“Fantastic Beasts” Set Visit Interview: Dan Fogler

Dan Fogler comes straight from set when it’s time for our interview, having just finished filming the last scenes of Fantastic Beasts that will be shot today, which means he’s still in costume as No-Maj Jacob Kowalski. We’ve been told earlier in the day that Jacob lives in a tenement and that he’s quite poor, a fact in keeping with J.K. Rowling’s history of paying attention to issues of economic class in her works. It shows in his clothes; Jacob is neatly dressed in a tweed suit and short tie, but the suit is threadbare, and his vest buttons are mismatched. Jacob is clearly a man who takes care with his appearance, always striving to put his best foot forward into the world even when the odds are stacked against him.

As the first Muggle (or should we say No-Maj) protagonist we’ve seen in a Potter-universe film, Jacob is a person of great interest to fans since, no matter how much we wish otherwise, there’s not a drop of magical blood in our own veins. Fogler makes an excellent diplomat for the non-magical community, cheerfully sharing with a mix of earnestness and humor what information he can about his character.

Press:
Your character is the first time we’re getting a Muggle or No-Maj in any sort of prominent way. The Dursleys were not the best representatives [laughs]. Is that exciting for you to get to really open up the series to get to know the human, non-magic perspective in all of this?

Dan Fogler:
Right, right. I equate it to Bottom from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. He’s a baker; he’s a rude, mechanical, regular guy. We find out he’s not such a regular schmo. As the thing goes along, we realize he’s really quite unique. But he, just like Bottom, gets to play in the forest with Titania and the fairies. And he gets to play the hero and the romantic lead and the comedic maniac [laughs]. So yeah.

Press:
What do you think it is about your character that makes it so that he can so easily adapt into this world? Because a lot of No-Majs would see what’s happening and just run away.

Dan Fogler:
Yeah. He’s incredibly optimistic, and I think [because] he’s back from World War I, he’s seen some monsters, he’s seen some chaos, and so he’s desensitized in that regard. And he’s also the kind of guy [who]’s so loyal; he is super loyal. So I felt like, when he was in the war, they gave him an order, and no matter what it was or how ridiculous it was, he did it. He focused on it, and he put his intention on it, and he just finished it no matter how hard it was.

Then you bring this character who’s this lovable guy [who]’s been through hell, who really doesn’t have anybody, and then suddenly he has this motley crew of a family. And for the first part of it, he thinks he’s dreaming. He can’t believe that [chuckles] any of this is going on, and then he slowly realizes, whoa, he’s not normal. This is real. And I think that he’s such a loyal guy that no matter what happens to these people – no matter how magical or fanciful or ridiculous – he’s just going stick with them to the end.

Press:
You sound like you have a lot of background knowledge on your character. Did you talk to David Yates or J.K. Rowling about that, or is this just something that you personally connect with?

Dan Fogler:
When I first read it… it takes place in New York in the ’20s, which is something that I was already… if I could make a movie, I’d love to make a [chuckles] movie in New York in the ’20s, and my great-grandfather was a baker, so I feel like I’m just basically playing someone who could be my ancestor. He’s such a classic Joseph Campbell – [archetypal]. He’s the baker, which is like the baker in any fairy tale. He’s the guy [who] has to deal with the witches and the wolves.

I did Into the Woods when I was in high school. This looks like it could be a beautiful black-and-white movie, so we put a lot of Abbott and Costello and Chaplin and homages to all of these great black-and-white characters and Cagney, who actually played Bottom. So I just took all these different things and put ’em into the character. From Day 1, I was like, this is my interpretation. I hope you like it. And they did.

Press:
I notice your tie is cropped. Is that a signature flare for the character?

Dan Fogler:
This is the tip of the hat to Laurel and Hardy [laughs like Hardy]. I think he had a tie like this, and we only see it maybe once in the movie. I undo the vest, but yeah. I wasn’t caught in a creature’s mouth or something.

Press:
What can you say about your dynamic with the other characters and what you bring to the group?

Dan Fogler:
I see this like the origin story of Sherlock and Watson. That’s also a classic, iconic pairing. It’s Don Quixote and Sancho Panza. It’s pulling from these classic, iconic archetypes. And so Eddie is coming in – he’s a fish out of water. He’s really the only British character in New York in the film… one of the only. He’s very cerebral and Charles Darwin with all these little creatures and large creatures that he’s dealing with, and I’m the blue-collar guy who knows the streets. So we balance each other out in that regard.

I bring, obviously, the comedy. There’s a lot of heart. He gets swept up in this whole world; he falls in love with it. But then he can’t stay. And it’s really quite heartbreaking. Yeah. So I love characters like this – sad clowns, man. You get to play the full spectrum of emotions in one part. Can’t ask for anything more as an actor.

Press:
It seems like there’s a lot of tension between the No-Majs and the wizards in this movie. So what about your character [do] you think makes it possible for him to balance the two worlds instead of being divided?

Dan Fogler:
Right. Well, he’s been away, and now he’s back, and I think he’s such a kid at heart, and so he takes all the magic with a grain of salt. And yes, in New York, the climate is that they do not want No-Majs to be mixing with the wizards and the witches. If that does happen, the whole thing will just unravel. It’s a very delicate situation, and they’re constantly trying to hide it from the Muggles – the No-Majs. And so they take it very seriously. The MACUSA is cracking down on any magical happenings around the city. So when I come in, I get bitten by one of these things.

Press:
Is that the mark on your neck?

[Editor’s Note: When Fogler had sat down for his interview, we noticed what looked like two fang marks on the side of his neck. I hadn’t been sure if they were make-up or not until I saw them rubbing off on his white shirt collar. Since we had been told that Jacob’s apartment building was where the day’s filming would be taking place, and Fogler had just come from set having been bitten, it is my guess that the giant hole in Jacob’s apartment may be caused by the beast that bites him (or another that escapes at the same time). Since Graves can be seen in the Fantastic Beasts  trailer investigating this very scene of destruction, it may be that this moment is where all the trouble begins.]

Dan Fogler:
That’s the mark on my neck. And I guess a No-Maj has never been bitten by one of these things. So they’re like, “What’s going to happen? Is he going to die?” So they feel very responsible for me in the beginning because they’re just worried about me [laughs] and my well-being, which is very nice. They’re dragging me along through their adventure, and over the course of it, I prove to be a very helpful individual. I help them recapture these creatures and often come up with the idea that gets them out of the hairy situation, and so over the course of the film, they become friends.

Press:
Is there a particular beast that your character’s either fond of or even more terrified of than the one that bites him?

Dan Fogler:
Yeah. He becomes very friendly with the Demiguise. I guess the Demiguise is really quite hard to catch because it can tell the future. So you have to be very unpredictable to catch [it], and for some reason, there’s something in Jacob’s nature that lets it feel that I’m not a threat. So there'[re] these really sweet moments where the chaos is happening, and this shit has us going up in flames, and the Demiguise looks to me and is just like… [imitates Demiguise]. I’m like, “Come here, pal. It’s okay.” [laughs]

They’re sweet. There’s a scene in the movie where this really rather large elephant-slash-rhinoceros creature is in heat. And we’re trying to coax it back into its enclosure with this hormone musk. And I spill it all over myself. Cut to me running from this [laughs] enormous thing that’s trying to have its way with me. That was pretty scary. [laughs] [Editor’s Note: Perhaps this scene causes the destruction we witnessed at the Central Park Zoo set?]

Press:
What’s it like not only being a part of the Harry Potter universe and world now but also working with some of the filmmakers [who] created that and built that in the first place?

Dan Fogler:
I went to the museum. It’s epic. And you see that David Heyman and David Yates… they’re in the videos, and you see what a juggernaut is, and then you see how incredibly nice everybody is, and when you’ve had that much success, you can afford to be really [laughs] nice to people. It’s a really great working environment.

David Yates is fantastic. There’s no ego. He’s just totally humble; he’s open to suggestions, and he uses them a lot, and… I’m not used to that in a big… this is the biggest thing I’ve worked on, but with stuff with special effects, and to take someone’s suggestions when it comes to special effects, and you know how much has to get into it. And they’re just so open. It just makes for a really great playground, and everyone just feels so safe to participate. And he’s juggling so much, and he does it so gracefully. The best-case scenario, really, is right now.

Press:
You’ve spoken about a couple of scenes filming with imaginary fantastic beasts. What’s your secret to a really convincing green screen or imaginary scene where there’s nothing there? What are your tricks for that?

Dan Fogler:
It’s really simple: just four years of acting school and loads of black box theater. It’s just watching Roger Rabbit over and over and over again. Yeah. When you’re doing theater, a lot of it is just imagining, and stuff is there that isn’t there, and then you just have to get really good about giving it weight and distance and speed, and it’s crazy. It’s like you’re doing invisible physics in your head. But yeah, you really got to work at it.

Press:
I’m curious. Does your character have an accent?

Dan Fogler:
Yeah, he’s got maybe, like, a Brooklyn accent, yeah. I mean, it’s very similar to what I’m doing… No, I mean, this is me. I’m puttin’ the dial a little bit for his accent in the movie, but they heard me speak on Day 1. They were like, “We like it.”

Press:
Were there any actors or characters from older or modern movies that you borrowed from or took inspiration from for this?

Dan Fogler:
Yeah. There are definitely moments of Lou Costello. There are definitely moments of Cagney, and those guys are very Brooklyn-y. Who else? Chaplin doesn’t speak. Well, he does in The Great Dictator, but… yeah, no, really just those guys.

Press:
Okay, can you talk about your character’s relationship with Queenie at all?

Dan Fogler:
Yeah. It’s love at first sight. He sees her, and he doesn’t know if it’s just the magic in the air or there’s something about her that’s just, like, they were meant to be together, but they’re not allowed to be together.

Read the rest of our Set Visit coverage here.

This interview has been edited for clarity. Additional formatting provided by Catherine Lai.