Thursday 20th Oct 2016
Alison Sudol plays Queenie Goldstein in Fantastic Beasts. Direct from the set, she tells the Pottermore Correspondent about getting the part and feeling like an older sister to Harry Potter fans the world over.
‘Cut!’ The scene involving a number of New York witches and wizards ends and Alison Sudol walks out of frame and straight over to me. She’s in costume: a shimmering swathe of fabric that looks peach or pink, depending on the light, and a wig of cherubic curls. We sit on rickety chairs in the make-up tent and Alison starts by telling me how she became Queenie Goldstein, a witch and a Legilimens living with her sister in 1926 New York.
‘I came into this just so deeply in love with Queenie as a character and wanting to be a part of this…’ – she gestures around the room with an incredulous grin – ‘with every ounce of me.’
Alison auditioned for the role of Queenie in New York alongside Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston and Dan Fogler, before flying to the UK for screen tests. While David Yates assembled his perfect cast, she waited to hear about the biggest role of her career.
Alison has been a singer for many years, releasing three albums as A Fine Frenzy. She’s performed on The Tonight Show, How I Met Your Mother, House and So You Think You Can Dance, she plays Kaya on the hit TV show Transparent and was in an episode of CSI:NY. But nothing quite like this. Nothing compares to this.
‘This is all new to me,’ she says, swiping aside a rogue curl. ‘I’m a much newer actress than everybody else and there was a lot of pressure coming into it. But I had this strange feeling during the auditions that there was a huge force behind me; I could either get smashed underneath it and crumble because of how much I wanted it and how big this was, or step on top of it and let it push me upwards.
'I just tried to stay out of the way and bring joy and truth to the moment and see what happened. After my auditions, I didn’t hear for a while. I was face-planted on the bed many times. I was crying in yoga, all kinds of embarrassing stuff, because I was so worried about it.’
When Alison landed the role, she had to become Queenie and that meant spending a lot of time in hair, make-up and costume, transforming the modern singer into a 1920s bombshell with magical abilities. It was a character she built from her heart, the clues in J.K. Rowling’s script, and the aesthetic insights she was given. That process saw her became this fascinatingly complex character, someone Alison is clearly proud to play.
‘I think compassion is what united Queenie and I, and I had to sort of work on the architecture from there,’ she says. ‘It was a beautiful choice on J.K. Rowling’s part, to give Queenie such depth, so you can’t just pin her down as one thing. With women's roles it’s very easy to say, “Oh she’s a this or she’s a that.” It can be a very one-dimensional sort of thing, like it’s one tagline per woman. But with Queenie she’s fun-loving and adventurous and mischievous and free but she’s also incredibly soulful and deep and still.
'Most of the time when you have a girl who is said to be –' Alison gets momentarily bashful, perhaps unaccustomed to thinking of herself as beautiful '– a bombshell or whatever, she’s really self-aware. But Queenie’s too busy paying attention to everyone else to be focused on herself, which I love.’
The way Alison tells it, playing a woman like Queenie was quite a departure from her usual attitude at work.
‘I come from the music world, where you’re constantly surrounded by men and you feel like you’re in really intimate situations all the time working with guys,’ she says. ‘I found music a very non-feminine place to be in, so embracing this level of femininity has been a really interesting challenge for me. It really was difficult for me to go, “Okay, I can be soft and feminine and strong and take care of myself and not lessen myself.” I’ve enjoyed that quite a bit, I’ve enjoyed wearing heels and a dress every day and having these lovely curls and soft fabrics.’
And this is all before we get to the fandom. When we speak, Alison is midway through shooting Fantastic Beasts. She hasn’t been to a premiere yet. She hasn’t attended Comic-Con. She can only guess at this stage what it will be like when the movie comes out in November. What it will be like to be part of this great, big, rollicking franchise. But she’s looking forward to finding out.
‘I am excited to connect with the Harry Potter fan base. I think that people who are receptive to J.K. Rowling’s Wizarding World are also receptive to compassion and optimism. They want goodness.
‘And I’m excited to connect with young women particularly because I feel like I’m playing an older sister to the early Harry Potter age range [of fans]. We all grew up on it together. I’m a few years older than the characters were and I want to just talk to people about what it’s like to feel different – to feel like an outsider, to grow up struggling to find my place in the world and becoming a woman. I don’t do this for the fame. Fame is ephemeral. I do this to relate to people.’