Interview: ‘Fantastic Beasts’ Producer David Heyman on Newt, Grindelwald, and Working With J.K. Rowling
Posted on Wednesday, November 23rd, 2016 by Angie Han
David Heyman has been with the Harry Potter film franchise since its very beginning, producing all eight films released from 2001 through 2011. Now he’s back for the spinoff, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, which is slated to run for a total of five films. In an interview with /Film, Heyman discussed how the project got going, working with J.K. Rowling, the unusual new hero, and the scary appeal of Grindelwald. Plus, a minor update on his Willy Wonka movie. Read our Fantastic Beasts David Heyman interview below.
When and how was the decision made to come back to the Harry Potter franchise and to start that up again?
When Harry Potter finished, there were some mixed feelings. It was very sad, because we’d become a family sort of, and we all went our separate ways. But that was exciting also, new challenges, new films, new projects. So I went off and made a couple films. I did Gravity and I made a film called Paddington. Then halfway through the beginning of my work on Paddington, Potter began knocking in my head. I was with [producer] Lionel Wigram and we were trying to figure out how could we come back to this world? And Lionel had the idea of doing a documentary about Newt Scamander, a faux documentary where we go with him to see as he’s looking for his magical beasts. Pitched that idea to Jo, she said, you know, it’s funny, I’ve been thinking about Newt Scamander myself, and I have this whole story about him, and what do you think of it? She told us and we went, uh-huh.
And she says, so yeah, and I’d like to write the screenplay. And [we had] mixed feelings about that, because she’s a novelist, she’s never written a screenplay before. So when the screenplay arrived — she handed it to me. And I read it. And as soon as I opened it, I felt [dramatic sigh] relief. Because while it was very rough, it’s a first draft from a person who had written their first screenplay, the characters were so vivid. The scenes were thrilling. It’s a bit whimsical, a bit light, didn’t have the gravitas that one would have liked, that one associates with Potter. And then the second — we hired David Yates, brought David Yates on, Steve Kloves and myself and Lionel and David. And then Jo did a second draft. And that draft was really dark. Really, really dark.
What made it so dark?
It was just quite violent, it was quite ugly. The abuse of Credence was probably featured much more strongly, much more overtly, the suggestion of it was much more explicit. We saw things happening to characters. So we pulled back from that. The big thing was Jo finding her tone. Once she found the tone the rest fell into place quite quickly. She’s amazing. She’s a writer. She’s voracious. She writes and writes and writes and writes and it just pours out of her, ideas. It’s an amazing thing. This, we’re working on the second script with David and she’d written a first draft, and David asked her to do a treatment, some structural treatment, and two days later, a 102-page scriptment — half script, half treatment — arrived. How does anybody do that? She just locks herself away, she’ll go to a cafe or something and just write. It just pours out, which is amazing.
Part of the appeal of the Harry Potter movies is it’s about watching this little kid grow up and I know a lot of the fanbase is really young. Is that something you were concerned about at all about when you decided to launch a spinoff with adult characters and an adult cast?
No way, you don’t think of it that way. You just tell a story that feels organic. So making the films, and writing the films I imagine, it’s about being true to what you create. If we thought about the audience, if we made the film with the audience as our main directive, we would be paralyzed. We couldn’t do a thing. The pressure, the expectation, it would be too great. We wouldn’t be able to do a thing. Ultimately, we are the harshest critics. Myself and David and the film, Jo with the script, Steve, Lionel, we are really tough on ourselves. We have to tell the story that we can respond to.
And actually, Harry’s grown up now. He’s 18 years old. So what would we be telling? Going back and telling a story of Newt and Tina and Queenie and Jacob, who are outsiders like Harry, Ron, and Hermione, who are awkward, who create their own family, not a family they’re born into, a family they create, who are dealing with issues of being outsiders, like Harry, Ron, and Hermione, who in themes of being outsiders, being ostracized, about being stigmatized, about tolerance and intolerance, about a world divided, about the dangers of repression, those are things that are all through Harry Potter, that darkness, those rich themes, and that’s very much at play here in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. So no, we didn’t think about that. We just wanted to tell a story about characters. And the way Tina, Queenie, and Newt are also, they are like child adults. They have an innocence, a purity about them. So no, it wasn’t really a concern at all.