Behind the scenes of Fantastic Beasts: Jacob Kowalski

Dan Fogler’s hapless New Yorker No-Maj won our hearts when we watched Fantastic Beasts. So how was his character conceived?

Jacob Off-Duty
Layouts © HarperCollins Publishers/© WBEI. (s18) The Case of Beasts

As the first Muggle or No-Maj protagonist of J.K. Rowling’s magical universe, Jacob Kowalski represents another window into her worldview. ‘One of the more delightful aspects of the story is that you’re taken into it with Jacob,’ says David Yates. ‘And we are Jacob. We experience many of these things from his point of view. And he’s delightful.’

Employed in a canning factory and living in a tenement on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, Jacob has only just returned to the United States from France after serving in World War I, a conflict that ended eight years before.

‘He’s literally the last guy back. Like no one told him it was over,’ laughs Dan Fogler who plays him. ‘Now he’s looking to start a family and goes to the bank to get a loan to open a bakery.’

Jacob's case of baked goods
Layouts © HarperCollins Publishers/© WBEI. (s18) The Case of Beasts

After Newt arrives, the two men strike up an unlikely friendship as Jacob joins him on his quest to track down his missing creatures. ‘I become Newt’s Sherpa, his guide to the city, because he doesn’t know New York,’ explains Fogler.

‘That’s kind of like the Sherlock/Watson origin story. These two guys from very separate parts of the spectrum coming together. I teach him how to be a person with people. Newt introduces me to this magical, amazing, fantastic world. The Sherlock Holmes and Watson aspect really spoke to me. This is a fairy tale with wizards and witches and crazy creatures. Jacob becomes incredibly fascinated with this other universe.’

In addition to this new magical world, Jacob finds himself enchanted with Queenie, Tina’s younger sister who also works at MACUSA. ‘Queenie is an angel,’ says Fogler. ‘The two of them start to fall in love and it gives Jacob a real reason to stick around, but in the wizarding world there are strict laws that say we’re not allowed to be together. It’s forbidden, which mirrors the racism of the time. It’s really beautiful how J.K. [Rowling] parallels all these cultural issues in the story.’

‘[When] Jacob gets thrown into this magical adventure, he can’t quite believe it,’ says producer David Heyman. ‘Things haven’t gone his way. However, he has always remained an enthusiast, full of possibility, believing in the possibilities of life and when he encounters these magical folk, he sees a whole world he could have never imagined.’

Read more behind-the-scenes facts in The Case of Beasts: Explore the Film Wizardry of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, from HarperCollins.