Dan Fogler on Starring in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

14 Nov 2016

“When I found out that I was going to be part of that universe… it was like winning the lottery,” Dan Fogler says.

With Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them releasing this Friday, we caught up with Dan Fogler - also known as our favourite No-Maj Jacob Kowalski - to chat about the latest instalment from J.K. Rowling’s Wizarding World. The Tony Award-winner also reveals his best-loved moment from the Harry Potter films, as well as his favourite Fantastic Beast.

fantastic beasts

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

DAN FOGLER: I had seen all the movies, and was definitely a fan. Potter spoke to me in a very similar way that Star Wars spoke to me. I always reference Star Wars [laughs]. But it has that same kind of archetypical mythology that you find in any hero’s journey. So, Harry and his search for his parents, to me, was essentially Luke and the search for his father. And so many aspects of the films, like the Sorting Hat, just spoke to my inner ‘sleepaway camper’ and all the amazing adolescent things you experience there. You watch these characters grow and see them become super powerful adults by the end, and you really care about them. 

So, when I found out that I was going to be part of that universe… it was like winning the lottery. Then, to be surrounded by Academy Award winners everywhere you look; and to have a wonderful time on set with the director; to feel like you’re able to play and that your thoughts are being heard and respected. My God, it was just the best case scenario [laughs].

I was at Comic-Con last year when I heard that I got the part. I was there selling my comic book when my agent called me. He said, ‘Where are you right now?’ I said, ‘I’m at Comic Con. I’m sweating my brains out selling my books and swimming upstream on the floor here.’ It was nuts. I was going one direction with my books and everyone was coming toward me; it was like a sea of pop culture. So, my agent tells me, ‘Well Comic-Con next year is going to be a lot different.’ That’s when I just felt this tear rolling down my face and suddenly my posture got a lot better [laughs]. It was magic.

QUESTION: Do you have a favorite Harry Potter moment?

DAN FOGLER: Wow… so many. But I love the Time-Turner in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, which Hermione uses to get to her classes early. I thought it was brilliant how everything tied together. I was watching that again the other day and from the part where you see her cracking open the vase in Hagrid’s Hut, to Hermione thinking she sees something in the woods, but it’s her sitting in the woods saying, ‘Is that how the back of my hair looks?’ That connects to the werewolf moment where the werewolf is about to eat them and it’s distracted by the feminine werewolf voice and runs off – and it turns out to be Hermione in the woods. And, finally, to Harry saying, ‘I saw my father. He’s going to be right there.’ But then he realizes, ‘No, I’m my father.’ And he saves himself. Oh, my God, it gives you chills.

QUESTION: This film marks J.K. Rowling’s screenwriting debut. When you read the script for the first time, was there a quality to the characters or the storytelling that particularly resonated with you? 

DAN FOGLER: Yes. Right off the top of my head, I would say that it’s the connection that I have to the 1920s era. I’ve always said that I was born in the wrong time. I always appreciated those early black and white movies with Charlie Chaplin and James Cagney, and, in our movie, you’ll see a few homages to those classic characters. Eddie [Redmayne] and I, we both had the Chaplin duck-walk and these Laurel and Hardy and Abbott and Costello moments, as well as a bit of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. 

These characters just come off the page. You’re reading and thinking, ‘My God, these are iconic characters already.’ And that’s because they’re embedded in this complex mythology that J.K. Rowling is creating that speaks to that hero’s journey, as I was saying, that we all have in our DNA from hearing stories since the beginning of time. She’s tapping into that.

QUESTION: As you were finding your way into the role of Jacob Kowalski, what aspects of the character did you most respond to?

DAN FOGLER: I grew up in New York and my family has been in New York for several generations. My great-grandfather was a baker on the Lower East Side, and he had the best pumpernickel in Manhattan. It was Fogler’s Pumpernickel. So, this character is really in my blood. I read the script and thought, ‘I know this guy already.’ Every once in a while you get a part that is so similar to you that you’ve just got to step into it. And I think that’s what they must have noticed, the comfort that I had with it.

So, you had this urban, familiar, awesome New York backdrop, set in my favorite time period, and then you release these magical creatures into the city, and you have these two guys – Newt and Jacob – who are on totally separate ends of the spectrum, and yet they complete each other, in a way. Only, instead of Sherlock and Watson, it’s more like Sherlock and Costello [laughs]. 

They’re almost two different sides of the same coin – Jacob’s got the street smarts and Newt has the scientific smarts, and they both have something to teach each other. And Queenie and Tina are also two sides of the same coin – left brain and right brain in a lot of ways. And then, when you put the four of us together, it just seems to balance out.

QUESTION: There’s so much chemistry and camaraderie between these four characters as they become this unlikely band of heroes in the film. Did you feel that off-screen as well with Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston and Alison Sudol, who play Newt, Tina and Queenie, respectively? 

DAN FOGLER: With Eddie, it was really easy to like him because he’s so damn charming. Before the screen tests for this film, I had just seen Eddie in The Theory of Everything, so I was basically in awe of his talent. And then meeting him and seeing that he was just so down-to-earth and charming and funny, I would be happy if he was number one on the sheet for whatever movie I’d do from here on out. And Katherine – I refer to her as Katharine Hepburn in this role. She’s just so stunning, but as Tina, not only is she this tough woman in a pantsuit like Katharine Hepburn, she also has a sensitivity, like a Diane Keaton, where you realize that she’s also this fish out of water, trying to make her way in this world. And Alison, of course, the moment I saw her in costume, I thought she could be Marilyn Monroe’s cousin. She just glows, and her personality is so sweet and effervescent. She’s like an angel, so it’s easy to see why my character would fall in love with Queenie.

There was also a great vibe on set. Everybody really liked each other. There wasn’t any drama off the set; it was all in front of the camera, where it should be.

QUESTION: What do you think it is about Jacob that allows him to enter this world that no non-wizard has ever seen and yet so readily embrace it?

DAN FOGLER: I think it’s a perfect storm with Jacob. I like to think of him as the last guy that left World War I, like they didn’t tell him it was over. He was just digging a ditch and stuck his head up one day and said, ‘What? Where the hell is everybody?’ [Laughs.] He just saw horrors over there, so when he gets back to New York, he’s desensitized and just wants to be calm. He wants to settle down, get married, have some kids, open up a bakery and that’s it. Just do what he loves for the rest of his life. And, instead [laughs], he’s pulled into this wonderland. I think that because he’s seen terrifying things, he’s able to keep his composure with this major whirlwind spectacle all around him. 

So we played a lot with the idea of: ‘How can I just react to this with no words? How would Chaplin react to this moment?’ And then, from that, there came a lot of amazing humor and a lot of great physical comedy from reacting suddenly to a stampede of creatures flying at me [laughs]. 

He fits really well into the puzzle because each character is a misfit. Newt is a fish out of water and he can only deal with creatures on their level, as far as socializing with people; and Jacob is just generally a big-hearted, gregarious guy who loves everybody. So, he teaches Newt to come out of his shell, and Newt teaches Jacob about these amazing creatures, for which he finds he has a real affinity. 

Again, it’s like another iconic character – Bottom, the weaver, from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Jacob’s the baker; he’s like one of the mechanicals who gets to play with the devils and the fairies and the wizards and witches in the forest. The journey is so similar, where he is transformed; he falls in love; and, at the end of the day, he had such a great time that he doesn’t want to say goodbye to it all. This Midsummer Night’s Dream – it’s Bottom’s dream. He wakes up and he sits there, fascinated, wondering, ‘Was it a dream? Did any of these things happen to me?’ And that was the first monologue I ever did: Bottom.

QUESTION: Do you have a favorite beast?

DAN FOGLER: Oh, yeah. Well, they’re all so sweet in their own regard, man. The Demiguise is like a sweet chimpanzee-meets-Einstein, and he and Jacob have this really kind of sweet relationship. The Demiguise sees in Jacob someone who is safe, and he goes right to him. Also, the Niffler is hysterical.

QUESTION: How did you find David Yates as a director, and what kind of balance do you think he brings to the movie in terms of the character work and the practical demands of orchestrating a production on this scale?

DAN FOGLER: Well, for me, it was a best case scenario because David is an actor’s director. He’s so passionate about what he’s working on, but he creates a scenario where this big franchise just feels like a very intimate film that you’re making with him and with each other. The collaboration is there, and he’s always open to hearing ideas. That just instills you with a huge confidence, and it’s just a joy to come to work every day in that atmosphere. 

He’s also just so blunt and to the point in a very helpful and sensitive way. He’s the captain of the ship and his temperament is just lovely. 

QUESTION: What do you hope audiences will experience when they see Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them in the cinema?

DAN FOGLER: I hope that they not only come to this with the nostalgia and love of the original Harry Potter movies, but are then surprised and awed to find themselves in a new space with new characters and their own awesome journey.

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