“Crimes of Grindelwald” Set Visit Interview: David Heyman
We all had plenty of questions for David Heyman, producer of Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, during our set visit, and he was careful not to give too much away. Heyman was able to talk to us about how excited fans will be to see Young Dumbledore, the pressures of following the first film, a mysterious new character named Yusuf Kama, and the importance of family in this film.
Press: Is there a different sense of confidence going into this, because [of] the way the first one was received, that changes how you’re approaching it?
David Heyman: No. I think we’re more familiar with the world. The world has been built. We’ve defined the central characters. But this is part of a five-film saga, as it were, and Jo is developing these characters and they’re all on journeys and so we’re discovering stuff and things as we go. And so in terms of confidence, yes. You’ve made a film that works, in some form. But we also want to make a film that’s better.
We’re ambitious, and in talking to David [Yates, the director], one of the things he’s really intent on is making this film feel quite different [from] the last. This film is more in the spirit of a 1930s thriller, a Third Man and the likes. But at the same time, in a very contemporary way, David is shooting this film in a completely different way [than] the last one. The last one was quite [a] proscenium and quite classic. This one’s very immersive and distinct. It feels very contemporary in the camera moves and in the spirit. Dumbledore is in this film. There are little points of connection to the Harry Potter stories that'[re] quite exciting. So confidence? I mean, there’s always an element of confidence and an element of uncertainty, I think. You mustn’t be too confident.
When you make any film, there’s “Yes, I believe in the vision.” I believe strongly in that. I believe in Jo’s script and Jo’s imagination. I believe in that. I believe we’ve got a great group of people in front of and behind the camera. But the work is not done there, and what’s great is, we’ve gone through it, and we sat down, looking at the last film. Looking at things we want to improve in various areas, we’re going to do everything we can to make this one feel distinct but also better than last.
Press: How do you balance that distinct style [with] setting up the other movies, knowing that there are going to be so many more to come?
David: In a way, it’s organic. Jo’s writing leads you in that direction. I mean, she’s conceived of this five-episode story. So parceling out information and all that, that comes fairly organically, and it’s responding, largely, to the script. There are things that we talk about, as they relate to this film, as a standalone. Because the film’s going to work on its own terms, making sure the characters are serviced in the right way. But as for the Potter films, she’ll say, “I’m not sure you can do that, because it’ll mess up Film 5.” On Potter, there was a scene where we wanted to cut Kreacher from, I think, the fifth film. I can’t remember which one. We were thinking about cutting Kreacher from Grimmauld Place, and she’s like, “I wouldn’t do that if I were you, because he has a part to play in a later film.”
Press: I wonder if there’s a particular scene or a particular moment that you think fans will really respond to?
David: Well, I think going back to Hogwarts. That’s all I’ll say.
David: No. I think how wonderful [it will be] to touch on Dumbledore. That’s it. Sorry, not going back to Hogwarts. It’s seeing Dumbledore. How great is that? Seeing a younger Dumbledore and seeing [his] and Newt’s first meeting, I think, will be a thing that the fans will really love. Because here is this character we have such connection to, who is such a central part of the Harry Potter stories, and to see him earlier on, as it were, very much related to the Dumbledore of future… But at the same time, you realize in the Potter films that he was working things to his own end. He knew the path. He knew what was happening. He understood the backstories, and he was working Harry, I mean, in some ways, you could say, responsibly putting Harry into great danger at times. But he had faith in Harry and his ability. While here, you see Dumbledore, and there are remnants of that and you see echoes of that. But he’s also wonderful and colorful and magical and wise and the character we know, but younger, and we see slightly different shades.
Press: In casting the actor for Dumbledore, I wonder what your process was?
David: Well, it was not inconsiderable, as you can imagine, and we had various people work with Eddie [Redmayne], and we did three or four scenes. And it was quite clear that Jude [Law] was the one. He has a bit of mischief. He’s charismatic. And he has many of the qualities that we wanted in the part.
Press: The last movie has this epic, epic twist when Johnny Depp, all of a sudden, shows up at the end. Nobody expected it. Will we get a similar moment in this movie, and do you feel pressure to combine such a moment, just because it was such this major twist at the end?
David: You’ll have to wait and see.
David: But no. We don’t feel the pressure. It’s not about a twist. We want the film to work on its own terms, and inevitably, because we’re telling a five-part saga here, there will be things that lead on into the next. No, the Johnny moments are pretty good. [laughs]
David: Let’s see. But no pressure. Because ultimately, we’ve got to make a film that works on its own terms. I think people talk about pressure and nervousness and confidence. Ultimately, we could be paralyzed if we listened to other people’s expectations. I’ve said this with every one of the Potter films. If I read all the criticism and went, “Oh my God, what?” and then I said, “Oh, okay. I’ve got to answer each one, each of those criticisms and each of those concerns and each…” We wouldn’t have made a film, because it would’ve been paralyzing. Ultimately, we have Jo, Steve Kloves, Lionel [Wigram], myself, David Yates, and a host of other people who know this world very, very, very well. And we have Jo Rowling, who’s creating and building a connected narrative. So we have to have faith in that and our own ambition and belief and confidence, to a degree, to tell these stories well. But no, we don’t feel [the] pressure of having to do something a certain way. This film, as I said before, will feel quite different [from] the last one. Therein lies a certain pleasure. It’s not a sequel, where we’re giving people the same thing, again and again. It’ll be the universe, Jo’s universe. The wizarding world will be further enriched in this, and I think audiences will really, really, really enjoy them. So it’s not about fitting a scene for a twist or that. But wait and see.
Press: Madam Picquery, the President of MACUSA, [is] a very strong character. I was wondering, how present are your women in this sequel? [Will we] have another woman in [an] important role for the sequel?
David: Well, there are women of significant roles in this film, yes. There are men with significant roles. There are new female characters and new male characters in this film who are very significant, each of whom has their own idiosyncrasies and their own qualities and their own [effect on] the story, historically and going forward.
Press: Going back to Dumbledore, in 2007, I believe, Rowling revealed that she always saw this character as being gay in the books. Is that something that you guys plan on addressing? Because I feel like we’re constantly having a discussion about pushing diversity and especially, LGBTQ visibility. Is that something you’ve already talked about with Rowling?
David: Again, see the film. I think the film will answer that question. I think, ultimately, Jo talked about Dumbledore being gay.
Press: Is it something you see driving the story between Dumbledore and Grindelwald?
David: Not driving it. But it might well be a part of it. I mean we all know that they’ve had a friendship, a very close friendship.
Press: Oh, also, sort of bouncing off that, I mean, you mentioned this is, at the end of the day, a five-film saga. How much of this larger picture are you actually dealing with?
David: Very much so. I mean, it’s a part of the whole. We’re aware of where the story goes. Jo is aware of it all. We’re aware of significant portions of it, and it’s about filling in pieces.
Press: Speaking of new characters, when we were looking at the art, we saw a couple of names. Is there anything that you can tell us about some of the new characters? Kama?
David: Kama [is] a great character. He’s someone who’s come in search of answers. And I can’t tell you what those answers are or what the questions are. But he is a person with a wound, an emotional wound, that he is trying to find answers for.
Press: Do you have a particular favorite new character that you’re looking forward for us to meet?
David: I think Leta is a fantastic character. I think she’s complex and rich and charismatic, and Zoë is bringing color and shade to the part that, I think, elevates it even further. I think that she is a wonderful character, who, like so many of Jo’s characters, is trying to come to terms with who they are.
Press: Are family trees going to play a bigger part in these films?
David: Well, no. Family is a big part of it, and it’s both the family you’re born with and the family you make. That’s one of the themes of Jo’s work. So yes. Family is a part of it, including the relationship between Newt and Theseus. That’s another character I’m really looking forward to [unintelligible]. But looking forward to seeing, because I think seeing Eddie and Callum [Turner] next to each other, they really do feel like brothers, and Theseus is a Ministry man, but Newt is still his brother, and that relationship is really beautiful and strong. So to answer your question, yes, family is very much a part of it, where you come from, who you are.
Press: Can you talk about keeping this franchise focused on Newt, when you’ve got Credence’s story coming up now and his journey, and then you have Dumbledore and Grindelwald’s eventual meeting? So is it sort of difficult to be sure that Newt remains sort of the key to all of this?
David: I think Newt is key to all this. But I think it’s also quite novelistic in the sense it’s a very rich tapestry and we’re exploring all of these characters and you’ll get to know them all. There'[re] multiple elements. All these characters are not together in every scene. Many of them have their separate parts, and we follow them all. So Newt is central. But the other characters are really significant.
Press: What kind of villain or antagonist is Grindelwald?
David: A really scary one. Because he has the power of persuasion. He’s very seductive. He can make people follow him because he is as persuasive as he is. He’s incredibly charismatic. And he is wonderfully amoral. Or awfully amoral, depending on which way you look at it. Wonderful for a delicious villain, awful in terms of an individual. And he’s an absolutist. He sees only one path. He believes in [the] superiority of wizardkind over Muggles and makes a very persuasive case for that. Not one that I am prepared to follow. Not one I suspect you’re prepared to follow. But you can understand why some people do, and that’s really, really scary.
Press: Now that you can talk about him, can you talk about bringing Johnny onboard for that role?
David: It was quite straightforward. We had one choice. [laughs] We went to him and he said yes.
David: And we wanted someone who was extraordinary, who was a little bit off center, who had the charisma and the power. We had a wonderful adversary in Ralph Fiennes. Voldemort knew no love, and he only knew hate. Grindelwald is a different beast. No pun intended.
David: But yeah, and I think that is what makes him even scarier. Because I think we know very few people who’ve never felt love, unless they have certain strong issues. There’s something about Grindelwald. Again, he’s a seducer, and yet he has no problem wielding his wand, as it were. Again, no pun [intended].
Press: What is the relationship with Grindelwald and Credence since the first movie?
David: Well, Credence is clearly an important character for Grindelwald. He believes he is a key to his power, so Credence remains a significant figure for him.
Press: Is he still looking for him?
David: I don’t want to say.
Press: What’s been your favorite set to realize?
David: I think the French Ministry is pretty bloody beautiful. I think it’s one of Stuart’s most beautiful sets. I think a lot of it will be augmented in the digital space, but just the detail, the filigree, and also, just from a practical point of view, how it’s been multipurpose. Because we go into different parts of the French Ministry, and we’ve had to repurpose one set for different levels and different things and how flexible it is. A little part of it, which we end up using in the French Ministry, we even used for the Ministry of Magic in London, so from a practical point of view, it’s flexible. From a visual point of view, it feels very French and extraordinarily magical.
Press: [Unintelligible] Lestranges and the flashes back to Hogwarts, are there going to be any other nostalgic throwbacks for the original fans in the new series?
David: You have to see the film. I think that’s to be seen. Sorry to be evasive. I want to leave some nuggets.
Press: Well, what about Leta? Are we going to find out part of her family? Are we going to see the connection between the Lestranges that we know? Like Rodolphus. Are we going to find out if she’s his grandmother or his mother?
David: Leta is someone who[m] Newt had a very close relationship, way back, with. And they were at Hogwarts together, and one of the things I think we will enjoy is, just like his love of beasts, he was able to see the good in people. And Leta is someone who, I think, wrestles with that a little bit. She’s from a pure-blood family, and that whole thing of what you’re born and who you are is an element of her character. She’s a wonderful character, and so in terms of family, I think it’s a part of who she is.
Press: Back to the original Harry Potter story, there were a lot of layers, but it came back to this coming-of-age story and kids dealing with very adult subject matter. In this overarching story for Fantastic Beasts, what would you say is the crux of the story that you’re trying to tell?
David: Gosh, that’s a good question. By the way, I would say there [are] elements of love playing through each of the stories. So it’s a thriller, but with a real beating heart of love. And I think what you can really clearly see emerging – and again, it’s a central theme of Jo’s work – is the danger of absolutism. It is the belief that your way is the only way. It feels rather current, in some ways, but it’s timeless. It’s a last history repeating itself and similar to what we’re going through now. So I think that will be a central part of this story. And you’ll see. Beyond that, I do think love and family juxtaposed against them.
Press: One of the fun things about the Potter franchise was having different voices, different directors, come at different times and different chapters. With all due respect to David, would it be your preference to keep him for all five? Or would you love to bring other voices and have them interpret?
David: I think that it would be great to have David go all the way. Actually, Chris Columbus was so tired, couldn’t do any more, and that’s when we went to Alfonso [Cuarón]. We like how Alfonso had done the [third], but he was spent. So then we went to Mike Newell, who was spent on [Film 4]. It’s only David Yates who seems to have this boundless… In fact, he was in the middle of finishing one film while he was doing the first. So the possibilities for this one, where he’s only working on [one] film, are endless. I mean, I dearly would have him, but let’s see. Let’s see how he feels, and, actually, let’s see where the story goes. But my sense is that if we’re lucky enough to make more of these films, and the audience keeps coming, then we’ll see. Maybe it will be David.
Read the rest of our set visit coverage here.
This interview has been edited for clarity. Additional formatting provided by Felicia Grady.