“Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” marks the fifth film in the world of “Harry Potter” directed by David Yates.
The 52-year-old Brit was brought in to helm the final four “Potter” films and now he’s signed on for five — five! — installments of this new series (with “Potter” creator J.K. Rowling making her screenwriting debut), set in 1926 and following magizoologist Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne).
“My job when I got to the party was to make the movies play a little more intensely and seriously,” Yates says. “With ‘Fantastic Beasts,’ I’m the one inviting people to the party. I’m setting up a world, I’m casting it. I’m setting the tone of everything. So it’s my opportunity to build a world from the ground up. ... That was too good an opportunity to pass up.”
amNewYork spoke with Yates about the film.
“Fantastic Beasts” didn’t feel like another “Potter” film. How did you go about making this its own thing?
It really helped when [Rowling] set the movie in New York in 1926 and introduced a whole set of new characters. That just set the thing apart and that was exactly my first response when I read the script. ... We all got very excited about moving on, and there is still this sort of spirit and DNA, also in the sense that the characters are very charming. They’re almost like grown-up kids in some way and the values and the changes in tone from playful to quite dark, that’s all kind of “Potter”-esque.
How did Rowling do with her first screenplay?
Pretty well. By her own admittance, she was learning on the job. ... But she’s ferociously bright and she’s a very quick learner and it didn’t take much to really see her really sharpen and get the form. But there’s a balance I think we needed to strike between conforming to what a classic screenplay should be and also channeling the best of her to make sure that her tone and her sensibility is retained. ... We’re working on the second at the moment and it’s feels very dreamlike and surprising and not at all like the first film. And I love that. I love the fact that she’s taking another leap again to deliver a story that is very different from the first one.
“Potter” fans are very feverish about the franchise. Was it a relief that this was not based on a book?
It was. Ultimately, everybody had a relationship with the books, a very proprietary, real relationship with the books and characters. The amazing thing about those books is that they became part of people’s lives and ignited this whole social engagement around them. That’s a beautiful thing, the pitfalls of that as filmmakers as we adapted them, inevitably when you left something, regretfully, reluctantly at times, you had to somehow squeeze these narratives into a 2-hour narrative. Clearly now, we don’t have that challenge. [Rowling] is creating these stories purely for the cinema and the only way you’ll experience them is by going to the theater and watching it with other people and seeing the story for the first time. That was liberating for us because the audience doesn’t necessarily have an attachment to the story, they haven’t experienced it yet.
What makes Newt a good lead character, and why was Eddie the right person to play him?
He’s a fascinating character for a lead in a movie. He’s slightly awkward. He’s a bit naughty as a character. He’s socially awkward, he’s a bit of an outsider, a bit of a geek. He’s a magizoologist — the only magizoologist — and Eddie’s got such warmth as an actor and such humanity. ... He’s also got an amazing shape. As I was preparing the movie, I kept thinking about [Charlie] Chaplin and [Buster] Keaton, those classic comic characters. I loved the idea of Eddie being almost Chaplin-esque or Keaton-esque. And he’s beautifully British. Eddie’s got a quintessential Britishness about him.