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Redmayne: "I was sure I'd get fired"

British actor Eddie Redmayne shares how playing Newt Scamander in Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them made him nervous

Seventy years before Harry Potter's story begins, magizoologist Newt Scamander travels to 1926 New York to search for and rescue magical creatures at a time of great unrest in the wizarding community.

British actor Eddie Redmayne, 34, plays Scamander in Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them, part one of five projected films in the series.

In the movie, opening here tomorrow, the magic community in the US is facing a major threat of exposure to the No-Majs (the US version of Muggles) by a mysterious force leaving a path of destruction.

When Scamander arrives in New York, the creatures in his magic suitcase are freed by a No-Maj called Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler), breaking the rules of the Statute of Secrecy.

Former Auror Tina Goldstein (Kathryn Waterston) sees this as her chance to reinstate her position as investigator.

But Percival Graves (Colin Farrell), the Director of Magical Security at MACUSA (US equivalent of the Ministry Of Magic) casts suspicion on Goldstein and Scamander.

Both join forces with Goldstein's sister Queenie (Alison Sudol) and Kowalski to not only rescue the creatures, but stand up to the dark forces pushing the wizards and No-Majs to the brink of war.

Director David Yates - who helmed four Harry Potter movies: The Order Of The Phoenix, The Half-Blood Prince, The Deathly Hallows: Part 1 and 2 - said he and Rowling wanted no one but Redmayne for the role.

And that made Redmayne nervous.

"It was the first time I was playing Newt. If I can find a neurotic moment, I will.

"At the end of the day I was feeling so neurotic, I was pretty convinced I was going to get fired," said Redmayne, who went to New York to read with other auditioning actors.

What appealed to him about the role was that Scamander was such an outsider.

He said: "When I was told he was going to be at the centre of this film, I thought he would have all these heroic qualities.

"Yet he is actually someone that is socially awkward; he struggles in relationships with humans, and is kind of damaged.

"From the ill-fitting suit and his hair, he observes the world like you would a habitat. He is most comfortable when he is with his creatures."

Redmayne doesn't know if his wizard is going to be the lead in all the movies, but hopes to do them all.

We are at the Four Seasons Hotel in downtown New York where the press junket for the movie is being held, and Redmayne described the first meeting with Rowling.

He said: "It was about a week before we started filming and I had been working on the character for a few months.

"The two of us met and the pleasantries of introduction disappeared in a moment, and we just talked about Newt for an hour.

'PERSONAL'

"And it was riveting. Where Newt came from is very personal to her and it was wonderful to hear."

The thought that he was creating Scamander from scratch was soon out the window.

J. K. Rowling and Eddie Redmayne attend the Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them World Premiere at Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center on Nov 10, 2016 in New York City. PHOTO: AFP

Redmayne said: "The second you meet Jo (Rowling), you find that the person exists in her mind and there is intricacy and detail.

"So what you are playing is a moment in this person's life. But she gives you all of her information on the world around it - none of which I am allowed to talk about but it makes the character have a full history."

A couple of other things also worried Redmayne, including a moment in the script that said: "and then he performs a mating dance".

"It was just two words that gave me sleepless nights for months," he said, laughing.

"So I went into a rehearsal room in London with a choreographer and we looked up all these YouTube videos of animals doing mating things, and I just made a fool out of myself for two weeks.

"David has, somewhere on his phone, all these videos of different mating dances which could end my career, it was so embarrassing."

The other worry was Scamander's walk.

"The first time he arrives, Jo had written that Newt walks his own walk and he has a (US comic legend) Buster Keaton-like quality to him.

"These were two things that should have been an actor's dream, but I was like 'Oh my God, what does that mean? That is so cryptic!'

"And so I still had to go work out a walk and the Keaton element."

When asked about his relationship with animals, Redmayne confessed to having an allergy to cats and horses. He breaks out in hives.

"I had a dog when I was younger called Darby which was totally deaf, and used to run absolute chaos around us all and which I loved hugely," said the best actor Oscar winner for 2014's The Theory Of Everything.

So what has been his most magical day?

"That is a tie between my wedding day and the arrival of Iris," said Redmayne, referring to his baby daughter with wife Hannah.

On his rapid success in recent years, including his Oscar win and the other Oscar nomination he received for The Danish Girl (2015), he said he was still processing it.

Redmayne said: "I feel it's all been too frenzied to really take stock of.

"When I was promoting Theory, I was making The Danish Girl. When I was making Fantastic Beasts, I was promoting The Danish Girl.

"But you try to keep your eyes open and to really just not forget the memories, because you know that they are very formidable ones."

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