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Is Johnny Depp channeling Trump? Your burning 'Fantastic Beasts' questions, answered

Brian Truitt
USA TODAY

There are worse guides to have in a cinematic wizarding world – like an ornery house elf or a jerky Slytherin kid – than J.K. Rowling.

Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) plays with his Bowtruckle buddy Pickett in "Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald."

The mega-popular author of the “Harry Potter” books is tying those stories even more to a grander saga with the 1920s-set “Fantastic Beasts” movies, including the new sequel “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald” (in theaters Nov. 16). 

“She creates a world that's escapism,” says Jude Law, who plays a younger version of Albus Dumbledore, the good-hearted and mischievous Hogwarts headmaster from “Potter.” “It's a world of wizards and magic that people want to believe in and do believe in willingly, but it's based in terra firma and in a place that we all also feel is attached to who we are.”

The new film finds magizoologist Newt Scamander – and his friends, magical law enforcement officer Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston) and non-magical best buddy Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler) – in Paris as dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald (Johnny Depp) gathers forces in his effort to have true-blood wizards rule the world.

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USA TODAY asked cast members about the most burning questions going into “Crimes,” the second of five planned “Fantastic Beasts” films.

New animal friends await Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler) in "Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald."

Is this the ‘Empire Strikes Back’ of the saga?

That’s exactly how Fogler, admittedly a “Star Wars” guy, puts it. “You don't need all the exposition: You're off and running and the good guys get taken down a notch and the bad guys are forming their army and the good guys are forming their army and you realize, 'OK, this is a war and there are two sides to this.' And in the middle, you have these lovely relationships blossoming like Han and Leia. (Plus), it leaves you in a place where you're just like, ‘Man, I really hope my heroes can bounce back from this.’ ”

Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston) and Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) team up again in the "Fantastic Beasts" sequel.

Are Newt and Tina finally going to get together?

During their adventure in New York in the first “Beasts,” sparks flew between the two, who parted on good terms when Newt took a boat back to England. As “Crimes” opens, Tina has a little more spring in her step because she's got her old job back and a Newt-influenced rebellious streak, but there’s a romantic entanglement involving him and old crush Leta Lestrange (Zoe Kravitz). “Right when (Rowling) gets her on more solid ground professionally, she makes her love life rockier,” Waterston says. 

Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) conjures some magic for his Hogwarts students in "Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald."

How is younger Dumbledore different from the old one?

Newt’s former teacher at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry reaches out to him to find isolated young wizard Credence Barebone (Ezra Miller) before Grindelwald does. Years earlier, Dumbledore and Grindelwald were “closer than brothers,” but Dumbledore isn't fully healed from the trauma of their personal rift, Law says. While the “Potter” books refer to Dumbledore seeing the good in everyone, the relationship with Grindelwald “left a scar,” Law adds. “He has a sense that he can turn (Grindelwald) around and win, but he also recognizes the danger and threat.”

Dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald (Johnny Depp) addresses his fellow magical types in "Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald."

Does Depp steal the movie?

A year ago, Rowling and director David Yates stood by the actor amid a casting backlash after Depp’s ex-wife Amber Heard  said he physically abused her (Depp says he was "falsely accused"). But Depp’s castmates were impressed by what he brought to Grindelwald. “He manages to cast a spell,” Law says. “(While) being threatening, he's also seductive.” Miller appreciated Depp’s “serving of early 20th-century Marilyn Manson looks and the glory of a very, very intricate, well-thought-out, committed performance.”

Dumbledore (Jude Law) is haunted by visions of his old friend Grindelwald (Johnny Depp).

Is Grindelwald the Trump of this wizarding world?

It’s a fair question, given the villain’s ideology, his way of swaying people to his cause and his love for grandstanding. “Here's the thing: Great writers seem to have this ability to pick up on stuff that's in the ether,” says Law, though he believes Rowling wrote “Crimes” before the 2016 presidential election. “She (tapped) into something that she clearly felt was around, and here we are.”

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The Zouwu is large and in charge as one of the new "Fantastic Beasts" critters.

What's the best new fantastic beast?

Tops this time around for Fogler is the large lion dragon Zouwu. "People are going to really fall in love with this creature," he says. "It's very sweet, and Newt is able to bring out this docile side to these creatures, which is lovely to watch." And if you liked the furry jewel-swiping Nifflers in the first film, now there are baby ones: "There's one that's brown with white little patchy spots I like the best for some reason."

Newt (Eddie Redmayne) and Tina (Katherine Waterston) wave their wands for a spell in the new "Fantastic Beasts."

Do actors take lessons in using a magic wand?

Law breaks the sad news: “There's no sort of wizarding world boot camp that we all get sent to, no.” Instead, everybody works out  his own movement and physicality, down to the hand grip, to match  his character. As Dumbledore, “Jude’s got so much power, he doesn't need to be aggressive with his wand,” Waterston says. “Newt uses his in all of these inventive ways for tracking beasts and he uses it in ways nobody else would.” For Tina, Waterston thought about how detectives move through a space and how cops draw their weapons: “She's very good with her wand, and she doesn't always have to muscle it to get it to do something impressive.”

The new "Fantastic Beasts" film revisits the hallowed halls of Hogwarts from the "Harry Potter" films.

How awesome is it to film in Hogwarts?

Harry Potter’s future school plays a major role in key “Crimes” scenes, especially for Dumbledore. “They're beautiful sets to work on because they are incredibly detailed and wonderfully realistic,” Law says. But “you can't be losing your head and running around taking selfies, especially when you're playing a professor who's running the class.” Waterston recalls being “quite jealous” when other actors got to hang out there,“like Zoe bragging about doing some scenes at Hogwarts and the rest of us were not having it. But the way this film ends, I think there's a chance I might get through the door in the next one.”