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