American actress Alison Sudol on her Hollywood break

You would think a starring role in the new Harry Potter spin-off would faze newcomer Alison Sudol — not a bit of it, says Shilpa Ganatra.

American actress Alison Sudol on her Hollywood break

For a series which appeared to end five years ago, 2016 has proved fairly fruitful for the Harry Potter empire.

Its spinoffs have resurrected the wizarding world, first on stage in its rebooted sequel, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, and more significantly, in a new film, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.

The bad news is that the movie based on the Hogwarts textbook doesn’t feature the lightning-scarred one himself, not least as it’s set 60 years before he’s born.

The good news is that in uncovering mystical beasts straight from the incredible mind of author JK Rowling, a whole new set of characters are introduced.

Alison Sudol (left) and (second from right) with Katherine Waterston Eddie Redmayne and Dan Fogler in ‘Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them’.

Alison Sudol (left) and (second from right) with Katherine Waterston Eddie Redmayne and Dan Fogler in ‘Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them’.

There’s the magizoologist himself, Newt Scamander played by Eddie Redmayne, who takes his magical briefcase of monsters with him to America, a muggle – or NoMaj – Jacob (Dan Fogler) who gets caught up in the drama, and supernatural sisters Tina (Katherine Watson) and Queenie, played by newcomer Alison Sudol, who help in the quest to recover the beasts when they escape and run riot in New York.

Just for good measure, Colin Farrell and Samantha Morton appear in it too.

“It’s a real responsibility to enter that world,” says Alison, as we meet in London, not far from where the movie was filmed last year.

“Both the books and films are beloved and beautifully done. Apart from Newt who’s the only one written about at all, we were all very fresh, so we knew what needed to be done to reach the standard of what’s already out there.

“But at a certain point you have to put aside the magnitude of it and focus on making sure the heart was there, because that’s the basis of everything that Jo does,” she says.

It may be Alison’s debut movie feature but at 31, she brings ample experience in the spotlight.

As an alt singer-songwriter, A Fine Frenzy were a cult act in the States, especially when her emotional-laden songs appeared on soundtracks for Dan In Real Life and What To Expect When You’re Expecting.

Shifting to TV acting with stints in Dig and the Oscar-winning series Transparent, her talent shone through when she auditioned for Queenie — a role for which Saoirse Ronan and Dakota Fanning were also considered.

“Queenie is essentially a magical empath: she can feel another person’s energy and emotion, and she can take that one step further and read their entire story, their thoughts, where they’ve been and what they’ve done.

“As a result she’s constantly listening and she’s not focused in on herself.

“But she’s also vivacious, kind, mischievous and feminine. It was very fun to play. She’s very strong and very intelligent but she isn’t hard about it,” she says.

Given that most of her scenes were with Eddie Redmayne, we can’t help but wonder what it was like to begin your film career with him as a peer?

“It was such a pleasure,” she enthuses. “He’s a genuinely kind person.

“He’s humble and funny, and so hardworking.

“He was doing press on the weekends for [the Oscar-winning] The Danish Girl and working crazy hours all week so had no time off at all, but he was so cheerful and always treats everybody as they’re equally important — which is what one hopes will happen, but isn’t necessarily the case. It was a joy.”

While Farrell plays a head detective in a separate narrative from Alison’s group of fantastic beast-finders, their paths often crossed in the studios.

“We spent a lot of time hanging out together. He’s a beautiful human being, really eloquent and a deep thinker.

“Humble and gracious, and absolutely lovely,” she says.

Did he charm you?

“I think he’s charming to everyone.”

Let’s cut to the chase: did she fancy him?

Alison lets out a laugh, taking the question well.

“Everyone fancied Colin, girls and boys alike. It’s impossible not to fancy him. He’s gentle with the way he is to people, so it’s not necessarily a vibe.

“Some people walk around and try to make everyone fall in love with them, but he’s not like that, he’s just lovely.”

For Alison, Fantastic Beasts is quite the introduction to the movie world; each of the Harry Potter films earned an average of €800m at the box office, and made instant household names out of its main cast (as well as background actors like Domhnall Gleeson and Robert Pattison).

So it’s an interesting time to meet her.

Dressed in light blue and with blond shoulder-length hair, she cuts a summery figure, in tune with the last throes of warm weather outside Claridges, where we meet.

She’s a little ethereal, softly spoken and warm, but is not naive to the fame game: she’s already perfected the art of speaking like a celebrity, not least when she lists baking and acting as a goodwill ambassador for the International Union for Conservation of Nature as her hobbies.

Poised for the double-edged world of gossip articles and Twitter ‘churnalism’, she’s clear on her position as a celebrity, perhaps a result of previously being papped with Josh Groban.

“I have a very private world of people that I love very much, and that’s separate to all of this,” she says, gesturing to the Fantastic Beasts activity around us.

“It’s really important that I protect what keeps me grounded because success comes and goes, and all you have is who you are and who you love.

“When you’re younger, you don’t realise that once you let that door open, it’s very difficult to close it again.

And relationships are enough to do at the best of times, let alone when people watch and comment on it.

“There are so many things I’ve done that I’m glad I’ve done privately because it’s so embarrassing just anyway,” she says.

The stage it gives her isn’t all bad: it allows her considerable philanthropic work, and with the smart but sultry Queenie, allows her to act as a role model by portraying women in a realistic manner, despite the movie’s fantastical premise.

“Women are often written as one thing — the ingénue or the vamp — but real women are many things,” Alison says.

“I would love to show young girls that you can be complex, and that you don’t have to part ways with your femininity in order to be taken seriously.

“But it does take more strength if you’re going to be feminine, because people are going to underestimate you.

“I struggled with that when I was growing up,” she continues.

“I felt I had to choose between being pretty or smart or athletic, and stick to it because if you try to do more than one, you have nowhere to belong.

“Then music was a boy’s world and a lot of times men assumed I didn’t know what I was doing because I was young and female. I found that as a reaction to this, I wouldn’t wear make up, and I would wear things that make me look tougher so I could be taken more seriously.

“So one of my favourite things about Queenie is that she shows just because you’re feminine, it doesn’t mean you can’t take charge.

“You can be messy and elegant at the same time, you can be highly emotional and highly grounded.”

With another two sequels in the works — already pencilled in for 2018 and 2020 — there’ll be plenty of scope for Queenie to do her bit for feminism, and certainly, Alison too.

‘Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them’ is released on November 18

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