On April 7, 2022, Eddie participated in a phone interview a group of fans that run sites and social media accounts dedicated to him. This time the small group were able to discuss his return to the stage in the production of Cabaret and his third installment of the Fantastic Beasts Series, The Secrets of Dumbledore. As always I felt extremely honored to be one of the individuals included in this phone call. Thank you to all who helped make this interview possible.
Fantastic Beasts: the Secrets of Dumbledore is set to be released this Friday here in the United States. We were able to get a sneak peek of the film and you guys, it is awesome! I love the way the direction of this story is going and how they are building on Newt and the relationships he encounters.
The first Fantastic Beasts movie came out in 2016. I imagine one of the perks of being part of this franchise as an actor is being able to really delve into Newt’s world and his emotional journey throughout different movies. I wonder if there’s been anything about Newt that has surprised you in this new chapter? Things you didn’t initially expect from him when you first started with the character or thought you had figured out?
That’s a brilliant question. What I liked about him in this movie was the two fraternal relationships — one with Dumbledore and one with Callum’s character, Theseus. There’s this kind of fraternal thing, this leveling up, I suppose, of this guy who is used to be talked down to and dismissed and given a moment.
But the thing I love most actually is that little scene with Dumbledore, in which Newt sees in Dumbledore his own vulnerability. He’s the guy who is normally out giving counsel to the world and being kind of father to the world, and that moment when Newt goes, “We all make mistakes and you can try and make things better, and that process of trying is the important thing.”
That breath of Newt having confidence to identify his own character in other people, or his own thoughts in other people rather than just keeping to himself, was the big progression — however small it may seem — for me.
I’m fascinated by these two recent projects of yours, Cabaret and Secrets of Dumbledore. They are both hugely entertaining, and at the same time they manage to be quite thought-provoking and relevant to our world. How important is each of those elements to today’s audiences, in your view — On one hand escapism, and on the other, delivering a serious message through a cautionary tale?
I suppose that’s what I like from art. I love to be seduced, I love to be enthralled, I love to be repelled, and I love to be entertained. But what makes things have a lasting effect is, of course, that piquing of something that you interrogate after having seen the thing.
That is so rife in Cabaret and one of the reasons it’s lasted as a sort of seminal piece for so many years. There are elements in the Fantastic Beasts world — and of course it’s the magic and the whimsy and getting to delve back into this other world of pure escapism — but there are messages there and there are parallels being drawn that will hopefully make you interrogate things afterwards.
What for you was the most challenging part of making this film and what part did you enjoy the most?
COVID was the most challenging thing. I did a day of pre-shooting on a Friday, and it was a moment down in Newt’s case that actually was cut from the film, and while I was meant to start shooting proper on a Monday, I got a call on Sunday night saying, ‘This thing called COVID is causing us to stop.’ And it was four months or so until we started again.
And the world had sort of changed, and coming back to the film set — first, we felt so lucky to be going back to work; it also felt complicated because Hannah was at home having to look after the little ones. I’d been helping to homeschool Iris, and suddenly I was allowed to go back to work and my life — although the process was completely different, as far as protocols and all the specifics of a COVID film set — I was able to go back to work. Whereas most of the world, and for Hannah, it was still having to look after two very young children.
As far as the making of the film itself, they’re such big things. It’s really in David and Jo and Steve’s imagination, and we just come and deliver what we can and bring as much joy and life and vibrancy to it. I really enjoyed the silly dancing bit. It’s not often that, as you guys know, I get into something that’s comedic — so it’s fun. There’s a kind of physical comedy element to it that I really enjoy.
That’s great. That plays perfectly into Ali’s first question.
ALI: During your time portraying Newt, you have been able to add some comedy to your portrayal. In the first film, most memorably, you did the mating ritual with the erumpent, and now we’re seeing the manticore dance. You’ve described these as a kind of ‘ritual humiliation,’ but they’re giving you quite a reputation for physical comedy. How hard is that for you, as an actor, to do? What kind of pressure does it put on you when you see that kind of bit in the script?
All I see when I see that bit — I say it’s humiliating, and of course it’s also deeply joyful. I love try to get into things that are outside my comfort zone, and particularly physicality has always been an interest. I’ve always enjoyed making it a part of my process.
After Fantastic Beasts and before Cabaret, I went to this school, [Ecole Jacques] LeCoq, in Paris — this very famous physical theater school — and I went and did a workshop there for a couple of weeks. It’s a school I’d always heard about, always wanted to go to, and not specifically in preparation for anything in Cabaret — it was more about just feeling slightly in a rut, and I felt re-inspired by The Good Nurse, and I wanted to go and just fill my mind and push my myself in different directions and fill my mind with other stimulants.
I enjoyed it SO much, and it really sort of re-affirmed that kind of clowning, physical element of performance is something that I just get off on. I never went to drama school, and so this felt like a moment to go and just throw myself and watch other actors from all over the world, all different generations, trying things and failing at things.
We were all trying and failing — and pushing myself outside my comfort zone so that when I came to the rehearsal room for Cabaret I felt completely free to try whatever.
What a great insight into your performance in Cabaret, the preparation — that’s fascinating. Erina, I’ve lost track of what time it is there (New Zealand), but you can tell Eddie and ask your first question.
You really don’t want to know what time it is! (Laughter)
Awww, what time actually is it? Is it something like 4 in the morning?
It’s 2:45 a.m. on Friday.
Oh, my God. You’re amazing, you’re amazing.
I was worried my alarm wasn’t going to go off, but I’m here, so we’re good, we’re good.
If it’s any consolation, I’m about to be closer to your time zone. I’m about to go to Japan, so if we’d saved this for a few days, we could have been in a similar time zone.
So my question is about Dumbledore. Which Dumbledore would you rather hang out with, the young version from Fantastic Beasts or the kooky older one? And why?
Hahaha. I really love Jude Law. When he came onto these films it was such a treat for me because he’d been an old pal. I hadn’t known him that well but socially, and sometimes you click with actors as far as what your process is, not just on set but also kind of in life — but he brings kind of his full-bodied wonderfulness to set. I love him.
We did a lot of questions about what it was about Dumbledore and who Dumbledore is, and Jude just has that kind of gentle, condescending-like wisdom, extraordinary talent, and this kind of slight twinkle in his eye, a funny man.
Certainly in this film, there’s a bond between Newt and Dumbledore growing that’s unspoken, but there’s a trust. I love that. I don’t know how the elder Dumbledore would be towards Newt, but maybe one day when we’ve both gotten even grayer, there will be a sort of Dumbledore moment in Dorset or where Newt’s meant to end up…
I’m going to ask the question that pretty much everyone is asking: How was working with Mads?
Mads was pretty extraordinary. He arrived with so little prep, and he’s genuinely one of the coolest people I’ve ever met. He has an inherent relaxed-ness to him, but he’s also sensationally talented and also really comfortable in his skin.
Tobias Lindholm, who directed The Good Nurse, had written Another Round, a film which Mads had done, and adored Mads. So we had some friends in common, and he was just magnificent from the word ‘go.’
It was all in his eyes, and you just felt this genuinely terrifying figure emerge. What I loved also, going back to the physical element, is that Mads was a dancer, and so watching him do some of the duels with Jude, and the subtle physicality of the thing, was extraordinary.
I really love the relationship between Jacob and Newt — the chemistry plays so well together. How does Jacob receiving a wand and experiencing what it’s like to have magical powers impact that relationship in this film and potentially in the future?
I have no idea, Marci. It’s interesting, because in some ways I’ve loved the new relationships that have developed in these movies, and I adore Jessica Williams, who brings such a new vibrancy to the films.
But I also have a sense of sadness that on the first movie it was Katherine and Dan and Ali and I, and we got to interact a lot. And what’s strange about the movies now is that I sort of barely get to see any of those guys.
When Jacob arrives on the train and Newt sort of — it wasn’t in the script, but I instantly wanted to give him a hug, because that’s uncomfortable for Newt, but at the same point, there is such love there between those two characters, and it’s sort of instinctive. Even though Newt isn’t particularly comfortable with physical interaction, there’s such joy there.
Dan is a true improvisational genius, and across all of these films, some of the funniest moments have been his improvisations on set that end up in the movies. It’s a real delight to watch. Everything is 100 percent real coming out of his mouth, and I think when they saw in the first movie that Dan had that extraordinary facility, they sort of — certainly in this movie, less of course in Grindelwald — but they realized that allowing him to riff is part of the joy. So it’s such fun getting to work with him.
We’re going to veer off into Cabaret a little bit. Seeing you in Cabaret — more than once — and understanding how instrumental you were in bringing it to life in such a remarkable way really showed the depth of your talent. It seemed from what your colleagues say and by your own descriptions that you almost functioned as a producer on this, and I wonder if the experience is encouraging you to do more behind-the-scenes work on stage and film, including maybe directing?
I was a producer on Cabaret — like a silent producer, if that makes sense. I had quite a lot of input into the — obviously Jessie and I. The guy who produced, who created the venue when I did it at the Edinburgh Festival was the guy who came to me years ago, and then when I was thinking about doing this, I was thinking about Jessie, that instantly rang true.
So we were allowed to be, Jessie and I, at the forefront of those creative choices. Now once Rebecca (Frecknall, the director) came on, it was entirely her show. But as far as the way it was marketed, the way it was put out into the world, the secrecy of the thing — I kept wanting it to be something that if we had faith in what we were doing and if it became where you couldn’t photograph everything, that we wouldn’t release every image with hundreds of videos going out into the world to begin with —something that you had to come and see it live.
These were all sort of collaborative ideas, and I’ve always worked like that, whether it was on The Theory of Everything or the smaller films. I’ve always loved that ‘company’ way of working and that input.
Now with something like Fantastic Beasts, you just don’t have that. The productions are so grand and expansive that there are so many voices there. But it is something I love.
I love creating things as a team. I love having a voice beyond purely the performance. Because often — I suppose it’s because being an actor, you lack so much control, particularly on film. You know, you create this thing in your head, you give this performance, and then it’s taken totally out of your hands, edited by other people, and it tends never to resemble what was in your head.
Now of course that’s the brilliance of it because the alchemy is other people’s interpretation. But sometimes you want to at least have your voice heard. And so producing in the vaguest sense of the word — having more input than just your performance — has always been quite important to me.
As far as directing is concerned, I think I would love to direct a film one day. But directing is so all-consuming for so many years. It’s got to be a piece of material that for me, OK, I’ll give up four years of my life for something that could well fail, but this story has to be told, and I feel like I have the capability to tell it. I’m not quite there yet.
What a great answer. That was so full of insight.
What caused you to make the decision to return to the stage, and and what was it about playing Emcee that made this particular role the right one?
I first did Cabaret when I was 15, in a school production [Note: at Eton College], and it’s been a bit confused in the press — I did a student production at the Edinburgh Festival when I was 19. When I did it when I was 15, it was a tiny little thing, but I look back on it as a time before I had any technique or self-scrutiny. And there was something instinctive in that part — it was purely instinctive, and I enjoyed it so much.
I remember it was my parents, who have always been super supportive but weren’t from this world at all, they always say that was the moment that they thought that I could be an actor. I had in my head that has always been something tempered, restricted — there was instinct related to this part — and so when I was asked if I would consider doing it, that had always been a dream, that had been a childhood dream, the idea of getting to do it out on the West End was a dream.
I said you’d be mad not to try and do it, and then I thought of Jessie. This is the version of Sally Bowles — I felt like she would be such an extraordinary actor and such an extraordinary singer, and has such total immersion and freedom. I was like, this is a reason to do it.
There was a moment a few weeks into rehearsal when I was like, how dare I do this? What was I thinking? Just because you were in a position where you’ve done some movies so you could get something financed — what were you thinking, playing this seminal iconic role — that just because you felt like you were OK when you were 15?
And I’ll never forget, there’s a wonderful member of the cast called Emily (Benjamin) and I was having a bit of a bout of insecurity, and she said, ‘You were cast for a reason.’ And I said, ‘No, Emily, that’s not true — I cast myself.” (Laughs)
The fact, honestly, that it went well — I couldn’t imagine the physical elements of doing Cabaret, how absolutely exhausting it was. The idea that if it had gotten horrendously reviewed, if no one had come to see it, the idea of doing that day-in-day-out, I can’t even imagine.
But that is the way I make decisions in the theatre: I go for the most pessimistic. I’m like OK: So the company — everyone hates each other. The rehearsals are a nightmare. No one comes to see it. The reviews are a disaster. Is there enough in this material to sustain me for four months?
Cabaret is one of the very few pieces in which that is a no-brainer. Getting to sing those songs and interact with an audience — even if there are only three people in the audience — that was a big ‘yes’ for me. So it was about fulfilling childhood dreams. That was a really long and ranty answer…
Since you’ve just been on stage again, and since there’s now a precedent for Harry Potter coming to the stage — do you see any potential for any kind of stage version of Newt Scamander’s story?
Wow. I think fundamentally Newt doesn’t project much, does he? I mean as far as his literal vocal [projection] — other than when he’s doing that scream at the beginning of the erumpent scene. I just worry that no one would be able to hear him. People struggle to hear Newt on film, let alone on stage. There’d have to be some very good miking.
But I feel like there’s perhaps a potential musical version out there. He’s got a lot of moves that he’s accrued over the years.
It does make me laugh — where does the manticore dance come from? My kids, when they have a bath, I stand outside the bathroom door and I just walk back-and-forth across the door doing weird dances because there’s nothing quite like a 3- and a 4-year-old cackle — like a proper belly laugh.
There’d be that ‘Walk Like an Egyptian’ thing, and that’s basically where the manticore dance came from. That’s the one they found actually the funniest.
When it came to doing ‘Willkommen’ in Cabaret, in those sort of opening moments, there was even a little bit of manticore dance that made it into there. I’m sort of restricted by my physical inabilities, so I feel I put a bit of Fantastic Beasts into Cabaret. I’m not sure there’s a fully-fledged theater version of it.
I definitely saw the similarities there in a couple of those moves.
I’ve got a very limited repertoire.
But it’s growing, though — it’s growing. Thank you so very much for doing this. We can’t tell you how grateful we are. Good luck at the Oliviers! And we look forward to going to the dark side with The Good Nurse and chatting with you again.
And thank you guys for everything, for being so supportive. When you came to see Cabaret, I had to be quite monastic while I was doing Cabaret. I’ve never done that — I had to go home every night and try behaving like an athlete, but it meant the world that you guys came, so thank you.