With Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, the first film in J.K. Rowling’s fledgling magiverse, hitting cinema screens this week, Warner Bros. have capitalised on the publicity with two casting announcements for its currently-untitled sequel.
First was the announcement that Johnny Depp has been cast as the infamous Gellert Grindelwald, aka Wizard Hitler. Here at the ORWAV Bunker (it’s a post-Trump world) we weren’t too enthusiastic about that news. The once-beloved Depp has been coasting on goodwill for some time now, and the recent allegations of domestic abuse towards his ex-wife Amber Heard have soured his reputation further (they settled the divorce in court; she donated her $7 million fee to charity). That said, if he can tone down his theatrics, it’s the kind of role he could actually be great for.
At the same time, it was announced that a young Albus Dumbledore, Supreme Mugwump-in-waiting, would also feature in the upcoming sequel. For anyone unfamiliar with Harry Potter lore (it’s been nine years; hurry up), Grindelwald and Dumbledore were once besties at the cutting edge of modern magic. They were two of the boldest and brightest wizards of their age, until their ideologies grew apart and forced them into conflict. Their monumental showdown in 1945 (geddit?) ended in Dumbledore’s victory and ensured the safety of the wizarding world until You-Know-Who turned up.
So with the backstory out of the way, what do we know about this role? We know that Dumbledore was born in 1881 and the first Fantastic Beasts film is set in 1926, putting Dumbledore in his mid-40s (though Middle-Aged Dumbledore just doesn’t have the same ring to it). He’s the same age as Grindelwald in the books, so needs to look similar in age to the 53-year-old Depp. It’s also worth noting that Dumbledore lived to the age of 115 but was played by a 71-year-old Sir Michael Gambon, so let’s just say age is flexible here. Numbers crunched: who are our top picks to play young Albus?
A popular early choice for the role is Jared Harris, most famous for his roles as the man, the legend, Lane Pryce in Mad Men (spoilers). He is of course son of the late Richard Harris, who played the role so memorably in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, and Chamber of Secrets, before his death. His casting just feels right.
It’s far from inevitable though. Let’s be honest, Harris doesn’t quite have the fame to play such a big role in such a big film, and sadly those questions will always be asked on a project like this. Still, Rowling has proven herself a loyal fan of talented British actors who may not necessarily be worldwide stars with her casting in the Harry Potter series. Perhaps Harris will get the opportunity to finish the work his father started.
He’s stepped into big shoes before, inheriting the beloved role of Obi-Wan Kenobi from Sir Alec Guinness, and it would be foolish to bet against him doing it again. He looks good with long hair and he’s great with the roguish charm you can imagine a young Dumbledore possessing. It’s fair to say his English accent is a little shaky, but Dumbledore’s accent is hardly canonical. In the books he was born in Mould-on-the-Wold in England, lived in the West Country village of Godric’s Hollow for much of his youth and then of course became a teacher in the Scottish Highlands school of Hogwarts. Add to that the fact both actors to play him on screen have been Irish and you basically have a blank slate.
McGregor is probably the most bankable blockbuster name on this list, but can be a bit unreliable as an actor. Still, when he picks a good project he normally delivers the goods, so his version of Dumbledore could be a safe bet.
A riskier choice would be rising star Ben Whishaw. One of the best young actors in Britain (The Hollow Crown, The Hour) he also has blockbuster pedigree as Q in James Bond and the voice of Paddington. It’s stretching credulity to have him play the same age as Depp (he’s 17 years younger), but as the twin wonders of Hollywood makeup teams and de-aging CGI have proven, that’s not necessarily a huge obstacle.
Arguably Whishaw lacks the presence and force to play a character as imposing as Dumbledore, but then you never know what version of him will end up on the page. Dumbledore may have posed an intimidating and reassuring front in Potter’s present-day era, but as his backstory in the books showed, he was often wracked by doubt and guilt that left him more fragile behind closed doors. It’s also worth noting that Whishaw is one of the few gay actors being touted for the role, which would be faithful to Rowling’s writing of the character. She has since elaborated on Dumbledore’s past, saying that “Dumbledore fell in love with Grindelwald, and that that added to his horror when Grindelwald showed himself to be what he was”.
At the other end of the age range is British icon Stephen Fry. The 59 year-old may not have as accomplished an acting career as his rivals for the role, but he has appeared in blockbusters including the Hobbit trilogy, V for Vendetta and Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, as well as his prolific TV career.
His inexperience may count against him, but it’s hard to think of someone who matches Dumbledore’s personality so closely. Warm, empathetic, mischievous and kind, the only thing that he perhaps lacks is the ferocity to portray Dumbledore’s more combative side. He’s even got the authentically wonky nose to play the legendary wizard – Dumbledore’s was knocked out of place by his brother Aberforth at their sister’s funeral.
It’s been a hell of a few years for Mark Rylance. From the undisputed king of the British theatre scene to Oscar-winner and Steven Spielberg’s right-hand man, his reputation is only growing. He’s arguably the best actor on this list (though our next pick might have something to say about that) and would undoubtedly do an incredible job of finding the nuances and depth in a character as complex as Dumbledore.
Although he and Depp look like they’re from different generations, only three years separate them, and they would certainly make a fascinating pair on screen. Rylance has an enigmatic air and immense warmth, as shown in his recent role as the BFG, but is he just a bit too nice for the role? Dumbledore, particularly as a younger man, has a lust for power and a certain steel about him, whereas Rylance just can’t help being loveable. So loveable.
Daniel ‘Three Oscars’ Day-Lewis would be a dream pick if he could be tempted to take the job. It goes without saying that he’s an incredible actor, with form playing powerful, conflicted men, but he’s also been out of the game for four years with no prior effects-heavy blockbusters to his name. The closest he’s come before is probably Lincoln or Gangs of New York – hardly in the same ballpark.
Hiring him would be a real statement of intent from current director David Yates, proving that Fantastic Beasts is not just going to be another cookie-cutter cash-in franchise, but an epic series with award-winning potential, more akin to The Lord of the Rings in ambition. You know who to call.
What do you think of our picks for young Dumbledore? Are there any obvious choices we’ve missed? Let us know below.