An interview with a witch

2016-11-25 05:01

Cape Town – Alison Sudol who plays Queenie Goldstein in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them sits down for a quick Q&A.

How much exposure did you have to Harry Potter and J.K. Rowling’s Wizarding World prior to becoming involved in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them?

Oh, I’ve been a fan since I was young. When the first book came out, I remember people talking about it at school and thinking, ‘Oh, what is this?’  Then, as soon as I read the first page of the first book, I thought, ‘Okay, I am completely in.  I want to go here.’ I just fell absolutely in love with it, and read all the books.  
When the last book came out, I was on a music tour and it was just so nice to read it in my bunk at night. I was like, ‘Goodbye, everybody. You can party or do whatever. I’m going to read Harry Potter.’ There’s just something about the way J.K. Rowling writes, even before you’re in the magic of Hogwarts and spells and butterbeer, and the potential that is at your fingertips.  

Do you have a favourite Harry Potter moment?  

Oh, man, there are so many! One thing that comes to mind, straight away, is the first time that they go into the Great Hall and they have all the mounds of food. Just the way that J.K. describes it in the book … I’ve always dreamed of a place like that, with the candles and the Sorting Hat. It was so memorable and just struck a chord, really, in lighting up that whole world. Also, I love Hagrid because I love animals and he’s just so earthy and funny and great.  

J.K. Rowling is making her screenwriting debut with this film, and is also one of the producers. What has it been like for you to now work with her?

She’s great. I just find her so interesting as a human being. She’s so present and strangely normal. She has no airs or graces, but you can tell, once you ask her a question about this world, that she’s got this entire universe working in her mind at all times, and it’s so detailed. The inside of her mind must be the most extraordinary place, and vast and clear as well. She’s also a personal hero of mine, not only as a reader of her books but also as a writer. 

What was your reaction when you found out you would be playing the role of Queenie Goldstein and be part of a whole chapter in the wizarding world story?

I was so happy … but it is a big thing [laughs]. I’ve never experienced anything like it. On the one hand, I was just overjoyed. On the other hand, I was very aware of the responsibility because this is a beloved world and I wanted to do it justice. I also wanted to make sure that I was mindful of the kind of woman I was going to portray with Queenie because of the number of younger people that are going to be seeing it.

As you were finding your way into this character, how much of Queenie came to you intuitively and what aspects did you have to dig a little deeper to find? 

When I first auditioned for the role, (casting director) Fiona Weir – who is an incredible woman – was describing Queenie as kind, joyful, playful and highly empathetic. She’s just very much in her skin. Even though she’s seen as beautiful, she has no vanity about it. That’s not who she is; it’s just a part of her that she’s not really aware of.  

Those were the aspects that made me think, ‘Wow, it would be an incredible thing to embody such a wonderful human being as a role model for young girls.’ And, also, to be comfortable with my femininity, which actually has been a struggle for me.

In our society, I feel that you’re told you need to pick: you can be feminine, but you’ll be seen as lesser; or you can be smart, but you have to suppress your femininity. So, with Queenie, I thought, ‘What a lovely challenge – to embrace being a woman, and yet not have that diminish my strength.’ That was both a challenge that I rose to, and also something that I really enjoyed.  

I think the most difficult part, really, wasn’t so much playing her; it was just keeping out of the way of her. You can go through things personally, outside of the set, that can affect you one way or another, and I consistently had to step out of the way in order to be there for her. I found that to be a challenge, but it was such a gift.  

What is the dynamic like between Queenie and her sister, Tina, played by Katherine Waterston?  

They grew up together and are very close. Their parents died when they were young, so they essentially had to raise each other. Each sister is the older sister and the younger sister in a different way as each has very distinct qualities that the other needs. They look after each other and complement each other beautifully. It’s just how Katherine and I are together naturally.

Did you and Katherine do any preparation to develop that bond, or did it just come naturally? 

You know, it was the strangest thing because we did a screen test together early on, and it was just there. We had never met, but I had seen her in Inherent Vice, so I came in thinking, ‘Oh, my goodness, you’re amazing.’ Then they said, ‘Okay, here’s a couch. You two sit down and you’re sisters. Go!’ 

There was something about her that was very strong, but also vulnerable, especially in the context of this moment that we created. Even though Tina is so strong and so smart, and has an incredible power in her presence, there is also something about her that could be hurt, and I wanted to take care of her and just give her love. That was my immediate feeling towards Katherine. And at some point, quite quickly, I think I ended up braiding her hair (laughs). I don’t have a sister – she has sisters – but to allow that intimacy at that moment was just very powerful for both of us.

So, into the world of these two sisters comes Newt Scamander, played by Eddie Redmayne. How was it working with Eddie, and what qualities do you think he brings to the role?

Eddie is the dearest, loveliest, kindest, most humble human being. He is, obviously, incredible to watch. Everything that he does is so layered and so subtle. He brings a wonderful gentleness to Newt, and a strength as well. You just want to know more about him. You want to be near him. You want to learn more about these creatures that he nurtures.  Newt has such understanding and compassion for them, even the ones that people may think are strange or ugly or scary. It makes you want to look through his eyes and see things differently. I think it’s a very powerful way to inspire people, quietly. That’s what he does.

Dan Fogler plays Jacob Kowalski, who is the first No-Maj (American term for Muggle) that Queenie has ever met. How was it working with Dan to bring the connection between your two characters to life? 

Dan is an incredible comedian and a wonderful presence on screen and off. His face is so expressive, and he just has this ability to bring life into even the smallest moments in comedy. He also has an old world movie star quality about him in this film. He’s so charismatic, so compelling, and funny and dear as this character. So it was very easy.  The relationship between our characters was quite natural, and Dan and I are really good friends now.

Watch the trailer here:

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them releases in cinemas Friday, 25 November. 

(Photos: Warner Bros)

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