell as Graves, a MACUSA auror who goes after Newt; Samantha Morton (Minority Report) as Mary-Lou, a No-Maj who leads the New Salem Philanthropic Society – a.k.a the Second Salemers; and Trainwreck’s Ezra Miller as her troubled adopted son, Credence. Credence is the most enigmatic character of the lot, and one who might evolve into somebody rather notable in the Potterverse. In the meantime, Miller’s just happy to be here. “As an 11-year-old I missed the Hogwarts letter, and it bummed me out,” he says. “Being a part of this makes me feel like I’ve made it to Hogwarts – as a teacher’s assistant or something.”
Some critics have commented on the lack of diversity among Beasts’ core cast – a bitter irony for a film that is not-so-covertly about bigotry. But Heyman is eager to explain that the racial divide in the city is part of the backdrop of the film. “In New York in the 1920’s there was a segregation between white and black, and that is reflected in this,” he says, noting that a scene in a Harlem speakeasy highlights that separation. “But then the wizarding world is a more open and tolerant society, where people of colour and different ethnic backgrounds exist harmoniously.” Yates adds that Beasts is “a wee bit more grown-up” than the rest of the canon. “There are no kids in this movie,” he says.
Because the cast members are not kids, however, they had some catching up to do. The actors were required to brush on their magic, fast. (You can’t skip seven years of Hogwarts without some remedial studies.) First: choosing wands. Each actor received a dozen or so design options before practising wizarding moves in “wand-work classes.” “You get to have a full-on discussion of what wand you have – it’s the stuff kids’ dreams are made of,” Redmayne says. “I was like, well, Newt wouldn’t have anything leather and wouldn’t have anything made from a horn. It would be something simple and woodlike.”
Waterston requested her wand be heavier to give it more spell-casting heft. Farrell notes he had a “practice wand” – as if giving the True Detective actor a ‘real’ one might be dangerous – to take back to his hotel room. “I was walking around in my bathrobe with a wand in my hand,” Farrell says. There, he gesticulated meaningfully at the TV: “Channel 4! BBC 1!”
As for those fantastic beasts of the title, the menagerie includes the niffler, a tiny treasure-hunter attracted to shiny things; the bowtruckle, a protective stick-shaped being that lives in Newt’s pocket; and the deadly lethifold, which smothers victims in their sleep. Redmayne spent months preparing for the role by spending time with zookeepers and other animal handlers, making him possibly the only actor in history to use immersive, method-y research to play a wizard. Still, his colleagues say it paid off. “The most endearing thing is watching Eddie interact with the beasts,” Waterston says. “It’s so beautiful. He’s worked out all these different dynamics with them.”
When the film is released on Nov. 18, 2016, fans can expect to glimpse a couple of creatures from the Potter films too (the merpeople will likely make an appearance). Just don’t expect to see younger versions of any familiar human characters. Not yet, anyway. If Beasts is a success, though, more movies are planned, with Rowling likely writing the scripts. (In her usual fashion, she already has the next two mapped out.) Down the road, Heyman hints, we shouldn’t be surprised to see a familiar face or two. A line of dialogue in Fantastic Beasts references a wizard you may have heard of – some guy named Dumbledore.