You don’t say no when J.K. Rowling invites you to explore New York City.
The Harry Potter author and the cast of “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald” formed an armada of wizards, witches, and few lucky muggles as they traveled around the Big Apple raising awareness for the upcoming film. The event was ostensibly arranged to draw attention to a new trailer for the hotly anticipated sequel, but it was also a chance for Variety to observe the media-shy author in action.
Warner Bros., the studio behind the Potter franchise, left nothing to chance. As the actors and Rowling made the rounds from one spiffy midtown eatery to another, they were greeted at each stop by hordes of social media influencers from across the globe, selected because of their reverence for all things Hogwarts. Here’s a blow-by-blow of a day that would test the endurance of even the most seasoned Quidditch champ.
9:50 a.m. — Brasserie Ruhlmann Restaurant
The crowd erupted as Rowling entered the Brasserie Ruhlmann restaurant, one of those expense account-haunts in Rockefeller Plaza. While Rowling was on the “Today” show next door touting the new trailer, a photographer spent several minutes exhaustively arranging the 60-plus digital influencers who were posing for a group picture with the famed author. His efforts were for naught. The perfect formation collapsed the moment Rowling entered the room as the crowd immediately gravitated toward her.
Rowling kept repeating, “This is amazing” as she made rounds hugging fans, most of whom asked permission before embracing the literary doyenne. At one point she shouted, “I’m going to cry!” One lucky fan even got a fist bump from the queen. Rowling then teased the upcoming “Fantastic Beasts” installment, saying, “There’s a lot in there for you guys.” She remained tight-lipped when it came to spoilers. “Oh, I wish I could tell you…,” she said laughing. She did drop a little hint before slipping away: “When you see the trailer in an hour, don’t speak to each other until the end because there’s a name you’ll want to hear.” Cue huge gasps from around the room. (We’d tell you the name but Warner Bros. would dip into its bag of hexes to get back at us).
YouTuber Miranda Ibanez was among the social media influencers invited to the event. She said the studio did their research to find the most ardent Harry Potter fans to ensure the invites were put to good use. Ibanez, who has multiple themed tattoos — one of Harry’s beloved owl Hedwig, another with the Deathly Hallows symbol, and a third of the Durmstrang logo — said she cried when Rowling walked in the room. “The Harry Potter situation reminds me of my dad, and he passed away six years ago,” she said.
Note: Variety’s correspondent was one of the few people in attendance without any Potter-related ink.
10:50 a.m. — Whitby Hotel
At the next stop, lucky fans received signed movie posters from Rowling before cast members Ezra Miller, Dan Fogler, Callum Turner and Claudia Kim swung by to watch the final trailer. Prior to the events of the day, Eddie Redmayne sent a video from London saying he and Jude Law wouldn’t be able to make it. Johnny Depp, who plays the dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald, was a no-show as well. Turner, who joins the cast as Newt’s older brother Theseus Scamander, was greeted with a chorus of disbelieving “Oooooohs” when he admitted he hasn’t seen the newest footage yet. Fogler assured him, “it’s awesome. There’s some nice tidbits in there.” Miller quickly shut Fogler down before he could give away any details. “Shhh, stop it!” Miller teased. “They’re about to see it.” Miller proved as big a Hogwarts nut as anyone else in the room. He had already seen the clip, but that didn’t prevent him from watching the trailer on the edge of his seat. Right when the spot ended, everyone chanted “AGAIN!” Warner Bros. rolled the clip once more as Miller said, “This is next level.”
The cast fielded questions from the audience, some of which pertained to the bedroom habits of the film’s wizarding set. One burning query: “Are we going to have some great gay tension between Dumbledore and Grindelwald? Or are people going to be like, ‘No, they’re friends!'”
Miller responded: “If someone is really trying to bury their head so deeply in that particular bucket of sand, then, like, poor baby.” We guess that means no romance between Jude and Johnny any time soon.
The four of them also promise the titular beasts, get … even more fantastic this time around. Before heading out, Miller persuaded the staff to roll the trailer for a third time.
12:10 p.m. — 38 Parlor Loft
The ladies of “Fantastic Beasts” — Katherine Waterston, Alison Sudol and Zoe Kravitz, whose portrayal of Leta Lestrange was only briefly teased in the first film — took center stage at the morning’s next event. The loft-style space was occupied with a bathtub brimming with Perrier, LaCroix and Fiji Water, along with separate displays of wands and costumes, the latter of which was heavy on trench coats and leather pants. Oscar-winning costume designer Colleen Atwood was also on hand to discuss the tricked-out duds. Waterston, Sudol and Kravitz were just chatting among themselves before Waterston addressed the room saying, “Come talk to us, we’re just hanging out!” That’s was the only invitation the crowd needed. The three women were swarmed by influencers looking for magical selfies.
Kravitz and Waterston then walked over to admire the display of costumes. Kravitz jokingly complained about the small dimensions of her costume. “Dude, the proportions of mine look like a toddler,” she said. Waterston agreed. “It really is a child’s mannequin.”
The cast kicked off their day with Rowling on NBC’s “Today.” They’ll be back on tomorrow when the final trailer drops, part of a marathon two-day Potter extravaganza. Warner Bros. is teaming up with Twitter to exclusively launch the spot on the social media platform. While the trailer debuts, electronic billboards posted in New York City, Toronto, and Tokyo will be flooded with real-time Twitter reactions from fans using the hashtag #WandsReady.
Even though Kravitz has appeared in such popular films as “Mad Max: Fury Road” and “Divergent,” she’s still mentally readying herself for the intensity of a Potter press tour. “Not this level. Not with fans like this.”
Rowling was on set periodically during the filming. “Whenever she’s around, it’s always a different level,” Kravitz told Variety. “I feel like she’s respectful and actually wants us to have space because everyone gets very nervous when she’s around.” The others chimed in: “All work slows to a halt because we all want to pick her brain for any information we can get.” Kravitz nodded: “I think she’s doing us a favor by staying away.”
When Rowling does touch down, however, the author can’t help but divulge information about the next film’s in the series. “We don’t have novels, so we can’t find out like they could with the ‘Harry Potter’ series,” Waterston pointed out. The women stayed mum on updates about any future installments in the “Fantastic Beasts” series. “We can’t even tell you details about this one!” Kravitz said. Maybe that will change after a cocktail or two…
2 p.m. — The Campbell Speakeasy at Grand Central Terminal
The entire cast gathered together for one last hurrah and something a lot stronger than a Butterbeer. The speakeasy may not have been Three Broomsticks, but it did offer custom cocktails that were heavy on Champagne, to say nothing of the deviled eggs, quinoa salad, and other tasty morsels.
The actors made their rounds at the bar, chatting with attendees and posing for more pictures. Miller made a point to strike different wacky poses in each snapshot. “It’s how I keep it fun for myself,” he said. While dodging cameras and iPhones, Miller discussed fan theories with a small crowd. “What would be really dope,” he said, “is going farther back [in the Wizarding World]. What’s the origin of the Elder Wand?” As they further discussed the history of magic, Miller joked, “What is she doing to us?!” A waitress then walked by with appetizers of beef Wellington; Miller popped one in his mouth before chasing after the plate to grab another bite.
Miller is such a fanboy of Harry Potter himself, he barely sees the press tours as work. He called the nontraditional marketing methods “delightful.” These days, its much more than rounds of interviews with reporters. “I just love the way that media is changing and transforming when it comes to stuff like this. Isn’t this better? That we can all hang out at a speakeasy and drink some bourbon and talk shit? I feel like that’s a superior way to go.”
It’s his second movie in the “Harry Potter” canon, but he’s clearly still in awe of working with Rowling. “We always crowd her like a hungry group of feral cats when she comes in a room. It’s rather ineffable when you’re in a situation where you get to collaborate with, to speak with zero hyperbole, the most important artist in your growth and development and formation outside of your parents,” he told Variety. “I don’t really know how to go about describing it. All I can say is I just have a bottomless ocean of love and respect and gratitude for Jo and everything that she’s given all of us.”
3 p.m. — Midtown Manhattan
One tired Variety reporter finally leaves the all-day Potter love-fest — exhausted, but eager to find out what adventures are in store for Newt and crew when “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald” hits theaters in November. If only this were still middle school, she would have a lot to brag about to her preteen self.