How Nagini Became the Most Tragic Figure in ‘Fantastic Beasts’

Keely Flaherty
Movies Harry Potter
Movies Harry Potter

WARNING: This post contains spoilers for the Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald. Proceed at your own caution.

Back when we first found out that Nagini would appear in Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald as a human being and not as Voldemort’s most beloved pet and Horcrux, fans were shook. The responses ranged from harsh criticism to extreme excitement — but regardless of opinion, no one really knew much about the character beyond her brief appearances in the trailers. Nagini was the stuff of nightmares in the Harry Potter series, but she’s since morphed from villain to tragic figure.

Now we know a bit more. We chatted with Nagini herself, actor Claudia Kim, about Nagini’s identity as a Maledictus, her relationship with Credence, and her own fear of snakes. Here’s how Kim made Nagini heartbreakingly human, and ended up turning her into one of the most tragic figures in the Harry Potter canon.

Nagini Crimes of Grindelwald

Nagini’s Human Form Almost Looked Very Different

From her longing stares at Credence to her visible heartbreak when he chooses to join Grindelwald, Kim’s Nagini always looks strikingly vulnerable. But Nagini almost had a very different, much more snake-like appearance in the film. “In the beginning, we thought of having snake scales on my neck and putting [in] contacts,” Kim said, “but David didn’t want my emotions to get lost in that, or to have people not see her eyes and her feelings as a human. It’s more of the animal popping out once in a while and taking over a little bit.”

Nagini Crimes of Grindelwald

That occasional animalistic pop was always at the forefront of the actor’s mind. To help her get into Nagini’s snake-like physicality and better relate to her emotional journey, Kim worked with a movement coach and focused on developing subtle snake-like mannerisms. “It’s just little things — when she’s holding Credence or when they hold hands, just the slightest movement, I’m thinking of whether this is true to snake movement.”

During scenes when Yates wanted to see more of Nagini’s scaled half, he developed a quick language. “David would give me direction like, ‘Could you please add 2% snake?’ I didn’t know if people would notice, but that’s the idea.”

Kim Was Also Shocked by the Nagini Reveal

According to Kim, she didn’t find out her character’s true identity until the very end of the audition process — and she had no idea they’d reveal it before the movie came out. “I was just trying to figure out if it could have been somebody from Credence’s past or one of his longtime friends,” Kim recalled. Then director David Yates told her the truth. “I found out during the last process of the audition when I met Ezra [Miller, who plays Credence] in person. David just dropped the bomb then and told me, ‘You’re Nagini.’ And so I didn’t really have time to express my excitement and shock, I so quickly had to become the snake.”

Nagini Crimes of Grindelwald

As both an actor and a Harry Potter fan, Kim was thrilled with the reveal. “I’m so amazed by how [author JK Rowling] continuously shocks us by creating these characters who are so complex and so interesting. Nobody would have expected [Nagini] to be this woman who is able to create such a beautiful friendship with Credence.”

Kim’s Trying to Overcome Her Own Fear of Snakes

Unlike her on-screen counterpart, Kim’s always been afraid of snakes, and she’s only recently tried to get to know and appreciate the species a little better. “I went to the zoo to pet this beautiful black snake, and it was so soft and lovely and actually moved very slowly,” she said. The snake’s on-site caretaker told Kim that snakes won’t attack people without provocation, a comforting fact she never knew. “Snakes seem evil and people have such a negative image [of them], but that’s actually not true.”

Kim used the experience to better inform her interpretation of Nagini. “It was helpful, just getting to get close with the animal and learning how the snake moves.” The only downside is that she’s still, even now, having dreams about snakes.

Nagini’s Blue Dress Has a Heartbreaking Message

Surprisingly, Nagini’s signature color isn’t a Slytherin-like metallic green similar to her snake form’s scales. From her dress to her stage makeup, Nagini’s color is clearly a deep metallic blue. For Kim, that color told a sad story. “For me, blue is such a rich and lovely color but also maybe speaks about her tragedy. When I look at blue, especially that kind of deep blue, it’s almost like sadness.”

Nagini Crimes of Grindelwald

Throughout the film, we mostly see Nagini in her low-cut, ornate blue circus dress — even after she and Credence escape. Kim was freezing on set — “It wasn’t just my chest [exposed], it was a see-through dress!” — but loved every moment in the costume. Costume designer Colleen Atwood only needed one fitting to craft the dress, and it’s the one item Kim wishes she could steal.

“The costume really just adds so much about her being a performer and being trapped in the circus,” Kim said. “That’s what she has to wear every single day. The weight of it, the beauty of it, actually [coincides] with her situation. When I put it on, it added so much more to my character.”

The Maledictus Curse Is Even More Complex Than We Thought

After the big Nagini trailer reveal, Rowling took to Twitter to clarify some details surrounding how Nagini could have once been a human being — and it’s all the doing of a new kind of canon magic known as a Maledictus curse. But we still don’t know too much about what this specific kind of blood magic entails.

Per Rowling, Nagini’s identity is a twist she’s been planning from the very beginning. She also confirmed that a Maledictus is very different from other types of magic that transform humans into animals — like a werewolf or Animagus. In Rowling’s own words, “Maledictuses are always women. The Maledictus carries a blood curse from birth, which is passed down from mother to daughter.” Additionally, we learned in Crimes of Grindelwald that Nagini was also found in the jungles of Indonesia.

Nagini Crimes of Grindelwald

“That was surprising for me!” Kim laughed about Rowling’s Twitter reveals. “What’s great is that they’re not just trying to flood us with information, it’s more that they trust us to do what feels right and take ownership of that. And, of course, David [Yates] is there to guide us because he knows what’s going on in the bigger picture.”

Kim hasn’t had many conversations with Rowling about exactly what’s in store for her character, or how her powers specifically work — Kim originally didn’t even know that she was a Maledictus, which she thinks worked in her favor. “It’s actually great that they didn’t tell me she’s a Maledictus from the start because I was able to look at her and her personality without any prejudice. She has these amazing qualities — and yes, she’s fearful that she has this curse cast upon her and that she’s losing time, but she has so much love for Credence and almost has this protectiveness over him.”

What Kim does know for sure is that she analyzed Nagini’s physicality and emotional journey very meticulously. “This is my interpretation after playing this character and doing the scenes that we did,” she explained. “I’m willing to find out more, and JK has only expressed that she loves this character so much.”

Kim’s interpretation was meticulous, from the physicality to defining just how Nagini’s powers function. “At this point, Nagini has gained some kind of control [over her powers]. I think it’s more the sense of danger that [makes her] transform into a snake. It’s almost like she’s always aware; the animal within her is always on the lookout. You know how animals can sense danger from afar? It’s kind of that feeling. And maybe it’s not her will, maybe it’s just the animal taking over.”

Kim Knows All About the Backlash Surrounding Nagini

Introducing any new character to the Harry Potter universe has the potential to cause excitement and criticism — and Nagini’s reveal definitely caused both. Some fans were thrilled, and other believed casting an Asian woman as a snake played into racist tropes. When a fan voiced criticism on Twitter, saying “[S]uddenly making Nagini into a Korean woman is garbage, representation as an afterthought for more woke points is not good representation,” Rowling bit back with historical context. “The Naga are snake-like mythical creatures of Indonesian mythology, hence the name ‘Nagini,’” she tweeted. “They are sometimes depicted as winged, sometimes as half-human, half-snake. Indonesia comprises a few hundred ethnic groups, including Javanese, Chinese, and Betawi. Have a lovely day.”

Kim, who’s South Korean, was surprised by the backlash. “That’s not exactly what I expected,” she laughed, “but there’s so much love — especially because I also got so much support from other Asians and people back home. I think it’s all good. I just think representation is such an important conversation, and [our] voices are critical in changing things for Asian actors and Asian films.”

Nagini Crimes of Grindelwald

Despite the initial backlash, Kim can’t wait to see what more is in store for her character. “I can only say that Nagini just really spoke to me, from the first time I read the script, and I really am looking forward to JK blowing our minds and creating so many different layers to this character. Her story is only beginning.”

And since Nagini’s story is only beginning, could we ever expect a solo movie about the character’s past and origin story? “That would be amazing, I’ve never thought of that! But now I think I’ll be dreaming of that.” Well, that and snakes.

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