It’s long been rumored that Warner Bros. was circling Oscar-winner Eddie Redmayne for the lead role in the upcoming Harry Potter spinoff trilogy Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, and that the actor was interested in the part. Now the studio has announced, per Deadline, that the actor is confirmed to take on the part of the “magizoologist” Newt Scamander in the films, which will also be the screenwriting debut of Potter author J.K. Rowling.
After winning the Academy Award for his performance as legendary physicist and writer Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything, Redmayne has become one of the most in-demand actors in Hollywood. His next project, the drama The Danish Girl, is also in a more serious vein, making Fantastic Beasts his first big Hollywood franchise. Given how incredibly popular the Harry Potter series is and the fact that these movies are the first new narratives outside the book series, there’s a lot riding on the films and Redmayne’s performance in the lead role.
Redmayne’s success playing Stephen Hawking might not necessarily translate to an ability to lead a huge blockbuster franchise like this one. He certainly proved that he can make a huge physical transformation to completely embody a character, but big franchises need super-sized charisma from their stars. Redmayne hasn’t quite had the chance to prove whether he’s got the personality big enough to carry a project like this.
There’s already a lot of positive buzz around his upcoming movie The Danish Girl, which will see him playing the 1920s transgender artist Lili Elbe. That film could easily give the actor another Oscar to add to his mantle, but awards don’t necessarily translate to the ability to lead big Hollywood franchises. That being said, Warner Bros. could have picked any actor they wanted given the scope and budget of this franchise, so the company has obviously seen potential in Redmayne. We also don’t know much about the character of Newt Scamander yet, since he isn’t described in the Harry Potter series, so Redmayne could be a perfect fit for the new character Rowling has created in her script.
Rowling’s involvement in the films is crucial for them remaining faithful to the Harry Potter universe. While she doesn’t have prior screenwriting experience, she was creatively involved in the eight Harry Potter movies. If the world of witchcraft and wizardry that she created is to be expanded in a way that works with the series, then she needs to write it.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is based off a short book Rowling wrote for charity back in 2001. The title is one of the textbooks that Harry and friends have to read for school, telling them about the various magical beasts and creatures that populate their universe. The films will focus on the “author” of that book, Newt Scamander, a scientist who studied those magical creatures and catalogued them 70 years before Harry’s time. The movies will take place in the same magical universe as Harry Potter, but decades before Harry attended Hogwarts and in New York City rather than England.
“Although it will be set in the worldwide community of witches and wizards where I was so happy for seventeen years, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is neither a prequel nor a sequel to the Harry Potter series, but an extension of the wizarding world. The laws and customs of the hidden magical society will be familiar to anyone who has read the Harry Potter books or seen the films, but Newt’s story will start in New York, seventy years before Harry’s gets underway,” Rowling said in a statement in the fall, when the project was announced.
The three Fantastic Beasts films will likely have a very similar feel to the Harry Potter movies, as frequent Harry Potter director David Yates has been tapped to helm all three and the producer of all eight films in that franchise David Heyman is again producing here. Warner Bros. announced that the first film will hit theaters on November 18, 2016.
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