Eddie Redmayne has a suitcase to thank for his lead role as Newt Scamander in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. On one rainy winter night, the actor took a break from shooting The Danish Girl to take a “top secret” meeting with director David Yates about a then-unknown subject at a club in London. “It’s a basement in Soho, and it’s got a big roaring fire, big armchairs,” Yates told Vulture at the film’s premiere on Thursday. “And the great thing about having meetings there is that it’s very quiet, because I have a very soft voice, and there, people can actually hear what I’m saying!”
Yates needed a quiet spot because he was planning to tell Redmayne about Newt Scamander, the magizoologist who travels the globe researching (and taking care of) the magical creatures of the wizarding world. Despite the booklet J.K. Rowling wrote for charity, there wasn’t a lot known about Newt — he wasn’t fully fleshed out, and Rowling was still in progress on the screenplay, “So I couldn’t actually give him a script to read. I had to tell him about it.”
When Redmayne went to the club, he brought along a little Globe-Trotter suitcase that he uses for his own life, to keep his work inside — not knowing that Newt would have a similar signature case of his own. “Literally, when he walked in, it made me think of what Jo told us about Newt,” Yates said. “And as soon as he walked in, I went, ‘Oh my god, it’s Newt Scamander!’”
“I didn’t know!” Redmayne said in his defence. “I didn’t know anything about the story, or about Newt.” Once Yates started filling him in, the actor started to gently nudge his own case away. “I was slightly embarrassed that I had somehow subconsciously dressed like him. I didn’t want to be one of those actors who come to meetings or auditions dressed up like the character.”
Yates and Redmayne continued to meet a few more times over a period of months while Rowling’s screenplay was in progress, and at each meeting, he tried to tantalise him a little more with what Redmayne calls "a few chapters worth” of new information: “I was literally being told the story, so by the time I read the script, I would have some idea about where it would be going.”
“I was desperate to keep him in the frame,” Yates said. “I said, ‘Please don’t take anything else until the script is done!’ I wanted Jo to be happy with the script, and for me to be happy with the script, before we sent it to him.”
By the time he got the script, Redmayne was impressed with all the details Rowling included in between the lines of dialogue. “It was all there, sort of fully formed,” he said. “I had an absolute sense of who Newt was.” And just in case he had any extra questions, Rowling took an hour to discuss the character with him a week before filming. “She filled me in on where Newt came from, in her imagination,” he said. “There’s a much larger story about good versus evil that she wants to tell, and he’s our way into it.” Well, Newt, plus his suitcase.