Eddie Redmayne has prepared for past roles like Lili Elbe in The Danish Girl and Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything by obsessively reading up on the real-life people he plays (and, as in the case of Hawking, actually meeting with him). But to play the fictional Newt Scamander in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, he couldn’t actually meet with Newt, so he did the next best thing: talk to J.K. Rowling.
Redmayne sat down with People and EW editorial director Jess Cagle to talk about how he prepared for Fantastic Beasts, and he described his first meeting with Rowling, the architect of the Harry Potter universe and the screenwriter for Fantastic Beasts.
“When we first met, we only had an hour, and both of us just talked at each other about Newt,” Redmayne said. “It was kind of amazing, and a lot of it was very personal to her. She has this extraordinary imagination, but I think where a lot of these characters come from are places in her heart or the people that are around her and she knows. So Newt, I can’t really say much about it, but he came from quite a specific place. And what was lovely was to be able to talk about all the qualities in him.”
One of the things Redmayne and Rowling discussed in-depth was how Newt is an extremely unlikely hero — and a reluctant one at that. Instead, it’s his love of his creatures that pulls him into the events of Fantastic Beasts.
“He finds the sort of hero in him, but really, it’s about his relationship with the creatures that galvanizes him to move forward,” Redmayne said.
Set in 1926, Fantastic Beasts picks up decades before the Harry Potter series, as Newt, a former Hogwarts student who now works as a magizoologist, travels to New York City. The cast also includes Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler, Alison Sudol, Ezra Miller, Colin Farrell, and Johnny Depp.
Fantastic Beats is out Nov. 18.
Watch this full episode of The Jess Cagle Interview, available now, on the new People/Entertainment Weekly Network (PEN). Go to PEOPLE.com/PEN, or download the PEN app on Apple TV, Roku Players, Amazon Fire TV, Xumo, Chromecast, iOS and Android devices.