Expectations for this fall’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them are running very high. The film will return eager fans to J.K. Rowling’s Wizarding World; however, it will have nothing to do with her most famous creation: Harry Potter. Instead, Fantastic Beasts will follow the misadventure of Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), a magizoologist who inadvertently releases a menagerie of magical creatures loose in New York City. And that may seem an odd choice to some, especially seeing as Rowling has produced a stage sequel to her Harry Potter series, but Fantastic Beasts aims to be its own thing; something familiar but also new.
That the film is the same but different is exactly what drew director David Yates to the project. For Yates, there was concern over returning to direct Fantastic Beasts after helming four of the Harry Potter films, saying in a recent interview that he “was really nervous ’cause I had to really fall in love with it to come back, ” adding, “I didn’t know if I could come back.”
Obviously, Yates did choose to come back, explaining his reason for doing so to Collider: “It [the script] was just the most delightful read. It was charming, moving, tender. It felt fresh and it was with a bunch of people that I really love working with so, it was a bit of a no-brainer.” But it wasn’t only the “charming, moving, tender” story that brought Yates on board, but the opportunity that directing Fantastic Beasts offered to leave his own mark on the Wizarding World:
“Do you know what was lovely for me, is with Potter the train had already left the station when I jumped on it. You know it was half way along the tracks and I got to do my thing with it but all the pieces were already on the table. Whereas, with this movie I built it from the ground up effectively. So, for a filmmaker and the storyteller that is always the most exciting thing—to sort of cast it, to create it, to build it. I loved Jo’s concept of just dropping it into New York in 1926. Taking her universe but putting it through that paradigm was really exciting. And works.”
Perhaps some filmmakers would find such a challenge daunting, to be given such responsibility in crafting a new chapter in already beloved franchise, but Yates considers it freeing:
“It’s liberating… it’s incredibly liberating. And also, you know with the books, everybody had their own their own idea of what certain characters should be like, how the story should evolve. You’re always working in the context of people’s expectations which is fine and great and wonderful, as it should be actually ’cause they are wonderful books. But what’s marvelous about this series is nobody has ever read them. (laughs) And they feel really fresh and we’re not limited by page one to page four hundred and sixty five of something that pre-exists.”
Yates directed the last four movies in the Harry Potter series, so it’s true that by the time he joined the franchise practically everything about those films was already established. That isn’t the case with Fantastic Beasts, and even though Rowling has been hard at work crafting her vision of the magical community in America, it’ll be Yates’ version that will be many in the audience’s first introduction.
For more on how Yates prepared for the film’s aesthetics, atmosphere, and its more overt political and social themes, head on over to Collider for their full interview.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them opens in U.S. theaters on November 18th, 2016, followed by Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them 2 on November 16th, 2018.