It’s October 2017, and we’re back on the set of Fantastic Beasts. It’s been two years since we were last at Leavesden Studios on the huge outdoor space that’s been taken over by JK Rowling’s Wizarding World for the foreseeable future.
Last time we were here, we were transported to the streets of 1920s New York on a huge practical set that stretched as far as the eye could see. Those streets and building facades have now been stripped back, and transformed into 1920s Paris. But this time, it all feels a lot more magical.
That’s because this time, we’re actually stood in the French capital’s answer to Diagon Alley. Magic folks access the area, hidden to muggles, by passing under the legs of a bronze statue in the middle of a Paris street, it’s all very Parisien.
There’s everything a good wizard or witch could ever need on the magical street from enchanted sweet shops to the latest (for the late 1920s anyway) Quidditch supplies, and it’s incredibly detailed.
We visited Leavesden to find out everything we could about Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald which the filmmakers are calling a “sensual” noir-thriller in the vein of The Third Man.
First things first though…
Why is Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald set in Paris?
The second film in the planned five-film Harry Potter prequel series takes place across the globe in New York, London, but primarily Paris.
It picks up the story around 6 months after the events of 2016’s Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them with the film’s primary villain Grindelwald (Johnny Depp) in custody, and Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) having finally published his magizoologist handbook.
As we know from the Harry Potter films and books, Scamander’s book becomes a seminal work on the subject of magical creatures, which puts the awkward wizard and his passion for animals in the spotlight.
“[Newt’s] not that thrilled with the fact that the response [to his book] has been so huge,” explains Redmayne, “because it’s had ramifications on how wizards are treating creatures.”
So while Newt is dealing with his new found fame, the newly-imprisoned Grindelwald has begun trading on his infamy. He’s being held in the basement of the MACUSA building in New York where’s he become a bit of a hero in the criminal underworld.
He’s becoming too hot to handle for the American Ministry of Magic, so when the opportunity arrives to offload him to Europe where the authorities want him to answer for his crimes, they jump at the chance to ship him off.
However, his Thestral-pulled magic carriage gets hijacked after taking off from the roof of the MACUSA, and his supporters whisk him away to Paris. This is all in the trailers by the way, and happens in the opening scenes of the film, so it’s not a spoiler.
Of course, the actor who plays Grindelwald has also gained a bit of notoriety of late, with some fans calling for Depp to recast. Producer David Heyman is sticking by his man who only made a fleeting cameo in the first film.
“We wanted someone who was extraordinary,” says Heyman of his casting. “Who was a little bit off center, who had the charisma and the power to [match up to] the wonderful adversary [we had with] Ralph Fiennes. Voldemort was someone who was pure– you know, he knew no love, and he only knew hate. Grindelwald is a different beast.”
“There’s something about Grindelwald – he’s a seducer – and he has no problem wielding his wand, as it were.”
In Paris, Grindewald hides in plain sight, gathering supporters to his cause including an inner circle of acolytes, who will do or sacrifice anything in service to their master’s nefarious cause.
He’s not the only person in the city with mysterious motives however. Creedence, the young wizard played by Ezra Miller, is also in Paris. After learning he is a powerful Obscurial in the first film, Creedence has joined Circus Arcanus a travelling circus for the Wizarding World which has just arrived in the French capital.
What brings Newt back into action?
While Newt is struggling with his new-found fame, he also finds himself in trouble with the Ministry of Magic. He’s desperate to go travelling again, but after the events in New York, he’s been denied permission by the powers that control the Wizarding World.
He visits the Ministry of Magic, the same green-tiled Ministry we saw in the Harry Potter films, which has been faithfully recreated by the production team, with a few new features for fans to spot. After his visit to the Ministry he meets up with a young Dumbledore, played by Jude Law.
“We’re seeing Dumbledore as a young man and Dumbledore as a young man’s quite a rebel,” explains director David Yates.
“He’s a wonderful manipulator and he has this incredible ability to sort of maneuver people into situations that they may not want to be maneuvered into. And Jude brings this amazing freshness and sexiness and sensuality and sort of wit and sort of charisma to the role.”
“He has that sort of twinkle in his eye that was so important in the depictions of Dumbledore in the films and certainly was really important to J.K. Rowling,” adds Redmayne.
One important part of JK Rowling’s vision of Dumbledore won’t be addressed in The Crimes of Grindelwald however: his sexuality. Although it’s never directly addressed in the Harry Potter books, Rowling revealed Dumbledore was gay in 2007.
Producer Heyman says Dumbeldore’s sexuality won’t play a part here either, but doesn’t rule it out for future films.
“I don’t think it’s something we talk [about in this film].”
It’s easy to read the relationship between Grindelwald and Dumbledore, as explored in the Harry Potter books, as one of a sexual nature, but it’s not part of their story in this film.
“[It’s] not driving it,” adds Heyman, “But it might well be a part of it. I mean, you know, we all know that they’ve had a friendship, a very close friendship.”
Newt becomes a pawn in Dumbledore’s battle with Grindelwald, as production designer Martin Foley explains.
“It’s not explicit that [Newt’s] working for Dumbledore. He doesn’t even know – you know he kind of figured it out, but he didn’t know he was being used by Dumbledore. But Dumbledore is a chess master as is Grindelwald. The two are kind of rivals. So that’s the plot really. Those two are playing and using people one for good, one for bad.”
After connecting with Dumbledore, we pay a visit to Newt’s South London home which, like his suitcase, has a lot more going on in it than initially meets the eye.
From the outside, it’s an unassuming Georgian town house, however the basement has been converted into an amazing magical menagerie stroke fantastic beast hospital. Like his travelling suitcase, it’s much bigger than it should be, and features enclosures for all the beasts Newt collects along the way. It even features a magical moving staircase that’s a nod to the design of Hogwarts, Newt’s former school – more on that in a minute.
Looking after the creatures in the menagerie during Newt’s absences is new character Bunty, played by Victoria Yeates. She wields a wand topped with an acorn, and she’s got a soft spot for Newt, perhaps with a touch of unrequited love. It sounds a lot like the dynamic between Holmes and Molly in BBC’s Sherlock.
“It’s quite a nice relationship between [Newt] and his assistant [Bunty],” explains Foley.
“And it let’s Newt go off on these adventures and he knows that his animals aren’t just starving. They’re being looked after.”
Getting the gang back together
The prime focus of the previous film was the core foursome of Newt, Tina (Katherine Waterston), Queenie (Alison Sudol), and Jacob (Dan Fogler). But the end of the film split the fab four up, seemingly all going their separate ways, with the events of the film wiped from Jacob’s mind by magic.
They’re all back for the sequel though.
Tina has been reinstated as an Auror for the MACUSA, although she’s temporarily fallen out with Newt.
“It’s not so much a falling out,” laughs Redmayne, “as a misunderstanding. At the end of the last film, Newt was going home to write his book, but was desperate to come back. And when you meet him at the top of this film, he’s still desperate to come back.
“Through various miscommunications there’s been a misunderstanding and one of the lovely things is the way in which these guys come back together. It’s typical for Tina and Newt through a lot of inability to communicate what they really feel.”
Hot on the trail of Creedence, with whom she established an unusual understanding with on the first film, Tina travels to Paris making a reunion with Newt inevitable.
Meanwhile Tina’s sister Queenie has fallen in love with Jacob, against the wishes of her sister and the American wizarding world that forbids relationships between No-Majs and witches. She whisks Jacob away to England where the rules are less strict, but her plan backfires. Jacob must then re-team with Newt to win back Queenie through the course of the film.
With the battle between Dumbledore and Grindelwald looming on the horizon and likely to dominate the remaining films in the franchise, the fab four face a tough battle ahead to remain central to the narrative, but David Heyman insists the future of the franchise revolves around their lead character Newt.
“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.”
“I feel like Newt’s skillset is quite unique, and I don’t just mean with beasts, I mean with empathy,” explains Redmayne.
“His capacity to see broken people and to reach out to broken people is a skillset which is pretty unique. And it’s one of the things that Dumbledore has always, since he was a kid, seen in Newt. If it is building to a showdown between these two [Jo Rowling has] created a scenario that’s not as simple as the two can just face off. And actually, Dumbledore needs to recruit the skillset of Newt to help.”
Back to school
Not only was the old gang brought back for the sequel, but this film is also heading back to a very familiar location for fans of the Potter films: Hogwarts.
From what we understand there are at least two sequences that take place in the grounds of Hogwarts, in two different time periods. Director David Yates insists they didn’t return to the iconic magic location for nostalgic reasons.
“Because we were introducing Dumbledore, it felt right to bring that world back into this one,” Yates told us. “We’re there very briefly. Right in the middle of the movie, we go back for about 10 minutes to Hogwarts and see it in 1927. It was a very organic natural part of the development process that took us back there.”
Aside from this scene, there’s also a flashback to a pivotal moment in Newt’s life that takes place in the wizarding school.
“Seeing a younger Dumbledore and seeing he and Newt’s first meeting, I think, will be a thing that the fans will really love,” gushes Heyman. Young Newt is played by Joshua Shea, who Redmayne describes as “completely wonderful.”
Along with the classic classrooms and halls being recreated, Martin Foley says we’ll see “a part of Hogwarts that we’ve never seen before. It’s like a secret cubbyhole space where Newt keeps some things. And it’s a tiny set but it’s really cute.”
Foley also admitted that they were able to borrow some original props from the Harry Potter Studio Tour next door to Leavesden for set dressing, and we may have spotted a familiar-looking Philosopher’s Stone when we toured the prop department.
Another key location to look forward to is the French Ministry of Magic, which is every bit as grand and majestic as its American and British counterparts.
Anyone who follows JK Rowling on Twitter will know she’s staunchly anti-Trump. The controversial U.S. President was running for office while Rowling was writing The Crime of Grindelwald, so it’s no surprise to find some topical themes running throughout the story.
“If you’re making a movie, ultimately, you can’t help but be sensitive to the world in which you create it,” explains David Yates. “It influences you every single day, influenced Jo when she was writing the script, influences us as we put the whole story together. So we’re alive to what’s happening in the bigger world.
“But the themes, I think, are kind of universal and archetypal and timeless, which is ultimately rather than a direct political sort of counterpoint or context, it’s really about the values of tolerance and understanding and a celebration of diversity.”
“So they’re the ideas, I think, that run right through a lot of Jo’s work. They’re not just relevant to now. What’s slightly scary is they’re becoming more relevant now. And what’s wonderful is that we’re making a movie that will be seen by millions of people and millions of young people, and we’re making a story that celebrates tolerance, acceptance of the other, and sort of be cynical when people pretend they have all the answers at a simplistic level, because they probably don’t.”
Love is in the air
As we’ve already established, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald is set to be a sensual film exploring love and romance in a much deeper way than we’ve ever seen before in the series.
Newt is the subject of two love triangles for a start. One between himself and Tina, and his former flame and Hogwarts alumni Leta Lestrange played by Zoe Kravitz. She works at the British Ministry of Magic as the assistant to Torquil Travers, the Head of Magical Law Enforcement.
She herself is then part of a love triangle between Newt and his older brother Theseus, played by Callum Turner, her fiancé.
Although he hadn’t worked with Turner before, Redmayne admits he was aware of his… shall we say… talents?
“I was watching War and Peace. I don’t know if you guys saw that, which he was in,” shares Redmayne. “My wife and I were watching and he turned up on screen and literally, both Hannah and I, thought ‘that’s like a taller, darker, better looking version of me’.”
A celebrated war hero, Theseus is now the Head of the Auror Office at the British Ministry of Magic, and an interesting counterpoint to Newt.
“He’s Newt’s older brother, even though I’m younger than Eddie, which is interesting,” says Turner, “and he’s kind of the opposite of Newt. He’s gone through the same schooling obviously, but once he got out he decided that the establishment was the way to fight the good fight. Theseus is or may be quite more rigid or just part of the establishment.”
Whether Newt will choose Tina or Leta can easily be found out with a quick look into Potter lore, but we’re sure Yates will milk the sexual tension between the four for as much as it’s worth.
“This is a much more sensual film,” Yates shares. “We didn’t really have sensuality or sexuality in any of the Potters or even first Fantastic Beasts. We had these grown-ups, but ultimately, these grown-ups are really like big kids in a grown-up world. This is this a slightly more sensual film because it is a love story. There’s a sense of sensuality between the characters, which is lovely, actually. It feels like everything’s growing up and getting a bit more sophisticated.”
“It’s a series of love stories, really. And really, the central theme is falling in love, falling out of love, falling in love with an ideology, being drawn into love, being corrupted by love. It’s really all circles around that central premise of love, I think.”
“It’s a kind of love story, but it has a really interesting thriller-esque sort of vibe to it as well.”
Fantastic Beast: The Crimes of Grindelwald is in cinemas November 16, 2018.