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The Untold Truth Of The Fantastic Beasts Series

The Wizarding World does not begin and end with Harry Potter. The Boy Who Lived may have been the first icon to emerge from this franchise, but his saga is certainly not the only one born from this fictitious universe. The most notable saga to also occupy the same space as the earlier "Harry Potter" adventures is the "Fantastic Beasts" franchise, which kicked off with "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them" in November 2016. 

Based on a zoological textbook used at Hogwarts in the "Harry Potter" canon, the initial "Fantastic Beasts" film centered on plucky Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) and his friends, who end up becoming embroiled in the evil plans of the dastardly wizard Grindelwald (played by both Johnny Depp and Mads Mikkelsen). This inaugural motion picture has spawned two sequels, "The Crimes of Grindelwald" and "The Secrets of Dumbledore," with a further two installments planned in the future. 

However, even with the ubiquity of the assorted Wizarding World stories, there are several parts about the "Fantastic Beasts" series that are far from common knowledge even to die-hard fans of this saga. The untold truth of the "Fantastic Beasts" series concerns everything from alternate casting choices for the principal characters to the decision to expand the story from a trilogy to a five-film saga, among many other things. Grab your wands and prepare to get swept away by the secrets of those "Fantastic Beasts."

The sudden announcement of Fantastic Beasts

With the release of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" to theaters, it seemed like the world of "Harry Potter" in film had ended. The fanbase for the franchise was still alive, but there were only eight books in the original "Harry Potter" saga. Without any more material to adapt, Warner Bros. would have to look elsewhere for mega-profitable franchises. But everything changed in September 2013, when "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them" was announced by Warner Bros. The "Harry Potter" franchise, which would later be given the moniker Wizarding World, was coming back in a big way.

The announcement of this project's existence was skimpy on certain details, including who would be directing this blockbuster. However, at the time, it was noted that J.K. Rowling was penning the screenplay, and it was further revealed that Warner Bros. had first approached Rowling about the idea of a prequel based on the "Fantastic Beasts" guide in the "Harry Potter" universe. Contemplating this concept and being daunted by the idea of someone else writing a story in this realm, Rowling came up with an idea for the film and proceeded to pitch it to the studio. Warner Bros. enthusiastically embraced it and began to get everything ready to turn "Fantastic Beasts" into a reality. With this news, "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them" had just done something as impressive as any magic spell: bring the "Harry Potter" saga back to the big screen.

Nicholas Hoult almost played Newt Scamander

Eddie Redmayne ended up scoring the lead role of the "Fantastic Beasts" saga, Newt Scamander. Given that the part spans multiple films and occupies the same fictional world as "Harry Potter," it was a hotly contested role. Despite Redmayne being a then-recent Academy Award-winning actor, he wasn't the only figure to be up for the role. In pre-production for "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them," Nicholas Hoult was also in contention for the role.

When Variety reported in 2015 that Redmayne was the frontrunner to play Scamander, the outlet noted that Warner Bros. was also strongly considering Hoult for the part, given the positive experience it had with the performer on "Mad Max: Fury Road." Hoult's prior experience with blockbusters on the "X-Men" prequels would've also well-prepared him for a project heavy on visual effects and spectacle. While Hoult was in contention for the character, Redmayne ended up securing the role. It was a situation that strangely mirrored the casting process for another later Warner Bros. blockbuster, when Hoult was one of two finalists for the titular character of "The Batman," only to have Robert Pattinson swoop in and snag the superhero. Hoult just can't seem to catch a break when it comes to securing leading man work in big-budget Warner Bros. projects that aren't named "Jack the Giant Slayer."

The process of narrowing down the female leads for Fantastic Beasts

Once Eddie Redmayne was secured in the lead role of Newt Scamander, "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them" was far from finished with rounding out its expansive cast. Among the parts left to be filled were the two female leads, a pair of sisters by the name of Tina and Queenie. The former character is a recently demoted Magical Congress of the United States determined to reaffirm her value, while the latter is a more free-wheeling type who ends up falling for Muggle baker Jacob (Dan Fogler). They were important people in this story to get just right, and that makes it no surprise to learn that the casting process behind finding their respective performers was lengthy.

In May 2015, The Wrap broke down the biggest names in contention for each of the parts: Saoirse Ronan, Dakota Fanning, and eventual cast member Alison Sudol were in the mix for Queenie, while Tina's performer Katherine Waterston was already being courted for the role at this stage. However, that doesn't mean there weren't other viable names in contention for the Tina role — the biggest names floated around for the part included Kate Upton and Elizabeth Debicki. At the time, there was no indication of who among these artists, if any, were considered "frontrunners" for these roles (though eventually, Sudol and Waterston claimed the other lead roles in the "Fantastic Beasts" series).

Why David Yates was selected to direct Fantastic Beasts

When it came time to find a director for "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them," David Yates was selected after helming four prior "Harry Potter" movies, including the two-part "Deathly Hollows" finale. Initially, though, there was uncertainty over whether or not he'd be able to participate in the project. When Variety first delivered the news that Yates was being courted for the series, the publication noted that there was a potential problem in the form of a scheduling conflict with "The Legend of Tarzan," which was in the middle of principal photography at that time.

Luckily, this issue was dealt with, and Yates signed on to direct "Fantastic Beast and Where to Find Them." Per the original report from Variety, Warner Bros. was persistent in getting Yates for this gig because the studio was determined to hire someone who had experience directing films in this franchise. Who better for the gig than somebody who'd directed more "Harry Potter" films than any other human being? With those unquestionable qualifications, Yates was off to the races on directing another chapter in the limitless Wizarding World.

Criticism over lack of diversity in Fantastic Beasts

A common critique of the original "Harry Potter" movies is that they've always struggled with racial representation. Though this fantastical world was full of elves and goblins, it didn't have much room for people of color. When it came time for "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them," these issues, unfortunately, crept up again, as nobody in the film's principal cast was non-white. The controversy over this became so pronounced that producer David Heyman released a statement to Entertainment Weekly a whole year before the release of "Fantastic Beasts," reassuring people that a diverse world would be reflected in the final film.

Once "Fantastic Beasts" opened, though, the complaints continued. "Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald" attempted to correct this shortcoming by featuring several new pivotal characters of color played by actors like Zoë Kravitz and Claudia Kim. Unfortunately, the screenwriting of these features let these new figures down. After the film's release, writers like Gavia Baker-Whitelaw criticized "The Crimes of Grindelwald" for failing to give its women of color characters anything notable to do. Rather than improving on substandard racial norms of prior movies, "Fantastic Beasts" just found new ways to reflect this recurring flaw of the Wizarding World.

The expansion to a five-film franchise

As production on "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them" continued, it became apparent that this would not be a one-off adventure into the Wizarding World. Much like how Harry Potter had gone on eight adventures on the big screen, Warner Bros. was planning to make a whole trilogy of "Fantastic Beasts" titles. In August 2016, three months before the first "Fantastic Beasts" was even released, the studio announced that November dates in 2018 and 2020 had been penciled in for the two sequels. It seemed everything was set up for the future of the "Fantastic Beasts" saga.

However, in October 2016, further tweaks to the "Fantastic Beasts" saga were made when it was revealed that this series would now encompass five films and not just three. No further details were revealed at the time about what kind of story would require five movies to tell. However, it was confirmed that J.K Rowling had the narrative of the saga all mapped out, a point she reaffirmed in 2018 just before the release of "Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald." Details on the scope and plans for the final two installments of the franchise are still vaguely-defined, a point that can be attributed to how, per producer David Heyman, the fourth "Fantastic Beasts" installment does not have a screenplay yet.

David Yates and his commitment to directing all five Fantastic Beasts movies

The "Harry Potter" series found great success in consistently switching up directors, with four helming a varying number of installments in this saga. However, a whopping half of these movies were helmed by David Yates, who continued his connection to the Wizarding World by also directing "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them." Once that film was preparing to get released, Yates made it clear that he wasn't leaving this franchise anytime soon. In fact, he was preparing to direct all five of the proposed "Fantastic Beasts" features.

Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter, Yates revealed that he was committed to directing all five entries in the "Fantastic Beasts" saga. He did note that this wasn't a 100% guarantee since he took his directorial assignments on a "one at a time" basis. However, Yates was quite excited over the idea of directing the entirety of the "Fantastic Beasts" saga and noted that he was eager to jump into the productions since he considered the crew working on these features like a "family." Many of these individuals are also key people he's worked with on the preceding "Harry Potter" titles. That makes it no surprise that he'd feel comfortable enough with all of them to get himself geared up for a whopping five "Fantastic Beasts" movies.

The quest to find the right young Dumbledore

For the second "Fantastic Beasts" movie, "Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald," it was time to cast one of the most pivotal characters in all of "Harry Potter" lore. This film features a young Albus Dumbledore, who proves to be a critical figure in Newt Scamander's global adventures. In the end, Jude Law scored this part, continuing the actor's recurring penchant for appearing in big-budget blockbuster fare from Warner Bros. on the heels of major roles in the "Sherlock Holmes" movies and "King Arthur: Legend of the Sword."

But before Law picked up a wand to play Dumbledore, many other people were considered for the part. Variety reported that the list of potential actors to play this new incarnation of Dumbledore included a whole host of British performers, including massively well-known names like Christian Bale and Benedict Cumberbatch. Character actors like Mark Strong and Jared Harris were also considered for the part, with the latter figure being an especially interesting notion since his father, Richard Harris, was the original actor to play Dumbledore in the "Harry Potter" movies. But it was Law who reigned supreme here and managed to score not only a role in "The Crimes of Grindelwald" but also in its subsequent sequels.

Jessica Williams and her Fantastic Beasts experiences

Jessica Williams got her start as a performer on "The Daily Show," but she didn't stay exclusively in those confines for long. Before long, she was in movies like "The Incredible Jessica James" and "Booksmart" while also showing up in a prominent capacity on TV programs like "The Twilight Zone" and "Love Life." But her biggest foray into acting has come through the Wizarding World, playing the character of Professor Eulalie "Lally" Hicks. Making her debut in "Fantastic Beasts and the Crimes of Grindelwald," the role was an exciting one for Williams, given how it played on her longstanding passion for the entire "Harry Potter" franchise.

Years of far-off admiration informed Williams' excitement over getting over a major part in this series, and her enthusiasm only increased once she was given a tour of Leavesden Studios, where all the "Harry Potter" titles are filmed. "Just to be where they shot Harry Potter ... to see hair and makeup and renderings and how much thought and detail goes into creating and living in the Potter universe," she remarked to The Cut. Williams also noted that taking on the part of Hicks was made extra easy thanks to constant correspondence with screenwriter J.K. Rowling as well as how the character's backstory intersected with experiences in her own life. Any "Harry Potter" fan would be happy to have a part in the Wizarding World, but all these elements made it an extra fun experience for Jessica Williams.

David Yates and his sensual filmmaking for The Crimes of Grindelwald

"Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald" was the sixth feature-length movie set in the Wizarding World helmed by David Yates. After spending so much time in this fictional domain, one would be forgiven for imagining that a filmmaker would begin to run out of ways to surprise and challenge themselves behind the scenes. But for this installment, Yates tapped into one specific detail of the story that convinced him he could bring something new to the table: the sensuality of the various romantic storylines of "The Crimes of Grindelwald."

Talking to Collider, Yates was upfront in saying that, in comparison to previous features in this franchise he'd directed, "The Crimes of Grindelwald" was "a much more sensual film." Yates attributed this to how the movie focuses on a bunch of adult characters who are stumbling their way through a barrage of messy relationship drama. "It's a series of people — and really, the central theme is, you know, falling in love, falling out of love, falling in love with an ideology, being drawn into love, being corrupted by love," Yates explained. "It's really — it all circles around that central premise of love, I think." Zeroing in on that element related to sensuality was all Yates needed to realize he could bring something fresh to his sixth go-around helming a fantastical Wizarding World adventure.

The box office woes of The Crimes of Grindelwald

Before 2018, every single film based in the world of Harry Potter cracked $789 million globally, and all but two of those entries managed to exceed $875 million worldwide. This was one of the most financially reliable sagas on the planet, but that financial hot streak came to an abrupt halt with "Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald." Arriving two years after the first film in the series, "The Crimes of Grindelwald" hit a new low for this franchise on the big screen.

In its worldwide box office run, "The Crimes of Grindelwald" only took in $651.2 million. While a sizeable figure, it's beneath every other entry in this series by a considerable margin and even came in roughly 20% behind the global haul of "Fantastic Beast and Where to Find Them." Even worse, its domestic haul was $159.5 million, the first instance of a "Harry Potter" title making under $200 million in North America. Heck, "Grindelwald" made less in its entire theatrical run in this territory than "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2" made in its opening weekend in the same region. The terrible debut was due in part due to poor reviews as well as a lack of post-release excitement over the world of "Fantastic Beasts." Whatever the case for this box office misfortune, it was clear the "Fantastic Beasts" saga was not a moneymaker like the "Harry Potter" films.

How The Secrets of Dumbledore was impacted by COVID-19

In March 2020, "Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore" was preparing to finally begin filming for a November 2021 release. While this mega-expensive production had accounted for lots of possible problems, nobody involved could've ever imagined the scope and magnitude of the COVID-19 pandemic. This health crisis caused countless movies and TV shows to halt principal photography immediately. "The Secrets of Dumbledore" was no exception to this — the project ceased filming the very day it was set to begin shooting.

Months and months of radio silence on the feature ensued as both Warner Bros. and the world grappled with the new norms of reality thanks to the pandemic. By September 2020, though, "The Secrets of Dumbledore" joined other major productions affected by COVID-19 like "The Batman" and resumed filming. Two months later, the impact of this health crisis ⁠— not to mention the recasting of Grindelwald ⁠— caused "The Secrets of Dumbledore" to forfeit its November 2021 date in favor of a July 2022 bow, which would later be tweaked to an April 2022 debut. Still, COVID-19 was far from done impacting this Wizarding World installment, as filming was later temporarily shut down thanks to a crew member getting infected by the disease. However, once principal photography wrapped up nearly a year after this feature was supposed to begin filming, "The Secrets of Dumbledore" could hold its head high over enduring so much turmoil.

Mads Mikkelsen's thoughts on taking over the role of Grindelwald

In the first "Fantastic Beasts" movie, Johnny Depp was introduced as playing the big baddie of the series, Grindelwald. A powerful wizard with dark ambitions for the world, Grindelwald gained enough prominence in the sequel that "The Crimes of Grindelwald" was named after the character. However, when it came time for "Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore," the role was no longer inhabited by Depp. Instead, Mads Mikkelsen, a Danish actor most famous for his work in projects ranging from "Another Round" to "Hannibal," played the part of the big "Fantastic Beasts" villain.

The reason for the casting switcheroo was due to Johnny Depp's continued legal problems. In November 2020, the libel case Depp v News Group Newspapers Ltd. — centered around Depp alleging that he had never physically abused Amber Heard, contrary to reports from The Sun — had reached a verdict claiming that Depp was an abuser. This development led to Warner Bros. asking Depp to stand down from the role, necessitating Mikkelsen to take over. After snagging the role, Mikkelsen later explained that he was not out to just do a retread of Depp's performance and was working hard to do something original with the character of Grindelwald. It was an encouraging statement that suggested Mikkelsen wouldn't just be working in the shadow of what came before him in the "Fantastic Beasts" saga.

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