When you meet Eddie Redmayne, he’s so affable and charming, so what you’d expect, that it’s almost shocking. Shocking in a, “Well, that’s no way he can be that nice,” kind of way. I had interviewed Redmayne once before, before he won an Oscar for playing Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything, and a thing like that sometimes has a way of changing an actor. You know, maybe they have a little more, let’s say, bravado in their personal interactions. Nope: This is the same Eddie Redmayne: the guy who loves talking about his awkward auditions for movies he never got. (As we already learned from his audition for Kylo Ren in Star Wars: The Force Awakens).
Redmayne is a rare bird: Here’s an actor who seems much more comfortable talking about his failures than his successes. And we like his stories of awkward auditions because no one is sitting around thinking, Man, when is Eddie Redmayne going to catch a break? Case in point: He’s now the lead in a proposed series of five Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them movies, which takes us back to the world of Harry Potter, only now in New York City, circa 1926.
Redmayne plays Newt Scamander, an awkward wizard who doesn’t much like socializing with people, who visits New York City in search of more magical beasts for his collection. Along the way, Newt gets mixed up in a whole host of rigmaroles (which are explained in more detail in our review) and finds himself very much the reluctant hero.
Ahead, Redmayne explains how he tried to differentiate Newt from Harry Potter. And, yes, he’s got some more awkward interview stories. (Oh, and Redmayne loves Hamilton, a show even he can’t get tickets for. And if an Oscar-winner still can’t get seats, well, that leaves little hope for the rest of us.)
I talked to you for Theory of Everything. You were nice. You have that reputation.
Oh, God. Disgusting. Like, beige.
Newt is definitely not the protagonist we’re used to in this world. He’s very quirky.
I think that’s definitely accurate. One of the things I found so attractive about the film when I read the script is that it didn’t feel actually heroic.
He’s just there looking for pets.
Exactly. He just wants some really cute creatures to hang out with – and he’s definitely better at hanging out with creatures than he is with human beings. What was amazing about the script was that J.K. Rowling had managed to weave a sort of thriller element to it and then this kind of darkness. But also, there’s this kind of buddy movie in the middle, as well as romance and the heart, that I’d loved in the Harry Potter films. And yet, weirdly, I found myself crying when I read the script – like when Dan’s [Fogler] character sort of went out in the world. And I couldn’t quite get over the fact that she’d managed to weave all these genres together in something that felt whole and complete.
It’s neat as a period piece, too. Like old New York…
It’s kind of amazing. I was so excited when I got the script and when I was cast that my wife and I would get to come to New York. And they were like, “We’re shooting in Watford, just outside of London.”
But it was amazing, what they built. It felt like a different era in filmmaking. Because I’m used to doing films in which there’s an extra who like walks around the camera lots of times to make it look like there’s a crowd, and here there were just thousands of people dressed in period dress. And they properly built New York as far as you could see it. It’s quite overwhelming.
When you signed up did you know it would be five movies?
No. When you sign on, I think I was signed on for like three? I should actually know that. Four, I think was what I was signed on for. And then we found out when the world found out: When Jo announced it at the fan event. But the reality is that will only happen if people enjoy the film. And the other thing is what I loved about: I think sometimes with big franchise films, there’s a sense that that first film is like all set-up. It’s like a kind of pilot, and it can be unsatisfactory in that way. And what I loved about this film when I read it is even though there are references to past and kind of pointers to a future, it felt like a complete story.
And it presents things that might seem familiar from the Harry Potter movies, but it’s a brand new story. Which kind of surprised me.
Oh, good. And I find it emotionally satisfying. At the end, it kind of feels like there’s a sort of completion to it, which I think’s hopefully cool. We’ll see what happens.
You’ve spoken before about auditioning for Domhnall Gleeson’s role in the Harry Potter movies. It has to be nice now you didn’t get that?
Yeah, now it’s the greatest thing ever. Because you couldn’t have cast Weasley as Newt. It would make no sense. It would confuse the fandom. Now I feel very lucky that didn’t happen straight off the bat. But when I was auditioning at age 19, at university, when they were spreading the net really far looking for Tom Riddle? And when I did my audition with like the eighth assistant casting director and was told to leave the room after barely having said three lines probably because I think I’d only really done theater? And I was probably projecting. The camera was about two inches away. I was probably projecting the lines to the back row.
So you could have done Harry Potter and the Cursed Child?
Yeah! Have you seen the stage play?
I was in London twice this summer for work, but there’s just no way to get a ticket. It’s like Hamilton.
I feel like it’s gently become like I feel my place in the world is to not be allowed to see Hamilton. It’s coming to London and I think I’m going to have to wait for Hamilton to come to London to see it. But that hasn’t stopped me from trying.
You won an Oscar. I don’t believe you don’t have a string you could pull. If Eddie Redmayne wants to see Hamilton, I bet you could get into Hamilton.
No, I haven’t!
Because if you can’t get in, that gives the rest of us no hope.
No, I genuinely haven’t been able to get in. But when I ask people about it, what I love is that I go, “Is it going to be one of those things that’s been so hyped that it ends up being a sort of pathetic anticlimax?” And they’re like, “No no no no no no.” My expectations are so frickin’ high. I can’t wait. Have you bought the soundtrack?
No, I want to experience it at the show. I know people love it…
Yeah, I’ve become that guy.
You cannot avoid all the songs. So you have the soundtrack?
Yeah, but you know what’s interesting about how cleverly they’ve marketed it as well. It’s like, you know how nowadays, you like something and you just go onto YouTube and you watch everything about it. Like, you actually can’t really do that with Hamilton.
What I love about your audition stories is that you’re a successful actor. We don’t read them and feel bad wondering when you’re going to catch a break.
Right. [Laughs.] And I had a story with this film. But I was cast without an audition for this film…
Well, that’s great.
Well, it is great. But if you’re neurotic and you’ve heard the frickin’ stories of people that are fired after the table read? So what happened is we came over here to audition the other actors, to try different groups in the quartet.
Right, but you won an Oscar. Can’t you look at that and go, “I think I can handle this”?
No. But here’s what happens: So you then go, okay, this is who I think Newt is, but I know that now it’s going to be the first time that [director] David Yates and [producer] David Heyman hear me speak as Newt and see what I’m doing. So in theory, I’m not being auditioned, but you’re always kind of being auditioned. It’s too big a deal for Warner Bros., if they go, “Oh. It’s like that?” So I talked to Katherine Waterston about it. I was super nervous when I was there and I did the whole first day as Newt, how I thought Newt was – and kind of secretly hoping David Yates and David Heyman would be like, “It’s great!” You know, and I got nothing. I arrived the next morning having had no sleep, thinking, it’s going disastrously. Even though it was not about me, it was about, in theory, the other actors.
So David Yates and David Heyman probably just feel they are set with you and don’t have to worry about it.
Yeah, well, in theory. And then I arrived and I remember David Yates and David Heyman coming up to me and being like, “You know, Ed, it was really interesting yesterday. You’re just beginning to play with Newt. I mean, once you’ve been to the gym and everything, I mean he’s got to be much more stronger and he’s got to be more hero-like, isn’t he?” And I was like, “Yeah, absolutely!” And the next day in auditions, I was like, [with a puffed up chest and deep voice] “HEY! I’M NEWT SCAMANDER. HI!”
And it was only months later when we started doing rehearsals, David Yates was like, “So we watched the auditions back and we kind of love the introverted Newt.” I was like, “Oh, thank God!” Because I had no idea how! I’d been going to the gym, trying to sort of turn into sort of Superman Newt. But so, it’s true, those things. You feel like… yeah.