Two years ago, “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” transported audiences back to the wizarding world that has captured their hearts and ignited their imaginations. Now, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald is the second of five all new adventures in the Wizarding World™ created by J.K. Rowling, who also wrote the screenplay.
At the end of the first film, the powerful Dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald (Johnny Depp) was captured by MACUSA (Magical Congress of the United States of America), with the help of Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne). But, making good on his threat, Grindelwald escaped custody and has set about gathering followers, most unsuspecting of his true agenda: to raise pure-blood wizards up to rule over all non-magical beings. In an effort to thwart Grindelwald’s plans, Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) enlists Newt, his former student, who agrees to help, unaware of the dangers that lie ahead. Lines are drawn as love and loyalty are tested, even among the truest friends and family, in an increasingly divided wizarding world.
The film reunited director David Yates, screenwriter/producer J.K. Rowling, and producers David Heyman, Steve Kloves and Lionel Wigram, all of whom had collaborated on “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.”
Set in America in the mid-1920s, “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” enticed fans with just a few fleeting allusions to the Harry Potter stories: a brief mention that Magizoologist Newt Scamander was kicked out of Hogwarts; that his only defender had been a certain Professor Albus Dumbledore; and the powerful Dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald, after wreaking havoc in Europe, had vanished. As the story continues in the second adventure, “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald,” those threads become even more intertwined.
Screenwriter and producer J.K. Rowling offers, “Within the ‘Fantastic Beasts’ franchise, I am telling a story that is only hinted at in the Harry Potter books—the rise of Grindelwald, who profoundly threatened both the wizarding and non-wizarding worlds, and his antagonist, Dumbledore, who, of course, is a key figure in the Potter stories. Grindelwald is first mentioned in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, so he was there from the beginning though he was more of a mysterious background character. You know he must have been important to figure so prominently in Dumbledore’s own history, but it is only when you reach the end of the Potter series that you find out just how important he was…and you might also intuit that there must be much more to tell. I think this was the story I was most interested in revisiting because it’s so crucial to understanding Dumbledore, who is my favorite character,” she acknowledges.
At the helm of his sixth Wizarding World adventure, director David Yates recalls, “When Jo [Rowling] sent me the new script, my first impression was how different it felt to the first film we had made. This story is more layered and more intricate, with new character strands developing, and it’s also a lot darker. But what really blew me away was how she created this feeling of an emotional thriller, with twists and turns I never saw coming. Jo is constantly evolving the universe she’s built and, for me as a filmmaker, that makes coming back inspiring and always challenging.”
Heyman, who has produced all the Wizarding World movies, adds, “Jo invents stories that are so richly conceived and entertaining, with such vividly realized characters. There are themes in the film which are in some ways along similar lines to Potter—good versus evil, love and loss, friendship and loyalty, identity and feeling outcast… There is also a strong thread about choices—choosing to take a side, or not—and the impact that has, not only on an individual but on everyone around him or her. These are universally relatable ideas that transcend any one time or place, so even though the story unfolds in a magical world, it’s like holding a mirror up to our own.”
Yates agrees. “Jo’s stories are not just for our time, they’re for all time. She has an extraordinary ability to tap into themes that speak to people of diverse generations and cultures. One reason is that her heroes are not always obvious because they’re often underestimated.”
Much has transpired since Magizoologist Newt Scamander departed New York for London, leaving a hopeful Tina Goldstein on the dock, and since Queenie Goldstein entered the bustling bakery owned by No-Maj Jacob Kowalski, who—despite having his memories obliviated—seems to show a somewhat bemused spark of recognition. In the months that have passed, Newt completed his book, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, which has become a bestseller. Queenie and Jacob have begun a furtive romance in violation of the American wizarding world laws forbidding it. And their relationship has caused a rift between Queenie and her sister, Tina, who, having been reinstated to MACUSA’s Auror ranks, is responsible for enforcing those laws.
Reprising the role of Newt, Eddie Redmayne notes, “For the first movie, J.K. Rowling created four unique characters, all of whom were outsiders and struggling in their own way. It is only through the connections they develop with each other—through that symbiosis—that they thrive and find happiness and even love. But in the interim, through miscommunication and circumstance, things have shifted.”
Rejoining Redmayne as the original quartet are Katherine Waterston as Tina, Dan Fogler as Jacob, and Alison Sudol as Queenie. Waterston comments, “When we met these characters, they were all struggling to come into their own, but hadn’t quite gotten there yet. I found it was very compelling to explore how the important relationships in our lives push us, enlighten us, and help us grow. And J.K. Rowling has brilliantly weaved that idea—of the power of friendship—throughout this continuing, ever-expanding story.”
For all the actors, one of the most exciting aspects of coming back for the second film was that “the roots of this story are embedded in the Potter lore we all know and love,” says Redmayne. “The histories that were only touched on before are being torn open and explored. And the stakes are that much higher.”
The links to Potter are immediately evident as, near the start of the film, Newt is mysteriously summoned by his former professor, now mentor and friend, Albus Dumbledore.
Taking on the role of the beloved character, Jude Law is quick to clarify, “This is the Dumbledore who is not yet the great Headmaster at Hogwarts. He is closer to the formative, and more traumatic, experiences in his life that perhaps color him. What was especially interesting for me—and for us as a team—was to try and layer in foundation points that keep him closely related to the Dumbledore we know, but with room to grow and learn and to make mistakes. And the stories we’re telling will show the evolution of the character.”
Wizarding World aficionados know there is one figure from Dumbledore’s past who is inexorably tied to his evolution: Gellert Grindelwald.
Arrested by MACUSA at the end of “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,” Grindelwald proves his powers are not to be underestimated—escaping in dramatic, and lethal, fashion. Once free, Heyman relates, “He begins to engineer events to further his cause: that wizards no longer have to live in secret, and that they should emerge from the shadows and be the dominating force in the world. He truly believes wizards are superior and should act accordingly. And he is very persuasive.”
Yates says Grindelwald is a very different type of villain from the evil Lord Voldemort. “If you disagreed with Voldemort, he would kill you in an instant. But Grindelwald is incredibly beguiling. He would rather win people over to his side than annihilate them, and he is smart enough to understand you have to win hearts and minds, not coerce people, to gain their allegiance. So, whereas Voldemort was something of a thug, Grindelwald is a much more sophisticated player…and all the more dangerous for it.”
Johnny Depp, who returns as Grindelwald, adds, “There is a rhythm to the way Grindelwald speaks, a cadence, that draws you in. Ultimately, what I felt about the character in terms of his presence is that it would be an exercise in stillness. I mean, his words are important, but what’s even more important with Grindelwald is the subtext of those words. It is the dialogue that’s silent—the meaning between the lines. It’s almost hypnotic.”
Grindelwald’s ability to enthrall the masses leads to what Yates defines as a pivotal theme of the story. “These are circumstances when some characters will ultimately have to decide what they believe in. Will they choose a side or stand passively by and watch the world consumed in flame? That resonates throughout this film. And Jo has woven that into the search for the identity of one of the main characters who was known as Credence Barebone.”
Played by Ezra Miller, Credence was revealed in the last film to be an Obscurial—a born wizard whose powers were suppressed to the point of becoming an Obscurus, a parasitical force deadly to its host, usually at a very young age. Rowling says, “You could justifiably have believed Credence had been killed, but, in fact, you can’t kill an Obscurial when they’re in Obscurus form. He survived, but the big question for him now is, ‘Who am I?’ His quest for his true identity is what propels him and becomes one of the major story strands in this movie. Who is Credence?”
Miller offers, “As she’s done at every stage, beginning with Harry Potter, J.K. Rowling has taken the story to a new level of intrigue. She’s delving even deeper into ideas that permeate all of her works—about the magic that exists in the connections between people, and people trying to find each other…and themselves.”
Credence’s search for his identity directly or indirectly affects almost every other character in the film, including Credence’s friend and confidante, Nagini, played by Claudia Kim; a French-African wizard named Yusuf Kama, played by William Nadylam; Newt’s older brother, Theseus, played by Callum Turner; and Theseus’s fiancée, Leta Lestrange, played by Zoë Kravitz, whose picture was seen in Newt’s workshop in the previous “Fantastic Beasts” film.
“I loved the first movie,” Kravitz states, “and it was amazing to see it knowing I would soon be part of this incredible world of witchcraft and wizardry. But this film is a bit deeper, playing with some interesting ideas in the place between the dark and the light. It asks, ‘Which path will you take?’”
“We can relate to these characters and the journeys they’re on,” Heyman remarks. “But a film can only be as good as the people working on it, so we are fortunate to have the very best, both in front of and behind the camera, all pushing the envelope to make each movie better than the last. David Yates is an extraordinary director. He captures the essence of each character in the most beautiful way and is also able to marshal thousands of people in pursuit of a single vision. And he does it by inspiring, encouraging and paying attention to every detail. We also had the benefit of many people from the first film again collaborating with David, including Stuart Craig, Colleen Atwood, Philippe Rousselot, Mark Day, Tim Burke, Christian Manz, Fae Hammond and James Newton Howard. It adds great continuity as we bring the next chapter of the story to the screen.”
J.K. Rowling (Screenwriter / Producer) is the author of the record-breaking, multi award-winning Harry Potter series of seven novels, published between 1997 and 2007. Loved all over the world, the series has sold more than 500 million copies worldwide, been distributed in more than 200 territories, translated into 80 languages, and made into eight blockbuster films, which earned a combined $7.7 billion worldwide.
Rowling also wrote three Harry Potter companion volumes: Quidditch Through the Ages and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, written in aid of Comic Relief and her children’s charity, Lumos; and The Tales of Beedle the Bard in aid of Lumos.
Rowling made her screenwriting debut in 2016 on “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,” the film inspired by the book, on which she also served as a producer. The film earned more than $800 million at the global box office. She is currently at work on the screenplay for the third film in the “Fantastic Beasts” series.
Apart from her literary and screen work, Rowling collaborated on the smash hit stage play “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Parts One and Two,” a play by Jack Thorne with original story by J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne, and John Tiffany. The play opened to rave reviews in London’s West End in 2016. Two years later, the play began its hugely successful run on Broadway. “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Parts One and Two” won nine Olivier Awards and six Tony Awards, both including Best Play. New productions are set to be mounted in San Francisco, California; Melbourne, Australia; and Hamburg, Germany, with more to come.
Her first novel for adult readers, The Casual Vacancy, was published in September 2012 and adapted for TV by the BBC in 2015. Her Cormoran Strike crime novels, written under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith, include The Cuckoo’s Calling, published in 2013; The Silkworm, published in 2014; Career of Evil, in 2015; and Lethal White, in 2018. They have been adapted for television, produced by Brontë Film and TV.
Rowling’s 2008 Harvard commencement speech was published in 2015 as an illustrated book, Very Good Lives: The Fringe Benefits of Failure and the Importance of Imagination, and sold in aid of her charity Lumos and university–wide financial aid at Harvard. Her digital company, Pottermore, was launched in 2012, for fans to enjoy news, features and articles from the Wizarding World.