A few weeks ago, when Bruce Springsteen was promoting his biography (which, by the way, is great), he revealed that he wrote a song for a Harry Potter movie that was never used. I recently spoke to Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them producer David Heyman – who produced all of the Harry Potter films as well – and he explains what happened on their end. (Basically, Springsteen just submitted it without solicitation, which makes this an even better story.)
Ahead, Heyman talks about returning to the world of Harry Potter (which he admits he never thought would happen) and why they’ve already announced this will be a series of five movies, before this one even hits theaters. Also, Heyman is the producer on the recently announced Willy Wonka prequel and gives us a taste of what that movie might look like.
An announcement of five movies was made before this one has even come out. That’s confident.
Yes and no. I think Jo [J. K. Rowling] sees the specter of it. She’s gotten into writing the second one. She sees the narrative stretching over five films. It was announced. You know, let’s see how people respond to this. I hope people will like it. I’m really proud of the film. But you never know until the audience speaks. So if it does well, we’ll make a second. If the second does well, we’ll make a third. If the third does well, we’ll make a fourth. But really, we won’t know. I’m cautiously optimistic.
From almost a business standpoint, what’s the benefit of putting that out there before it even comes out?
I have no idea.
Well, we’re seeing this as a universe, and the story is a series. It’s one big story told over five episodes, and there is a confidence. But we’re not taking anything for granted, that’s for sure.
Fantastic Beasts seems very different than the Harry Potter movies, even though it still feels so familiar.
Yeah, I think the familiarity is multiple. It’s written by Jo, so that spirit infuses everything. The themes that are at the heart of it are at the heart of all her work: outsiders, tolerance versus intolerance, the way people are stigmatized.
And it’s an interesting time to be talking about those topics.
Exactly. And a world divided. And the danger of not allowing people to be who they are. The danger of repression and our desire to label people all too quickly. So it feels quite relevant. We’re not making a political film with a capital P, it’s with a small P.
What do you mean by that?
Well, this is not a statement film. We’re making big entertainment that people should enjoy because it’s fun and moving. But, at the same time, beneath that surface, and I think one of the things that makes Jo’s work work is the fact that she’s talking about people that we all know. We all feel like outsiders in our own way. We may have partners and husbands and wives and families and really good friends, but there are times we feel alone and outside and we all struggle at times socially like Newt.
How many discussions were there about how Newt [Eddie Redmayne] should be portrayed? In that he has to be different than Harry Potter…
Much less than you’d think. I think that that just came from Jo’s script. Jo’s script described a character who wasn’t Harry.
Newt literally says in the movie, “Some people find me annoying,” which is very different than Harry.
But both of them are in some ways reluctant heroes, but Harry’s more comfortable engaging in the fights than Newt.
And Newt is an adult who is already trained. It’s not an origin story about how Newt gets his powers.
No, it’s not an origin story like Harry – going from an 11-year-old to a 17-year-old – becoming a man. You know, we’re dealing with a man here. But you are dealing with a man who connects better with his beast than he does with people.
After Deathly Hallows 2 did you always kind of know in the back of your head there would be more?
Really? You never thought there would be more?
I thought that was it. And it was a mixed feeling. There was sadness at the end of it because I loved playing in that playpen, loved working on Jo Rowling’s work. I loved the family of people, the team of people that we put together on it.
Bruce Springsteen recently said in an interview he wrote a song for Harry Potter and it was rejected. How do you turn down a Springsteen song?
Because you do what’s right for the film. Chris Columbus is a huge fan.
Bruce seems really happy with that song.
It’s a really good song.
It has to be tough to tell Bruce Springsteen no, right?
It is. Chris labored over it and then wrote a 12-page letter explaining and apologizing for not including it, because it was completely unsolicited. He just delivered this song. We didn’t go to Bruce first, he just delivered it. But you know, it just didn’t feel right to have a song. You know, I really like Pharrell, but having a song at the end of Paddington? A pop song at the end of Paddington in the U.S. was not what ultimately was right for the film. Anywhere else in the world, we don’t have it. We had a Gwen Stefani and Pharrell song at the end of the first Paddington. And it’s a really lovely song, but it was driven by marketing as opposed to what was right for the film. Nowhere else in the world was that song in the film.
So Bruce basically auditioned and got turned down. That hasn’t happened to him in a while.
No. It’s a great song, too. Beautiful.
You’re producing the Willy Wonka prequels.
Yes. Prequel, at the moment.
And you had nothing to do with the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
Which made a lot of money, but it isn’t beloved like the original film.
I think, again, it’s just about doing a story that’s good and I think we’ve got a great way into it. Really great.
I’ve seen some rumblings on the internet about an old Willy Wonka script that’s very weird. Is this related?
I haven’t seen it. So, no. We’re starting completely fresh. We’ve got a wonderful writer, Simon Rich, writing it. I’ve just seen the first treatment. It’s really exciting. But we’re at the very beginning of our process. Let’s see where it goes.
Johnny Depp’s cameo in Fantastic Beasts is already out there. Why was that information released before the movie came out?
I’m amazed that it stayed secret for as long as it did, because we filmed early this year, and in this day you can’t keep a secret about anything. Somebody found out about it and was going to leak it So it got to Deadline Hollywood, so they decided to take initiative.
Are you enjoying the freedom of not having a full novel of source material?
Lovely. So people don’t say, “Oh my goodness, they took this out? That was my favorite bit!” Or, “So-and-so has brown hair and it was meant to be blonde!” I remember on the first film, Dan Radcliffe wore contact lenses for the first couple of days of filming to turn his eyes green and he had an allergic reaction. Because in the book, Harry has green eyes. He was allergic to the plastic and his eyes were all infected and swelled up. And he wanted to carry on doing it, but we made a decision to take off the contacts and go with his blue eyes.
And then people were mad.
Mike Ryan lives in New York City and has written for The Huffington Post, Wired, Vanity Fair and New York magazine. He is senior entertainment writer at Uproxx. You can contact him directly on Twitter.