David Yates may be a muggle, but he is not new to J.K. Rowling’s Wizarding World. In fact, though he transferred in a bit late—arriving at Hogwarts to direct the final four of the eight-part Harry Potter film series, he ended up with superlative marks.
The final Potter film, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, achieved the highest international box office total of the whole series, and the highest rotten tomatoes score to go with it.
Yates helped bring Harry Potter to a successful conclusion, but that wouldn’t be the last time that he picked up a wand. In 2014, Yates was brought back into the wizarding fold, signing on to direct Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, a spin-off prequel that told the story behind one of Harry Potter’s core textbooks at Hogwarts.
As natural a fit as it was to continue on in the Potterverse, Yates did have to consider whether taking on the prequel was a step forward, or a step back. “Before I read the script, I was concerned that it would be a case of rerunning something that you’ve already done, but as soon as I read the script it felt fresh—different. [Rowling’s] ambition to take this world further in a slightly different direction was very evident…It felt really interesting,” says the director in an exclusive interview with Al Arabiya English.
Director David Yates talks movie magic
Though Rowling became one of the most successful authors in history with the Harry Potter series, she wrote none of the films. Fantastic Beasts, it was decided, would go straight to cinemas, and Rowling would pen the screenplay herself, though she had never written one before.
After Rowling wrote the textbook in-between Potter novels for charity, “I became interested in its ostensible author, Newt Scamander, and he took on quite a bit of life for me. So I was very enthusiastic when the studio came to me and said they wanted to make it into a movie because I already had the backstory in my mind and it just so happened that they’d optioned the very thing I was most interested in. And I knew if it were to happen, I would have to write it because I know too much about Newt to let someone else do it,” says Rowling.
The initial script was not a one-draft wonder. When Yates joined the team, he, Rowling and their collaborators worked tirelessly to turn the promising script into something that would work on the big screen.
“The original draft that [Rowling] wrote was beautiful. It was lyrical, it was whimsical, but I felt quite young. She hadn’t yet found the heart of the story she wanted to tell, or the theme of the story she wanted to explore. It was really a first blush—getting all the charm of the story out.
“Then we developed a draft that was quite intense and a little too dark—a bit brooding. By the time we got to the third draft she really found the melody that she wanted to write and the theme that she wanted to explore fundamentally, and then we were away to the races.”
Yates admires Rowling’s ability to not rely only on her imagination, but to hone her work until it reaches its full potential, taking feedback as she goes.
“[Rowling] is a real pragmatist. She has great energy and obviously amazing creativity. It was by about the third draft that she really started to find something that she was particularly passionate about and that had light as well as shade,” says Yates.
The feeling is mutual. “David Yates really knows this world and we work very well together, so I was thrilled that he wanted to do the film,” says Rowling.
Four potential sequels
With the film finished and in theaters, the work has just begun for Yates and Rowling. The two have signed on for all four potential sequels, which would bring the Fantastic Beasts film series to five in total, with pre-production having already begun on the second.
Yates is managing that feat by taking the journey piece by piece. “I’m doing one movie at a time. Now that we finished the first one, and I’m prepping the second one, and it’s really like climbing a mountain, each time. The challenge of the second one is to make it better than the first one.”
Rowling has already written the script for the second film, which was exactly what Yates had hoped for.
“[Rowling] has already helped enormously by delivering a draft that is very different from the first one. I’m very proud of the first film and I’m very excited to be presenting it to the world. My concern was to not repeat the first one in the second one and she does not. She has done something quite haunting and beautiful with the second film. It feels very different from the first movie. She’s not repeating herself—she’s developing. She’s stretching further. It’s a lyrical, beautiful, dark poem,” says Yates.
With the prospect of nine films in the Harry Potter universe looking more and more possible, Yates looks to Rowling for inspiration. “Her ambition going forward keeps me wanting to stay involved.”
Rowling herself just hopes that the first film connects with audiences enough that they are able to make all the sequels planned. “I hope people care deeply about these characters,” says J.K. Rowling. “I hope audiences become invested in their stories and want to see where their adventures take them in the future.”
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is in cinemas now