Whether you read the books as a kid (or secretly read them with the “grown-up” cover) or always end up watching one (or all) of the eight Harry Potter films whenever you’re off work, the world JK Rowling created is an enduring one with mass appeal. Most people, having written seven best-selling books that were made into eight blockbuster films (five of which rank among the 50 highest-grossing films of all time), might have a break. Not Rowling. It’s a testament to the insatiable appetite for all things Harry Potter that her idea for a prequel (and screenwriting debut), Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, is now set to be a series of five films. Ahead of the release of the second instalment, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, we meet the cast to talk mythical beasts, green screen silliness and getting secret plot intel from the famed author.
Were you obsessed with anything as a kid?
Thundercats. If I hear the Thundercats theme music I get quite nostalgic. And Dennis the Menace. I’d get a Beano album every Christmas and I was a member of the Dennis the Menace club, which meant that you got a little Gnasher badge.
Which of the cast is most obsessed with Harry Potter?
Ezra Miller. There’s no question. He’s the greatest type of Potter fan because he understands it on so many levels. He could write dissertations on it.
Did you ever need him to explain anything during filming?
On the first film, Samantha Morton’s character says, “Are you a seeker or a seeker after truth?” and Newt’s line is, “No, I’m more of a chaser really.” And Ezra was like, “Dude, you have the greatest line.” I was like, “oh yeah, yeah, yeah… why’s it such a great line?” And then I was like, “Oh my gosh, the Quidditch reference!” I hadn’t realised that was the whole thing. It took Ezra to point it out to me, embarrassingly.
Were there any funny memories from the set?
The French Ministry of Magic had a really slippery floor so it was just forever deeply humiliating wipeouts. There was one moment in which I tried to get Katherine and Dan to do the hokey cokey. And it transpires that in America the hokey cokey is called the hokey pokey… They laughed me off the set for thinking it was the hokey cokey. It got really “America versus Britain”.
Which is your favourite beast?
Pickett, for loyalty, but baby niffler for cuteness.
What would your own fantastic beast look like?
Well, when I did the Potter Patronus thing I was one of those dogs – a Basset hound. I was so excited because I’d forgotten how much I love Basset hounds. So I think it would be like a Dumbo-esque creature but of the Basset hound variety, with massive long floppy ears and maybe it would just have a startling singing voice. I don’t know why.
With elephant ears or dog ears?
They’re bassett hound ears but they’re really long and they would fly and they would sing like a siren and it would entice people through its cuteness, dopiness and extraordinary vocal ability. But if they petted it they would turn to stone. Am I combining enough parts... should I keep going?
Have people been trying to get spoilers out of you?
Yeah, endlessly. And there are a couple of spoilers that are so insane in this film that I have that overwhelming urge to scream it really loudly all the time. There’s one that when I read it my jaw physically smacked
Have you had any weird fan interactions?
Seeing people dressed up as Newt and creating lifelike creatures. There was one extraordinary Pickett – it was more real than any of the puppets that I’d had on set. It’s amazing but also makes you nervous because you realise how invested people are and you don’t want to mess it up.
Do you worry about that?
What’s it like entering the wizarding world? Is there pressure from playing Dumbledore?
I feel like it’s only just started. There were moments – stepping into a Hogwarts classroom or discussing what kind of wand you want and you think, “Wow, I’m really in this world.” It’s a world that I’ve brought my children up with. I’ve read the books and seen the films with them so it feels very familiar. I’ve gone from the outside to the inside and that’s an unusual and wonderful experience.
Are your kids pestering you for spoilers?
Well they’re all in their late teens now so it’s not like they would have been when they were little. But I’m quite nervous actually. We experienced the Potter stories together and now I’m in it. Hopefully they’ll think I’m half decent.
Were you glad that you didn’t have to have the big white beard, playing Dumbledore as a young man?
I don’t know. Part of me sort of assumed that I might go that way. When I did the camera test I tried to steer it that way and they were like, no… there’s 90 years or something before we get to that.
So you were you obsessed with Harry Potter as a kid?
I was obsessed from the time my Dad read me The Philosopher’s Stone. Or The Sorcerer’s Stone as I first knew it because we’re not allowed to know as much esoteric history as in the UK. I love this wizarding world very much.
Did you listen to the audiobooks too?
Yeah, the audiobooks were huge for me. My dad read me the first three books then I started reading them and then I started listening to the audiobooks and that became an obsessive practice. I would listen to them for, like, seven hours a day.
You’re obviously a big fan. Did you get to go to Hogwarts in this movie?
This is something that makes me very upset... No I’m just kidding. I do constantly give the members of our cast who did get to go to Hogwarts a lot of grief for not texting me to just say “Hey, I know this is your life and it’s everything to you so maybe you want to come see Hogwarts?” No, no one did that.
What was your favourite scene to film?
I really loved being able to see the magical French boulevard, the equivalent of Diagon Alley in France. I just love that. I love French culture and art and I have some Alsatian heritage – that’s sort of German and French by the way, not the dog. It was amazing to see all the stores, like the “Baguette Magique” store which makes me laugh in the lower belly.
What’s a baguette magique?
It’s a wand! I don’t know if I’m supposed to reveal that…
Did you get to meet JK Rowling?
Yeah... freaking out, dude! But also she’s so good at chilling that she charms you. It sort of starts to float away. I remember the reality where you were the most important author in my life but that was JK Rowling and you’re just this person who’s super chill. So that’s helpful.
Have people been trying to get spoilers out of you?
Of course. I have a lot of really devout Potterhead friends and they squeeze me.
Have you had any great fan interactions?
I did meet this one excellent fan who’s also clearly a very gifted actor. I don’t know how he would like his performance form to be identified – actor, cosplayer, mime… But he was at a Comic Con in Cleveland. He was dressed as Credence from the first film.
Credence has an intense haircut in the first film. Did he have the hair?
He had the hair! Which is a commitment. Let’s just start there. The look was impeccable but beyond the look he was fully channelling my very strange, contorted performance of that character. I was just very impressed. For a while I stayed in it with him and honestly, I broke first! He was too committed and it freaked me out. I was like okay, I need your real voice now, I’m worried.
Were there any green screen scenes where you felt really silly?
Green screen is always funny. It’s awkward because there’s nothing there and you have to commit 100 percent. There was a moment where me and Eddie are battling something that’s not really there and we’re like, urghhh, making grunting sounds. I remember watching playback and just thinking, if they don’t put something here, we look so crazy.
Some of the cast got to go Hogwarts for this film – did you?
Yes! It was amazing. I read this book when I was a kid and saw it all so clearly and I so badly wanted to be at this school and now I’m here and seeing students of Hogwarts with their wands, capes and owls. It’s surreal.
If you had a magical suitcase like Newt does, where would it take you?
I genuinely want to go where all his creatures are. That’s the coolest. If that could be real, I’d be very happy.
If you got a glimpse into the wizarding world as a muggle, how would you react?
I think I’d want to stay, it’s so much more fun than our world. How could you go back? I’d try to move in.
If you could create a fantastic beast, what would they be like?
Something cute, fuzzy and adorable that could fit in my pocket. Pickett is cute so maybe something like that. And its magic power would be… maybe it could cook food for me? A very cute little creature that made you dinner.