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Eddie Redmayne stars as a wizard who arrives in America with a peculiar briefcase full of magical beasts.
Johnny Depp is Gellert Grindelwald in 'Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.'(Photo: Richard Shotwell, AP)
Spoilers ahead! If you haven't seen Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them yet, read no further.
The secret's out of the sorting hat: Johnny Depp just cast a spell on a whole new franchise.
Fans who turned Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them into a box-office champ this weekend found a magical surprise (if they'd managed to avoid early leaks) waiting in the film’s final scenes, when it’s revealed that Percival Graves (played by Colin Farrell) has mysteriously transformed into Gellert Grindelwald (played by Depp), the villainous wizard who has been secretly hunting New York City for an Obscurus, a dangerous magical parasite.
Here’s the 411 on Grindelwald: The much-feared dark wizard, who appeared briefly in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter franchise, was a friend-turned-foe of Albus Dumbledore. The two first met in 1898 as teenagers and bonded over a search for the Deathly Hollows and a belief that wizards should operate openly and rule over Muggles. They remained close until Grindelwald accidentally killed Dumbledore’s sister, Ariana, in a three-way duel with Albus and his brother Aberforth.
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Dumbledore and Grindelwald would later face off in an epic wizarding war in 1945. In a plot twist, Rowling revealed during a 2007 chat that Dumbledore was gay and had always harbored feelings for Grindelwald, calling his love “a great tragedy.”
So what can we expect from Depp as Grindelwald, who starts his Fantastic Beasts journey in New York circa 1926? (Keep in mind, at this point Dumbledore is across the pond as a professor at Hogwarts.) While Voldemort was brutish and ruled by fear, “Grindelwald is much more sophisticated and can seduce anybody with what he wants to do,” says Fantastic Beasts director David Yates, adding that the wizard possesses a presence and lethality felt by anyone with a wand. “He’s a compelling speaker and he’s playing a longer, cleverer, more dangerous game than the obvious, and therefore in some ways is perhaps to be more feared than Voldemort.”
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By the way, even Eddie Redmayne (who plays Newt Scamander) was initially kept in the dark that Depp had signed on. “Interestingly, it was always in the script but they didn’t tell us about the casting,” says the actor, who refers to Depp simply as “J.D.”
Under a cloak of secrecy, Depp’s scenes were shot quietly in one day, separately from most of the cast. “We shot the whole (movie). And then I went and did a day with J.D.,” says Redmayne. “He had come in for the day ,and he’d spent a lot of time with his team and David (Yates) working on hair and makeup. I literally didn’t see the look until he walked on set.” (Meanwhile, fans are busily parsing Grindelwald's last words to Newt Scamander: "Will we die, just a little?")
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After the shoot, poof! Depp was gone. “He dyed (his hair) back that night and left,” Redmayne recalls. In Depp's subsequent red carpet photos, “you could see he suddenly had that buzz cut but that (was the only indication).”
Casting Depp was a no-brainer. “The whole principle of casting is to go for the finest actors and finest artists you can,” Yates says. “And Johnny Depp is a fine artist, he’s created two or three of the most iconic characters in popular culture.”
Now the question remains: Who will play young Dumbledore?
Contributing: Brian Truitt