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Katherine Waterston on why she got to the 'Harry Potter' books late

The actress talks "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them" and avoiding the mainstream.

Our interview with Katherine Waterston happened the day before the election. We were a little nervous; we had no idea that we should have been even more anxious. Our pre-election chatter has been kept in because look how optimistic we still were! Certainly that's better than had it been done after the election and we spent the entire chat crying into our teas.

Instead we talked tenuously around the actress’ first super-big movie: “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,” a prequel-of-sorts to the “Harry Potter” series. Waterston — whose breakthrough was “Inherent Vice,” which led to big roles here and in the forthcoming “Alien: Covenant” — plays a kind of wizard-detective, who meets up with a wizard-zoologist (Eddie Redmayne) and winds up trying to save 1920s New York City.

Our chat with the actress, 36, and the daughter of “Law & Order” star Sam Waterston, begins with election talk.

I feel like I should have done more for Hillary. I’ve done nothing like what Danny Glover does; he goes to low-income neighborhoods in cities like Philadelphia and drives people to polling places.
He’s not the only person who’s done that. I’ve driven people to voting places in multiple cities around the country. Not to brag about it.

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No, you should definitely brag about it. That’s a great thing to do.
You see crazy things when you knock on registered voters’ doors to see if they need a ride. My dad once did it, somewhere in Pennsylvania. Someone came to the door with a dildo. [Laughs] He was like, “I’m a little busy, but I voted already!”

RELATED: Interview: Eddie Redmayne on his "seduction dance" in "Fantastic Beasts"

How did you get into that, other than it’s the right thing to do?
The first I election I could vote in was when George W. Bush was first elected. I didn’t think it could happen, and it was horrible the way it did happen. It just made me feel I had to participate more. Ever since then I’ve done what I can. It’s probably nowhere near enough. But I feel like if everyone helped out, they could make a difference.

A difference would be nice. I’d rather live in a world where I didn’t watch every movie — including this one — and think one of the villains reminded me of a man running for president.
There’s no question J.K. Rowling is holding a mirror up to society with her work. She does it with such a deft hand that you don’t feel you’re being lectured to or talked down to. But it’s there. I think there’s a wonderful balance in her work of facing these really important issues of our time, but also giving us a healthy dose of much-needed escapism.

We’re about the same age, meaning we weren’t kids when the “Harry Potter” books came out. There’s an entire generation that grew up with them.
That’s right. They were the same age [as Harry] when the first book came out. I can’t even fathom what that must have felt like. J.K. Rowling got an entire generation reading at a time when there were so many tempting distractions on screens.

I didn’t really read them, except the first two, and then years after they came out.
My reluctance to read the books had to do with a general disinterest in bestsellers. When I see a book on the subway, I don’t want to read it. I’m very stubborn about that. I guess I don’t tend to want to go with the flow. If I’m in a store and I touch a garment and the saleswoman says, “That’s the most popular thing in the shop,” I’ll put it back. I’m not attracted to mainstream things for some reason. I always get to them, but generally a decade later. I’ll say to someone, “Did you read ‘The Corrections’? It’s so amazing!” They’ll say, “Yeah, a long time ago.” [Laughs] I didn’t start reading [the “Harry Potter”] books until we were shooting. It was a random, happy accident, but it was just a way to stay immersed in that world on and off set.

I actually only read “The Corrections” last year. I get to books way after they’re cool, too. It makes it feel more intimate, less like you’re part of some big group doing the same thing.
For me, if I don’t see a movie the first night of the opening weekend, I really struggle. I like to get in there before I’ve heard too much about it. I don’t like to watch trailers, I don’t like to read reviews. I really like to have my own experience. I don’t even like people saying, “You’ve got to see this movie or read this book.” The worst question is, “You mean you haven’t seen X?!” Then I immediately feel bad about myself for some reason. [Laughs] I don’t like all that stuff. So I either have to get in ahead of the masses or be 10 years late. I’ve got my hands on Zadie Smith’s new book and it hasn’t come out yet; I feel like I’ve got to read it now, otherwise I won’t read it for 10 years.

Doing that sort of takes you back to feeling like a kid. You don’t know something you’re reading is being read by the entire world.
You don’t know how big the world is yet. The books you fall in love with as a child, you feel they’re just for you. I got to have a little bit of that experience with [“Harry Potter”], because I was reading the first book long after the chatter had died down.

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge
 
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