Eddie Redmayne had been sailing along, getting steady work co-starring in a number of art house films such as “The Yellow Handkerchief” and “The Other Boleyn Girl,” when he received a career- and life-changing Best Actor Oscar for his starring role as Stephen Hawking in “The Theory of Everything” (2014). That freed him up to start taking chances, playing a whispering villain in “Jupiter Ascending,” donning women’s clothing and getting an Oscar nomination for “The Danish Girl,” and, two years ago, bringing to life the role of the wizard Newt Scamander in the Harry Potter spinoff “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.” In the upcoming sequel, “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald,” Redmayne, 36, reprises the part of the benevolent wand-waver, playing him a little darker and a little wiser. He spoke about the film last week in Los Angeles.
Q: You play a wizard who gets along well with all sorts of strange creatures. Was there any sort of preparation or research for taking on the character?
A: I met some trackers, people who follow creatures for a living, and learned about the way they move and the way they walk and the way they talk. That was interesting. One of the amazing things about what J.K. Rowling (who wrote the Potter books and this film’s source book) does is she creates these fantastical worlds and characters, but they’re always so grounded in something real.
Q: It’s been reported that she was on the set a lot, speaking with the cast and crew, helping to develop the film as it was being made.
A: She does come on set, and she’ll whisper things into our ears. You see it happening to other actors across the room while you’re trying to do your scene, and you’re thinking, “What is it? What do they know that I don’t know?” (laughs)
Q: So, you’re taking suggestions from her, you’re listening to your director, and you’re adding your own contributions?
A: Another amazing thing about J.K. is that, like other people who are so extraordinarily talented and content in their own skin and imagination, she writes these scripts, they’re detailed, they’re formidable. Then she hands it over to you and says, “OK, go play with it!” So, you also get to invent and come up with ideas.
Q: What was the experience of playing Newt a second time like?
A: It’s an amazing feeling coming back to characters because I’ve never had it before. It’s why actors love doing plays. If you’re doing a play, and you screw it up, you can try to fix it the next night. With film, you can’t do that. You have half a day to do the scene, and then you’re driving home in your car, and you flipping come up with a brilliant idea halfway home, and you go, “Bugger! I can’t do anything about that!” What’s lovely about this is we get to jump back into it. And you’ve had time between the first film and the second film to let those characters sit in you and kind of marinate in you. The relationship between my character and Katherine Waterston’s Tina has suddenly gone wrong, but they stick to their guns and get pushed to the edge of themselves.
Q: You did a lot of work on real sets in the film, but the beasts, both large and small, were all CG. What kinds of challenges does that present to you?
A: Chasing the (platypus-like) baby nifflers was fun. I was thinking of hacky sacks, and I went down a YouTube hole of extraordinary talented people who play hacky sack games of keeping them up in the air and catching them on weird parts of their body. I had the idea that catching the baby nifflers should be like that. So, to begin, I started playing with little green hacky sacks, and I spent four days practicing with them just to see if I could catch one in my pocket. But I soon said this isn’t going to work, so I had to mime it. It was funny to watch the filming of that scene because there was nothing in the air and I looked like I was doing some bonkers dance.
“Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald” opens on Nov. 16.
— Ed Symkus writes about movies for More Content Now. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.