Through the course of its run, the Harry Potter franchise became notable for its incredible roster of massive acting talents. Folks like Richard Harris, Maggie Smith, and Alan Rickman took a gamble with the first film, but once it became clear that the quality of these movies was of the utmost importance, a revolving door of U.K.-based talents like Brendan Gleeson, Emma Thompson, Ralph Fiennes, Imelda Staunton, and Jim Broadbent followed suit. So while the upcoming wizarding world-set spinoff (of sorts) Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them takes place on the other side of the Atlantic, it’s perhaps not too surprising that an actor of Colin Farrell’s stature is in the ensemble.
Farrell plays a mysterious character named Percival Graves, who serves as the Chief Security Officer for the Protection of Wizards at MACUSA, which is the American version of the Ministry of Magic. His involvement in the story focuses on investigating Eddie Redmayne’s Newt Scamander, a magizoologist whose briefcase of fantastical creatures pops open, wreaking havoc in New York City and causing a major headache for the wizarding community.
“All-ages” types of films aren’t exactly a stable of Farrell’s filmography, but when the call comes to join the Harry Potter universe, that’s a hard notion to turn down. Moreover, Fantastic Beasts marks author J.K. Rowling’s screenwriting debut, and director David Yates—who proved his attention to character and thematic detail in Order of the Phoenix, Half-Blood Prince, and both Deathly Hallows films—is behind the camera. So, really, the decision to join Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them wasn’t wholly difficult.
Last December, I had the pleasure of visiting the Fantastic Beasts set in London during filming along with a small group of reporters. During our time at Leavesden, we got the chance to speak with Farrell about his experience on the film, why he signed on, and more. It was one of the highlights of the visit, as Farrell at once understood how lucky he was to be a part of something like Fantastic Beasts, but is also no stranger to blockbuster-y fare that hasn’t turned out so well.
During the course of our conversation, Farrell discussed the balance between tackling more adult and socio-political themes in Rowling’s script while also servicing big spectacle filmmaking, what made him say “yes” to the film in the first place, his collaboration with Yates as a director, the joy of having “a fucking wand”, and much more. It was a delightfully candid conversation with an incredibly talented performer, and here’s hoping Farrell’s tenure with the wizarding world doesn’t begin and end with this first Fantastic Beasts film when it opens in theaters on November 18th.
You’ve been in such a variety of different roles. And how is this role different or challenging for you?
COLIN FARRELL: They’re all different and challenging in their own specific ways. But if you’re asking about this one—maybe it’s a bit challenging to throw wands out and nothing actually happens until the wonderful wizards, the real wizards of the world of technical vision come into it. But whatever is released from the tip of your wand into the world—but that was a bit embarrassing the first time. Trying to figure out how to—you know, ’cause you have a relationship with this stuff. I can’t imagine what it would be like for an actor for the first time when they say action to say, “Bond. James Bond.” I take my hat off to anyone who does a (makes whizzing sound). I’ve seen all the films and when I was kid I was aware of wizards and magicians and witches and wiccans and all sorts of thing so, yeah, to have a wand (laughs), which is both ridiculous and very cool. I have wand.
Can you talk about how you got involved? How you auditioned? Saw the script and everything…
FARRELL: I got a call about a call. I got a call about a call with David Yates. And myself and David got on the phone, first, I think. I don’t know if I read the script and then talked to David or I talked to David and then read the script. But whatever it was we spoke and exchanged thoughts on the character and the script and that was it, really. We spoke a good bit actually. I think we spoke two or three or four times or so. And he’s wonderful and obviously he has an incredibly comprehensive and insightful knowledge of this whole universe and this world and its philosophies and ideologies and behaviors and so, he was and has been since then just a wealth of information and a stalwart for references that are really helpful. So, that was it really and as I said I’ve seen the first eight Harry Potter films and loved them all. And so it’s a very cool thing to be a part of. It’s fun.
Eddie told us he spoke a little bit to Ralph Fiennes beforehand mostly about working with David Yates. But had you spoken to any of the cast members of the previous films going into this?
FARRELL: Nah… But this is a different thing. If I found myself in a room with Ralph or even if I had to see “Mad-Eye” Moody, Brendan [Gleeson] or anyone I know, I probably would’ve said how was it working, you know if it came up naturally, but I didn’t feel the compulsion to pick up the phone or call an agency and see if I can get an actor’s number to check if everything was kosher. You know I talked to David Yates on the phone and he was lovely and gracious and smart and as he is and I loved the script so, it was just go to work, you know.
The characters in this film are all adults and it feels like it’s delving into some kind of political and social themes that are maybe a little more grown up, but were also prevalent in the Potter films. So has that been kind of fun to get into a big franchise movie that’s delving into interesting stuff?
FARRELL: Yeah, sure, I mean regardless of the scale of them, you try and attempt to and sometimes you have to go, “Look the film isn’t asking this of you. So, just relax and enjoy it.” But no, I don’t think David will be interested in just rendering this world in the way that he could render it which is one of spectacular action sequences and beautiful special effects and magnificent sets and costumes and music and lighting and camera movements and all those things. He really does come from a place, as far as I’ve observed every time, of what the emotional truth of every single moment is, as rote as that may sound. He really does, I’ve observed with other actors and I’ve obviously talked to him myself. But you’re right. I think you know that the themes in the original Harry Potters as well are kind of adult themes because eh, let’s face it, we’re all just kids really. You know, I’m still dealing with a five year old inside who isn’t getting enough of this and doesn’t get enough of that. So, you know the idea, and of course the friendships that were explored and even momentary dissolution of some friendships or the reconnection of same friendships that were represented and the journey from child to adult that was represented in the first one. The first eight were pretty significant journeys to chronicle in a film that could be, just as I said, entertainment for children. I think David’s very respectful of the audience. He’s very respectful of the minds and the intelligence of children as well as adults. But yeah, there are some weighty themes in this. And they’re a burden in some way but there should be enough for everyone to get something either emotionally or a shit load of gorgeous things to look up to.
Can you speak sort of generally to who your character is and how he fits into this world and Newt’s world when it sort of explodes out into the streets?
FARRELL: Yeah, I play the chief security officer for the protection of wizards, for MACUSA. And I am the right hand man of President Picquery, who is played by the lovely Carmen Ejogo. And that’s it really. (Deep voice) I am a very powerful wizard and naturally skilled. He has a natural aptitude for magic, but is also highly trained and somewhat powerful and there is a mystery that is, has descended upon the city of New York in the 20s and I am one of fewer called Aurors. But we’re investigating what is going on in New York. New York is kind of being turned on its head and there is this statute of secrecy where by the No-Majs, who are the American equivalent of muggles. We’re completely living in absolute hiding and secrecy and denial of our own existence in relation to No-Majs, in relation to common citizenry. So, there is something happening in New York that threatens to expose the world of magic and it’s incumbent on me and President Picquery, but me in a more kind of active way on the street to try and figure out what’s going on. And then, Eddie’s character comes into the frame and it unfolds from there.
What about getting into character for this role… is there anything special that you did to get into this magical world at a certain time period in America?
FARRELL: You can always obviously go off the script as a blueprint and I actually had some really great, very helpful constructive chats as far as I was concerned with David that kind of gave me an idea of what he felt the kind of timbre or tone of the character was and so I just took the script and took his thoughts and my own opinions and thought about it and then you get into the costume and they put this thing into your hand and shit starts to happen. You just have fun with it and try—but as you were saying trying to honor the fundamental truth of the person you’re playing or else you’re just going through the numbers I suppose or at least it feels like that. But at the end of the day, you just—waters warm, jump in, and play around.
Since your character’s kind of high up within the struggle between muggles and magical people, will we see him kind of grapple with the morality of how he’s keeping things separate or is it more responsibility driven?
FARRELL: Both. ‘Cause some people find themselves as the doers of responsibility as a result of their own morality—a morality that’s been opposed upon themselves. So, both I think, yeah. Absolutely. I mean my character has a very particular ideology, which he speaks of.
Did you have any interesting or helpful constructive conversations with Jo Rowling about your character?
No? Not yet?
FARRELL: Well, I’ve had a conversation with her by virtue of just reading her work. That’s kind of a conversation.
What was in this project for you as an actor like, what drew your interest in?
FARRELL: Work. And the world that it exists within. I mean its enormous amounts of fun. I have a fuckin’ wand. I mean seriously, seriously, I’m not even joking, you know, and I’ve done plenty of things that have been you know, (sighs) more that have had a strain of despondency or pain or loss or violence and all that. So, this feels very different from anything I’ve done. And it’s kind of nice that I’ve done something that my boys could actually see. I mean they may not want to right now or like it. And that’s fine also, but J.K’s imagination is obviously just an extraordinary, extraordinary thing. You know, the energy that that one woman has put out into the world. The moods she has affected, the parents that she’s created moments for, for fathers and mothers reading books to their children or children recounting to their parents. I mean it’s amazing what she’s put out into the world. So, on reading the script I got caught up in that energy.
What can you say about the scene that you shot—
FARRELL: (interrupts) Nothing.
About what you shot today or what you shot in the past?
FARRELL: Pretty much nothing. Where’s the e-mail that said, “Don’t say, don’t say, don’t say. Say it’s a wonderful experience.” No, I mean, today, what did we do? Wands transcend national borders, for sure. There’s greater level of tension that builds throughout the film as what happens often in films, but it’s very clear in this one. And the tension is as a result of whatever the mystery is that’s taking place in New York City that’s creating havoc. And creating a kind of imminent threat as to the kind of dissolution of the statute of secrecy and the exposure of the world of magic. So, the scene I was doing today was is at a particular point where he is taking charge and taking control or at least trying to and feeling like he’s getting close to resolving or exposing what the issue at hand might be.
Can you say a little bit about what your character sort of makes of Newt personally, and are there other characters you have a lot of screen time with or interact with?
FARRELL: I have a good bit of screen time with Eddie, nice bit of screen time with Katherine who’s Tina and with Ezra. The relationship with Eddie’s character Newt, I’ve corresponded with Newt’s brother who’s a very, very powerful Auror also, at the other side of the Atlantic called Theseus who’s commander and so, I don’t know Newt but knowing his brother—initially there’s a fondness and then there might be a little bit of tension.
The name Graves and just looking at the wand… is it safe to assume he’s a pretty serious guy?
FARRELL: Yeah, he is. Well, he’s somebody who I suppose moves through life with a keen awareness of the burden of his responsibility. You know, he feels the weight of that. He wouldn’t moan about it, complain about it. He holds his position as a great honor. But also there’s great responsibility that has been bestowed upon him to protect this whole world of wizards that are teetering on the brink of potential persecution. So, yeah he’s a serious calf.
To read the rest of my Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them set visit coverage, peruse the links below. Look for even more in the coming days:
- ‘Fantastic Beasts’: 43 Things to Know About the New Wizarding World Story
- ‘Fantastic Beats’ Was Originally Considered as a Documentary-Style Film
- ‘Fantastic Beasts’ Director David Yates Explains What Makes J.K. Rowling a Unique Screenwriter