When Newt Scamander arrives in New York City at the start of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, he’s spent the best part of a year travelling the world, exploring, rehabilitating and collecting rare, exotic, and endangered magical creatures as research for his forthcoming textbook. Creatures that he keeps inside his case, in a huge, magical environment, in order to care for them and continue his studies.
‘He’s an oddball,’ says Eddie Redmayne. ‘He’s got his own agenda. He’s got his own interests and he lives his own life. In many ways he’s not a people pleaser. He is a man who feels more at home with creatures than he does with human beings.’
‘I had a really clear idea of who he was,’ says J.K. Rowling. ‘Slightly awkward in his own skin, when in human company. In the animal world, though, suddenly, completely at home. He has a quiet bravery.’
‘Everybody thinks he’s nuts because they’re dangerous, scary things,’ says director David Yates. ‘Nobody thinks beasts are a good idea to get involved with; they can kill you, they can poison you. So he’s a unique character. There’s something really sweet and endearing about him.’ Newt’s desire is to show the creatures in a different light, to educate the magical community which believes they are dangerous, posing a threat to their safety as well as alerting Muggles to their existence.
‘He sees the wonder and the brilliance in these animals,’ says Redmayne, ‘and believes the wizarding community, with a proper education, could learn to live side-by-side with these animals and appreciate how extraordinary they are.’ Although Newt spent World War One working with Ukrainian Ironbelly dragons, and the intervening years trekking around inhospitable jungles, tundra and deserts across the world, he is completely unprepared for what faces him in the urban jungle that is New York City in 1926.
‘He’s never been to New York,’ says producer David Heyman. ‘He’s never seen steam coming up from the underground. He’s never seen this much traffic in his life. He’s never seen a city as vital as New York, and so he is very much a fish out of water.’ ‘The fact he is an Englishman in New York really adds to the layers of otherness,’ says Carmen Ejogo, who stars as MACUSA President Seraphina Picquery, ‘and he is the perfect embodiment of [that] otherness. He’s certainly not your typical hero. He comes with foibles and insecurities and all kinds of messiness, from the costume to the hair to the mistakes he makes throughout.’