This post contains minor spoilers for Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.
Four-time Harry Potter director David Yates is spooked when we sit down to talk about Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, the first of five Potter prequel movies in the works. It's just a few days before the election, and the tension is palpable. That feeling prompts a comment on his own film: "There is some serious shit in this movie."
We agree on that. Written by J.K. Rowling -- her first stab at a screenplay -- and set against the bustling canvas of 1920s New York, Fantastic Beasts follows magizoologist Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) as he chases a menagerie of super-powered creatures down a rabbit hole that exposes him to a seedy underbelly of the wizarding world. He encounters spell-casting agents operating like J. Edgar Hoover's FBI, anti-witch hate groups and closeted wizards, and a brewing class war infused with the wonder we've come to expect from Rowling's stories. It will, eventually, connect to the events of the original Harry Potter movies.
If the first eight Potter movies felt like distant, epic fantasy, the new movie is salient and ingrained in reality (even with all the fantastic beasts). "It's about how connected we feel to each other," Yates says. "And Newt is this sort of oddly disconnected character. It's about making sure that you value the other and the things that are misunderstood and the things that you think you should fear. You should approach those things with an open head and an open heart, I think."
Besides carving out new "serious shit" for the series, Fantastic Beasts also recasts the rules of Rowling's original books. I asked Yates to explain a few of the ways he tinkers with the Potterverse and sets up for the future of the franchise. Brace yourselves, diehards.