Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: Characters and Casting

The casting of “Fantastic Beasts” began with the character of Newt Scamander, whose visit to New York becomes far more eventful than he ever imagined.  Heyman says that Eddie Redmayne was the filmmakers’ first and only choice for the part.  “He is quintessentially British, and an actor for all times who can play a character from any time.  Eddie is brilliant at getting under a character’s skin and exploring every detail of a role, yet all that effort is invisible.  All you see here is Newt—an outsider who is somewhat knotty but winning and engaging, someone you immediately invest in.”

Describing his role, Redmayne says, “Newt is most comfortable around beasts and is seemingly content to be on his own in the company of his animals, which are the be all and end all of his life.  What I love about Newt is his passion; his only agenda is to teach the value of these creatures to the rest of the magical world, which considers them dangerous because they could give away the existence of wizards.”

Rowling explains that, regardless of their magical nature, the animals have no way of knowing that their very being presents a threat.  “When you think about this hidden world, you immediately run across the problem of the beasts.  They don’t understand that they’re supposed to hide.  So I had this idea that Newt was the lone voice saying, ‘We have to preserve these creatures.  We shouldn’t be exterminating them,’ which was the standard practice at the time to maintain secrecy.  But Newt has an affinity for these creatures and accepts them on their own terms.  He’s an exceptionally broadminded wizard, who also has an understanding of those who might be stigmatized.  He constantly questions where the lines are drawn and why certain life forms are considered more important than others.”

Challenging the status quo, “Newt believes that with proper education, wizards could come to appreciate how magnificent these animals are and learn to coexist with them,” says Redmayne.  “At the beginning of the film, he’s spent a year in the field, traveling around the world doing research for his book.  Along the way he’s rescued some of these endangered species, which he keeps in his case, containing a wondrous plethora of terrains.  He has amazing empathy with his creatures, although he’s not particularly good with humans.  But through the people he meets on this journey, he starts to realize there has been a hole in his life.”

Not long after arriving in New York City, Newt meets three people who will change everything: a witch named Tina Goldstein; her younger sister, Queenie; and, most surprising of all, a No-Maj named Jacob Kowalski.  It isn’t long before these strangers find a common bond and form an uncommon friendship.  Redmayne offers, “Newt essentially stumbles onto them, and throughout the film, their growing camaraderie becomes an essential element of the story.”

“The friendship that develops between the four of them is the most important thing in the movie,” Rowling declares.  “It’s always the relationships between the characters in my stories that carry you through.”

Katherine Waterston, who plays Tina, observes that the way these four strangers come together is almost instinctual.  “It can be lonely being an oddball until you find other oddballs.  Their friendship is not a mere byproduct of the extreme set of circumstances they go through together; it is their common experience as outsiders that draws them to one another.”

“They aren’t caricatures,” insists Alison Sudol, cast in the role of Queenie.  “There is a genuine humanity to each of these characters.  The things they face are not unlike the things we face in our own lives, but it’s seen through a wizarding angle in a very interesting way.”

Yates adds, “Jo has always been interested in outsiders—people who are misunderstood or who are slightly out of kilter with the rest of society.”

Perhaps the ultimate outsider is Jacob, who is the only one in the foursome without magical powers.  Dan Fogler, who plays the role, shares, “Even though ‘Fantastic Beasts’ is an adventure that runs the gamut of action and humor, and with gigantic sets and effects, they did an amazing job honing in on the relationships and the chemistry between these characters.  I think audiences will really see themselves in these people…these quirky misfits who form this little team.”

Yates reveals that finding the chemistry began in the audition process.  “We started with Eddie as Newt and then built the world around him.  It was a bit like putting a band together,” the director laughs.  “Eddie flew to New York with us and we auditioned lots of Tinas and Jacobs and Queenies with him in a room.  Over a 48-hour period, he did the same scenes over and over again with different people, and out of that process we found our core cast—four actors who all bring something different to the movie in interesting ways that complement one another.”

Redmayne says the results were worth it.  “The film revolves around this quartet of people who start out moving in completely opposite directions and end up cohered as friends.  It was wonderful getting to work with three such brilliant actors as Katherine, Alison and Dan.  We were all bound by this sense of responsibility: we all love the ‘Potter’ films and the world that Jo created for this film and just wanted to do the characters proud.”

“A genuine friendship developed between us, and that really shows up on screen,” Sudol adds.  “There was an air of spontaneity that generated when we were together, which made every day quite fun.”

When Tina Goldstein first spies Newt Scamander, making a friend is the furthest thing from her mind.  A one-time Auror, Tina wants more than anything to return to the prestigious ranks of the MACUSA investigators, so when something suspicious catches her attention, she can’t help but act on it.  Waterston affirms, “The moment Tina sees Newt, she knows something is going on with him even if she doesn’t know exactly what.  That is the first clue that, although Tina is no longer an investigator, she still has good instincts.

“She was really proud of being an Auror,” the actress continues, “and still has hopes of earning back her job, but she was demoted when she broke the rules to protect someone in trouble and is now relegated to the menial work of the Wand Permit Office…in the basement.  Tina had always acted ‘by the book,’ so I found it really touching that, when push came to shove, helping someone was more important to her than preserving the status she devoted her life to achieving.”

Waterston says she enjoyed exploring the all-too-human contradictions within her character.  “Tina seems to simultaneously possess a strong belief and a deep doubt in her own potential and talent.  I found that quality of seesawing between confidence and insecurity fascinating to explore and something I think most anyone can relate to.”

Yates says that Waterston had all the facets they were looking for in Tina.  “She is a terrific actress who can be quite deeply intense and then also do funny very well, and I love that combination.”

Tina’s fears are confirmed when one of Newt’s beasts escapes from his case, and she witnesses Newt employing magic in trying to retrieve him.  That alone would be a serious breach of the Statute of Secrecy, forbidding the use of spells in the presence of non-wizards, but Newt makes matters worse by actually involving a No-Maj, the incredulous Jacob Kowalski.

“At his core, Jacob is just a simple palooka who just happens into this magical situation, something he’s clearly not used to,” Fogler states.  “He’s a baker who has been trying to open his own bakery because he loves making people happy with his cooking.  He may not be able to perform magic, but he can make a little pastry that’ll knock your socks off.  I felt like I knew the character well because my great-grandfather was a baker, who was known for the best pumpernickel in New York, so it’s in my blood.”

Yates notes, “Jacob is an everyman with a big heart who believes in the best of everyone.  He accepts people for who they are.  He’s a No-Maj who suddenly finds himself in this remarkable world and embraces the joy of that world for all its differences and idiosyncrasies.  And Jacob is one of us, so we get to experience it all from his point of view.”

“Imagine getting caught up in this wizarding universe as someone who has never experienced real magic before,” Heyman suggests.  “That sense of wonder is seen and felt by the audience through Jacob.”

Fogler could easily relate to that aspect of his character.  “I felt like Jacob entering this world and being in awe of everything,” says the actor who was a fan long before being cast in “Fantastic Beasts.”  In fact, he learned he won the role while attending the largest fan gathering on the planet.  He recalls, “I was at Comic-Con in San Diego when I got the call from David Yates and David Heyman.  They asked me where I was and I said, ‘I’m at Comic-Con,’ and they said, ‘Well, Comic-Con is going to be a lot different for you next year!’  They were both so supportive and excited for me; it was such a warm, happy feeling and that remained for the whole shoot.  I will always think of them as the people who came into my life and changed it forever.”

Yates remembers that Fogler stood out from the rest because he did the exact opposite of what they expected.  “We read lots of good actors, but Dan surprised us more than any of the others.  He was more playful than anyone else and more inventive.  He’s a very gifted comedian, as well as a gifted actor.”

When Jacob first encountered Newt, their almost identical cases somehow became switched.  The unfortunate exchange led to Jacob accidentally setting some of Newt’s beasts loose on an unsuspecting No-Maj world, but not before one of them leaves him with a rather nasty bite.  With no alternative, Tina winds up bringing Newt and Jacob to the only place she knows they can’t get into any more trouble: home.  Entering the apartment, Jacob can’t help but be instantly smitten by Tina’s beautiful and warmhearted sister, Queenie.

The last thing Queenie expected was for her always sensible sibling to show up at their door with a couple of strange men in tow, especially a No-Maj, considering the American wizarding world’s strict rules against fraternization.  “You have these two sisters who basically raised each other, so they have a very deep bond,” Sudol comments.  “But it’s a somewhat isolated and lonely existence, and then these two men, who are very different and exciting, come into their world and their lives are suddenly transformed.”

Waterston, who has a sister of her own, says she loved the way J.K. Rowling captured the special bond between Tina and Queenie.  “There is a soulful connection between sisters who are close, and it was right there on the page so there was no need to force it.  I loved the way it was written; the way they interact with each other is very sweet and felt very true to me.”

As close as they are, the Goldstein sisters are total opposites.  Whereas Tina is bookish and determined, “Queenie is playful and fun,” Sudol shares, “so meeting Newt and Jacob and going on an adventure that might scare other people is thrilling for her.  She is also very perceptive and empathetic and has a big heart.  Having the opportunity to be Queenie was simply delightful.”

Heyman says Sudol fit the role in every way.  “Alison is a wonderfully talented actress, but what she brought to the role of Queenie went beyond her talent.  It’s her very essence.  Queenie is good and warm and sensitive, and that is Alison.”

“Alison has a bubbly effervescence about her that was perfect for Queenie,” Fogler concurs.  “When Jacob meets up with her, she’s luminescent, like an angel to him, and it gives him a good reason to wanna stick around.”

Queenie instantly knows exactly what Jacob is thinking…and she is equally charmed.  Rowling explains, “She is a Legilimens, meaning she can read minds.  What’s interesting about her is she is constantly underestimated because of her appearance.  She is very beautiful, but people who look just at the surface don’t realize that she can see more deeply than anyone else.  She was a fun character to write.”

Sudol says, “J.K. Rowling creates the most exceptional characters and yet they are very relatable.  There is so much meaning in her stories and so much heart and wisdom.  She has an incredible way of making this extraordinary universe feel intimate and attainable, and it was such an honor for us to be part of it.”

Eager to receive any insights Rowling could provide, all the actors loved when she paid them a visit during production.  Redmayne recounts, “The best days were when Jo came on set because she has such total knowledge of this complex world and such a full take on the characters.  She could give us the back stories and even where she sees Newt and the others going in the future.  For an actor, that’s the dream—to have the actual inspiration and imagination of the creator of this world to guide me through was invaluable.”

The actors also shared a great appreciation for the guidance of their director, who had navigated the vast wizarding world through four “Harry Potter” films.  Sudol offers, “David is so sincere and joyful and his enthusiasm was contagious.  You could see how much he loves this world and we all got excited and fed off of that.  He’s very gentle, but knows what he wants to see, so it’s very comforting to work with him as a director.”

Waterston adds, “We completely put our trust in David, but that’s easy to do with someone who is so creative and focused.  The way he would describe a scene was so expressive, and he could tell us exactly what we’d be seeing and experiencing in the story at that moment.  But he also gave us room to contribute our own ideas, which was awesome.”

“David took me under his wing and basically told me that it was safe to improvise,” says Fogler.  “It was so freeing and made it an amazing playground to work in.”