David Yates interview / Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Director David Yates is already intimately familiar with the Harry Potter cinematic universe, having helmed four of the eight movies. But Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them offered him a chance to do something a little different within that universe — namely, design a whole new corner of that universe from the ground up. During a recent press day in New York, he spoke with /Film about his hesitation (or rather, lack thereof) to return to the Potterverse, his plans for the sequel, and the deleted Fantastic Beasts scenes we didn’t see in the theatrical cut. Read our full David Yates interview below.

So you directed four Harry Potter movies, and now you’re back doing a spinoff. Was there any reluctance on your part to return?

Once I read the script, none at all. None at all. Because I was so excited. I mean, three things. One, the script was really delightful, even in its first draft. Two, I would have the opportunity of working directly with Jo [Rowling], and that was really exciting. With the movies, the Potter movies, we adapted the books, as you know. So Jo was always away writing the other books, and so we never really go to work with her directly. And three, I as a director, I got the chance to set the table. You know, cast the movie, build the world from the ground up, something I never had the chance to do on completely on Potter.

Yeah, because you came in halfway through.

The party was halfway through and you kind of, it’s already there. And by the way, it was fantastic already. Chris Columbus did a brilliant job in setting up all that. So it was a no-brainer. Why would you turn that down?

How early in the process did you come in on this one?

Quite early. I was there, we got the script, and then I developed the script for about a year with Jo. Steve Kloves also worked on it.

David Yates directing Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

What were the advantages and disadvantages of the fact that you didn’t have a book to work off of? Did that make it more or less challenging?

Oh, that’s much more helpful. Because with the books, everyone has a proprietary relationship with them. They know the story intimately, they’re passionate about the story and the characters, and they come into the movie theater expecting to see the movie they see in their heads. Quite rightly. People already have a sort of sense of what it should be, and everybody has a different sense of what the movie should be. So everyone is sitting at that movie theater who loves the books, already has a movie specifically that they love, centering on one character that they love. In this case, they don’t have that. They kind of have to experience the story for the first time with a group of other people in the dark of the theater. So for me, and for the rest of us, it’s a great pleasure. Because you’re actually telling the story for the very first time. And you know, people will experience it in that theater rather than buy the book. And I think it’s a natural extension in some ways.

Jo’s books were amazing in the way they ignited this social phenomena. People joined together to share what they loved about her characters. It feels fitting that as she develops the story, as she moves them forward, as she takes the universe wider, that she chooses to channel that into the theater. Which is a very social place to experience her stories. You’re sat in the theater with lots of people you’ll never meet, but you’re laughing or you’re crying or you’re jumping out of your seat together. You’re experiencing it together.

But at the same time, did you have any anxiety about going back to this world that people already, as you said, have so much invested in?

There was before I read the script. Because before I read the script, I thought, oh my gosh, is it going to be set at Hogwarts? Is it going to go back? Is it going to be… But the script, 1926 New York, new characters, a new set of themes, it didn’t feel like a retread. It didn’t feel like… you know, I remember, Steve Kloves said to me last week, he said, you know, when we first announced we were going to do Beasts, he remembered some newspaper reports and they were kind of cynical, it was like, oh, here they go. They’re just gonna milk this thing. But what those people who are writing those reports hadn’t seen was the screenplay. Which felt really fresh and really different to everything we’ve done before.

I think ultimately, Jo wouldn’t have rehashed. She’s got too profound and dynamic an imagination to ever kind of just go back and do what she’d done before. For Jo, it had to be fulfilling for her. For Jo, it’s not about money or exploiting what she’s done. She said, I don’t need money. I don’t need that. I’m not interested in that. I need to be stimulated, I need to be excited about what I’m doing. She needs to be really thrilled about bringing this story to the world. That’s what makes her write them. Not the inducement of more of the same. And that, for all of us when we read that script, it was like, wow, this feels different. In a weird way, it’s still got the values of what she created originally.

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