Q&A: ‘Harry Potter’ director (and Comic-Con newbie) David Yates talks ‘Fantastic Beasts’

Every year at Comic-Con, fans dressed as Harry Potter and Hermione Granger can be seen walking the convention floor in their wizard robes. But surprisingly, the man who directed the last four movies in the “Harry Potter” franchise has never actually been to the convention.

This year, though, David Yates will finally make the trip to promote his upcoming Potter spinoff, “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.” Due in November, the film — which stars Eddie Redmayne as an eccentric wizard and is the first installment in a planned trilogy — is set in the Potter universe but tells an entirely new story with unfamiliar characters.

At the Warner Bros. panel Saturday morning, Yates will pull back the curtain a little on the J.K. Rowling-scripted film. He spoke to The Times about exploring uncharted territory in the Potter universe and being a Comic-Con newbie.

It’s kind of hard to believe that you’ve never been to Comic-Con before.

I have so missed that opportunity because everyone — actors, directors, producers — they always tell me what an amazing experience it is. We were always in the thick of one of the “Potter” movies, so I was never able to make the trip. I’m really looking forward to it. It’s such a sort of touchstone of what’s ticking in popular culture. I’m really thrilled.


After making four “Potter” films, you went off and directed “The Legend of Tarzan.” What does it feel like to now be returning to the world of Potter?

What’s really been the most enjoyable thing about it is you’re working with people that you worked with before who are like family. The big difference this time is Jo Rowling is actually writing the scripts. To be working with her as she pulls out this extraordinary imagination of hers — that’s a real privilege.

You’re reengaging with this family, but it’s a new chapter and it feels very different. It’s like going to a restaurant that you absolutely love — you have a table with a view and it’s gorgeous and you love the ambience — but it’s a different meal.

“Fantastic Beasts” feels like that. It has all the lovely things you experienced, but it’s a very different part of the universe. It’s new characters. It’s brand-new stories. But it’s an extension of that universe.

The Potter books and the movies got more mature as the characters got older. “Fantastic Beasts” looks like it’s the continuation of that.

“Beasts” hasn’t got any kids in it. Well, it’s actually got one lovely kid called Faith [Wood-Blagrove], who plays a character called Modesty, but generally it’s a film with grown-ups. So it’s a more adult development of what Jo has done before but still with lots of magic, still with lots of fun. It’s the best of both worlds, I think.

I think that what’s interesting is it speaks to Jo’s curiosity about the world and her observation of the world that we see around us. It speaks to themes that are important now, as well as all the lovely magical stuff and her genius for character. Even though it’s set in New York in 1926, she’s interested in themes that resonate now about a divided world and a polarized world and how important it is to recognize otherness and embrace it and not to be afraid of it. That’s always been an aspect of her work, and it becomes more so now.

For all the kids who grew up watching these films — and as I grow old making some of these films — and for everyone who loved the books and grew up with them, I think this will feel like a really interesting return to her universe.

This is the first time people will go into a movie set in that universe and not have a sense of what the characters look like or where the story will go. How do you approach that as a filmmaker?

In a way, it’s quite liberating. Coming at it from a completely blank canvas, to me, is an advantage. People aren’t bringing any sort of baggage with them.

There aren’t bits that are going to be left out. There isn’t the same frustration that can happen if a favorite chapter has been left out of the movie. This is a story from Jo’s imagination, and people are going to hear it first in the theater. And I think that is tremendously exciting.

This is designed to set up a new trilogy. Is that story all mapped out at this point?

Jo has literally just delivered the second script, which develops the story in a really interesting way beyond where we started it. Just like the books poured out of her, these scripts are starting to pour out of her. She has lots of it in her head, but she has been very discrete with the third part of the story because I think it’s still bubbling away.


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