'I thought it really couldn’t have gone worse,' the actress tells EW

By James Hibberd
August 08, 2016 at 09:58 PM EDT
Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them star Katherine Waterston opens up to EW about landing the female lead in this fall’s eagerly awaited Harry Potter spin-off. Waterston has recently been in Steve Jobs and Inherent Vice and also has the upcoming Alien: Covenant on the way to theaters. But below she talks about getting the role of Tina (short for Porpentina) Goldstein in Fantastic Beasts, a character described as a smart and determined witch who lives in New York and works for MACUSA (Magical Congress of the United States of America). Tina was once an Auror but was demoted to a menial desk job after overstepping her duties by using unauthorized magic during a time when her heart overruled her head. Tina wants desperately to regain that status as an investigator, however, which puts her directly in the path of a visiting wizard named Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne).

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How did Fantastic Beasts first come into your life?

KATHERINE WATERSTON: In the normal way that really great things show up, which is in an email. You read who’s involved and what it is, and you think, “Well, that’s a nice email, but I’m not going to get this job, that’s way above my pay grade, and it’s not going to happen.” So the advantage to something like that is that you’re relaxed because you’re so convinced that there’s no way in hell they’ll choose you. Then at that audition, I thought it really couldn’t have gone worse.

Why, what happened?

Well, the casting director had just eaten a lot of cake, and he said, “I’m sorry, I just ate a lot of cake,” and then he had like indigestion during my audition, and he didn’t seem to be watching me. So I thought, “Oh, I’m boring him.” So I was very surprised to hear that they wanted to put me through the ringer and do a test, and then that’s just a nightmare because then you’re really attached by that point and you’re fantasizing and thinking about the character and why you’re the only person who can play her because of whatever reasons you’ve dreamed up. You start wanting to play the scenes.

What excited you most about it?

It’s just such a wild thing to come into, this Harry Potter legacy. But it does just come down to the script, like any other job. Is this interesting? Is this surprising? Are these characters fascinating? And then greed is always an element when you read a script: Do I really love this character? There’s kind of no rhyme or reason to what is appealing to any given actor. It just is or it isn’t. It’s kind of like dating. You either connect to someone or you don’t. You can’t really say why. I just loved Tina and felt a connection to her.

What’s been the most surprising thing about coming into this already established world?

It’s almost like when you’re on a football team or something. You have your fans and they believe in you, but you still have to win the game. There are people who have really high expectations for what we’re doing. I have to not think about that so that I can be free and play around every day and not feel like I have to get it right. You want to be loose. You have to figure that your character is going to have some comparisons to Hermione. Are you kind of prepared for that? It’s not something I’m thinking about at all. So I guess I’m not prepared! She was amazing.

Do you have a favorite beast?

I have a favorite but I feel like I kind of have to see how all the scenes play out. One of the most endearing things was watching [star Eddie Redmayne] interact with the beasts. It’s so beautiful to watch him. He’s worked out all these different dynamics with all the different beasts. It might be flavor of the month, but right now I have a soft spot for Picket [a Bowtruckle].

Like Eddie, you got to design your own wand too.

So amazing. Usually on films, you get used to kind of being told, “This is what you’re going to wear, this is what you’re going to hold, and remember, you’re lucky to be here, and shut up.” And this is like: “What do you think? What is Tina’s wand?” And I’m like, “Oh my God.” There’s this whole deal with the wands in the Harry Potter world that they choose you, so it was so great to be a part of that. What wand would choose Tina? And there were all these different kinds, and they would tell different stories. If a really ornate wand chooses you, does that make you think you’re going to have this incredible future? Are you going to become a really important witch? Or if you have a really basic wand, is that going to make you think, “Oh, I’m not going to achieve greatness?” So that was a really fun part of it. At that point, I was so far into it, it was so obvious what wand would be right for me. But I did ask for it to be heavier. It just didn’t feel powerful enough.

What made that one right?

I can’t really tell you why I chose it because then I’ll reveal what my wand looks like, and I’m not sure. And if I explain it, I’ll reveal too much about my character. I’ll tell you later?

EW is posting Fantastic Beasts scoop every day leading up to the reveal of our annual Fall Movie Preview issue this week. Some previous highlights: 

Fantastic Beasts revealed a new wizard power

— Redmayne detailed exactly how he picked the wand for his Newt Scamander character in Beasts.

— Redmayne revealed his favorite Harry Potter movie and book.

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