'Fantastic Beasts' Star Eddie Redmayne on Joining the Wizarding World, Working With J.K. Rowlingby IMDb-Editors | last updated - 12 Sep 2016
IMDb sat down with Oscar winner Eddie Redmayne on the set of highly anticipated movie Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Below, Redmayne reveals details about what it was like working with J.K. Rowling, being newly minted in the wizarding world, and the new character he’s about to introduce to the world: Newt Scamander. — Chako Suzuki
IMDb: What was it like when you first read the Fantastic Beasts script?
Eddie Redmayne: One of the most spectacular things to me about the script was that it was a thriller, then it was adventure. At the end of the script I was actually like, "Oh, my God! How can all of this be woven into one story that takes place over a couple of days?" And yet, somehow [Rowling] manages to do that.
Fun fact: Producer David Heyman told us Redmayne is a “perfect lead” who was the “first and only choice” for the lead role. Though Redmayne didn’t have to audition for the part, he was involved in each of the casting auditions.
MORE: Read our Fantastic Beasts set visit report here
Are we allowed to know what your wand core is?
Well, no, you're not unfortunately. But one of the most exciting things about getting this job was the very tight teams of artists. I did a few months of prep for it — you have to hold discussions about your character and what sort of wand you think might be appropriate. Then this amazing array of drawings arrives, and you get to pick one. It was quite an extraordinary thing!
A lot of people are really excited to finally get to see some American wizardry. Now that you've had a chance to be in the [wizarding] world, does it feel American?
It does, yeah. I know there's all this ruckus over the “No-Maj” side of things. I was doing press at the time, so I took quite a hit. I was like, "Guys, don't worry, the word ‘muggle’ is in the film.” It's different — sort of lost in translation. But J.K. Rowling really grounds things. She's so three-dimensional with how she creates the world.
There are Americanisms, and Newt is an Englishman in New York in the 1920s. He's been in the field for a year, and suddenly he arrives in New York and everything is so huge. I remember the first time I went to New York when I was about 8 or 9 and opening the window [at my hotel] and [seeing] Saint Patrick's Cathedral in front of [me] and buildings just flying up. [I remember] being kind of totally overwhelmed by it. There are certainly things I related to in this American-British thing.
What was it like meeting J.K. Rowling?
I got to meet J.K. Rowling, so I had about three or four months prepping the film. Just about a month before we started filming, I was here in Leavesden, and Jo came and it was this sort of brilliant or slightly odd moment in which [director] David Yates introduced her, and I knew that she was only going to be there for an hour. I think I was sort like, "Hello, nice to meet you!" And then just basically grilled her for an hour.
She came to set the other day and I was like, "I am so sorry.” But it was so phenomenal! She's so passionate about her characters and she has such a sense of their three-dimensional world and their history. What's great about Newt is you can just go to J.K. Rowling and she gives it all.
When you were talking to J.K. Rowling about Newt, what was something she told you that you either hadn't considered or was a surprise?
I suppose [Newt’s] background and where the thoughts for the character had come from. They're all quite personal to her and that was sort of lovely. And it was wonderful to be able to share some of the stuff that I've done: meeting people who have trackers or people who work with animals or zoologists. All these extraordinary stories of gorillas who've grown up with humans and then go back into the wild. It’s this weird mixture of human and animal behavior. What's wonderful about J.K. Rowling and David [Yates] is that they also really enjoy collaboration. You can come with ideas and throw stuff in.
You were a teenager when Harry Potter first came out. Did you have any personal connection to the series?
I was just a fan really. I read the books and then I started watching the films, and it was just the most wonderful escapism. Every year or two, you got to go and sort of dive into this world. J.K. Rowling's stories straddle genres in the most amazing way.
When the films would come out, I'd just look forward to it so much — that coupled with the fact that there was an entire family of gingers. And I never got an audition for it! I was sort of bereft. When I heard they were making more — a new film — I was like, "Please, can I be a part of it?"
Even though this is a new story, was there any particular Harry Potter book, movie, or character that you referenced in order prepare for this role?
No, I didn't. There wasn't a specific character. There's this weird thing that we're all aware of the legacy and the heritage of these amazing worlds. But at the same time, you want to start afresh. What makes that easier is Fantastic Beasts starts before those films.
I tried to cut together all these different spells and how they'd been used and [then spent time] watching different actors and how they used their wands in order to get a sense of what other people’s choices have been [so I could] create a continuity. But as far as the character was concerned, I felt like I had a whole blank page to start on.
Did you have any hesitation about being in a big franchise?
Well, firstly I hope people enjoy it. But certainly being part of this particular world — once I read the script, it wasn't even a question! I felt so damn lucky, frankly. If you're lucky enough to choose — which for me has been rare — you go by the script, and you go by the characters, and they’re great characters.
MORE: Read our FB set visit report here
How are you guys shooting the scenes with the beasts? Do you have anyone that's performing opposite you, or is most of it just you and David [Yates] coming up with it?
Well, I've worked with Alex Reynolds, who I worked with on The Theory of Everything and The Danish Girl, and is a dancer and movement coach. We just spent a couple of months investigating that. What was important for me was that Newt has a different relationship with [the beasts], but also that they have a relationship with each other. They all live down in this case, and I think [Newt] is in some way parenting their relationships with each other.
How are you guys shooting the scenes with the beasts? (cont.)
For example, Pickett, a little stick man who's one of my favorite characters, has attachment issues, so he always has to be in my pocket. When [acting out when] he comes up onto my shoulder, I started by having a puppeteer with a finger puppet do it. Then they [used] a long pole with a wire Pickett on the end. Eventually, when we were actually filming, [Pickett was] not physically there, but I had a sense of him and could play with him. Tonight, we're doing a second unit thing with just a baboon in Central Park Zoo, but the baboon's not going to be there. I find it was actually much easier to work with nothing and improvise with yourself. I'm saying this with great confidence. It could be a catastrophe!
What has it been like working with Dan Fogler, Alison Sudol, and especially with Katherine Waterston, given Newt and Tina's relationship?
It's really been wonderful. There was a moment when we did our first read-through. I think it was just the four of us and a few other people reading other parts. I mean, we'd only just been on the phone together, and then we were walking through Leavesden, and we all just looked at each other going, "Whoa, here we go!"
J.K. Rowling's written such specific characters within this quartet who are so varied, and there are eccentricities and real differences between the people that they've cast. There's a sort of eclectic quality to the four of us and getting to play off them has been just brilliant. I've never done something when you're a sort of team, you know. It really is four of you taking everything on.
Can we talk about the four of you as characters? What does Newt make of the other three when he meets them?
Well, he bumps into Tina (Katherine Waterston), who had worked for MACUSA (Magical Congress of the United States of America), she was an Auror, and she's sort of had her wings clipped in some ways. There's a work ethic to her, a [need to] do things by the book and a desperation to prove herself.
Can we talk about the four of you as characters? (cont.)
We were shooting a scene in the wand permit office where the two sisters (Tina and Queenie) are now working, and just the difference in the set design of their desks: Queenie's (Alison Sudol) was filled with powder, blusher, and was totally chaotic; whereas, Tina's was much more organized.
And Queenie just has this wonderful, free-spirited quality. And Jacob (Dan) is just caught up in the mix but has the warmest of hearts — he grounds this thing. I suppose, in some ways, he's the eyes of the audience. Because he gets pulled into this world, and it's that mixture of growing abysses — terrifying! — and not wanting to go back into the muggle world. It's this sort of this amazing amalgam.
When did you have the "Wow, I really joined this whole world and what it all encompasses!" moment?
Well, oh, God — when was that moment? I had been cast in the film, and we went to New York where I was auditioning with actors who were playing some of the other parts. In the audition room, I was presented with not only a wand, but, like, a sort of prop paper of extraordinary writings, all in completely authentic magic world stuff. I was watching the other actors come in [and do the same], and it instantly released the inner 10-year-old in everyone. That probably was the first moment.
When did you have the "Wow, I really joined this whole world and what it all encompasses!" moment? (cont.)
When we shot in MACUSA, Colleen [Atwood] had done such a staggering job with the costumes. There were extras everywhere with this kind of 1920s witchy vibe. And what's amazing about the scale of the production is that we come on to rehearse and already there are background artists doing their [thing] — little kids being shown the Salem witches and everyone in their little outfits, and it was all-encompassing. That was an amazing moment, too.
What's it been like working with David Yates as a filmmaker?
I first met him about six, maybe seven months before I got cast in the film. He's the most kind, gentle human being. There are so many departments that he is juggling of extraordinary artists designing the animals and then coming and delivering them to him. He [has the] capacity to helm this gigantic liner — basically a cruise liner in some ways — and yet at the same time be so specific with performance.
I remember Ralph Fiennes saying before I started, "David sees everything." And he really, really does. It's wonderful for us because you might think that a director having to deal with so many moving parts wouldn’t be so focused on the performance side. He's really been a wonder to work with.
Your first IMDb credit was John Hardy on “Animal Ark” in 1998. We're kind of coming full circle with the animals! Do you have any stories about your first role?
Well, “Animal Ark” was when I was 14 years old, and it was an ITV children's program. I did an episode called "Bunnies in the Bathroom," and I'm not sure if it was my finest hour. My memory of it was that I was on holiday from school, and I was going through a period of trying to momentarily rebel, but I didn't want to dye my hair with peroxide because I wasn't quite that rebellious, so I put that Sun-In stuff in. And it was during this week of filming [the episode] that my hair just went more and more ginger. That is where I started!