Johnny Depp Opens Up About “Childlike” Grindelwald in New Interview

From the moment we learned the Fantastic Beasts series was going to involve Harry Potter‘s legendary villain of the past, Gellert Grindelwald, fans had a whole new world of subjects to speculate about. How does the struggle between Dumbledore and his archnemesis tie into the story of a lovable magical beast expert? Will we find out what really went on between Dumbledore and Grindelwald, and just how far their relationship went? Who will be cast in these challenging roles?

We didn’t have to wait long to learn the answer to the last question, when screen veteran Johnny Depp was revealed as the man behind the great magical villain. Fans were soon drawn into the vortex of controversy swirling around Depp’s personal life, however, and questions arose regarding his suitability for the role. J.K. Rowling and David Yates responded, but Depp remained silent on the issue and on his role in Fantastic Beasts.

Depp has finally broken his silence and gave his first interview about Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald for Entertainment Weekly‘s cover story on the film. The interview offers fascinating insight into the character of Grindelwald, his relationship with Dumbledore, and Depp’s inspirations for his portrayal of the Dark wizard.

Depp has been a longtime Harry Potter fan, having read the books and watched the films with his children. “It’s good literature and great writing in its own right,” he says. “It ticks all the boxes.” Good literature isn’t the only thing that drew him to Harry Potter, however; he also watched the films in support of friends Robbie Coltrane (Hagrid) and Richard Griffiths (Vernon Dursley). When he got the chance to become a part of the wizarding world himself, he jumped at the opportunity. “I found the character fascinating and complex,” he says.

It’s easy to understand the excitement Rowling and Yates feel about Depp as Grindelwald when he describes his understanding of the character. He sees Grindelwald as a fascist visionary but stresses his multifaceted nature.

To me there’s something almost childlike in [Grindelwald]. His dream is for the wizard world to stand tall and above. It’s a fascistic element, and there’s nothing more dangerous than somebody who is a dreamer with a specific vision that’s very strong and very dangerous and he can make it happen. But no character wakes up and goes, ‘I’m going to do the worst things possible today and be evil as hell.’ I do believe Grindelwald is an oddly likable character.

Along with this strong instinct for Grindelwald’s motives, Depp has clear ideas about his relationship with Dumbledore.

I think there’s probably a lot of residue from days gone by. They quite bonded, you know? When you loved someone, and cared for someone, and it arrives into a [combative] arena — as it has with Dumbledore and Grindelwald — it’s very dangerous when it becomes personal.

He sees revelations about the relationship between Dumbledore and Grindelwald to be best left to develop slowly. “I think it should be left up to the audience to feel it first,” Depp says. “And when the time comes… It makes the situation with Dumbledore all the more intense.” He also sees Grindelwald’s animosity toward Newt Scamander to be an extension of the bad blood between himself and Dumbledore.

I think there’s a jealousy with Scamander. He sees Scamander as Dumbledore’s protégé — his boy, in a way. That in itself is enough for Grindelwald to want to take Scamander down in a way that is ferocious and eternal.

In bringing Grindelwald to life on-screen, Depp worked with Rowling and Yates to develop ideas for the character, and Depp was given considerable freedom to pursue his ideas and instincts in his performance.

Depp closed the interview with a message to fans.

My intense loyalty is not just to J.K. and David Yates, but [also] to the people who go and see the films as well, the people who have invested their lives into this magnificent, incredible world J.K. has created. […] It’s good to take the audience on a ride they’re not necessarily expecting, yet with great respect to the world they’ve come to understand and know. […] I hope to give them something they haven’t seen before.