(Featured image courtesy of Beowulf Sheehan)
For William Nadylam, star of the latest Harry Potter Wizarding World film Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore, acting was “some sort of salvation.” Growing up in France, he always believed that his career would be on a medical track, that he was destined to become a doctor just like his father. There were no actors in his family, so for a long time he didn’t even consider it as an option for his future. However, once he began gravitating towards performing, he found that medical pursuits and artistic ones weren’t actually all that different. “Acting and storytelling were really a part of my culture and my upbringing… and I sort of realized that you could… I won’t say heal, because that would be arrogant, but that you could actually touch people with acting.” Through watching his father at work as a pediatrician, “I was amazed at how he could stop a child from crying and heal a wound. I realized that through acting, you could actually do that.” He even realized that nearly all of the adult officials in his life (including his father) were also playing a part in a way, doctors dressing up in their blue scrubs or lawyers in their black robes, to act out their “parts” in society everyday. That connection between art and relieving the pain of wounds both seen and unseen became a “blessing” for him and developed his understanding of how he could help the world in his own unique way.
One of Nadylam’s first major roles came as Judge Galbert in the true crime miniseries Forgotten Girls (Les oubliées in its original French), alongside Jacques Gamblin, “a beautiful actor who I actually admired before getting to know him.” Nadylam highlighted Gamblin’s intensity and how he loves working with those sorts of performers, citing Jeffrey Wright and Don Cheadle as similar inspirations. The series pulls its story from real events in a region of France that has experienced notoriously high rates of crime and child abuse, and William was intrigued by how the writers explored those dark topics, but as always, he found “something healing about it.” He acknowledged the fact that most moviegoers and television watchers aren’t looking to be faced with humanity’s darkest impulses on their days off at the cinema, but “actually, it’s a way to take the dark areas of our lives, and it makes us stronger. For me, it works that way. Working on that miniseries gave me strength that way.”
On the other, much lighter hand, William has starred in the French political satire Parlement (a play on the word “parliament”) for two seasons, the latter of which will soon be premiering on French Télévisions and Topic in the United States. “Returning on Parlement was a big excitement for me, because the reason I did this project was mainly because it was a challenge to start with.” Nadylam met creator Noé Debré, who he highlighted as “one of the finest screenwriters in France,” on the set of Stillwater. Nadylam was so impressed by that film’s script, he immediately knew he had to meet with him and co-writer Thomas Bidegain to discuss future projects. When Debré approached him with the idea for Parlement, “I thought, ‘Wow. I don’t know what this is about, but I trust Noé, so let’s try.’ When I started reading what he wrote for my character, I basically laughed all my way to the end.”
Right away, William commended Debré for his courage on tackling the delicate and complicated subject of European government. “It’s not exactly the most sexy subject on the planet.” And to add the layer of satire and comedy made the endeavor even more impressive. “I remember when I was a child, I overheard adults saying that if you wanted to seduce someone, make them laugh. I thought, ‘Okay, if I can make people laugh with the European parliament, maybe that opens a window through which they can try and understand what exactly the idea is behind creating a European parliament. What is this utopia?’” Especially for today’s political climate, in a Europe “torn and shaken with intolerance and tyrranies and violence,” Nadylam found it was “interesting to see that people actually can come together and defend a certain idea of democracy, a certain idea of solidarity, a certain idea of ‘sharing the wealth’ in a way.” Tracking his character Eamon’s growth through that social lens was a pleasure for William, especially seeing as how the actor sees his character as the defining symbol of parliament that the entire show is built around. “He’s the only administrator who’s actually on site all the time. Other characters come and go. He stays.” While he stayed tight-lipped about details on the new season, he did tease that things will be getting a lot more personal for Eamon in the new batch of episodes.
However, Nadylam’s time since the beginning of the pandemic has largely been defined by The Secrets of Dumbledore, the latest installment in the Fantastic Beasts franchise that continues to explore the backstory of the titular Hogwarts professor, as well as his nemesis and a host of other witches and wizards caught in the crossfire. A couple decades after the release of the original Harry Potter books and movies, you’d have a hard time finding people whose lives haven’t been touched by the wizarding world in some way or another. When encountering the series for the first time, William remembers his amazement at seeing a story where magic was so commonplace. Growing up with an Indian mother and an African father, he was used to places and cultures “where magic is a part of everyday life. It’s not exotic. You have deities. You have rituals every day. It’s actually something natural.” While previously William had “felt kind of awkward to have given so much room to the invisible” and the supernatural inside of him, seeing a similar world celebrated by millions upon millions of fans across the globe gave him a sort of peace. “It made me feel closer to people from other cultures and different places.” Of course, the twists and turns of the plot thrilled him along the way, but his “strongest feeling was that of something right about how magic is natural. Magic is normal. Magic is an extension of our will.”
Interestingly enough, the choice for all of the wizards’ magic to be channeled through wands was an especially important detail for Nadylam. “That’s a beautiful metaphor for me, holding a wand. You have a wand to conduct an orchestra, to bring all the people in a philharmonic orchestra in the same direction. We have something called a sourcier in French, which is the old man in a village with a little stick who is going to find where a water source is. What he’s using is a wand. Everything can be a wand, and the wand is simply the extension of your desire, the extension of the powers you don’t know you have.” The idea of that hidden, untapped power is exactly why he thinks Harry Potter has struck such a strong cultural nerve, for children in particular. This magic is something invisible within every child; the wand is just what makes it visible. The fact it’s invisible doesn’t mean it’s not there. “If you keep discovering, mathematically, it means that what is to be discovered is way bigger than what has been discovered, so the invisible is bigger than what’s visible.” That inspiration of potential is what Harry Potter has meant to children and what it will surely continue to mean for countless generations.
That beloved nature of the Wizarding World franchise and the ravenous nature of the fans who constantly want to know the secrets and scoops on future projects is exactly why details on every new installment are kept tightly under wraps, but that’s perfect for Nadylam. “I am a very secretive person by nature. When I do a play or an opera, or if I write something, I tend to cook in secret, because the biggest reward is to see the surprise on people’s faces when they discover a thing.” While he emphasized that you can see the new movie with any level of knowledge about the franchise and still enjoy it, he also said that the reward for superfans for going in blind is untouchable. Of course, this can’t stop any of them from theorizing or coming up with their own ideas about what might happen next. “The community is so strong and clever… Sometimes they know the characters better than some of us [actors], me especially.” William has made sure to constantly re-explore his character, because if any fans have questions they want to discuss, he wants to make sure he has the right answers. “You really need to know your story.”
Then again, he highlighted the importance of keeping details under wraps out of respect to the creative team behind the film. “What people don’t know is that I have been filming for seven months. Eddie has been filming for more than that,” and the technical design teams working on the sets and costumes and effects have been working for even longer. “Those are geniuses, the little hands as I call them, who put all their passion and knowledge into building one thing, one prop. All these guys have worked for so long, so out of respect for their work, you have to keep everything a secret. They actually work until the last minute.” Just one week before the UK premiere, William had the pleasure to go to Paris and meet the team behind the French dub of the film. While that may seem like standard translation and recording, he underscored how many intricacies there are involved in that process as well. “Understanding what was said, why it was said that way, how to translate it into French, what the right intonation was for this and that… It was amazing to see that they would come to the project at the end but have the same passion we had at the beginning.” Even when people think the film is all finished and ready for release, there are still people tinkering with it and making improvements, often right up until it’s first shown in theaters. “People are still cooking it.”
With how many millions of eyes were watching in anticipation for the showdown between Grindelwald and Dumbledore to begin, it’s only natural that the team behind the film would start to feel a level of pressure to give the fans something they’ll enjoy. This did set in for Nadylam, but interestingly enough, much more so on The Secrets of Dumbledore than his first appearance, in The Crimes of Grindelwald. “On the first one, I didn’t really take the right measure of the magnitude of this fanbase of this wizarding world. I didn’t have a clue.” However, as he began talking to his friends, pharmacists and bakers and lawyers, about his role, he started to see the impact of the franchise on a much more personal level. “I realized they were Harry Potter fans, and their children were Harry Potter fans. Being able to put a face to what a Wizarding World fan is really touched me and moved me, and it allowed me to realize the importance of… just the fact that with a story, you can bring something positive to people. You can alleviate some of the heavy weight we have on our shoulders.”
Once the pandemic hit, people were in need of art to take that weight off their shoulders more than ever, so it’s no surprise that The Secrets of Dumbledore was one of the first productions to get back to work. “David Heyman with Warner Bros put so much effort in protecting this production, protecting people working and the staff, protecting everybody. We had very strict procedures.” Every cast and crew member was tested at least once a day every day for almost a year. Mostly everything went smoothly, one of William’s favorite memories from set actually came when things went wrong. An extra tested positive for COVID-19, and everything suddenly went up in the air. Would the production be shut down? Would everyone have to quarantine at home for weeks on end? In the middle of all this uncertainty, director David Yates’ first priority was to pick up the phone and call the sick extra to reassure him. “This person was really, really sad because he thought he’d injured the whole production, and I was really touched that David would take his phone and call this person just to make them feel alright about themselves and make sure they were healing and would be taken care of.”
Luckily, the virus hadn’t seemed to have spread, so everyone was able to get back to work fairly quickly, and it made Nadylam that much more appreciative of the privilege to be around everyone on the crew, making art together. There were moments where he recalled his upbringing, when he thought he was going to become a doctor. He questioned himself: “Was it the right choice to be an actor, rather than pursuing the medical studies I had started with?” However, going back on set after that COVID scare just confirmed for him that this was his purpose, “knowing that at the end of the tunnel, people were going to need this. Eventually, this pandemic was going to fade, and eventually people were going to need to cheer up and remember the importance of storytelling… It was this uplifting joy of being able to bring something enjoyable and magical and electric to the audience at the end of the tunnel.”
Part of William’s character Yusuf Kama’s journey takes him to Bhutan, and when the actor first stepped onto the set there, he realized that he was in a village that the set designer had essentially built from scratch. “You walk into that set, and you wonder what scene is being filmed here, and you realize the camera is not even being pointed at that particular spot. It’s just in the corners of the image, and you realize the passion and the faith and the talent hat all these people put into their work.” It inspired William to really step up his A game and rise to the occasion every day. “I’m the actor that’s going to be saying those words, going to move there and going to create the magic, so I better not disappoint.” He and the other cast members would constantly be wandering around the set between takes, admiring all the tiny details and objects placed around by Stuart Craig, the Oscar-winning production designer. “He’s seventy-nine years old, and he still has his passion in his eye and his little smile. Seeing him walking there, admiring the work… I will always remember that.” That love of the wizarding world is evidently shared by everyone behind the scenes, who love the world and the characters just as much as the moviegoers do. Despite the pandemic throwing so many obstacles in their way, Nadylam found that everyone continued to come to set with that same energy every day, and that’s what pushed them through all the anxiety of that time. “People still have this passion of magic they defend. They wanted to have the desire to marvel. It’s something that’s really precious. As long as we are able to marvel at something, then we’re safe.”
Now, Yusuf has gone through quite the transformation since audiences last saw him in the Crimes of Grindelwald. “This is a person who has lived by himself for all this time. He was moved by vengeance. He’s literally made of vengeance. This Unbreakable Vow makes him an avenger. So, what are an avenger of once the object of vengeance is taken away?” The last of his biological family is gone, but he’s found a new kind of family in Newt, Theseus, Jacob, and the rest of what’s been nicknamed Dumbledore’s First Army. Then again, he doesn’t know these people too well, and he’s still unmoored in a way, discovering where he belongs in this conflict. “Who does he trust?” Dumbledore’s mysterious methods don’t always make his plans entirely clear to Yusuf, so the French-Senegalese wizard “always keeps the ultimate superlative to choose where he’s going to go.” In future movies, William wants to continue exploring where Yusuf’s allegiances may swing. He has a unique bond with Newt, “because as Leta [Lestrange] says, New always has to protect monsters,” but where will that bond take him? Ultimately, William believes that that road will lead to finding a way to forgive. “If not to forget, then to forgive.” Yusuf has a new family and a new purpose, but those are still being defined, so Nadylam is excited to continue to draw and redraw those lines in later installments.
Nadylam would also like to dive more into Yusuf’s past, particularly his dual legacies of France and Africa. “I think it would be interesting to explore all these roots in this character also because he’s someone who has to have fortitude, who has to understand how to maybe make way for something he has not been open to for all these years.” The Unbreakable Vow he took necessitated him to become a bit of a loose cannon of revenge, “a kamikaze of the wizarding world, and I think opening all that, opening his relationship to the beasts or a form of humor, that is something that’s yet to be explored.” Nadylam can also sense that Yusuf has great power as a wizard that is still yet to be fully represented. “You can feel Dumbledore has a slightly different relationship to him because of his powers. There’s a lot to uncover about him.”
Beyond potential future Fantastic Beasts films, Nadylam is exploring his writing skills. “I have a lot of stories. Sometimes I feel like I’ve lived many lives. It’s interesting, because Yusuf Kama’s heritage is French and Senegalese, and my heritage is Indian, French, and Cameroonian, and I’m now based in the U.S. I work in England, and what I get from all these places, this touring, is many stories.” Currently, he’s working with a Haitian director on a film based on her personal story, spanning between her native island and New York in the seventies. The upcoming project closest to his heart is Respiro (respiro.tv), an experimental initiative that brought together eighty-six people from all across the globe to tell stories, each in their own native languages. It was conceived in the pandemic, when Nadylam took it upon himself to collect these videos and piece them together, with the help of some animators and graphic designers. At the aforementioned website, these videos will play twenty-four hours a day for a month, at no cost, for children to have access to whenever they want. “It’ll be a gift from the big sisters and big brothers to the kids so they can know that we are all linked by those ancient stories of hope.” The project was titled Respiro because of the virus that attacked everyone’s respiratory system, and William’s goal is “to contaminate the world back with something positive and something ancient.” The project is still roughly four months away from broadcasting, but the entirely volunteer-based team is working around the clock to prepare these videos for the general public. “It’s something for the people, by the people.”
You can see William Nadylam as Yusuf Kama in Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore, in theaters everywhere right now.