Tuesday 4th Oct 2016
Eddie Redmayne, Carmen Ejogo and Dan Fogler have a little something to say about the city where this film is set.
There’s just something about New York City. It’s unlike any other place in the world: gritty, edgy, progressive, diverse, creative and always awake. People speak about it with a begrudging reverence, like they love it against their own will. Like it’s an addiction.
Real New Yorkers have the city in their blood. That’s how New York works: you inherit it, then you work hard to keep your place there. For the rest of us, New York is a city made of American dreams – broken, rescued and realised. It’s where movies are shot, markets collapse, novels are written, stars are made on Broadway and the streets are littered with canary-yellow cabs.
Perhaps that’s why J.K. Rowling chose to set her first screenplay, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, in New York. Perhaps because it’s so rich in culture, so irresistible as a setting, especially in an era like the 1920s. It’s the city none of us can look away from.
And, as it turns out, several members of the Fantastic Beasts cast have their own personal connections to New York. Katherine Waterston studied acting at the legendary Tisch School of the Arts at NYU and starred in, among other productions, the Off-Broadway hit Bachelorette.
Dan Fogler found his fame on Broadway in The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, a role for which he won a Tony. ‘I’m just a New York guy,’ he tells me over the phone from Brooklyn. ‘I’m standing on my little New York terrace right now.’
Alison Sudol got one of her first acting roles on CSI:NY and Ezra Miller trained as an opera singer at The Metropolitan Opera, or The Met.
Katherine, Dan, Alison and Ezra have all experienced that irrepressible love for New York and they’ve all had significant moments in their careers happen there. It’s a special place.
Even the quintessentially British actor Eddie Redmayne has a sweet connection to the city – one that helped him prepare for his role as Newt Scamander, the Magizoologist who arrives by boat to New York from England. ‘My grandma went on a boat to Boston via New York, a few years after Newt does,’ he tells me. ‘So she was able to tell me all the specifics of being on one of those boats and that was kind of wonderful.’
Another Brit in the cast with a personal connection to New York is Carmen Ejogo, who now lives there with her family. When we speak, she’s dressed in character as Seraphina Picquery having just walked off the MACUSA set. In the story MACUSA operates out of New York’s Woolworth Building, although filming actually took place in Leavesden, England.
It must be odd, I say, flying from New York to England to act in a movie set in New York.
‘It’s so bizarre to be a British actress who has come from New York to play an American, in London... It’s really backwards!’ she says, laughing. ‘But thankfully I’m among enough Americans on set and the sets are so realistic, that it really is home away from home. I’m totally convinced that I’m at home [in New York].’
New York isn’t special to Carmen just because it’s where she lays her head. It’s special for the same reason it’s so captivating for the rest of us: because so many iconic cinematic moments have happened there.
‘I have always been fascinated by that city,’ Carmen says. ‘I grew up watching New York on film before I ever got here and I have this image of what that looks like, particularly from the 1920s.
'I love the fact that this film is reinterpreting New York for another generation and for all of us in some way and putting its own spin on a city that so many of us love.’
And that’s precisely what happens when a J.K. Rowling story unfurls in a familiar city. With the Harry Potter films, we saw a magical reimagining of the UK with glimpses of ‘Muggle London.’ This time around, we’ll see New York – the city we all think we know so well – in a way we’ve never seen it before.