What We Learned on the Set of 'Fantastic Beasts'

by IMDb-Editors | last updated - 11 Nov 2016

IMDb worked its magic to apparate onto the set of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, the upcoming Harry Potter spin-off that launches a new trilogy set in J.K. Rowling’s wizarding world. Read on for interviews with the cast and creators as well as new pictures and teasers from the movie and beyond. — Chako Suzuki and Michael Rosser

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Eddie Redmayne and Katherine Waterston in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016)

It’s a Kind of Magic

Magic is back in the air at Leavseden Studios, just outside of London, where IMDb was invited to explore the set of upcoming fantasy adventure Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.

After making all eight Harry Potter films at the studio, producer David Heyman and director David Yates (who made the last four movies) returned to Leaveseden to make this first part of a new trilogy, with a script written by J.K. Rowling.

Set 70 years before Harry went to Hogwarts, Fantastic Beasts follows the adventures of magizoologist Newt Scamander, played by Eddie Redmayne, after his menagerie of magical creatures escapes during a trip to New York in 1926.

“This film has a lot of colors,” says Heyman. It’s got darkness, adventure, tender character moments, and it’s funny.”

MORE: Eddie Redmayne talks to IMDb about joining the wizarding world and working with J.K. Rowling.

Eddie Redmayne and Katherine Waterston in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016)

Fantastic Beasts Was Nearly a Documentary

Although unfamiliar to some, Newt Scamander was first mentioned in "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone" in 1997, and was the “author” of a 128-page novella, penned by Rowling for charity in 2001.

So when Heyman was considering his next move after the Potter film franchise ended in 2011, the magizoologist nearly resurfaced as the subject of a faux documentary. “We were thinking about what to do and Lionel Wigram, one of the producers and the executive who I first sent Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, had the idea of doing a documentary about Newt [Scamander],” he recalls.

“I think Jo got word of that — I mean, we wouldn't have done it without Jo's permission — and said, ‘Well, funny enough, I'd been thinking about something already.’”

Heyman adds that Rowling “didn't need to go back to this world for any other reason than that she wanted to. There's a real sense of it being an author's creation.”

J.K. Rowling at an event for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (2011)

J.K. Rowling’s First Screenplay

Director David Yates, who has been a part of the wizarding world since Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007), also heaps praise on Rowling’s first outing as a screenwriter. “Jo's an extraordinary writer,” he says. “She hadn't written a screenplay before, so this was a new experience for her.

“If you work with a traditional screenwriter, you’ll give lots of notes and the writer will go away and spend three to six months re-writing. With Jo, it's an extraordinary process because she doesn't realize that's how it should work. You give Jo notes and then a week later you'll get a script. And I'll be like, ‘Whoa! Jo's just delivered a script — after a week!’”

Heyman adds of Rowling: “Her tireless imagination is a gift. She's always there if we need to consult her.”

Dan Fogler, Alison Sudol, Eddie Redmayne, and Katherine Waterston in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016)

Wizards Assemble

Eddie Redmayne was the filmmakers first and only choice for the lead role. “You can believe that [Eddie]'s a magizoologist,” says Heyman. “He's kind of quirky, kind of off-center, but he has a deep-seated intelligence.”

In Fantastic Beasts, Scamander teams with a trio of new friends to round up his crazed critters and — with Redmayne in place — the hunt was on to find actors that could authentically portray outsiders but had that chemistry that proved so important to the Potter films.

Katherine Waterston secured the role of Porpentina “Tina” Goldstein, an ambitious worker at the Magical Congress of the United States of America (MACUSA), while singer-songwriter Alison Sudol was cast as her sister and roommate Queenie.

Stand-up comedian Dan Fogler completes the foursome as the franchise’s first main “No-Maj” (aka Muggle) character Jacob Kowalski.

“I've never done something when you're a sort of team,” says Redmayne. “It really is four of you taking everything on.” [Click here for full interview]

Colin Farrell in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016)

Colin Farrell: Graves "is a serious chap"

Colin Farrell takes on a sinister role as the portentously-named Percival Graves, the Director of Magical Security at MACUSA, who is hot on the trail of Scamander.

“He holds his position as a great honor,” says Farrell of his character. “But there's also great responsibility that has been bestowed upon him to protect this whole world of wizards that are teetering on the brink of potential persecution. So, yeah, he's a serious chap.”

Mystery still surrounds Credence, a young wizard played by Ezra Miller, with whom Stuart Craig says they wanted to “‘create war’ with a vulnerable, gifted, talented character who has repressed his magic, and becomes quite dangerous.”

Dan Fogler, who plays Jacob Kowalski, adds: “[The] climate is that they do not want No-Majs to be mixing with wizards and witches. If that does happen, the whole thing will just unravel.”

Eddie Redmayne in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016)

Unleash the Beasts

The Fantastic Beasts themselves could steal the show with a variety of different designs and characteristics. But it was important for Heyman that the creatures were “grounded” in some sort of reality to create authenticity, with a range of different stylings.

“You’ve got some that fly, some that are more insect, some that are grey,” says the producer. “From a design aspect, you're just trying to aesthetically broaden it in terms of qualities.”

The first beasts to be featured include the Niffler, Merpeople, Lethifolds, Augurey, Bowtruckles, Crup and Ashwinder, as well well as the Occamy, which Heyman describes as “the most extraordinary,” indicating it may be the main beast.

We saw a variety of other incredible creatures in the concept art room: Fwooper, Mooncalf, Doxy, Nundu, Kappa, Billywig, Baby Thestral, Diricawl, Hippocampus, Runespoor, Lethifold, Graphorn, and Giant Dung Beetle.

Michael Gambon in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 (2010)

Dumbledore Lives… and Other Harry Potter Connections

Fans of “boy who lived” will be watching carefully for any nods to the original franchise. And while the biggest connections are thematic, production designer Stuart Craig confirms there are some major name drops. “References to people [are] the biggest connection and there are only very few of those… but Dumbledore is mentioned,” he says.

Craig, who worked on all eight Potter films, also highlights the thematic crossover. “The essential premise and similarity to Harry Potter is that the magical world is invisible to the muggle word, and the tension there is very central to this story,” he explains. “The whole thing is about fear of being exposed.”

Heyman also points out how the notion of the outsider connects the films and says, “I think you can find elements of outsider-dom with each of the characters in [Fantastic Beasts], and with Harry, Ron, Hermione, who find a community in each other and with their colleagues and friends.”

Eddie Redmayne in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016)

Fantastic Future

Warner Bros. recently confirmed that a second movie is in the works, with Yates to return as director, and worldwide release slated for Nov. 16, 2018.

"There were things created in this process that will be used for the next movie – or maybe the movie beyond that," says Yates.

Rowling will also return as screenwriter and has already begun story discussions with the filmmakers. “Jo’s already working out what’s coming next, some of which she has already shared with us,” Yates reveals.

“She has told us the first act for the next movie and has certain things that are well established in her head… and others that I’m sure she’s still figuring out.”

A third installment is expected in Nov. 2020.

Alison Sudol and Katherine Waterston in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016)

Extra, Extra

During the set visit, we were able to rifle through papers and other props. In the Keock & Holman accountants’ office set, which functions as a MACUSA front, we found No-Maj newspaper “The New York Gazette” (Dec. 1926) with these headlines: “Manholes Burst From the Streets in Freak Incident – Experts Stunned,” “What’s the Truth Behind Trail of Destruction?,” “Mysterious Dark Mass Still Baffles Authorities,” “Dogs Fly Out Window With Flapping Ears,” and “Who is Harry Shaw?”

Back in the wizarding world, on a desk in the MACUSA office, we found the following form dated Dec. 1926, which shows that magical meetings are a lot like our own:

Emergency Meeting Called

  • Strange disturbances on New York streets
  • Danger Level 5 – explosions on streets/unexplained magical activity
  • State of emergency
  • Magical activity causing endangerment to No-Maj community

Eddie Redmayne

The Wand Chooses the Wizard

Each of the actors selected their own wands, which we were allowed to inspect and hold on set. Here’s a rundown of what they looked and felt like:

Although it looks like a horn, Newt Scamander’s (Redmayne) wand is animal by-product free. Its shape is organic, its color grey and orange, and it is heavier in weight than other wands.

Queenie Goldstein’s (Sudol) wand has a seashell handle with intricate gold metal work. It’s very feminine and Art Deco in appearance. Her sister Tina’s (Waterston) wand is simple and made of sturdy, dark wood.

Percival Graves’ (Farrell) wand is black with silver accents and resembles a military baton — fitting for the MACUSA Director of Magical Security.

Eddie Redmayne in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016)

Will MACUSA become as iconic as Diagon Alley?

New York's Woolworth building is the front for the MACUSA headquarters, and Stuart Craig hopes it will become as iconic as Diagon Alley.

Rowling specifically chose this location because of its Gothic style, but one small detail confirmed that she chose the right the location: an owl carved into the entrance archway.

Stuart Craig recalls, “I think as soon as she saw that, she must have thought, ‘Eureka! This is it. This is the one.’”

Dan Fogler, Eddie Redmayne, and Katherine Waterston in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016)

Wanted Wizards

On set, we spotted ‘Wanted’ signs for these three baddies:

Mancaster Pyke: Dangerous wizard with wand! 4850 dragots (Dragots is the U.S. wizard currency. It looks like the dollar sign except with a D).

Jeremius Wardwart: Has wand, 4500 dragots, for No-Maj kidnap and murder.

Ernestina Butler: Witch, aka “Red Panther,” tortured and killed at least 11 No-Majes, 4850 dragots reward.

Katherine Waterston in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016)

Fantastic Beasts By the Numbers

Fun fact #1: At the busiest production period, 340 to 350 construction workers were on hand. Stuart Craig exclaims, “That’s a big number for a film!”

Fun fact #2: “There are 11,000 extras who will pass through the film by the time we wrap,” says Katherine Waterston.

Fun fact #3: The 1920s New York set was built on Leavesden but also shot in three other locations — all of them in Liverpool (most notably at the Kuehne + Nagel headquarters and St. George’s Hall).

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is set for worldwide release on Nov. 18, 2016.

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