Alison Sudol on Fantastic Beasts & channelling heartbreak into music: "There was nowhere to hide”

Alison Sudol uprooted herself from L.A and moved to London to play Queenie in the Harry Potter prequel Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore. Suddenly, the UK went into lockdown and Sudol suffered a miscarriage. The singer-songwriter and actress explains how she channelled her anguish into her new album, Still Come the Night.

Sudol is cramming as many chores as possible into an hour. “I’m a mum so I'm going to try and exercise, do some bills, emails and laundry in the time that I have free. It sounds really boring. I bet you're really glad you asked that question,” she laughs warmly, making up for it by joking that she’s about to go out on her yacht.

Sudol’s day to day tasks seem all the more mundane when you factor in that from 2016 to 2022 she has starred as Queenie Goldstein in the Fantastic Beasts franchise alongside Eddie Redmayne, Jude Law and Johnny Depp. 

Making the move from L.A to London after meeting her partner in the UK and in order to shoot 2022’s Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore, Sudol moved to the UK capital just before England’s first lockdown.

“It was an interesting time to move,” she acknowledges, a wry smile on her face. “I'm only just getting to know the neighbourhood now it’s open. It seemed like a new adventure to try living in London properly.”

I'm quite an extreme hot or cold kind of person so I go up and down with acting.

Sudol is generous with her time, and you can’t help feel soothed by her calm, dreamy voice. She speaks like a songwriter, her words poetic and impactful. It’s no accident. Fantastic Beasts fans might be surprised to learn that before stepping into Queenie’s mind-reading shoes, Sudol has been releasing music since 2007, although under the now abandoned pseudonym A Fine Frenzy.

“I was maybe 21 and I didn't like the idea of people focusing on me too much,” she says of the reason for the pseudonym. 

“I wanted the music to be its own thing and I wanted to be more in the background. I didn't want to be a pop star, the idea just terrified me. I chose the name to hide behind, essentially. When I got a bit older, I was still making music under this name, but I started to feel like I was outgrowing it and the aesthetic. 

"A Fine Frenzy also had a really strong association with my first album and I felt like I couldn't grow as an artist because people seemed to just want me to repeat that. I didn't know how to do that; it just wasn't in me,” she reflects.

“So I just decided to use my name, and it was terrifying because with a pseudonym, you can just make another pseudonym and then you can dump that and make another one. If you fail under another name, it doesn't really matter! 

"When you are putting out music as your own name, you really have to stand behind it. It's like a temporary tattoo versus a real tattoo.”

I have a real love-hate relationship with the music business.

Sudol came to acting a little later, starring in the Amazon Video series Transparent before landing the prominent role of Queenie in one of the biggest film franchises in the world.

“I'm quite an extreme hot or cold kind of person,” she admits, “so I go up and down with acting, but I have a milder relationship with it than with music, which is my most intimate form of expression. 

"It's something that I hold very closely to my heart, although I have a real love-hate relationship with the music business. But I can't really live without making music – I've tried,” she adds pointedly.

“Acting I love for very different reasons. I love the collaboration that comes from the film/TV world; I love that you get to be in a summer camp-type environment. Acting gives me more structure to my life because it is a bit less of the Wild West – music is all over the place. Acting is much more scheduled,” she decides, “and that's good for my brain.”

Aged 37, Sudol grew up as the Harry Potter books were released and became a global phenomenon. 

“I read them well into adulthood; they're brilliant books and such an incredible world. I never thought that this was going to be something that I could be a part of because it's such a British institution, and Americans don't end up in those,” she says, adding that she’s still working on her RP accent. “It's still pretty bogus,” she laughs.

I never thought that Fantastic Beasts was going to be something that I could be a part of because it's such a British institution.

“When there weren't any more books, Fantastic Beasts was such a surprise and an honour. I was so excited to be a part of this universe – and I was so nervous. 

"Storytelling is such an intrinsic part of who we are and how we make sense of the world, and what used to be storytellers around the fire is now Star Wars. It's Harry Potter. It's a much wider, much more global thing. It's modern mythology. 

"The archetype of Queenie, particularly, was really interesting to me and how much she'd matter to people, especially young women. I was really excited to have that responsibility.”

Over the course of the three films, Queenie goes from a charming friend and ally of Newt Scamander (Redmayne) to joining the side of dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald, before ultimately returning to the side of good again, marrying ‘No-Maj’ Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler).

“It's a classic archetype, right? The uninitiated, bright eyed girl is naive and gets manipulated by somebody of darker intent, goes into the underworld, has some deep realisations and fights back to the light, but with much more wisdom and sense of self than before. That's an archetype that appears in lots of different storylines.”

Queenie was really interesting to me and how much she'd matter to people, especially young women.

The first Fantastic Beasts film received mostly positive reviews and was a commercial success, grossing $814 million worldwide. The film’s third instalment didn’t fare so well, suffering from covid-related production issues, high profile lead actor and author controversies, and a disjointed storyline that struggled to grapple with the scope of its numerous narrative threads. The film received mixed reviews and is the lowest-grossing film of the Wizarding World franchise.

“It's difficult to achieve that kind of detail on a large scale,” says Sudol, choosing her words carefully. 

“Especially an action piece with loads of different characters and lots of plot to achieve. I don't know that all that was always clear, and there were some aspects of it that I rubbed up against,” she says of Queenie’s character development. 

“But it's not my story. I just did the best that I could with what I was given. I think if people came away with a sense of that archetype, then that's good. I'm always overthinking things, clearly! It's also just entertainment, isn't it? It's her journey, and that's my framework.”

JK Rowling planned for the Fantastic Beasts series to be five films, however in 2022, producer David Heyman revealed that no work on a script for part four had commenced yet. There are reportedly no Wizarding World films in active development, casting the future of the Fantastic Beasts films into uncertainty. 

“I'll probably hear around the same time you do,” says Sudol.

I didn't want to be a pop star, the idea just terrified me.

On Valentine’s Day 2020, Sudol found out that she was pregnant. Five weeks later, she was cramming as much toilet paper, canned goods and prenatal vitamins as she could into a rental car. 

Filming on Fantastic Beasts had been indefinitely suspended and the tour with Goldfrapp that was meant to start in a matter of days was postponed. Sudol and her partner decided to travel to the countryside to stay in a friend's remote cottage. 

Days after settling into their new surroundings, Sudol lost the baby. The days, weeks and months that followed are chronicled in songs from Sudol’s fourth full-length album, Still Come the Night.

“Both my partner and I were so devastated. It threw us and we didn't know how to process it,” she recalls somberly. “I couldn't manage this kind of grief and I couldn't shut it down. I needed to do something with all the grief pouring out or I would drown in it.”

Sudol picked up a battered old guitar that belonged to her friends’ son and started writing.

“Part of what I was hoping to achieve by making a record was to be able to talk to people about it, because there's a big taboo. We were at this incredible cottage with no Wi-Fi, so I couldn't just scroll the pain away. I couldn't do much. 

"I just had to watch the seasons change and go for slow walks and start to envision what became this album. I'm so grateful for that time to have been able to feel and to process it and to move through all of the different colours. It's not just about loss. it's about living through something that knocks you sideways, and how to pick yourself up, or not.”

What used to be storytellers around the fire is now Star Wars, Harry Potter. It's modern mythology.

Sudol is the first to admit that she struggles with processing big emotions, usually meeting grief with resistance and burying her feelings. “But this I couldn’t fight,” she says. “It was too big, too physical, too overwhelming. It was a tidal wave and it demanded that I feel it. There was nowhere to hide”.

Sudol turned to bittersweet music which resonated emotionally, finding herself drawn to instrumental and folk music from all around the world. Set with the changing seasons and the quiet solitude of their borrowed cottage as the backdrop, the first songs of her intimate and introspective record came quickly and quietly. The resulting album is surprisingly light on its feet for such a heavy topic.

“There's a lot of brightness in the album, and there's a lot of love and sorrow as well,” she nods. 

“I was thinking of the listener, but I was also thinking of myself and what I wanted to hear as I was going through it. I didn't want to be pressed upon with heaviness. I wanted to sing the truth of what I was feeling but I wanted light within that and to be soothed.”

Giant Wafer studios, nestled between sheep fields in the Welsh countryside not far from where her partner grew up, turned out to be the perfect place to make the record. 

Teaming up with multi-instrumentalist producer Chris Hyson and twin brothers Alex and Lloyd Haines, Sudol worked on the album from 10am until midnight for a week solid, each of them taking turns cooking – nothing around them other than a petrol station with some ginger cake and crisps on the shelves.

“Even though I cried at least five times a day, it was one of the best weeks of my life,” she says wistfully. “The guys were so kind and held space so gently for whatever I needed to go through. Each of them brought so much creativity and thoughtfulness to what we were doing. It was so healing.”

The quietly haunting Still Come the Night (recorded in one take) was the first song Sudol wrote in the days immediately following the loss. She nearly didn't feature it on the album due to how painful it was.

“It’s hard to sing in front of anyone. It catches me by surprise; sometimes I'm fine and sometimes I'm not. But I needed to sing it, needed to try and find something to hold onto. I tried to bring as much light as I could to it, to find the beauty in a moment where it was really hard to move through the day.”

I needed to do something with all the grief pouring out or I would drown in it.

The stripped back track, Peaches, was initially inspired by Sudol’s dog. When she started having recurring dreams about a baby girl, Sudol sensed it needed to be rewritten.

“Great as she is, I couldn’t write a song about Gertie,” she laughs. “It wasn’t really on topic. Then I started having these dreams that were so vivid. I didn’t know if I could bring a healthy baby into the world. I didn't know if I could bear to lose another. I wrote the lyrics to try to process what I was feeling.”

It was after Sudol’s daughter was born that she realised the lyrics were written two weeks before she was conceived.

“That is still surreal,” she smiles, shaking her head slightly. 

“That song wasn't ready to be written until I was ready to start thinking about her. These dreams were so strong and so insistent – it was really wild. I think the dreamscape has a lot to offer us in terms of things beyond our limited way of understanding them. She was waiting there, for whatever that's worth. It's a song that has a lot of joy in it, and I love that I can share that with her now.”

Still Come the Night is her most autobiographical and confronting record yet, and Sudol acknowledges that it is not for everyone.

“This album feels to me like it's the first time I'm just standing there in my own skin, just being with it. It's a relief to be so open. If it's not someone's taste, that's fine – it's not necessarily going to be for everybody in its subject matter. 

"Although subject-wise, it’s much more broad than just going through a miscarriage. I think this can apply to all kinds of grief, but you're not necessarily always in a place that you want to touch upon those feelings. It might shake things up…I don't know,” she considers, trailing off.

“Maybe it's just a nice album to listen to,” she suggests, brightening. “I'm just glad for the opportunity to speak about something that is very important to me and that maybe could offer some relief to other people as well, both both women and their partners. 

"It's brought so many conversations up by putting out the record. So many people are telling me about their experiences already. It's wild. That's what I hoped for.”

Image credits: 

Rocks and in water images: Angela Kohler

White outfit in field: Federico Nessi

Fantastic Beasts 3: Courtesy of Warner Bros Pictures