Thursday 17th Nov 2016
Eddie Redmayne tells the Pottermore Correspondent how he prepared for the role of Newt Scamander in Fantastic Beasts. It turns out his creative process involved J.K. Rowling, short trousers and an emotional rhinoceros...
‘Come on in,’ says Eddie Redmayne. He is standing at the door to his trailer. He’s wearing tracksuit trousers, Ugg boots and a charcoal dressing gown. He walks the length of the room and lands in a plump armchair.
‘You’ll be pleased to know I’m a real Harry Potter fan,’ he says, with a boyish grin. ‘I used to hear stories about those movies, and how it felt like a family on set. I was always mildly jealous, to be honest.’
Perhaps that’s why, when he got the part of Newt, Eddie asked to spend an hour with J.K. Rowling to talk about his character.
‘There was no small talk. I just said, “Right, tell me about Newt.” I had so many questions about his background and his family. It was all about J.K. Rowling’s vision and how she envisioned the world around Newt. As with all of her characters, Newt comes from somewhere in her heart. He means something to her.
‘I've played real people with historical information available about them, like Stephen Hawking and Lili Elbe, and there was a lot of intense research around those roles. But then came Newt, who is, of course, a fictional character. Jo became my research, really.’
That intense one-on-one with J.K. Rowling was not the only research Eddie did for the part. Director David Yates gave Eddie time to train in whatever way he thought he needed, so he spent a lot of time with animals and in nature, trying to get into Newt’s head.
‘One of the main routes in for me was finding the way Newt moves,’ Eddie says. ‘I went on a tracking course for a day, and this guy showed me how to live in the wild. I learned some amazing things, like how you see through peripheral vision and the different types of plants that can be used as remedies, with spit in your hands.
‘But also the way that, if you were tracking an animal...’ – Eddie gets up out of his seat and creeps a couple of feet across his trailer delicately, like you would if you were sneaking through a forest – ‘...you’re trying to be absolutely silent, so you put your weight on one foot then sort of hover the other. It's so that, when you do touch on the ground, you don’t hit any twigs. There’s this very delicate way of walking,’ he says, continuing to demonstrate.
‘There was this openness to the way the trainer walked that made me think, “Wow, let’s bring some of that in. Let’s use some of that open, duck-footed quality to how Newt moves.” I brought some of that into the way Newt walks. Colleen [Atwood] made his trousers almost too short for him, and me, and there's a tightness to the top of the coat. There’s something quite compact about him. Newt's a compact guy and that helped me find the way he moved.’
Eddie sits down, satisfied that he’s demonstrated his animal tracking technique. But an enormous part of his role as Newt is interacting with the beasts living inside his case. He had to study how humans interact with creatures, too. For that, he spent time at a zoo in Kent.
‘We met this baby anteater,’ he beams. ‘He was newly-born and he’d crawl up into himself, into a ball. His handler would tickle him on the belly, then he would sort of squeal back.’
Eddie aptly demonstrates what an unfurling anteater might look like when tickled, and continues, ‘I’d take things like that with me. When I catch the Niffler in the film, he goes to cover his pouch. I had the idea of tickling him so he moved back like the anteater and let all his treasures go.’
David Yates was insistent that Newt’s relationship with all his beasts was realistic. Despite, of course, the fact that they’d be realised in CGI during post-production. Eddie took inspiration from the animal handlers he met, then worked opposite dancers or puppeteers to get the eyeline and the sense memory for how he’d move in the scene.
‘It was really about working out the relationship Newt had with each of the animals and it’s not a human relationship,’ he says. ‘For example, I’d hear some of the sounds these handlers would make. They are not necessarily the same noise as their animal makes but it would be something that the animal reacts to.
'Like the rhinoceros in this park. The woman who handled her would calm her down when she was upset by rubbing her on her haunches, on the inner knee. I asked, “What are you doing?” She was rubbing this very thick skin around the rhino’s knee and eventually the rhino sort of moved down to the ground. It was such an odd thing but kind of wonderful. Those animal idiosyncrasies were quite fun.’
Aside from interrogating J.K. Rowling, watching an emotional rhinoceros, meeting an adorable anteater and learning to track animals through the woods, Eddie of course had the screenplay for Fantastic Beasts to build his character.
‘You start by finding as much as you can on the page,’ Eddie says. ‘You know that Newt has spent a year in the field, so you try and work out what that year would have been like. You know that when he takes off his shirt he has all these marks on his skin, so you try and work out what they are. Take this little mark here,’ Eddie says touching a set of small lines on his wrist. ‘This claw mark is from when I was battling with the Niffler. It’s sort of a war wound. You try and give each scar a little history.’
It’s clear that Eddie has become consumed with Newt during these months of filming, that he adores his character and hopes we will too. And with that, he’s called back on set, back to being Newt Scamander.