Dan Fogler’s acting career has taken him from the Broadway stage, where he earned a Tony Award for his work in the musical The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, to television and film. But even with a role in the just started ninth season of the popular zombie apocalypse TV series The Walking Dead, Fogler has found his biggest audience playing Jacob Kowalski, a human baker swept up into the machinations and adventure of the Wizarding World of the Harry Potter franchise in the cinematic prequel Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them.
While at the New York Comic Con this past weekend to promote a couple of comic book projects he had coming up, Fogler took some time to sit down with journalists to talk about his career and what may be in store for his Fantastic Beasts character of Jacob in the sequel, The Crimes Of Grindelwald, which opens next month.
“I’m back… Somehow,”” Fogler jokes. And as the ending of the first Fantastic Beasts hinted, the magical memory wipe his character got to make him forget about the Wizarding World wasn’t as successful as hoped for. “I’ve retained a lot of my memory. You find out within like the first two seconds of seeing me in the film how that’s possible, which is awesome.”
While Fogler admits that there was certainly pressure felt while shooting the first Fantastic Beasts – “You don’t want to mess it up… I don’t want to be the Jar Jar of Fantastic Beasts!” – the second film was a little easier for him.
“It felt like a sophomore coming back to college where you’re not as stressed out, you know the ropes,” he says.
Fogler does say that the scope of this new installment in the prequel series is bigger than the first film, and that expansion of scope excited him.
“You know how after the first Harry Potter film the sequels got exponentially larger and larger, more ensemble and more characters to juggle?”” he asks. “That’s happening here. It’’s a dense piece of art. You have to go back and see it several times in order to absorb it all. And that’s what [Harry Potter and Wizarding World creator J. K. Rowling] does in these movies. It’s like a Shakespeare play, it’s like complex relationships and Easter eggs and things that link to things that will happen down the line. So the challenge, I guess, was going in I only knew my scenes and I knew that there were a lot of ensemble coming in. I was curious to see if Johnny [Depp] was going to be the great villain that we hope he is, if Jude [Law] is going to be the Dumbledore that we hope he is. I’m going into this thinking just like everybody else. Is everyone going to rise to the occasion? And I think they do.”
While Fogler has played a variety of characters over his careers, he has managed to find ways to identify with all of them to one degree or another.
“It’s all different facets of my personality, I feel like I’m playing different relatives,” he admits, describing his Walking Dead character as “very close to myself, it’s almost like me in a parallel universe if acting didn’t work out and I became a music teacher or something. He’s very close to my own voice. Jacob is like playing an ancestor. My great grandfather was a baker on the Lower East Side, so playing him is like a wonderful gift to be able to step into a relative’s shoes.”
One thing that does stand out about Fogler’s character is that Jacob is one of the few main or supporting characters we have met in the Wizarding World who does not have the ability to wield magic. And it is his willingness to help his wizard friends in their fight against evil that marks the character as rather rare in Rowling’s stories.
“Yeah, muggles got a bad rap in the first movies,” Fogler admits with a chuckle. “They were mean. Most of the muggles in the Harry Potter series like Harry’s step-parents were not represented well so I guess for this one J. K. really wanted to have a muggle/no-maj that was likeable. I feel like Jacob, when you look at him, there is this nostalgia factor. When you see me and Newt together it’s like Laurel and Hardy or you see me and Queenie together and it’s like [the Broadway musical] Guys And Dolls or something.”
Fogler does state that his character draws from some classic archetypes and audience’s familiarity with those tropes is what helps make Jacob a relatable character.
“It’s classic, iconic Joseph Campbell cycle of myth stuff,” Fogler explains. “He’s the baker, man! You’ve read him your entire life in fairy tales. It’s like [the Broadway musical] Into The Woods. So you have all that going into it and it gives you that warm feeling that you know the guy already.”
He also promises that Jacob will continue to undergo that Campbellian Hero’s Journey, though he doesn’t quite know the path it will take.
“The first movie [J. K. Rowling] sat me down and was like ‘This is your arc. In the next movie this happens, in the next movie this happens. This is the greatest hero’s journey ever,'” Fogler states. “And we get to rehearsals for this movie and I was like ‘Hey, I know you’re busy Jo, but I just wanted to check in on my arc. So for this movie, I’m supposed to go here and then is this going to happen, right?’ And she goes ‘Oh no, that’s all totally changed’ and then she walks away from me! So how do I play that? I just have the philosophy that I can’t get excited by anything she says because it could change tomorrow. So now, I’m totally, fully in the moment as Jacob. What she has done is basically ‘No you don’t know what happens tomorrow. Deal with it.’ And that’s perfect because we shouldn’t know our arcs. We should just be totally in the moment and take it step by step like they are.”
Fantastic Beasts 2: The Crimes Of Grindelwald opens November 16.