JK Rowling says her characters are outsiders. Is Newt Scamander an outsider? He likes his magical creatures more than he likes people.
‘Yes. What I love about him is that he is absolutely his own person. As a consequence, he can be quite prickly. At the beginning of the film he doesn’t care what people think of him. You see his heart through his relationship with his creatures. He’s also been damaged by relationships in the past. That’s something Jo and I talked about: he has many qualities to him that aren’t obviously heroic.’
Well, he is a Hufflepuff.
'He’s a Hufflepuff! I love Hufflepuffs – they’re loyal, kind, open-hearted.’
Hufflepuff is JK Rowling’s favourite house. Have you done the sorting test?
‘I have and I’m a Hufflepuff. What’s interesting is that when I did the Patronus test, I did it twice, and ended up with a basset hound both times. The people from Pottermore were like “That’s impossible. There are 8 gazillion variations.” But I’m happy with a basset hound.’
Newt’s magical creatures were added during post-production. You worked on it with the same physical coach as you did on ‘The Theory of Everything’. Why?
‘I’m useless with green screen. I have a really shoddy imagination. And Newt’s relationships with the creatures are the heart of the film. So we spent months with puppeteers. I met the designers of the animals because they know the animals. I asked to have one on set: Pablo, who is 6' 5" and plays the little Niffler. Then sometimes we’d have almost “War Horse”-style puppets for the rehearsal. But it varied, and sometimes it just involved having little Pickett the Bowtruckle, who is a stick insect, and he would be on my hand. I’d be on the tube in London, imagining talking to this thing, and suddenly realise I’m being stared at.’
Do you still take the tube? Be honest!
‘Yes I take the tube! What’s the other option in London? This morning they sent a car and it took an hour to go half a mile to get here. On the tube, it would have taken ten minutes. I’m a bit of cyclist too, but my bike got nicked, right outside the front door. Not happy!’
Do people try and take sneaky photos of you with their phones on the tube?
‘There’s the odd surreptitious one, which is funny because you have this incredibly embarrassing thing: the flash goes off, you look up and they look, and then you have this awkward 40 seconds to the next stop.’
What was it like meeting JK Rowling for the first time?
‘It was a week before we started filming. I felt slightly embarrassed afterwards, because there wasn’t much polite chit-chat. She was only there for an hour and I had so many questions. We just went straight into Newt. I’ve played a couple of real people, and you have diaries and books. For Newt, it was the amazing encyclopaedia that is her brain.’
Newt was expelled from Hogwarts. What’s the worst thing you ever did at school?
‘Oh my God. Did I ever come close to being expelled? No. I wasn’t deeply rebellious.’
JK Rowling is such an impressive person. Her magical power is handling Twitter trolls.
‘She’s an extraordinary human being. I’m not on Twitter for many reasons, and one of them is thin-skinnedness. Jo is so eloquent and intelligent, undermining arguments. I admire that. It’s a great strength.’
The producer of ‘Fantastic Beasts’ says you’re good at playing outsiders. But that’s not you, is it? You seem totally at ease.
‘I don’t feel like an outsider, lifewise. I’m drawn to vulnerability. I’m interested in people willing to expose their vulnerability and their passion. That’s what I love about Newt – actually I find any human attractive if they are passionate about something, because it shows a great love.’
How good is your wand-waving?
‘The wand thing is hilarious. There is part of you that’s seven years old again when the director says “Choose your wand.” Then you feel like a fool, standing there with a stick in your hand. And there were injuries – wand wrist, wizard elbow…’
‘That was genuinely a thing! We were doing these huge wizard duels, throwing your arm around left, right and centre. Colin [Farrell] and I came in one day, and we said to each other: “Mate, is your arm a bit sore?” It’s a hazard.’