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The filmmakers behind FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM, the first spinoff of the incredibly successful Harry Potter series, apparated in New York City to meet the press.  I knew exactly where to find stars Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Ezra Miller, Dan Fogler and Alison Sudol, director David Yates and producer David Heyman.

Be Warned There are spoilers in some of Ezra Millerís answers, but otherwiseÖ

Dig it!

 

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

New York Roundtables

 

Ezra Miller

 

The Lady Miz Diva:  When I first saw your character, Credence, he reminded me of the silent film actors Buster Keaton and Harry Langdon, those sort of sad-faced clowns.  Where did you collect the pieces that made him?

Ezra Miller:  Itís interesting because in the script, Newt is described as Buster Keaton-esque.  So, I felt like I was maybe treading on his territory a little, but I will tell you in earnest that I did use Buster Keaton as a reference.  I think for Newt, it was more the quirkiness of Buster Keatonís body language.  For me, there was something about the way that sadness came through the stillness of Buster Keaton that appropriate for Credence.  I had a few reference points from popular culture also; Daniel Johnston, this artist that Iím a big fan of, I liked his physicality.  Really, the most important models for Credence were these people who I had the privilege of talking to who had survived circumstances parallel to the ones that Credence endures in the film.  Specifically, speaking to a couple of people who had survived abuse in foster care, who will remain anonymous for the purpose of these interviews.

My approach to Credence was someone who never got the love they needed and who was also subject to this sort of violent indoctrination that made him believe that he was bad.  And that stops him from allowing the truth of who he is to rise to the surface, and it seems like the character itself is sort of an exploration of the results of that type of trauma and that sort of repression.  What happens when we donít let ourselves be ourselves; it can actually be pretty sad and scary.

 

LMD:  Thereís so much of the film thatís based in CGI.  What were you shown that helped you with Credence and what was it like to play against this imaginary backdrop?

EM:   I was really thankful to be brought into a very collaborative process with the visual effects team, in which from an early stage I was given an understanding of what their idea of how this entity would look was.  And also that they were interested in working with me in incorporating some of the choreography that I was doing into the language of the Obscurusí movements.  That was an incredible journey.  Early on, when I first got there, before my hair was even cut, thereís a video somewhere of me embodying the Obscurus for the visual effects team because they wanted an understanding of the interplay between Credenceís movements and the way that the Obscurus acts when itís coming out of him.

 

LMD:  Did you wear a motion capture suit?

EM:  I did wear this type of motion capture suit that has gyroscopics in various points on your body.  Itís incredibly cool; while youíre wearing it, you can look at a computer screen that has a sort of mannequin-looking person, but you could do a little dance and it does the dance simultaneously because itís tracking all of the movements of these points in your body.  And whatís very incredible to observe is that you recognise your movement in in this computer mannequin, and when you see other people, you can identify who it is.  Like they had done it with another actor, and I could tell it was them because thereís something inherent about the way we all move, which I think is very fascinating.

 

LMD:  Transporting the magical world that began with Harry Potter in modern-day England to New York in the 1920s is a big change to this franchise.  As the Harry Potter fan that youíve said you are, what surprised you about this presentation of the world; things you might not have seen coming.

EM:  I just think itís fascinating the way that some of the differences between England and the United States are explored, but through the lens of the magical community, so the idea that the International Statute of Secrecy is much more of a hard line in the United States because the persecution of people who donít fit into the status quo is more heightened really resonates with me. 

I mean, the 1920s in the United States is an important time - especially the late 1920s - for us to look at right now in US history, because there was a rise of Fascism, sort of Death Eater behaviour.  In the 1920s, the Ku Klux Klan saw its height, historically.  In the late 1920s, there were all of these new ideologies; new people coming into the United States and this unfortunate tendency for human beings to fear, reject, and act out violently towards what is unknown to them was at a height in US history in the late 1920s.  So I think itís fascinating that she chose this time to explore through the lens of the wizarding world, but especially in the time weíre in when we see Voldemort on TV every day.

 

LMD:  I recently spoke with Colin Farrell about being directed by David Yates in this film and he praised Yates and the family feeling on the set.  Please talk about coming into this new project with a bunch of people who have already worked with each other over multiple films in the Harry Potter series.

EM:  Itís an incredible feeling to be brought into a family.  I think itís a really sweet thing and itís really good way to describe their methods of running a production.  And I have to say that they were impossibly sweet and generous with me.  Taking so much time to answer all my questions and giving me so much encouragement and making me feel at home in this world that I had always hoped that I would be at home in, but youíre nervous once itís happening and you want to do a good job.  They made me feel really safe to take plunges and take risks, which I think is what makes for really good art.

 

Dan Fogler and Alison Sudol

 

The Lady Miz Diva:  Iím huge fan of Queenie Goldstein.  I thought the character was this adorable combination of Lorelei Lee and Clara BowÖ

Alison Sudol:  Ah!  Clara was like my main inspiration, actually.  Itís amazing that you caught that!  Thatís brilliant! {Laughs}

 

LMD:  You might have just answered my question.  In the press notes, Dan describes his character, Jacob, as this kind of ďpalooka,Ē and as Queenie sort of reminded me of several different people.  I wondered what external sources you used to create the characters?

AS:  Clara Bow was a huge inspiration to me because she was just this otherworldly creature.  She could go from wildly explosive and fun and magical and dancing, to eyes brimming full of tears in an instant, and it was so real and you just couldnít help but feel everything that she was feeling.  Itís like she freed up something in you when you watched her.  And also she was from Brooklyn, and she was a real girl who just happened to be pretty magical, and so I loved her. 

And also, I drew a lot from kids, too, because kids, especially when they are really small, before they have had anything societal put on them, they are so insightful.  As we grow up, we get more and more kind of closed off, but when youíre little, you just see things for what they are and you say it.  Theyíre full of wonder about the world and excitement and fun and playfulness, so I got to tap into all of those things for Queenie.

Dan Fogler:  For Jacob, I felt like I was stepping into the shoes of my great-grandfather on a kind of ancestral level.  Iím from New York and my great-grandfather Isaac was a baker on the Lower East Side, famous for his loaves of pumpernickel and he went to the war.  So I felt like it was in my blood, playing this part.  And of course I felt like I had to infuse this guy with Chaplin, Buster Keaton, and when you see Newt and I together, weíre like Laurel and Hardy, or Abbott and Costello, Cagney.  So, this guy was probably a boxer in the Army, or something.

 

LMD:  I just love that you get the girl

DF:  Isnít that wonderful? {Laughs}  Thank you, J.K.

 

LMD:  One of the things that Alison mentioned was the warmth of Queenie, but I feel like thereís a warmth throughout the bonds between Queenie and Tina, as well as Jacob and NewtÖ

DF:   And itís a kind of Christmas movie {Laughs}

 

LMD:  That only occurred to me toward the end of the film, but itís true.  I wondered if any of the time you guys spent together offscreen helped create the bonds we see onscreen?

DF:  We spent a lot of time.  We had about a month or two of rehearsal, beforehand.  I mean, man, he {Redmayne} is so charming, he would have good chemistry with this microphone.  He is just fantastic and he just made me feel so comfortable in a situation that wouldíve been incredibly nerve-racking; flying to London for a screen test the first time I met the guy.  My prediction is heís going to be the youngest man to be knighted. 

They did so well hand-picking us and finding the kinds of people that we would just like to chill with and just get the job done right.  Thatís what David Yates surrounds himself with.

AS:  Yeah, David Yates is a brilliant and amazing person, as is David Heyman, as is J.K. Rowling.  They are really very, very wonderful human beings, so maybe they attract that, and they gather people that are also good people.

DF:  At every level.

AS:  At every level, yeah.  From every aspect of their career.  With Katherine {Waterston}, we were doing our screen tests, and they put us on the couch and said, ĎOkay, you two are sisters, and go.í  And we were kind of like, ďHi, Iím Alison.Ē ďHi, Iím Katherine, okay, here we go.Ē  {Laughs} That was our screen test. 

There was something about her face, where I took one look at her and she shifted as soon as it was the scene, and she looked so vulnerable, and I said something along the lines of, ďDonít let them get you down; they donít see you.Ē  And her eyes, they just broke my heart, and I didnít know what to do, so I just got behind her on the couch and I started braiding her hair.  And just remembering it is giving me goosebumps again, because it was just such a beautiful, intimate moment and it actually meant a lot to me as a person.  I donít have a sister: Iíve made my own sisters in this world, and it was just an instantaneous moment where both of us allowed that to happen, and that connection, we could almost take it for granted in the film because it was just there.  We didnít have to be like, ĎHi, weíre sisters.  Sister.  Sister.í  There was just a natural bond.

 

Eddie Redmayne and Katherine Waterston

 

The Lady Miz Diva:  FANTASTIC BEASTS is interesting because itís the first film in the wizarding world thatís based on a book, but not really.  The book is more or less a catalog of the creatures, with very little insight as to Newt Scamanderís character, and no one else in the film exists. 

The script for this film really is straight from J.K. Rowlingís head, so you donít really have anything to look back and base your characters on.  Iím curious how you created your characters, and when you knew or if Ms. Rowling said, ĎThatís Newt. Thatís Tinaí?

Eddie Redmayne:  Well, for a start, I love your T-shirt.  Does it actually say, "My Patronus is Godzilla", because if it does, then itís the greatest thing Iíve ever seen.

Katherine Waterston:  Yeah!

ER:  Itís a great question, that, actually.  She had written for Comic Relief, a glossary, which is the book that he is researching in this film, basically, but it didnít say much about who Newt was.

When we read the script, the most amazing thing about the script was not only was the dialogue kind of wonderful, but when J.K. Rowling writes a script, the detail in between was so intricate and so kind of exotic and enticing, that it was all there.  It was so sort of fully-formed, where I had an absolute sense of who Newt was pretty much from the first time Iíd read it.  And then when I met with Jo a week or so before we started filming, she talked about where Newt came from in her imagination and in her life, and as with everything with Jo, it comes with her soul, and it was actually amazing, that conversation and it kind of kickstarted me in the right direction.

KW:  Itís always kind of hard to take credit for creating a character.  It does actually start with the writer.  The writer really creates a character and itís a question of whether we are able to pick up on what theyíve given us. 

With this, because each character is so multidimensional and well-drawn and vivid, it was sort of like starting on the varsity team; it wasnít like starting with Pee-wee, or chucking you an underhand in softball.  It was like we already had the muscles we needed.  She gave us so much already, from the start. 

Itís also kind of hard to pinpoint the moment where youíre like, ĎOh yeah, now Iím her.í  Itís more like something I find you kind of chip away at slowly, one foot in front of the other.  Costume design is really important to meÖ

ER:  Wand design?

KW:  Yeah, wand designÖ

ER:  Genuinely helpful. {Laughs}

KW:  Actually, weirdly, this is one of those ways that you work from the outside in, where, for example, with the wand design, they sent me for options and three were so clearly not my wandÖ

ER:  {Laughs}

KW: Ö and I canít say why; I was already just working out who she was.  Because I was beginning to make all those decisions about who she was, it was clear to me that only one of those ones could be my wand, it was simple and practical and basic. 

With the costume design, I was thinking of ease-of-use and someone who doesnít give a damn about the fashion of the times, doesnít have the money to go buy fancy things, is wanting it to all be utility, and so Colleen {Atwood} and I together came up with this idea that I was sort of shopping out of my parentsí closet.  So, the trousers are my fatherís, but I had to take them in at the waist, so now theyíre too short - Who cares? Canít be bothered.  This shirt isnít 20s, itís not like the latest fashion; itís actually more Victorian, something of my motherís that was still in the closet.  So when I got to be their size, I just took their old clothes. 

Itís so wild now, because itís all been mass-produced.  And the locket was something that was so dear to me, and I loved so much, and their pictures were inside, and now itís on all these little dolls and stuff, and Iím thinking, ďThatís my fucking locket.  What you doing with it?Ē

But as all that stuff comes together, you sort of feel like you have permission and authorship to play the part, but itís not like in one day.  It works slowly.

 

David Yates and David Heyman

 

The Lady Miz Diva:  Whatís amazing about Fantastic Beasts is that youíve trusted this film to a first-time screenwriter.

David Yates:  We were so lucky to find her.  Where did we find her? 

David Heyman:  She gave us trust.

 

LMD:  Screenwriting is a different art than writing a novel.  Can you talk about whether you, Mr. Yates, whoís directed the last four Harry Potter films, and you, Mr. Heyman, whoís produced the entire film series, collaborated with J.K. Rowling in making the transition from writing a novel to writing something specifically for the screen?

DY:  Jo admitted it was her first screenplay, so she said, ĎIím going to go on a steep learning curveí and she entrusted us with guiding her, ultimately, but she is an amazingly quick learner.  So the biggest challenge to begin with was tonally: We had to kind of figure out what kind of movie it was going to be.  And Jo is so eclectic and imaginative and passionate and story pours out of her, so it was actually kind of figuring out the sort of emotional compass of the piece. 

Joís first screenplay was very whimsical.  It was really delightful, and much of that still exists in the movie that weíve got, but it felt like it lacked a Ö  Well, we werenít sure what it was really about.  What that first draft gave us, I think, and what it gave Jo was a sort of twinkle and a wonder of what she would eventually get to. 

The second version of the script went really dark.  It was intense it was very Ďooh, scary.í  It was violent.  It was the complete opposite; we lost all the wonder, all the twinkle.  And this is a sort of very natural, healthy process for a writer to go through; she was finding the parameters of the world, finding the parameters of the story and the character.  So, she turned in a draft that was really intense.  I loved it and she loved it, but everyone else said, ĎWhoa, itís too dark.í 

And then, eventually, over the process of the third or fourth draft, with the help of Steve Kloves, whoís just a wonderful partner in all of this for David and I, and especially for Jo; she kind of hit a melody that balanced the light with the dark, and which was eventually the movie that weíve ended up with, effectively.  And then when she hit that sort of tonal balance, she was away, and we couldnít stop her, and it was struggle to keep up with her.  But sheís prolific, and she loves to write, and she loves to be in that place where things pour out.  So, she was learning, but she got it really quickly, and interestingly, the first draft of the second movie didnít have any of the exploration of, ĎShould it be this, orÖí  She knew exactly what she needed to do.  She got the form and she was flying, effectively.  So, yeah, it was a process; it was a learning curve.

DH:  I think the environment that David creates around the film is one where people feel safe.  We talk about trust, and I think Jo felt incredibly safe with him, and it allowed her to make those big swings, so she could go to a really dark place knowing that she was in safe hands.  It is important for any artist to be able to express themselves and not to feel hamstrung, and to do that they need to feel safe and David provides that for the actors, for the crew, for Jo, so that she can try things out.  They may not all be right, but explore, go down to the ends because that would reveal things in itself. 

I mean, even the first draft, you saw there was remarkable writing.  When I read the first draft, the script arrived and of course thereís some hesitance, some trepidation, I was nervous because what a bummer it would be if the script was lousy.  {Laughs} As you said, she is a novelist, thereís a big difference between a novelist and a screenwriter; itís a different form.  Even though it wasnít right -yet- it was a strong first draft and you could tell she was a formidable writer.

 

LMD:  Iíd asked Ezra Miller earlier as a Harry Potter fan, what he found surprising about transporting the magical world to 1920s New York.  What were some of the things that were interesting to both of you?

DH:  I think that one of the things that is very important for David and the way heís approached these films, and Stuart Craig, and the way heís designed them, is that theyíre all grounded in a reality.  This isnít a fantasy world.  Yes, in this film we may spend a lot of time in the real world, as it were, as opposed to at Hogwarts; but even at Hogwarts, the environments were - how Stuart approached them - they were grounded.  It felt accessible, so there was a familiarity.  It wasnít fantasy, it was a reality.  And Davidís approach to the beasts in this film, for example, was grounding them: Nature is the most extraordinary and magical thing, and you can look at that as your foundation, and you can build from that. 

So youíre not dealing with this language of fantasy characters in fantasy films, which is fine Ė Great! - but thatís not what we wanted.  We wanted to ground our world, ground our story.  The pleasure for me in this film is, yeah, itís fantastic and magic, and fantasy, wands and fantastic beasts, but itís actually the characters and finding the points of connection that makes this whole world feel accessible and possible.

DY:  I didnít think of it as a period movie in a weird way.  I know thatís crazy.  I just found the ideas in it very contemporary and interesting, especially politically.  I mean I love the texture and the world and the cars, and all of thatís fun, but it felt to me resonant of now, in a weird way.  It felt timeless.

 

LMD:  Well, how many pictures are you talking about, here?

DY:  Well, weíre just working on the second one, but yeah, Joís got a plan for five, but we have to see how these movies are received.

 

~ The Lady Miz Diva

Nov. 7th, 2016

 

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