A dark and powerful wizard is coming to J. K. Rowling’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, and he’s set to be the Johnny Depp-iest entrant into the franchise so far.
That’s right, everyone’s favourite actor (circa 2003) Johnny Depp is on board for Fantastic Beasts, and he’s going to be playing the wizard second only to Lord Voldemort himself as the most dangerous of all time, Gellert Grindelwald. Not only will he have a cameo in the first of the Harry Potter spinoff movies, but he’s also set to co-star in the Fantastic Beasts sequel, as the films begin to delve further into the destructive life of the man that Dumbledore once loved (which would suggest that we’ll get to see a younger Dumbledore at some point as well).
And it seems that ol’ Grindelwald has been a busy boy. Having spent his young life at the famous Scandinavian wizarding school Durmstrang, he found his way to England, and then, seemingly, to New York, the backdrop for Fantastic Beasts.
The focus on Grindelwald is an exciting prospect. He’s a character whose actions impact deeply upon the lives of many of the characters we’ve followed through the Harry Potter saga so far, but one we still know little about. He can act as a bridge between the 1920s setting of Fantastic Beasts, and the period from 1981 (the year in which Voldemort killed Lily and James Potter) until 1998 (when Harry defeated the Dark Lord). The key to the success of this though is in the casting. With Johnny Depp confirmed as Grindelwald, director David Yates has lined up a much-decorated actor for the part, and one who is certainly capable of putting in memorable performances. But he’s also an actor who has had his fair share of personal troubles recently, and has realistically largely been coasting on past successes for the better part of a decade now.
Are we going to get the Finding Neverland, Edward Scissorhands, Sweeney Todd, or even the original Pirates of the Caribbean level of commitment from Depp? Or will it be him going through the motions as we’ve seen in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Alice in Wonderland, The Lone Ranger, Mortdecai, or the later Pirates movies? There’s no doubting that he’s capable of creating a fantastic, meaningful new evildoer to inhabit the wizarding world, it’s just a case of waiting to find out whether he will actually do so. Let’s hope that Yates will be able to guide him across that tightrope between villainy and believability. He accomplished exactly this with Ralph Fiennes’ Lord Voldemort in the latter four Harry Potter films, but Fiennes’ career was on a different trajectory than that of Depp’s when he stepped into the role.
Here’s what David Yates has had to say on the casting:
“The whole principal of casting the movie was go for the best actor; go for the most inspired, interesting, right fit for that character. As we started to approach Grindelwald, we thought, ‘Who’s going to take this in an interesting direction?’ In this business — it’s a weird old business — you’re a star one week, people are saying odd things the next, but no one takes away your pure talent.
Johnny Depp is a real artist and he’s created several characters who have really resonated in our popular culture. He’s a really brilliant, brilliant actor and we were excited about seeing what he would do with this kind of character. He’s fearless, he’s imaginative, he’s ambitious. We thought he’d do something fun and special. So we went for him purely on that selfish basis, we don’t care if he’s famous or not famous, we just know he’s interesting.”
Update, beware spoilers:
Whilst Depp does indeed get a brief a cameo in Fantastic Beasts (complete with blonde hair and a daft moustache), we’re going to have to mark our calendars for the release of the film’s sequel on 16th November, 2018 to truly find out how he fares.
In the meantime, here’s hoping that Depp kills it as Grindelwald…if he needs to use Avada Kedavra once or twice to do so, I think we can all allow it on this occasion.