“Fantastic Beasts” Set Visit Interview: Eddie Redmayne

It’s fitting that the star of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is the first of our cast interviews for the day. When Redmayne enters the room, he is, to our delight, dressed in his Scamander garb – the outfit first debuted on the cover of Entertainment Weekly that has doubtlessly already launched a thousand cosplays. I, for one, am happy to get a chance to see his already-iconic blue coat up close. It’s not as vivid as it appeared on the EW cover, a deeper and more subdued blue. In fact, Redmayne’s entire look feels more natural in person, out of the glamorous photo shoot lighting, more like you would expect from a wizard who prefers the company of animals to people.

I’ll admit that I had no strong feelings about Redmayne’s casting when it was announced. I knew he was a talented actor, but I knew little enough about the character of Newt Scamander that I wasn’t sure what I wanted from the actor who was to portray him. But seeing him here, in full costume, I’m convinced. His face has just the barest tracing of fine lines around the eyes, laugh lines; his skin is freckled, as if he’s spent a few too many hours out of doors chasing dragons, and his eyes are kind. Here is our hero.

As an added bonus, he’s brought along his wand, which he amiably agrees to pass around so that we can each get a closer look. It feels solid in my hands as my fingers try unsuccessfully to discern what its material and core might possibly be. The handle is dark gray and burnt orange, probably in more natural hues than you’re imagining, the gray fading into the orange that’s almost brown. If I didn’t know better – there being a rumor that Newt’s wand contains no animal products at all – I’d say the handle was made out of some kind of well-worn animal horn, since its grain spirals ever so slightly in the way an antler might, and it’s hollow at the end. The rest of the wand is dark brown wood, pitted and worn, resembling nothing so much as a teacher’s baton. As I pass the wand back around to Redmayne, it’s time for our interview to begin.

[Editor’s Note: At the Celebration of Harry Potter in Orlando, Florida, in January 2016, Pierre Bohanna (prop maker for the Harry Potter and Fantastic Beasts films) revealed that Newt’s wand is made of shell, lime wood, and bone. At San Diego Comic-Con in July 2016, attendees at the Fantastic Beasts panel were gifted replicas of Newt’s wand. Some images of the replica wand can be found below.]

 

Replica of Newt's wand. Image by Nemesis Photo.

Replica of Newt’s wand. Image by Nemesis Photo

 

Replica of Newt's wand. Image by Nemesis Photo.

Replica of Newt’s wand. Image by Nemesis Photo

 

Replica of Newt's wand. Image by Nemesis Photo.

Replica of Newt’s wand. Image by Nemesis Photo

 

Press:
Are we allowed to know what your [wand] core is?

Eddie Redmayne:
Well, no. No. We’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’ prep for it, and 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. See, it was quite an extraordinary thing.

Press:
Would you say – maybe getting your wand is one of them, but – when was the moment when you had the “Wow, I really joined this whole world and what it encompasses”?

Eddie Redmayne:
Well, oh, God – when was that moment? I had been cast in the film, and we went to New York, and [I] was auditioning with actors who were playing some of the other parts. And in the audition room, I was presented with not only a wand but [also] that prop paper of extraordinary writings, all in completely authentic magic world stuff, and I was like… [breathes heavily].

Watching the other actors come in as well; and just because having had my own experience of being given the wand to me like, “Okay, yeah!” and then watching them all do the same as well, it instantly released an inner kind of ten-year-old in everyone. That probably was the first one.

But I think on set here, when we shot in MACUSA… which I don’t know if you guys have ever [walked] around in there? Colleen [Atwood, Fantastic Beasts costume designer] had done such a staggering job with the costumes. There were extras everywhere with this 1920s sort of witchy vibe. And what’s amazing about the scale of the production is, we come on to rehearse, and already there are background artists doing their… and little kids being taken to be shown the Salem witches and everyone in their little outfits, and it was all encompassing. That was an amazing moment, too.

Press:
[Many] of us have grown up with the Harry Potter series. I was four when they originally came out, and I wrote a letter to my primary school teacher saying that I was transferring to Hogwarts, and it was nice meeting her, but see you later. And I know you were a teenager when it first came out, but did you have any personal connection to the series like growing up with it?

Eddie Redmayne:
I was just a fan, really. I read the books, and I then started watching the films, and it was just the most wonderful escapism. Every year or two, you got to go and dive into this world and J.K. Rowling’s capacity to… her stories straddle genres in the most amazing way.

One of the most spectacular things to me about the script was it was a thriller, then it was adventure… then at the end of the script, I was 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 [J.K. Rowling] manages to do that. 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 [chuckles] and I never got an audition for it, I was sort of bereft. When I [laughs] heard they were making more – a new film – I was like, “Please, can I be a part of…”

Press:
Even though this is a new story, was there any certain Harry Potter book or movie or even character that you looked back [at] to prepare for this role, that you were inspired by?

Eddie Redmayne:
No, I didn’t. There wasn’t a specific character. I mean, I tried to… there’s this weird thing that we’re all aware of the legacy and the heritage of these amazing worlds. But at the same point, you want to start afresh in some ways, and what makes that easier is, it starts before those films. And while certainly there were things like some of the spells – I tried to cut together all these different spells and how they’d been used and watching different actors, how they use their wand, to try [to] get a sense of what other people’s choices have been and to create a continuity perhaps, in some ways. But as far as the character was concerned, I felt like I had a whole blank page to start on.

Press:
How much information besides the script, if any, did you get on your character? His background, what’s in his future?

Eddie Redmayne:
I got to meet J.K. Rowling. So I had about three or four months prepping the film, and just about a month before we started filming, I was here in Leavesden, and J.K. Rowling came. And it was this sort of brilliant or slightly odd moment in which David Yates introduced her, and I knew that she was only going to be here for an hour, and I think I was like, “Hello, nice to meet you!” and 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 whole three-dimensional world and their history. I don’t know whether it’s just a paranoia from having recently having played people [who] lived or [are] living and having all this world of research that you can go and do. But what’s great about Newt is, you can just go to J.K. Rowling, and she gives it all.

Press:
What’s it been like working with David Yates as a filmmaker?

Eddie Redmayne:
Wonderful. When 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 David and him commenting, giving notes, going back, and whole [previsualization] treatments, whole scenes that have to… you can’t just spontaneously turn up on the day and go, “How should we do this?” because there are so many elements that have to have already been considered.

His capacity to sort of helm this gigantic, huge liner – basically cruise liner in some ways – and yet at the same time, in and amongst all of that, to be able to see and just be so specific with performance. I remember Ralph Fiennes saying before I started it… he’s like, “David sees everything.” And he really, really does, and it’s wonderful for us because you might think that a director having to deal with so many moving parts would be so focused on the performance side. So he’s really been a wonder to work with.

Press:
What was something that, when you were talking to J.K. [Rowling] about the character, she told you that you either hadn’t considered or was a surprise to you?

Eddie Redmayne:
I suppose his background and where the thoughts for the character had come from. They’re all quite personal to her, and that was sort of lovely.

Also, what was wonderful was to be able to share some of the stuff that I’ve done, meeting people who have trackers or people who work with animals and zoologists and seeing some of these guys who literally – a tiger cub is born, and they sleep with them for the first five [days]. Then they will go into the cages, and all these extraordinary stories of gorillas who’ve grown up with humans and then go back into the wild. This guy, Damian Aspinall, has this amazing YouTube video of him going back to and calling for [one] and the gorilla coming up and then sort of nestling in with each other and this sort of weird mixture of human behavior and animal behavior.

What’s wonderful about J.K. Rowling and David is that they also really enjoy collaboration; you can come with ideas and throw stuff in.

Press:
A lot of people are really excited to finally get to see some American wizardry…

Eddie Redmayne:
Yeah.

Press:
So now that you’ve had a chance to be in the world a bit, does it feel American? As I’m sure when we come here, there'[re] certain things that seem very British.

Eddie Redmayne:
Yeah, well, it does, yeah. Well, I know there’s all this sort of 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 again, J.K. Rowling has this amazing [ability] of really grounding 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 so 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 eight or nine and staying at this hotel and just opening the window and just seeing Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in front of you and then just these buildings flying up and being totally overwhelmed by it. There were things I related to, certainly, in this sort of American-British thing.

Press:
So you guys are the new quartet – not the new trio, but the new quartet. What’s it been like working with Dan, with Alison, and especially with Katherine, given Newt and Tina’s relationship?

Eddie Redmayne:
It’s really been wonderful. There was a moment, actually just above here, when we did our first read-through, but it wasn’t like a huge 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 all been on the phone together, and then we were walking through Leavesden [laughs], and we all just looked at each other going… [breathes heavily] “Whoa, here we go!”

It was just sort of… because you know that you’re going to spend a lot of time with people, and there’s a… but what David has done so wonderfully with [casting director] Fiona Weir and Carson Graves is I think… J.K. Rowling has written such specific characters within this quartet, who are so varied, and there are eccentricities and real differences between the people [whom] they’ve cast. There’s a sort of eclectic quality to the four of us, I suppose. And getting to play off [the others] has been just brilliant. Yeah, it’s been really great. And it’s kind of fun; I’ve never done something when you’re a sort of team. It really is four of you [chuckles] taking everything on.

Press:
Your first IMDb credit was John Hardy on Animal Ark in 1988. So we’re kind of coming full circle. So I’m wondering, do you have any stories about that and how we’ve kind of come back to animals, and did you have any hesitation, or [is] being in a franchise something you wanted from your career?

Eddie Redmayne:
Well, Animal Ark was when I was 14 years old, and it was an ITV children’s program, and 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 in peroxide because I wasn’t quite that rebellious, so I put that Sun-In stuff in, and it was during this week of filming this thing, and my hair just went more and more ginger. So progressively each day the character went… but that is true. That is where I started.

No, the franchise thing. 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. It was just – I felt so damn lucky, frankly. No, so 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.

Press:
How’re you guys shooting the scenes with the beasts? Do you have anyone [who]’s performing opposite you, or is most of it just you and David coming up with it?

Eddie Redmayne:
Well, I’ve worked with Alex Reynolds, who[m] I’ve worked with on Theory of Everything and The Danish Girl, who is a dancer and movement coach, I suppose. And we just spent a couple of months investigating that. Because what was lovely is, David didn’t come in and go, “This is how it’s…” He was like, “Whatever, let’s make it a collaboration – if you need actors to play opposite, [whom] we then make disappear. Or puppeteers.”

And so with each of the creatures, what was important for me was that Newt has a different relationship with them but also that they have a relationship with each other. They all live down in this case, and I think he’s in some way parenting their relationship with each other. And so we played around with different ideas. So the answer is that it varies from character to character. So sometimes, for example, Pickett, who’s one of my favorite characters, who’s a little stick man, and he lives in here [gestures to pocket]… he has attachment issues, so he always has to be in my pocket. And when he comes up onto the shoulder, I started by having a puppeteer come with literally a finger puppet doing it, feeling what that was like. Then they had a long pole with Pickett, made out of wire on the end. And then eventually, when we actually film, he’s not there, but by [that time] you have a sense of him, and you can play with him.

Then sometimes… like 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 totally nothing and to sort of improvise with yourself [laughs]. I’m saying this with great confidence; it could be a catastrophe [laughs].

Press:
We were talking about the four of you as actors, but can we talk about the four of you as characters – because Newt is sort of new to this whole world, and what does he make of these three when he meets them?

Eddie Redmayne:
Well, he bumps into Tina, who had worked for MACUSA; she was an Auror, and she’s sort of had her wings clipped in some ways, and Katherine plays her. There’s, I suppose, a work ethic to her and do-things-by-the-book and desperation to re-prove herself.

Then her sister, who[m] Alison [Sudol] plays, Queenie. We were shooting a scene in the wand permit office, where the two sisters are now working, yesterday. And just the difference in set design in their desks… Queenie’s was filled with powder, blusher, and totally chaotic, whereas Katherine’s was much more organized and on it. And Queenie just has this wonderful sort of free-spirited quality.

And Dan is just… I mean, Jacob is just caught up in the mix but has the warmest of hearts, and he sort of 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 please don’t make me go back into the Muggle world [laughs]. It’s this sort of this amazing amalgam.

Read the rest of our Set Visit coverage here.

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