By now you’ve heard the news of the ‘Alohomora’ of casting decisions — Jude Law is playing a young Albus Dumbledore in the next Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them film, which presently has no name and no plot but two A-list movie stars onboard to play juvenile versions of two iconic characters from the Harry Potter series.
We still know close to nothing about what the next Beasts movie (out in 2018) will entail, save for the fact that it’ll involve some light globe-hopping (it’s rumored to be shooting in London and Paris) and Johnny Depp’s Grindelwald will presumably spend the movie sans Polyjuice. Other such pressing questions — like whether we’ll visit Ilvermorny, whether Tina now has the Elder Wand, whether Jacob’s and Queenie’s bakery cliffhanger marks the end of their storyline, or what font Newt will use for his book — are important to ask (and you can read my theories about what happens in the second movie here). Still, they’re all temporarily rendered irrelevant because of the baggage we must unpack with Law.
Upon hearing the news, you may find yourself asking: Why Jude Law? What does ‘young Dumbledore’ even mean? Will he have a beard? Will he have a beard? Let’s discuss it all.
Who put Jude Law in the goblet?
Friend, I ask myself the same question. The answer is, empirically, everyone on the Internet. I could link to at least six separate thinkpieces that speculated on casting Law, who seems like the first person a person thinks of when they think of 40-something British actors. Is he a safe choice? Sure. Is he a bad choice? No, not by any means. But actors of a certain pedigree come with load-bearing resumes that can be hard to shake when they take on a role like this in original territory; if the established characters in the original Potter film series could be compared to the book’s descriptions, Law is only working with fresh material. So, Johnny Depp will need to work doubly hard to be Grindelwald and not “Johnny Depp as Grindelwald,” and Law—he of young popes and Dickie Greenleaves and whatever else you consider to be Jude Law’s third signature role—must do the same.
How old is this “young” Dumbledore?
The first Beasts takes place in 1926 — when Dumbledore would have been about 45. It’s safe to assume that the five-film series will take us through to Dumbledore and Grindelwald’s climactic duel, in 1945, when Dumbledore was 64. Presently, Law is 44 and Depp is 53. Hair and make-up departments, go wild.
But girl, didn’t we already see young Dumbledore?
Yeah, we absolutely did. In Half-Blood Prince, we saw Dumbledore in his youth when he visited Tom Riddle in the orphanage in 1938. Here’s what Albus looked like there, at age 57.
Based on the timeline of the Beasts films, Law should be playing Dumbledore both before and after this Pensieve scene, so even if you retroactively replace Gambon in your mind, you can’t deny that this is Dumbledore’s 1950s canon aesthetic: a little beard action, a little high-fashion neckwear, and a distressing wizard version of The Rachel.
Which Dumbledore will Law grow into?
Personality-wise, are we talking about him evolving into a friendly neighborhood Dumbledore, a la Richard Harris, the actor who died after Chamber of Secrets but left a lasting impression on the series with his pitch-perfect, soft-spoken headmaster? Or will Law take his acting cues from Michael Gambon’s Schoolhouse Rock interjection-episode Dumbledore, whose brutally unpleasant version of Harry’s mentor is more Walter White than Willy Wonka?
Where is Law’s Dumbledore at this time?
By 1926, he was a Transfiguration teacher at Hogwarts, having taught and developed a fondness for Newt.
Shouldn’t there by a young young Dumbledore?
While you clamor on about Law playing ‘young Dumbledore,’ consider the fact that there is one even younger. One of the defining chapters of Dumbledore and Grindelwald’s story is their first meeting at Godric’s Hollow, where a rebellious young Grindelwald moved in next door to a teenage Dumbledore after the former was expelled from Durmstrang. Their friendship was fast and fervent, but it culminated in a disastrous duel that killed Dumbledore’s sister, causing Grindelwald to flee and their relationship to crumble. It’s such an important part of their history and something that the Beasts movies can’t possibly avoid flashing back to if the franchise wants to invite non-Potterhead audiences to empathize with the Dumbledore-Grindelwald relationship.
This drama went down when they were about 18, and while it’s usually the way of Hollywood movies to cast innocuous lookalike nobodies in young roles, there’s a chance that these could be some pretty involved flashbacks — so don’t discount seeing some tween hottie you saw on one episode of Skins as a potential future Beasts costar. I’m not saying I’d like to see Godric’s Hollow Riverdale or anything, but if you want to say young Dumbledore, you better understand that he’s not the youngest Dumbledore.
What about the gay thing?
Yes, Dumbledore is gay, and thanks for asking the question so delicately. Here comes the reckoning where that little revelation J.K. Rowling dropped in 2007 now has to come front and center: By promising to fill in Dumbledore’s life story, Fantastic Beasts 2 will have to explore, whether lightly or largely, how Dumbledore fell in love with Grindelwald. The relationship, as we know it, was not necessarily reciprocal; Rowling has suggested Grindelwald may have only returned Dumbldore’s affection as a means of using him. (That said, Rowling has understandably been known to not stay wedded to her speculations in interviews; that’s her prerogative, and fans should accept that.) But on an entirely different level, consider for a moment what the emotional and societal demands might have been on a gay character living in the 1930s and ’40s. Should Fantastic Beasts 2 choose to do so (and I hope they do), there’s a deep story to tell here about what it meant for Dumbledore to live as a gay man during this era, wizard wunderkind or not.
Finally, the big question: Will we see McGonagall?
McGonagall wasn’t born until 1935, so probably not. Also, Blake Lively has scheduling conflicts anyway.