Nobody expected Johnny Depp to send those photos, though in retrospect they probably should have.
Director David Yates was finishing filming Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them when the images arrived in his email. Depp had yet to shoot his climactic scene; Magizoologist hero Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) reveals that the fugitive dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald has been hiding in plain sight the entire film, disguised as dapper auror Percival Graves (played by Colin Farrell). The Farell-to-Depp switcheroo was to be the film’s biggest shock when it came out in theaters, but first it was the director’s turn to be surprised.
Much like Depp had done when crafting his take on Willy Wonka and Capt Jack Sparrow, the actor had huddled together with a makeup team to design his own creative look for J.K Rowling’s villain. “I had an image in my head of the guy,” explains Depp, who felt emboldened in his creative choices by a Skype chat with Rowling about the role. “She said, ‘I can’t wait to see what you do with him.’ It was beautifully left as this open gift.”
So Depp sent photos of himself as Grindelwald to Yates. His first-draft makeover was “slightly more extreme” than where Grindelwald ended up, the director recalls. “We saw this character combination of poet, rock star, visionary, and sociopath, beguiling but lethal,” says 55 yer old Yates, who also helmed the final four Potter films. After some back-and-forth (at one point a “foppish, romantic look” was considered and rejected), the production embraced Depp’s concept of Grindelwald as a pre-WW11 vision of Aryan fascism – an ultra white, pasty-faced platinum bond, with an undercut haircut and pale mismatched eyes. “I almost felt like he’s maybe two people,” Depp says, “He’s twins in one body. So a gamy eye is more like the other side of him – a brain for each eye, and he’s somewhere in the middle.”
When Depp’s Grindelwald was unveiled in the final moments of Fantastic Beasts, fans were indeed stunned, but also concerned. The dark wizard looked so strange. Was he supposed to be comedic? So for the second title in the planned five-film franchise, The Crimes of Grindelwald, the evil wizard’s appearance was “softened and refined”, made to look more natural. Judging by the enthusiastic fan reactions to the film’s final trailer at the end of September, the tweaks worked.
Grindelwald’s evolution was just a small example of how the Fantastic Beasts team leveled for the sequel. Where to Find Them bore the burden of launching a new Wizarding World franchise with a different cast, setting, time period, and characters. While the movie was largely a success – with solid reviews and $814 million worldwide at the box office – members of the filmmaking team quietly felt that the sequel could (and should) be an improvement over its predecessor.
“When we made the first film [the actors] all thought it was great,” recalls Ezra Miller, who plays troubled young wizard Credence Barebone. “But the department heads – Yates, [production designer] Stuart Craig, [costume designer] Colleen Atwood – were all like, ‘It’s not good enough, it has to get better, it has to get way better, and here are all the things that were wrong with it.’ [Crimes] is a serious push by some of the greatest artists in the game to elevate in a way that’s inspiring to watch and be around.”
That elevation began with Rowling’s script, which largely shifts the action from New York to Paris – a new locale, sure, but returning to Europe feels more Potter-esque. And while the first film was focused heavily on Newt, the sequel is more of an ensemble piece that deepened returning characters, introduces several new ones, and plays like a life-and-death, wartime noir thriller (no whimsical three minute scenes of Newt demonstrating a mating dance at the zoo with a horny Erumpent).
The setup is that Grindelwald escapes while being transported to a new prison and rallies an army of supporters with his pledge to unify the Wizarding World and rule Muggles. That leaves Hogwarts professor Dumbledore (Jude Law), the dark wizard’s childhood friend (and perhaps more?), to enlist his expelled former student Newt and, by extension, his American friends – rebellious auror Tina (Katherine Waterston), her telepathic sister Queenie (Alison Sudol), and affable No-Maj Jacob (Dan Fogler). But that’s only the beginning.
“The script is labyrinthian,” says Redmayne, whose introverted beast-wrangler is a bit more comfortable in his own skin this time around. “You’re going down this maze, and Jo [Rowling] is weaving the stories together with such intricacy. Along the way, connections to Harry Potter and secrets are falling at your feet. And there is one…” The 36 year old Oscar winner pauses, knowing he’s treading into heavy spoiler territory. “I got to the end and my jaw dropped. There was one thing I didn’t see coming.”
“Darker” is a word the cast uses a lot. “Complex” and “fast-paced” are others. The film is more, well, adult, – The Crimes of Grindelwald may be the most grown up of all the Wizarding World titles. EW caught up with Fogler shortly after he saw the completed film for the first time, and he was as excited as any fan stepping out of a cineplex. “It reminds me a lot of The Empire Strikes Back,” the 41 year old says. “The first movie is so positive. It’s sweet and lovely. But this time everybody is really put under fire. People are gonna see this, like, a hundred times just to get everything. They’re going to be going nuts that they have to wait for the next one. And Jude Law, oh God, he’s perfect.”
Ah, yes. From the moment that first photo was released of Law as a dashing 45 year old Dumbledore, even the most discriminating Potter purists admitted he was spot-on as the beloved wizard (and some rather hot for teacher, with hashtags circulating like #DumbleDaddy and #DumbleDamn). Adding Dumbledore to this prequel pleased Rowling, too, who spent more time visiting the set during this shoot than the first film.
You might assume Dumbledore would be the least mysterious part of this tale since we already know so much about his past and future. Not so. “There are things to resolve from Albus’ life, some of which we know from the story, some of which we don’t know about yet,” Law, 45, says, and then comes up with an even better tease: “This is a good riddle. One of the reasons Dumbledore trusts and likes Newt so much is Newt understands and forgives beasts and monsters. And there’s a part of Dumbledore – only a part – that sees himself as a bit of a beast.”
The friendship between Newt and Dumbledore might feel a bit wistful for Harry Potter fans: It’s like a glimpse into what might have been if the future Hogwarts Headmaster had somehow been able to carry on his friendship with the Boy Who Lived into adulthood. Yet Newt, unlike young Potter, can quickly spot Dumbledore’s “for the greater good” manipulations. “One of the things I love about Newt is he has this naivete and gentleness on the surface, but he’s got quite a steel core,” Redmayne says. “He adores Dumbledore, but he also knows when Dumbledore has crossed a line and isn’t afraid to call him out on it.”
Newt’s whip-smart auror love interest Tina is back as well, going on an unauthorised (naturally) mission to hunt down Credence in Paris. “She’s more confident this time. No one is questioning her intellect and instincts,” Waterston, 38, says. Yet her character’s love life is a mess thanks to some long-distance-relationship misunderstandings. While fans know Newt and Tina eventually end up together, the duo clearly have no idea. “It’s fun to play something out where the audience is one step ahead and Newt and Tina are the clueless ones,” the actress says.
Newt also has a tense relationship with his older brother, Theseus, played by Callum Turner, who broke his wand during his first day on set during an enthusiastic screen test. Theseus is an uptight careerist and Head of the British Ministry of Magic’s Auror Office, who’s pressuring the rebellious Newt to fall in line with the wizarding government’s plans. “Theseus wants his brother to stand up and fight [Grindelwald],” says Turner, but the two have conflicting ideas on how to #resist. That Theseus is engaged to Leta Lestrange (Zoe Kravitz) – Newt’s schoolboy crush – complicates matters as well.
Yet perhaps the most intriguing new character is the one fans only discovered last month: Nagini, a circus performer who gives customers one heckuva transformation act as she morphs into a massive snake. South Korean actress Claudia Kim, 33, wasn’t told which character she was playing until she arrived for her last audition. A Harry Potter fan since sixth grade, Kim instantly realised Nagini was cursed to become Voldemort’s murderous serpent. “I was speechless,” she recalls, and then was told that for this final test, she has to pretend to transform into a snake – on the spot. “I instantly felt heartburn, a lot of insecurity, but you have to empty your head and let your instincts take over,” she says. “If I find [the audition tape] I will destroy it!”
Once on set, Kim worked with a contortionist to perfect her act, infusing her performance with varying degrees of snake-ness. “David would give directions like ‘Can you do 2 percent more snake?’” she says, laughing.
Since her casting was announced, however, some have objected to a person of colour playing a character doomed to subservience. Those close to the production disagree with that perspective, and note that Kim simply gave the best audition for a standout role. “Claudia Kim is a living god,” Miller declares. “You’re about to get your head blown off. Prepare yourselves for Nagini. This is a tragic and beautiful story.”
Miller should know, as it’s his character, Credence, who teams up with Nagini to for a power couple of sorts: two lost souls with unique magical abilities they can’t entirely control. “Credence has joined the circus, as one does when you’ve killed your foster mom and fled the country,” Miller, 26, says glibly. “He’s trying to figure out who he is. They’re two people who don’t really trust anyone who are learning to trust for the first time.”
Another challenged couple (actually, every major character in Crimes of Grindelwald is arguably part of a couple, and that’s why the Paris setting is so apt) are Jacob and Queenie, who flee America due to its strict policy against No-Maj/Wizard relationships. And guess which charismatic politician is surprisingly in favour of such unions? “Grindelwald actually sounds like he’s all for love – if you love a Muggle, you should be allowed to marry,” Fogler reveals. “But wizards, he feels, should be on a pedestal. This is very tantalaising to some.”
So could the nicest couple in the story, Jacob and Queenie, join Team Grindelwald? They’re not saying, of course, but Sudol notes: “Grindelwald’s like staring at the sun – you’re not supposed to, but he’s hard to look away from. He does very, very bad things.”
Indeed, the film’s title promises crimes. And that this dark wizard’s deeds are wrapped in diverse rhetoric at rock-concert-style rallies peppered with populist appeal sounds kind of, well, familiar. Is Rowling making – unintentionally or not – some kind of modern political point? Sudol certainly sees one. “The film is terrifying that it’s so relevant, “ she says. “We really need to focus on trying to find commonalities amidst the instability of the world’s climate. When a lot of crazy things are happening, it’s very easy to lose true north.”
Which brings us, quite appropriately, back to Newt, the story’s moral compass. At one point in the movie, Newt tells his brother, “I don’t do sides.” That’s almost a revolutionary stance in hyper-partisan times. But it’s also one that, given the forces at play, is perhaps unsustainable. “You really get the sense that Newt’s always gonna make the right choice,” Fogler says. “In this day and age, that’s very refreshing.”
The Wizarding World’s notorious outlaw Gellert Grindelwald was briefly revealed two years ago in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, and his name is right there in the title of its new sequel, The Crimes of Grindelwald. Yet actor Johnny Depp, 55, remained silent about his crucial character 0 until now. Below, Depp lends insight into the mysterious villain his castmates say is the movie’s most unexpected revelation.
Were you a Harry Potter fan at all before all this?
I read the books when my kids were smaller and watched the films with them. The books were superb. What J.K. [Rowling] delivered is really a difficult thing to do as a writer – to create a whole new universe and a set of rules. And you pick it up in one fell swoop in the first book and first film. It’s a whole lot of information and I was amazed – you never felt like you were being slathered with exposition or being condescended to. It’s good literature and great writing in its own right. It ticks all the boxes. And I had a lot friends in the film, like Robbie Coltrane (Hagrid) is a great friend. Richard Griffiths (Vernon Dursley) was a great friend, rest his soul. So I was pretty familiar with them and hugely impressed.
Did you meet with Rowling initially?
We met by Skype. We had a very long conversation. We got together again when I arrived in London for fittings. From the first second it’s been an absolute treat and the most positive and fun experience. The opportunity to play one of her characters and try to bring something to the part that might even hopefully surprise her or Yates, that was a great challenge but a real gas. A lot of fun.
What initially drew you to playing Gellert Grindelwald?
I found the character fascinating and complex. My instinct reaction is he was like a human version of Finnegans Wake: James Joyce’s novel begins and ends in the middle of a sentence. You come in in mid-thought and then it’s a very confusing ride.
In the first film, Colin Farrell played Grindelwald, disguised as Percival Graves. Did his performance influence things at all?
It does, and then it doesn’t. As Grindelwald [was pretending to be] Graves, his responsibility is to portray Graves. I suppose the more contemplative moments of Colin’s – the more silent moments -for me, that’s when I would see bits of Grindelwald.
You’re known for having a hand in creating your characters. We only got to see him briefly in the first film, did you have any say in his initial appearance?
I had an image in my head of the guy. The beauty of J.K. and of Yates is they put trust in me to a degree. J.K. and I had some really nice talks and I had some ideas and she just said, “I can’t wait to see what you do with him.” It was beautifully left as this open gift.
Did the character’s conception evolve at all between the two films?
You get one brief introduction to Grindelwald in the first one. There were a number of things in the second film we got to plug in and utilize that gives you more of an insight into Grindelwald and that’s all due to J.K.’s approach to the character. Sometimes things arrive and for me in the moment and its always important to pay attention to whatever that is, when you have a certain instinct about something. I always follow it. She and David were great in terms of allowing me to step outside of the screenplay and dialogue as written and travel a bit more and try things. Something happening by chance. To me, that’s always the most satisfying – mistakes or accidents.
He now has, as one of your costars referred to, a “Scary Eye,” one eye rather different from the other. Does that have a backstory, is that just creepy?
It’s a character choice. I saw Grindelwald as more than one, if you know what I mean. I almost felt like he’s maybe two people. He’s twins in one body. So a gamey eye is more like the other side of him. Sort of like a brain for each eye, an albino twin, and he’s somewhere in the middle.
Based on some things your castmates have said, some fans will make Donald Trump comparisons. Is that fair?
I don’t see Donald Trump comparisons at all. To me, there’s something almost childlike in [Grindelwald]. His dream is for the wizard world to stand tall and above. It’s a fascistic element, and there’s nothing more dangerous than somebody who is a dreamer with a specific vision that’s very strong and very dangerous and he can make it happen. But no character wakes up and goes, “I’m going to do the worst things possible today and be evil as hell.” I do believe Grindelwald is an oddly likable character.
Unlike Voldemort, who ruled by fear and force, I’ve heard Grindelwald is charming and manipulates people to get what he wants.
Yeah, exactly. He psychologically motivates people to his ends.
What does Grindelwald think of Dumbledore at this point?
I think he’s just waiting. He’s looking forward to [their inevitable showdown]. I think there’s probably a lot of residue left over from days gone by. They quite bonded, you know? When you loved someone, and cared for someone, and it arrives into a [combative] arena – as it has with Dumbledore and Grindelwald – it’s very dangerous when it becomes personal.
There’s been lots of focus on Dumbledore’s sexuality and how much should be in the film, but very little speculating about Grindlewald. What’s your take on your character’s sexuality and how much of that is apparent in the portrayal?
I think it should be left up to the audience to feel it first, and when the time comes … It makes the situation with Dumbledore all the more intense. I think there’s a jealousy with Scamander. He sees Scamander as Dumbledore’s protégé – his boy, in a way. That in itself is enough for Grindelwald to want to take Scamander down in a way that is ferocious and eternal.
Another controversy surrounded your participation in the film. The director, studio, and Rowling issued statements of support. What was that like for you, and is there anything you’d say to fans on the fence about seeing the film?
I’ll be honest with you, I felt bad for J.K. having to field all these various feelings from people out there. I felt bad that she had to take that. But ultimately, there is real controversy. The fact remains I was falsely accused, which is why I’m suing the Sun newspaper for defamation for repeating false accusations. J.K. has seen the evidence and therefore knows I was falsely accused, and that’s why she has publicly supported me. She doesn’t take things lightly. She would not stand up if she didn’t know the truth. So that’s really it.
Anything else you want fans to know?
A couple of things. I feel like the main thing as an actor is your loyalty. It’s my job to enforce the author’s vision and also be true to the director’s vision. And then there’s being true to my vision. It’s a major responsibility, being handed the keys to this car. My intense loyalty is to not just J.K. and David Yates but to the people who go and see the films as well, the people who have invested their lives into this magnificent, incredible world J.K. has created. I went full tilt and headfirst into the character knowing the responsibility that I had. It’s good to take the audience on a ride they’re not necessarily expecting, yet with great respect to the world they’ve come to understand and know. The Potter fans are like scholars of this stuff which I find incredibly impressive. They know that world inside and out. I hope to give them something they haven’t seen before.
Burning Questions for J.K Rowling
Heading into Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, what do we need to know about the title character?
The first mention of Grindelwald is in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, so he has been part of the canon from the beginning. He was a very famous dark wizard whom Dumbledore defeated in 1945, a wizard who once owned the Elder Wand (as Voldemort did later). Although he remained rather mysterious in the Potter books, I had a very clear understanding of who Grindelwald was and what his story had been. Grindelwald is essential to an understanding of how Dumbledore became Dumbledore.
What has it been like writing dialogue for a younger version of Dumbledore?
It is no secret that Dumbledore is my favorite character in the Potter stories, so it was an absolute joy to have an opportunity to write dialogue for him again. He’s a fascinating character on so many levels.
How much of the three planned upcoming Beasts films do you have mapped out?
As with the Harry Potter books, it is all mapped out. In fact, when we announced the five films, I talked about that. It’s always possible that some details will change along the way, but the arc of the story is there. It’s been an amazing opportunity to tell parts of the backstory that never made it into the original books. I’m thinking particularly of one character that I think fans will be surprised to meet in this movie.
We’ve been told each Beasts film is set in a different city. Can you reveal one of the cities from one of the future movies?
It’s far too early to spoil anything. What I can say is that we’ll go to at least one new city in the next film, possibly two, and I’m keen to move outside Europe and North America. But you’ll just have to wait and see.
Pottermore sheds light on Yusuf Kama, one of the story’s newest (and most mysterious) characters. Here’s an upcoming article: “A guide to the new characters from Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald.”
Yusuf Kama, played by William Nadylam, is a French-African wizard who claims to be the last male of his pure-blood family line, so his official character description tells us.
Although we’ve not seen much of this particular character from the trailers, we do know a few things about him – such as how he is on the hunt for another character we know a little better: Credence (Ezra Miller).
And, for the first time, we can reveal that Yusuf has actually taken an Unbreakable Vow to track Credence down – a magical promise meaning that if he doesn’t fulfill his task, he will die. We saw Severus Snape make one of those vows during Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, promising to assist Draco Malfoy in Albus Dumbledore’s murder. So, as you can see, Unbreakable Vows are usually reserved for quite serious things, rather than, say promising to make someone a cup of tea.
Yusuf also has a connection to Leta Lestrange (Zoe Kravitz) in the new film: he’s actually her half-brother. How? Well, again, according to his biography, Yusuf’s mother was “taken” by an evil wizard called Corvus Lestrange, and ended up having a child with him – Leta. But why the obsession with Credence?
From the first film, Credence is only known to us as an orphan – so is it possible Yusuf needs to track him down due to a family connection?
Prop modeler Pierre Bohanna captured Newt’s brother’s sturdy “statesman” demeanor in this wand, down to the quartzite stone handle. It’s made of “tough, robust materials,” amounting to a “very strong, powerful wand”.
For Queenie, the design team was able to have some fun. “It gave us a great opportunity to create a fashionable wand,” Bohanna says. The result, with a mother-of-pearl handle, is quite striking.
The Grindelwald ally sports a simple design. “Wands are very personal items, almost like pieces of jewelry,” Bohanna explains of how he conceives them. He used this simple design to introduce viewers to Rosier.
Bohanna has some theories as to the horn on this wand’s edge: “You can heat a horn and reshape it; you’ll see it’s had some work done to it in that way.” Also, given Flamel’s age, bet it carries serious magical properties.
Newt’s wand is all about durability. “His wand gets a lot of use; we wanted to show that.” Bohanna says. “It’s got a plain oak shaft with lots of knocks and knicks – it’s almost like a garden tool, in the way it’s been so abused.”
“I remember there was even a debate on whether to put it on there,” Bohanna remembers of the cryptic symbol on the wand’s base. “Its meaning is relevant only to Dumbledore. No one else knows what it means.”
Ever-pragmatic Tina has a wand very different from her sister’s, favouring power over flair. “It’s almost like it’s an issued wand,” Bohanna says of the rosewood construct. “She’s happy just with something to work with.”
Bohanna says this sleek mix of ebony and silver reflects growth. “She made some aesthetic choices as she matured,” he explains. “The wand that you has as a kid isn’t necessarily the wand you want when you’re older.
This wand was conceived for Prisoner of Azkaban, when its power wasn’t yet clear. “!The Deathly Hallows book wasn’t yet released,” Bohanna says. “We had no idea of what it’d come to mean.” Still, his design was just right.