By Dan Rankin
For most of us ‘muggles,’ (as non-magical folk are known in J.K. Rowling’s hugely popular “Harry Potter” books and films), Monday, Nov. 7 was just another normal day. But for Laura McAsh, 22, of St. Marys, it meant a trip to Toronto to compete in the finals of etalk’s “Fantastic Fan Competition.” The prize? A once-in-a-lifetime chance to meet the stars of Warner Brothers’ “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,” the latest film to be spun off of Rowling’s series of books about a spectacular world of wizardry and witchcraft that exists just out of sight of our own.
In the final, McAsh was up against 20-year-old Naseem Loloie of Kingston, who had also submitted a video demonstrating her super fandom of all things Rowling to the CTV entertainment news program “etalk.”
In a segment that aired on etalk on the evening of Nov. 7, Morgan Hoffman, host of InnerSpace on the TV network Space, and entertainment reporter Devon Soltendieck administered a multiple choice trivia quiz to the two finalists, with both McAsh and Loloie getting one answer correct after another. To prepare, McAsh said she watched all of the movie trailers and cast interviews she could, as well as re-reading Rowling’s 2001 book that the new film is based on. “We were asked over 20 questions, but since we both kept getting them right, it was trimmed down to three for the show for the sake of time,” McAsh told the Independent.
It came down to a tiebreaker question, with the finalists asked how many total chapters are in J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books. McAsh’s guess was closest without going over the actual answer of 199, making her the big winner.
The next day, she got to attend an early red carpet screening of the new film in downtown Toronto, which will be featured in tonight’s special episode of etalk. Before the movie was shown, she got to meet some of the biggest names in the cast, including the film’s star, Tony, BAFTA and Academy Award-winning actor Eddie Redmayne, as well as Katherine Waterston, Alison Sudol, Dan Fogler, Ezra Miller, director David Yates and longtime Potter producer David Heyman. The meetings took place in a building made up to resemble an important prop from the film, which was filled with other props and costumes used in the movie.
“I’m not really sure how I managed this, but I was the first person the talent met as they entered the room,” she said. “The room was a real mess of people and there was a flurry of activity, but somehow I was able to get ahead of it. I got a solid minute with each of the stars as they entered the room one by one; a solid minute that I will cherish forever.”
During her time with them, which included taking a few selfies and autograph signings, McAsh said she told them how much of a fan she was, and chatted with them about the film.
“My most prized autograph came from Eddie, the star of the film, who wrote ‘Laura, all the best’ in my copy of ‘Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them’ that I’ve had since 2001,” she said. Rowling originally wrote the book under the pseudonym Newt Scamander, who is the main character of the novel, and is portrayed in the film by Redmayne. “I was thus very happy to have the actor who plays Newt Scamander in the film sign the book ‘written’ by him,” she added.
McAsh said she was able to remain very calm throughout the experience, at least, “until David Heyman came in.”
“Although David does not appear in the film, I was the most star-struck by him,” she said. “That is because he is not only the producer of Fantastic Beasts, but of all eight original Harry Potter films as well. He first read ‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone’ before it was even published. David has been a part of ‘Team Potter’ even before ‘Team Potter’ was a thing. For that reason, I couldn’t hold back tears when I introduced myself to him. He gave me a big hug and I thanked him for being such an important part of bringing the Wizarding World to life.”
While we muggles will have our first shot at seeing the movie when it premieres nationwide tonight, McAsh has already seen it and says, “It was positively splendid!”
“It was everything I wanted and more,” she said. “It has the heart of the original films, which is probably due to the fact that much of the original crew from ‘Team Potter’ were back to work their magic. It’s crazy to think that I actually saw the movie before it had its world premiere in New York on Nov. 11! I can’t wait to see it again.”
When she’s not in Toronto hobnobbing with movie stars, McAsh is a student at the University of Guelph. “It’s no Hogwarts, but the number of Harry Potter fans that study there help to ease the pain of the mundane Muggle world,” she joked.