In some ways, the new sequel to the Fantastic Beasts franchise is all about the relationships of variants.
On the surface, it is about the relationship between Albus Dumbledore and Grindelwald, but when you have at least three actors who have taken on the role of the wise wizard from the Harry Potter film franchise, and a new actor who is playing Gellert Grindelwald in this sequel, it’s also about establishing a new relationship that is both familiar and unfamiliar at the same time.
For British actor Jude Law, playing Dumbledore for the third time might be familiar to audience, but he is also acutely aware that he is the third actor to take on the beloved character, albeit a younger version of the wizard. The character was previously portrayed by Michael Gambon and Richard Harris in the Harry Potter film series. It’s, understandably, a different approach to the character who, unlike his Harry Potter days, have yet to become one of the magical world’s revered and respected wizard. In fact, the Dumbledore we see here is intentionally messy and flawed.
“It’s more a process of regression. Rather than feeling the weight of the brilliant performances, by Michael Gambon and Richard Harris, I had to really go back and understand that he’s not the fully formed Dumbledore of the Harry Potter books and films,” explained Law in a press conference that Geek Culture attended.
“He is a man still finding his way, still confronting and resolving his demons and that’s what I mean by regression. I suppose that in this film, in particular, he’s facing the past. He’s facing himself and his own guilt.”
Getting into the role of Dumbledore was arguably, pretty easy for the actor who felt that he had been preparing for the role for a very long time. In his portrayal of the character though, there was one thing that Law made sure to keep – his mischievousness.
“It was kind of a no brainer – “Would you like to play Albus Dumbledore?”- Yes, I would. I felt like I’d been in preparation subconsciously, from the minute I started reading the books to my children. And gosh, there’s just so much in the character to mine and to investigate as an actor, and that’s before you even get into this extraordinary world of magic,” continued Law.
“But if there were a quality that links him, I would say it’s his mischievousness, his humour and his belief in people. He sees the positive, think of how Dumbledore believed in Draco, he believed even in Tom Riddle. He sees the good or the potential good, and I think that’s something that he’s always had.”
The ‘potential good’ in question here is none other than Gellert Grindelwald. Previously a role played by Johnny Depp, the evil wizard Grindelwald is now played by Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen after Depp was removed from the role.
Terrifying as he is, Mikkelsen doesn’t find Grindelwald a villain. At least, not from the get-go. Mikkelsen was joining a pre-existing cast as a previously cast character so the secret to embodying Grindelwald in his most truthful essence (i.e. evil, complex and charming), was to establish the character through the various relationships he has with every character, particularly with Albus Dumbledore.
“I was thrown into it a little later than the rest of the gang. They’ve done two films and then they were halfway through when I joined the party. It’s like a family visit and you just hope that they will adopt you. and they did. My journey was fast swift and but I felt at home right away,” shared Mikkelsen.
“Jude and I, we had quite a few conversations about what that relationship looked like so my character is shaped out of that world. Nobody in history starts out by saying, “You know, I’m gonna be the bad guy, right?”, so we have to figure out what his mission is, what’s his goal? Why is he trying to make the world a better place? And in that manner?” added Mikkelsen.
“So I think that they started out having a common and a mutual goal as young adults or big children, and then it got blurry. The ways of getting to that goal were different than they imagined.”
In The Secrets of Dumbledore, Grindelwald continues on his path toward becoming the leader of the wizarding world. With no need for a power grab, Grindelwald instead focuses all he can on maintaining his loyal followers and charming new ones – just as he did with Queenie Goldstein (Alison Sudol) in the previous film, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald. Following up from the second film, fans meet Queenie again who has found herself in a rather tricky situation after being seduced by Grindelwald and his promises of a world where wizards, witches and muggles are allowed to love freely.
“So at the end of the second film, we see Queenie make a pretty shocking decision, something that no one really expected. But if you follow through the film, and you really think about it, she was sort of in one unfortunate circumstance after another because of the way that the wizarding world operates. All she wants to do is just be with the person she loves and the narrow mindedness of the world she lives in puts her into a really vulnerable position where somebody that’s really manipulative can tell her what she wants to hear and that’s going to have an impact,” explained Alison Sudol.
“So at the start of this film, we find her in a world that is very different than any world she’s ever been in before. She’s also being utilized for this tremendous power that she has, that she’s either had to hide in the past, or she’s been made to feel guilty about,” Sudol continued.
“There is something interesting about a person who hasn’t actually been able to live fully as who they are and I think a lot of young women can relate to that as well – what happens when somebody sees that thing in you, that burning part of you that nobody else sees?
“A lot of it was just sharing our personal perspective or our imagined take on how they met and, and what that meant to them. And to me, it was always really important to think of who Albus was before he met Gellert and I always imagined that being Dumbledore was actually quite a lonely place being that he was brilliant, and outstanding at a very young age to the point where he probably felt slightly isolated or someone who was maybe diminishing his own sense of power and self and scope and ambition. And then suddenly, he meets someone who is as brilliant and matches him and inspires him and that kind of connection is very, very, very powerful, more so when you’re at a very young age,” added Law.
“And I think it’s important then to also remember what their time together would have been like – incredibly dynamic, incredibly cherished and special, and then this awful kind of moment where you realize you’re on a different path, you’re actually moving away from each other, but that doesn’t necessarily take away from the explosive kernel, the firework that went off initially, in fact, it makes it harder.”
The relationship between Dumbledore and Grindelwald, however, is so much more than a depiction of good versus bad as our actors have earlier discussed. According to director David Yates, it is also a lesson on courage and chosen family.
“Gosh, there are so many themes that resonate throughout Jo’s (JK Rowling) work. And in this film, it’s about family, the family you make, as opposed to necessarily the family you’re born into. It’s about the courage of doing the right thing. It’s about love. It’s about sacrifice,” explained the director.
“Ultimately, it’s for Dumbledore. It’s about choosing between the love he had, and maybe still has, and doing the right thing for the greater good. He and Grindelwald have two different views and it’s about the choices, which again is something that really permeates all of Jo’s work. It’s about the choices you make – for Newt, for Dumbledore, all the characters.”
Eddie Redmayne reprises his role as Newt Scamander and whilst he takes a back seat in this film as Law and Mikkelsen’s characters take centre stage, his relationship with Dumbledore does evolve and grow throughout the film too.
“I love the new Dumbledore relationship. For me, what I love is that it’s got that complexity of sort of master and apprentice, but it’s evolved throughout the movies to being something almost fraternal, I would say in this one is sort of older brother-younger brother,” explained Redmayne.
“There’s a moment in this film where Newt even takes it upon himself, sees the vulnerability in Dumbledore and tries to pass on a moment of wisdom to him so that’s progression. Newt is fundamentally an introverted guy and is most comfortable with his creatures and in his own world but Dumbledore has seen a quality in him that he has the potential for leadership, albeit in an unconventional way.”
Every character in the movie had to make a choice at some point pertaining to a relationship, be it for the greater good or the dilemma between choosing head versus heart. Professor Eulalie ‘Lally’ Hicks chose to trust Dumbledore despite not knowing how things are going to play out and Yusuf Karma (William Nadylam) sacrificed something near and dear to him in order for his plans to succeed.
Another relationship that fans have greatly focused on in the film series is the relationship between Queenie and Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler). Viewers saw the two fall in love, get engaged and then break up amongst the political chaos Grindelwald had started.
Without wanting to spoil too much for fans, Fogler shares that a big part of Jacob’s journey in the film is getting Queenie back after she decided to join Grindelwald and his cause.
“For Jacob, the most important thing is Queenie. I love how their relationship makes for a good story. It can’t always be love and roses, you know, you have some tension there. She comes, and she gets pulled away and that’s a huge part of the adventure- getting her back,” said Fogler.
“I think everybody wants these two characters to find their way back to each other because there’s something there that’s really deep and true and good and you know the themes of love in this film are explored in different ways: love that is good for you, love that is maybe not so good for you, but how complex it is even when two people really love each other and they really should just work sometimes it’s just hard so finding our way to each other or not, it was always just better when we’re together,” added Sudol.
“Although, I did have a great time with Mads!”
Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore premieres 14 April 2022.