12 Behind-the-Scenes Secrets From the Cast and Crew of Fantastic Beasts

©2016 Warner Bros. Ent. All Rights Reserved.
Harry Potter and Fantastic Beasts Publishing Rights © JKR

 
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is the first installment in a five-part series featuring the adventures of magizoologist Newt Scamander. We sat down with the cast, directors, and producers to find out a few of the production’s secrets. Revelio!

WARNING: Mild spoilers below. Consider saving this article for after you’ve seen the film!

1. FANTASTIC BEASTS STARTED AS A STORY.

Newt Scamander shows up in Harry Potter as the author of the guide Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them—a book J.K. Rowling then wrote as Scamander in 2001 for charity. “The character of Newt appealed to me, and as often happened with the Potterverse, I had some thoughts about what happened to Newt and who he was,” Rowling said at a press conference for the Fantastic Beasts film. Warner Bros. then optioned Fantastic Beasts, and when they approached her about finally making it, “I thought ‘Wait a moment, wait a moment—I’d better tell them what I’ve got, because I wouldn’t want them to get Newt wrong,’” she said. “I sat down to write some notes, and [before I knew it], I’d written a story, and then that story became a screenplay. So it was never really a calculated, ‘I think I want to revisit the world.’ It came as these things always do—through a story.”

2. ROWLING BOUGHT A BOOK ABOUT HOW TO WRITE SCRIPTS—AND NEVER OPENED IT UP.

Fantastic Beasts marks Rowling’s screenwriting debut, and though she was very involved with that process during the filming of the Potter franchise—she had final approval on all screenplays—she still bought a book about how to write a script. But she never opened it. “It just sat on my desk, and I think I felt that that was my homework,” she said at a press conference for the film. “I haven’t actually done my homework, maybe I just thought I’d absorb it somehow.” Thankfully, she had Steve Kloves—who penned the Harry Potter scripts—to help her. “I would say that Steve was my tutor on this, and it’s a reason I was so keen to have him attached to this project, because I knew he would be the guy I could phone at 4 a.m. if I needed to. I never phoned him at 4 a.m., but I suppose I could have.”

3. THE INITIAL DRAFTS WERE MUCH DARKER—AND SPENT MORE TIME IN THE SEWERS.

“One of them was really dark,” Rowling said at the press conference. “There was a lot of stuff in the sewers. I don’t know what was going on in my life at that moment, I just remember David [Yates] saying ‘This is very dark draft ...’ Dot Dot Dot. ‘You need to lighten this up a little.’ We went through a lot of drafts, but that’s always my process—this isn’t a screenwriting thing. I tend to generate a lot of material, and some of the ideas from some of those drafts I’m sure will be in the following movies.”

4. SOME BEASTS GOT SWITCHED OUT.

Newt’s got some incredible creatures in his suitcase, including a Niffler, a Demiguise, a Thunderbird, an Erumpent, an Occamy, and many more—an array as huge as what can be found in the human animal kingdom. Some of them can be found in Rowling’s book, and some are brand-new. “A couple of the beasts that were in the movie were always in the movie,” Rowling said. “And then we swapped a couple as we went, just because … there were some escapades we wanted to put in. So we swapped a couple of beasts—[it] just felt better. But I think everyone is going to want a Niffler after this. I want a Niffler! We all want Nifflers.”

5. THE CREATURE DESIGNERS TOOK INSPIRATION FROM REAL ANIMALS.

According to the film’s press notes, to create the beasts, the film’s visual effects team started with Rowling’s book. They also found inspiration for both the look and personalities of the creatures in real life animals. For example, animators took the behavior of the Niffler (above)—a duck-billed beast that stuffs every shiny thing it can find into its marsupial pouch—from the honey badger. They also, of course, turned to the ultimate source, Rowling, who said that she “saw everything—we have the most extraordinary creative team. They’ve done such beautiful work on this movie. It’s been amazing.”

6. THE SCRIPT WAS ALMOST AS DETAILED AS A BOOK.

According to lead actress Katherine Waterston, who plays Porpentina Goldstein, it didn’t bother her to not have a book to go to as a resource going into Fantastic Beasts. “I was thrilled to just have the script, which was quite like a book itself,” she said in a roundtable interview before the movie’s release. “It was so detailed and rich, but ours and a secret from the world.” The actors couldn’t take the scripts home with them, though—they had to lock them up in a safe at the end of the day. “It was like a library on set,” Waterston said. “You’d check [the script] out, put it back in.”

7. THE SETS WERE INCREDIBLE.

In roundtable interviews, director David Yates recounted what happened when Rowling visited the New York set, which was built in Watford, England: “She stood there ... and she did an expletive and said ‘This is more impressive than the opening ceremony [of the London Olympics].” At the press conference for the film, Eddie Redmayne, who plays Newt Scamander, agreed. “What was most wonderful was that so much of this would be built,” he said. “I thought there was going to be so much green screen, and the reality was that a lot of New York was built in Watford, just outside of London. There were cars brought over from the period, there was smoke rising from the streets. It was a sensory overload.” You can get a glimpse of the sets in the featurette above.

8. EDDIE REDMAYNE WORKED WITH ANIMAL HANDLERS TO PLAY NEWT.

In order to play Newt, a magizoologist with a case full of magical creatures, Redmayne met with animal handlers—and he ended up incorporating some of what he learned into his character. “There was a woman who was looking after an anteater that had just been born, and she was feeding her with a bottle, and yet she would scrunch up, and it was impossible for the handler to get the bottle in her mouth,” he remembered. “So the way that she made [the anteater] release herself was to tickle her. There was a moment in the script in which the Niffler was trying to claw onto his pouch, so we brought that idea in.”

Redmayne also met a tracker who told him that, when searching for animals, he would walk with his feet in a wide v-shape, setting one foot down carefully and examining the ground before placing the other foot “to make sure there’s not a leaf or anything that the other foot is going to crush.” The tracker stood with his feet in that position in his daily life, and Redmayne co-opted the stance and walk for Newt.

“J.K. Rowling had written that the character walks his own walk, and has a Buster Keaton-esque quality, and I thought What the hell does that mean?” Redmayne said. “So I stole the walk from this guy. But he also did this thing where he said that nature often works in opposites. So if you find nettles, nearby you’ll often find duck leaves, and if you spit on duck leaves and rub them together, then they soothe nettle stings. So we were down in the case and I was meant to give Dan [Fogler] a pill to stop [a rash from a Murtlap bite], and I was like, ‘Can I have plants that I can spit on?’” The little things Redmayne picked up in these sessions helped make Newt a fuller character.

9. SOME OF THE BEASTS WERE ON SET.

Alison Sudol, who plays Queenie Goldstein, said in roundtable interviews that the cast not only got to see images of the creatures as they would ultimately appear in the film, but even had puppets on set. “We had these extraordinary puppeteers who basically had the creature’s head and the beginnings of their body, especially for the larger beasts, and they were amazing,” she said. “The way that they operated these creatures—the way that they moved, the sounds they made, were so visual, so vivid.”

Among the puppets was the Erumpent, built by the same puppeteers behind the stage play War Horse, which was more than 16 feet tall and required three people to operate. There were also, Redmayne said in the press conference, “not quite animatronic, but really grisly, slightly disgusting gelatin things for the Murtlaps,” marine creatures that look like rats with anemones on their backs (you can see a Murtlap in the clip above).

Sudol said Yates was also invaluable in bringing the creatures to life on set. “David would gather us together at the beginning of every scene and he would talk about the creatures and their essence and what they were like—[for example], the chuntering of the Demiguise,” she said. “First of all, anything that David says is just the most wonderful sounding thing, because he’s just a magical man, but the word chunter—how can you not see them? You’d have to just be sort of a stump if you couldn’t imagine that.”

10. EZRA MILLER’S COSTUME CONCEALED SOMETHING SPECIAL.

Potter fan extraordinaire Ezra Miller plays Credence, a role that the actor described in roundtable interviews as potentially “challenging to the psyche.” He spoke with costume designer Colleen Atwood about “wanting to hold onto myself through that process”; to help, he said, Atwood “sewed into the inside of the jacket that Credence wears this symbol of an eagle and a horse to remind me of myself even as I went into the role of Credence.”

11. FOR ONE SCENE, DAN FOGLER CHANNELED INDIANA JONES.

©2016 Warner Bros. Ent. All Rights Reserved.
Harry Potter and Fantastic Beasts Publishing Rights © JKR

 
Dan Fogler, who plays No-Maj (a.k.a. Muggle) Jacob Kowalski, said the toughest scene was a chase featuring the Erumpent (above). “It was freezing out, but I was just like ‘Yay!’” he said in roundtable interviews. “My favorite movie is Raiders of the Lost Ark, so in my mind, the Erumpent was the boulder and I was Indiana Jones. I am screaming like a lunatic, but in my mind, I’m Indiana Jones.”

12. A SCENE FEATURING A SONG DIDN’T MAKE IT INTO THE FINAL FILM.

At one point, an edit of the film featured a scene late in the movie where Waterston and Sudol sang Ilvermorny’s school song. In roundtables, Redmayne described the song as “beautiful and haunting and kind of amazing … but then at the end of this really Gaelic song, suddenly it turned into like—and it was amazingly fun to watch—a cheerleader [routine].” The wands turned into pop-poms, the actresses did a jump, and fireworks went off. “I adored it,” Redmayne said. “But I think in the edit what they found, at that point in the movie, s**t is going down,” and it seemed strange to have a musical interlude.

Though Redmayne was sad to see the sequence go, Waterston was not: She was “quite relieved” it didn’t make the final cut. Fingers crossed the scene makes it to the DVD extras!

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Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images for PCA
12 Surprising Facts About Robin Williams
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images for PCA
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images for PCA

Robin Williams had a larger-than-life personality. On screen and on stage, he embodied what he referred to as “hyper-comedy.” Offscreen, he was involved in humanitarian causes and raised three children—Zak, Zelda, and Cody. On July 16, HBO debuts the documentary Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind, directed by Marina Zenovich. The film chronicles his rise on the L.A. and San Francisco stand-up comedy scenes during the 1970s, to his more dramatic roles in the 1980s and '90s in award-winning films like Dead Poets Society; Good Morning, Vietnam; Awakenings; The Fisher King; and Good Will Hunting. The film also focuses on August 11, 2014, the date of his untimely death. Here are 12 surprising facts about the beloved entertainer.

1. ROBIN WILLIAMS GOT HIS START AT A COMEDY WORKSHOP INSIDE A CHURCH.

A still from 'Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind' (2018)
HBO

After leaving Juilliard, Robin Williams found himself back in his hometown of San Francisco, but he couldn’t find work as an actor. Then he saw something for a comedy workshop in a church and decided to give it a shot. “So I went to this workshop in the basement of a Lutheran church, and it was stand-up comedy, so you don’t get to improvise with others, but I started off doing, ostensibly, it was just like improvising but solo," he told NPR. "And then I started to realize, ‘Oh.’ [I started] building an act from there."

2. HE FORMED A FRIENDSHIP WITH KOKO THE GORILLA.

In 2001, Williams visited Koko the gorilla, who passed away in June, at The Gorilla Foundation in Northern California. Her caregivers had shown her one of his movies, and she seemed to recognize him. Koko repeatedly signed for Williams to tickle her. “We shared something extraordinary: laughter,” Williams said of the encounter. On the day Williams died, The Foundation shared the news with Koko and reported that she fell into sadness.

3. FOR A TIME, HE WAS A MIME IN CENTRAL PARK.

In 1974, photographer Daniel Sorine captured photos of two mimes in New York's Central Park. As it turned out, one of the mimes was Williams, who was attending Juilliard at the time. “What attracted me to Robin Williams and his fellow mime, Todd Oppenheimer, was an unusual amount of intensity, personality, and physical fluidity,” Sorine said. In 1991, Williams revisited the craft by playing Mime Jerry in Bobcat Goldthwait’s film Shakes the Clown. In the movie, Williams hilariously leads a how-to class in mime.

4. HE TRIED TO GET LYDIA FROM MRS. DOUBTFIRE BACK IN SCHOOL.

As a teen, Lisa Jakub played Robin Williams’s daughter Lydia Hillard in Mrs. Doubtfire. “When I was 14 years old, I went on location to film Mrs. Doubtfire for five months, and my high school was not happy,” Jakub wrote on her blog. “My job meant an increased workload for teachers, and they were not equipped to handle a ‘non-traditional’ student. So, during filming, they kicked me out.”

Sensing Jakub’s distress over the situation, Williams typed a letter and sent it to her school. “A student of her caliber and talent should be encouraged to go out in the world and learn through her work,” he wrote. “She should also be encouraged to return to the classroom when she’s done to share those experiences and motivate her classmates to soar to their own higher achievements … she is an asset to any classroom.”

Apparently, the school framed the letter but didn’t allow Jakub to return. “But here’s what matters from that story—Robin stood up for me,” Jakub wrote. “I was only 14, but I had already seen that I was in an industry that was full of back-stabbing. And it was entirely clear that Robin had my back.”

5. HE WASN’T PRODUCERS' FIRST CHOICE TO PLAY MORK ON MORK & MINDY.

Anson Williams, Marion Ross, and Don Most told The Hallmark Channel that a different actor was originally hired to play Mork for the February 1978 Happy Days episode “My Favorite Orkan,” which introduced the alien character to the world. “Mork & Mindy was like the worst script in the history of Happy Days. It was unreadable, it was so bad,” Anson Williams said. “So they hire some guy for Mork—bad actor, bad part.” The actor quit, and producer Garry Marshall came to the set and asked: “Does anyone know a funny Martian?” They hired Williams to play Mork, and from September 1978 to May 1982, Williams co-headlined the spinoff Mork & Mindy for four seasons.

6. HE “RISKED” A ROLE IN AN OFF-BROADWAY PLAY.

Actor Robin Williams poses for a portrait during the 35th Annual People's Choice Awards held at the Shrine Auditorium on January 7, 2009 in Los Angeles, California
Michael Caulfield, Getty Images for PCA

In 1988, Williams made his professional stage debut as Estragon in the Mike Nichols-directed Waiting for Godot, which also starred Steve Martin and F. Murray Abraham. The play was held off-Broadway at Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater at Lincoln Center. The New York Times asked Williams if he felt the show was a career risk, and he responded with: “Risk! Of never working on the stage again! Oh, no! You’re ruined! It’s like you're ruined socially in Tustin,” a town in Orange County, California. “If there’s risk, you can’t think about it,” he said, “or you’ll never be able to do the play.”

Williams had to restrain himself and not improvise during his performance. “You can do physical things,” he said, “but you don’t ad lib [Samuel] Beckett, just like you don’t riff Beethoven.” In 1996, Nichols and Williams once again worked together, this time in the movie The Birdcage.

7. HE USHERED IN THE ERA OF CELEBRITY VOICE ACTING.

The 1992 success of Aladdin, in which Williams voiced Genie, led to more celebrities voicing animated characters. According to a 2011 article in The Atlantic, “Less than 20 years ago, voice acting was almost exclusively the realm of voice actors—people specifically trained to provide voices for animated characters. As it turns out, the rise of the celebrity voice actor can be traced to a single film: Disney’s 1992 breakout animated hit Aladdin.” Since then, big names have attached themselves to animated films, from The Lion King to Toy Story to Shrek. Williams continued to do voice acting in animated films, including Aladdin and the King of Thieves, Happy Feet, and Happy Feet 2.

8. HE FORGOT TO THANK HIS MOTHER DURING HIS 1998 OSCAR SPEECH.

In March 1998, Williams won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his performance as Sean Maguire in Good Will Hunting. In 2011, Williams appeared on The Graham Norton Show, and Norton asked him what it was like to win the award. “For a week it was like, ‘Hey congratulations! Good Will Hunting, way to go,'” Williams said. “Two weeks later: ‘Hey, Mork.’”

Then Williams mentioned how his speech accidentally left out one of the most important people in his life. “I forgot to thank my mother and she was in the audience,” he said. “Even the therapist went, ‘Get out!’ That was rough for the next few years. [Mom voice] ‘You came through here [points to his pants]! How’s the award?’”

9. HE COMFORTED STEVEN SPIELBERG DURING THE FILMING OF SCHINDLER’S LIST.

At this year’s 25th anniversary screening of Schindler’s List, held at the Tribeca Film Festival, director Steven Spielberg shared that Williams—who played Peter Pan in Spielberg’s Hook—would call him and make him laugh. “Robin knew what I was going through, and once a week, Robin would call me on schedule and he would do 15 minutes of stand-up on the phone,” Spielberg said. “I would laugh hysterically, because I had to release so much.”

10. HE HELPED ETHAN HAWKE GET HIS AGENT.

During a June 2018 appearance on The Graham Norton Show, Ethan Hawke recalled how, while working on Dead Poets Society, Williams was hard on him. “I really wanted to be a serious actor,” Hawke said. “I really wanted to be in character, and I really didn’t want to laugh. The more I didn’t laugh, the more insane [Williams] got. He would make fun of me. ‘Oh this one doesn't want to laugh.’ And the more smoke would come out of my ears. He didn’t understand I was trying to do a good job.” Hawke had assumed Williams hated him during filming.

After filming ended, Hawke went back to school, but he received a surprising phone call. It was from Williams’s agent, who—at Williams's suggestion—wanted to sign Hawke. Hawke said he still has the same agent today.

11. HE WAS ALMOST CAST IN MIDNIGHT RUN.

In February 1988, Williams told Rolling Stone how he sometimes still had to audition for roles. “I read for a movie with [Robert] De Niro, [Midnight Run], to be directed by Marty Brest,” Williams said. “I met with them three or four times, and it got real close, it was almost there, and then they went with somebody else. The character was supposed to be an accountant for the Mafia. Charles Grodin got the part. I was craving it. I thought, ‘I can be as funny,’ but they wanted someone obviously more in type. And in the end, he was better for it. But it was rough for me. I had to remind myself, ‘Okay, come on, you’ve got other things.’”

In July 1988, Universal released Midnight Run. Just two years later, Williams finally worked with De Niro, on Awakenings.

12. BILLY CRYSTAL AND WILLIAMS USED TO TALK ON THE PHONE FOR HOURS.

Actors Robin Williams (L) and Billy Crystal pose at the afterparty for the premiere of Columbia Picture's 'RV' on April 23, 2006 in Los Angeles, California
Kevin Winter, Getty Images

Starting in 1986, Williams, Billy Crystal, and Whoopi Goldberg co-hosted HBO’s Comic Relief to raise money for the homeless. Soon after Williams’s death, Crystal went on The View and spoke with Goldberg about his friendship with Williams. “We were like two jazz musicians,” Crystal said. “Late at night I get these calls and we’d go for hours. And we never spoke as ourselves. When it was announced I was coming to Broadway, I had 50 phone messages, in one day, from somebody named Gary, who wanted to be my backstage dresser.”

“Gary” turned out to be Williams.

Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind premieres on Monday, July 16 at 8 p.m. ET on HBO.

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Walt Disney Pictures
10 Facts About Hocus Pocus
Walt Disney Pictures
Walt Disney Pictures

In a 2014 Reddit AMA, Bette Midler said she'd be interested in doing a Hocus Pocus sequel. "You have to go to send in your cards to the Walt Disney company," she said. "The ball's in their court." While you get those cards ready, here are some facts about the original, which arrived in theaters 25 years ago today.

1. THE STORY ORIGINATED AS A BEDTIME STORY.

The story for Hocus Pocus came about after writer David Kirschner invented a bedtime story for his kids. He later wrote the story up and submitted it to Muppet Magazine (why does this not still exist?), where it gained recognition.

2. THE WRITERS USED PROPS TO PITCH IT TO STUDIO EXECUTIVES.

Bette Midler in 'Hocus Pocus' (1993)
Walt Disney Pictures

To pitch the story to Disney, the writers had execs enter a dark room with broomsticks and a vacuum cleaner hanging from the ceiling. They also scattered 15 pounds of candy corn throughout the room in an effort to invoke Halloween nostalgia. It obviously worked!

3. IT WAS NOT AN IMMEDIATE HIT.

Though it’s a cult classic now, Hocus Pocus didn’t do that well when it first came out in 1993, perhaps because it was released in July instead of September or October. Though it didn’t have a terrible opening—$8,125,471, putting it in fourth place at the box office that weekend—it fell to $2,017,688 a few weeks later, and bad reviews from the critics didn’t help matters.

Entertainment Weekly was particularly put off by the movie, calling it a “piece of corny slapstick trash” and saying that “It’s acceptable scary-silly kid fodder that adults will find only mildly insulting. Unless they’re Bette Midler fans. In which case it’s depressing as hell.”

4. BETTE MIDLER LOVES IT.

Bette Midler, by the way, has said that Hocus Pocus is her favorite film out of all of the films she’s ever done. (At least as of 2008.) Thora Birch agreed, recently saying, “The most fun I ever had on a film was Hocus Pocus.”

5. KATHY NAJIMY LOVES IT, TOO.

Midler isn't the only star of the film who isn't immune to its allure: Kathy Najimy has said she watches the movie with her family every year on August 15.

6. IT COULD HAVE STARRED LEONARDO DICAPRIO.

The role of Max was originally offered to Leonardo DiCaprio. He turned it down to do What’s Eating Gilbert Grape.

7. SARAH JESSICA PARKER IS RELATED TO A WOMAN FAMOUSLY ACCUSED OF BEING A WITCH.

Had Sarah Jessica Parker known then what she knows now, she might have approached the role of Sarah Sanderson a little differently. When the actress went on the show Who Do You Think You Are to trace her family history, Parker discovered that one of her ancestors was Esther Elwell, one of the women accused of being a witch during the Salem Witch Trials. After a young girl said she saw Esther’s “spectre” strangling neighbor Mary Fitch, Elwell was arrested, but escaped going to trial.

8. THORA BIRCH REVISITED THE NEIGHBORHOOD IN AMERICAN BEAUTY.

While the kids are prematurely celebrating victory against the Sanderson sisters after locking them in the kiln, they’re shown talking in front of a house as they walk to a park. The house was later used as the house Thora Birch’s character lived in for American Beauty.

9. THE KIDS WEREN'T HUGE FANS OF THE CATS.

The kids all hated working with the cats. Many different cats were used to represent Binx, and each one served a different purpose—one was good at cuddling with the kids, one would jump on command, etc. Every time a new cat was used, the children would have to coerce the kitty to trust them by using treats and a clicker. They got sick of it.

10. MUCH OF THE ORIGINAL CAST REUNITED FOR A 20TH REUNION.

Most of the cast participated in a 20th anniversary event for D23 (the Disney fan club) members. Sarah Jessica Parker and Bette Midler were not in attendance, but pretty much everyone else was, including Kathy Najimy (Mary Sanderson), Vinessa Shaw (Allison), Omri Katz (Max), Thora Birch (Dani), and Doug Jones (Billy Butcherson). You can watch some of that reunion above.

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