Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them director David Yates has decided to remove the suspense from Johnny Depp’s casting and confirm who he’s playing. The rumors were true; he’s playing Gellert Grindelwald. The Harry Potter character’s involvement in this new series was theorized after his name was mentioned in one of the trailers. There was another connection made in the poster for Colin Farell’s Percival Graves – a Deathly Hallows symbol.
In the Harry Potter universe Grindelwald lived from 1882–1998, went to Durmstrang, and eventually wound up imprisoned in his Nurmengard fortress. He was the first Dark Wizard to imperil the wizarding world (before Voldemort came into power), but in his younger days he had a friendship (fan-theorized romantic relationship) with Albus Dumbledore. In 1945 the two had a famous duel, which Dumbledore won. But as far as we know, Grindelwald’s villainy was relegated to Europe, which is why I’ve been considering Ezra Miller’s character to be a contender for American wizarding world bad guy.
Last week Warner Bros. made the rather surprising announcement: Depp, soon to reprise his Captain Jack Sparrow role for the fifth time in Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, would have a cameo in Fantastic Beasts and go on to a larger role in the second film. (You may recall, the new series will now be five films, all written by J.K. Rowling.) Yates confirmed the casting to long-running fan site The Leaky Cauldron (along with some actual spoilers, so beware) and that we can expect Dumbledore at some point, which was a foregone conclusion. “We just have to find out who would play him,” said Yates.
But upon hearing of Depp’s casting, some fans were disappointed considering his recent connection to domestic violence accusations from ex-wife Amber Heard. Others disliked the casting because the huge star stands out when he goes for unique characters in ensembles. Here’s what Yates told The Leaky Cauldron about the choice:
“The whole principle of casting the movie was go with the best actor. Go for the most inspired, interesting, right fit for that character. And as we approached Grindelwald we thought, ‘who’s going to take this in an interesting direction?’ In this business, it’s a weird old business. You’re brilliant one week, people are saying odd things the next, you go up and down. But no one takes away your pure talent.”
“Johnny Depp is a real artist. He’s created several characters who have really resonated in our popular culture. He’s a really brilliant, brilliant actor. We were excited about seeing what he would do with this guy, the character. He’s fearless; he’s imaginative; he’s ambitious. We thought he would do something fun and special. So we went for him, purely on that selfish basis. We don’t care if he’s famous or not famous. We just know he’s interesting.”
Producer David Heyman added, “Grindelwald is an iconic character, so it was important to have someone who had that weight. There’s a reason why he has that weight. It’s because, you know, he’s a fine actor who makes unexpected choices.”
Fantastic Beasts may be focused on the escape of magical beasts, but Rowling has said her interest is in exploring the first time a Dark Wizard came to power, so don’t expect to see them as the main feature moving forward. “We’re talking about the first time a wizard rose and threatened the world order,” she said, “This was always where I was interested in going. This is what I wanted to do.”
Yates seemed to echo that move away from the beasts to The Leaky Cauldron saying, “currently the beasts feature slightly less in the second film, and Grindelwald takes more of a foreground. Currently. But we love the beasts so much. There’s an amazing beast in the second movie – a Chinese beast, actually – that is featured. We’re exploring how we can get a couple more beasts into the second film, with Jo.”