J.K. Rowling and the cast of Fantastic Beasts bring magic to New York

The Pottermore Correspondent

J.K. Rowling and Eddie Redmayne at the world premiere of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
J.K. Rowling and Eddie Redmayne at the world premiere of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Photography by Atlantic Images / Janet Mayer.

J.K. Rowling and the cast of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them hit the red (well, black) carpet last night in New York to celebrate the film’s world premiere. Pottermore simply had to be there…

It was quite a day for the wizarding world. J.K. Rowling and the cast and creative team behind Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them came to Alice Tully Hall in New York for the film’s world premiere.

Earlier that day, at a press conference on the West Side of Manhattan, I had seen the central cast, David Yates, David Heyman and J.K. Rowling field questions from the press. To get to my seat, I walked through a 1920s street scene, bathed in autumnal colours with ‘Wanted’ posters plastered across the walls.

Tina, Newt, Queenie and Jacob were ‘on the run and extremely dangerous,’ but their real-life actor equivalents looked perfectly lovely to me, if momentarily shy. As the host directed his questions to the cast, Dan Fogler began to talk about Jacob…

‘I haven’t done this in front of her!’ he said, his gravelly voice cracking.

It’s a feeling I could relate to, standing in the press tent at the premiere hours later.

Almost without warning, an elegant figure in black evening dress appeared in front of me. A shimmering gold salamander on her hip, gold clutch bag in hand. It could only be one person.

I asked J.K. Rowling what it was about Newt Scamander and this era of the wizarding world that made her want to write the screenplay for Fantastic Beasts. She told me that Newt had been on her mind for quite some time.

‘When I wrote the little book for Comic Relief, Newt just lodged in my head and I just knew more about Newt than I needed to know,’ she said with a wry smile. ‘And that’s always a good sign because that was organic – that just happened.

‘I always knew that Warner Bros. had optioned the rights to that book, so there was a possibility they’d want to do something with it one day. I never really thought about that until they said, ‘Right, the moment’s come – we’d like to make a movie.’ So then I semi-panicked and I thought, ‘Well, it’s really important that I tell them what I know about Newt then!’ So I basically sat down to write what I knew about Newt and that led us here, because I ended up writing the screenplay.’

J.K. Rowling with the cast of Fantastic Beasts
J.K. Rowling with the cast of Fantastic Beasts. Photography by Atlantic Images / Janet Mayer.

Katherine Waterston, Ezra Miller, Dan Fogler and Alison Sudol made their way through the throngs of press and co-stars. Eddie Redmayne bounded towards me, saying he was delighted to watch his wizarding world debut.

‘I’m so excited to see it with an audience tonight,’ he said. ‘Quite often I don’t particularly like watching myself in things. But I thought with this film there’s so much heart in it, it’s one I’d like to see it with an audience. Properly excited to see it, but a little bit of fear.

Just minutes in Eddie’s company is enough to understand how protective he is about Newt; the sense of responsibility he feels in playing someone so close to J.K. Rowling’s heart. I asked him what he loves about Mr Scamander.

‘What I love is that he’s idiosyncratic and, like all of J.K. Rowling’s characters, he’s complicated. He is this weird anomaly in that he’s incredibly competent with his creatures and in his world, but the second that he’s with human beings then it’s all kinds of delicate and complicated.’

Time and time again, we’ve heard from the cast of Fantastic Beasts that David Yates is pretty much the nicest director in the world. I asked him what it means to have that kind of reputation.

‘Do you know what, it’s lovely to hear that,’ he beamed. ‘At the same time, I’m always thinking how can I be a better director and push myself forward to give them more? Or get more out of them.’ That makes me think, ‘Oh mate, do I really want to be like that? I want to give you hell next time!’

‘Seriously though, you always question the way you work and I do nurture and I do support and I do feel it’s about empowering and making people feel safe. Because if you feel safe, you’ll take a risk – and that’s important. At the same time, I want to really push them in the next one. I’m working out a strategy for that and it won’t always be by being nice! You heard it here first!’

David also told me that J.K. Rowling worked so fast, the production had to keep up with her.

‘It’s been marvellous, it’s been really inspiring. She is an extraordinary writer, obviously, but she’s such a worker. She’s very diligent, and she wants it to be right and she’s really fast too – we have to keep up with her!

‘And Steve Kloves is important in all of this. Jo trusts him implicitly and I do, he’s a kind of guiding spirit. He’s not here tonight, frustratingly, because he hates this kind of thing. He’d much rather just work. But he’s hugely important.’

Harry Potter film actors lent their support at the world premiere too. Evanna Lynch told me she was thrilled to see Fantastic Beasts, ‘partly as a Potter fan but also as an animal person,’ and mentioned her fondness for Pickett the Bowtruckle. ‘He’s so cute, so precious!’

With self-proclaimed Harry Potter super fan Ezra Miller now part of the wizarding world, I asked Evanna if she’d be interested in a head-to-head sometime in the future.

‘I need to catch up on my trivia though!’

Bumping into Bonnie Wright, as you do, Tina and Queenie came up in conversation – two leading witches in a new chapter of the wizarding world. Does this meet Ginny Weasley’s approval?

‘Oh yes,’ she said. ‘We always knew that Jo was amazing at writing female characters. Ginny and Hermione were amazing characters; that was something we always knew was her strong point. I think it’s really lovely for two new actresses to step into that space.

‘It’s always down to Jo. The depth and breadth and richness of her writing. She leaves no stone unturned and she creates this world that you want to explore. There’s so much history to it, there are so many amazing references in it and that’s really interesting. I think essentially what [her writing] always has is that loyalty and friendship and love element to it that we’ll always look for and come back to.’

And for once, Bonnie told me, she gets to ‘relax and eat my popcorn’ without anyone judging her homework.

‘I’m so excited, it’s this very strange feeling to be part of this family. I feel like I can be an audience member, like everyone else was.’

It’s been over a year since Pottermore strode onto the set of Fantastic Beasts in high-vis and sturdy shoes (glamour, darling). Over a year since we met the lighting technicians, make-up artists, stunt coordinators, production designers and the remarkable cast and creative team that have made this film what it is.

‘Can you believe we’ve made it this far?’ Eddie Redmayne asked me, just minutes before we walked into the theatre.

I really can’t, but how wonderful that we have.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is out in cinemas on 18 November.

Now available
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them – The Original Screenplay