[WARNING: This article contains SPOILERS for Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.]
Based in the world of J.K. Rowling’s beloved Harry Potter series, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them takes place long before Harry heads to Hogwarts or faces off with the dark wizard Voldemort. Rather, set in New York City during the 1920s, Fantastic Beasts follows Newt Scamander as he searches for a number of creatures that escaped from his care. However, while the film is set in America, Fantastic Beasts also takes place during the time when the dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald was coming to power in Europe in the Harry Potter mythos.
As such, fans have wondered where the Fantastic Beasts franchise will go, especially since Rowling herself revealed there will be five films and teased a “real” overarching narrative. Other information we’ve learned about the sequel, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them 2, includes that it will take place in Europe and will co-star Johnny Depp. It was speculated that Depp will play Grindelwald, appearing in a cameo in the first film. Now, the Fantastic Beasts director and producer confirm what character Depp will portray and why the actor was chosen for the role.
During a round table interview for Fantastic Beasts attended by Screen Rant, director David Yates and producer David Heyman revealed they cast Depp early this year, and filmed his scenes in the first movie over a two-day period in January. In terms of how they made the decision to cast Depp, Yates said:
The whole principal of casting the movie was go for the best actor; go for the most inspired, interesting, right fit for that character. As we started to approach Grindelwald, we thought, ‘Who’s going to take this in an interesting direction?’ In this business — it’s a weird old business — you’re a star one week, people are saying odd things the next, but no one takes away your pure talent.
Johnny Depp is a real artist and he’s created several characters who have really resonated in our popular culture. He’s a really brilliant, brilliant actor and we were excited about seeing what he would do with this kind of character. He’s fearless, he’s imaginative, he’s ambitious. We thought he’d 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.
In the Harry Potter world, Grindelwald was a dark wizard who planned to lead a revolution that would bring wizards into the public eye and instate a global society of wizards ruling over muggles. On Depp’s casting as the character, Heyman explained why it was important to cast someone with the actor’s talent:
Grindelwald is an iconic character, so I think it was important to have someone who [has] that weight and there’s a reason why he has that weight. It’s because he’s a fine actor who makes unexpected choices.
With the additional revelation that Fantastic Beasts 2 will include a young version of Albus Dumbledore and fewer beasts, the franchise is setting up Grindelwald’s story as the overarching narrative teased by Rowling. Certainly, for fans who have hoped to see that aspect of the wizarding world’s history explored on film, this is potentially exciting news.
That said, the casting of Depp has sparked a negative reaction among Harry Potter fans, in part due to the allegations of his domestic abuse that surfaced earlier this year — with many citing the series’ themes of fighting back against abuse and oppression as a reason the casting isn’t a good fit. (It should be noted, Depp was cast prior to the allegations being made public.) Meanwhile, another criticism of the casting cites a number of Depp’s performances in recent years that have failed to captivate audiences as they once did, including this year’s Alice Through the Looking Glass.
Certainly, though Yates and Heyman believe Depp to be the right fit to play Grindelwald, Harry Potter fans and casual moviegoers will have a chance to decide for themselves. Fantastic Beasts is set to debut later this month, with Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them 2 set for release in late 2018.