“This is a film for young people and people who are young at heart,” Ava DuVernay recently said at a press conference for her new film A Wrinkle in Time, based on the beloved science fiction novel by Madeline L’Engle.
“And for me,” DuVernay continued, “I have to ask myself, do I still have a heart, first of all? And is there an inner child still in me? Did I tap into the 11-year-old, the 12-year-old, the 13-year-old in me, and find that light that I used to have, that dreamer? And so I got to do that for two years. I got to really get in touch with all that I thought I would be when I was young and really tap into that and try to create some magic with this great group of people.”
Just a few nights before while introducing one of the first screenings of the film to a packed house full of anticipation, the director made sure to let everyone know the film is targeting a youthful audience and hoping to be The NeverEnding Story for this generation.
“I think we talked a lot about what makes Wrinkle so amazing and has resonated for decades and decades is because there is a timeless quality to the themes [L’Engle] dealing with,” said screenwriter Jennifer Lee. “But we did look a lot at what are those themes today, what do they mean today? And how do you stay true to that, but re-interpret them in a way that we all say this is our world? This is what we understand. So we just had a lot of conversations about what we were inspired by and then what that meant to us growing up and to children now and to the world now.”
Starring in the lead role as young Meg Murry is Storm Reid, who is poised for a major breakout after starring in DuVernay’s highly anticipated film. Despite her youth, Reid approached the part with the thought process of a seasoned veteran.
“My dad hasn’t been missing for four years, so I didn’t really know how to really translate that at first, but I really had to just tell myself that I had to step in Meg’s shoes with all the situations she’s going through,” Reid said. “Thankfully I’m not getting bullied and my dad isn’t missing and I’m not going through the things that Meg is going through, so when I did step in her shoes and then knowing that relating back to my life and my relationship with my dad – me and my dad are very close – and kind of thinking about him being missing for four years really helped me bridge the gap of how I would feel and how I would go through that.”
As Reid’s adopted brother Charles Wallace is newcomer Deric McCabe in his first movie role. The young actor had plenty of confidence in himself before stepping in front of the cameras. “Ava put us to a test during rehearsals,” McCabe recalled. “We were in a hallway, and I was with Levi [Miller] and Storm, and she made us walk down and say our lines, and pretend no one was watching. And I was like, ‘That was easy.’ And she’s like, ‘Really?’”
McCabe made sure to add, “Hollywood. Pssshh.”
As Meg’s friend Calvin, Australian actor Levi Miller was excited to dive into a fantastical world of science fiction as well as the opportunity to work with Ava DuVernay. “I’m kind of into sort of physics and science, especially now, so it’s interesting to read not only the emotional part of the book and the emotional part of the story that we’re telling, but the scientific part of it was quite intriguing for me. It was a big draw for me,” Miller said. “And getting to – Ava as well – I saw Selma which was an incredible film, probably one of my favorite films ever, so it was an experience for me.”
Opposite the youthful fresh faces are Hollywood icons, most notably, of course, Oprah Winfrey, who stars as Mrs. Which and is also a friend and previous collaborator with DuVernay. “First of all, you have Disney money,” Winfrey joked about the difference between A Wrinkle in Time and Selma, the latter of which she helped finance portions of when the studio wouldn’t fund certain scenes.
“You got the Disney machine and that’s why one of the reasons why this is so exciting, that Ava DuVernay is at the helm of that,” Oprah continued. “It makes me well inside. Fills my heart every time I think about Ava and her dreads and her sneakers and these big cranes and all of these men running around, taking direction from her. And to see her be the master of that, to orchestrate all of that was powerful and inspiring. It touches, I think, the part of us that recognizes, oh yeah, we can do that; we’ve always been able to do that, and I was just so proud to be associated with her and her ability to make this film possible. So that’s what was different. I was with her on a film where literally we had one day to shoot everybody coming across the bridge in Selma. You got to get it before it rains, and if it rains, you’re not gonna get it. And you don’t have enough money to try it again. So, big difference. Big difference.”
Alongside Oprah as Mrs. Which is Mindy Kaling as Mrs. Who, and the actress from The Office and The Mindy Project was eager to work Ava DuVernay. “It’s absolutely incredible. It feels, I can’t believe that I was selected to do this. It’s such an honor to act with all these incredible actors. I mean, I’m a sitcom actress and Ava saw something in me,” Kaling said.
“We actually met at a party. It was for Malala [Yousafzai]. Ava, Malala and I were the only three women of color at this big party. And after I finished talking to Malala, Malala was seated to my left and Ava was seated over there, and once I finished talking to Malala, I really want to talk to Ava. We had a great conversation and I thought, ‘You know what, our genres are so different, we’ll never cross paths.’ Then this happened. So I feel so blessed to be part of it. And to wake up every morning and spend four hours in the makeup trailer with these [Oprah and Reese Witherspoon] was great.”
As for Reese Witherspoon, the actress plays Mrs. Whatsit and, like everyone else in the robust cast of A Wrinkle in Time, jumped at the opportunity to work with Ava DuVernay. “My agent called me and said, Ava Duvernay wants you to be in a movie. ‘Yes! Great, when do I show up?’ They were like, ‘Oh no, she has to take a meeting.’ I was like, ‘Oh, okay,’” the Oscar winning actress recalled.
Witherspoon continued, “So I sat across from her, I was like, ‘Really, you want me?’ And it was really, it’s very flattering to be chosen to be part of Ava’s movies because she doesn’t just make a movie, she makes an experience for everyone. She cares about what happens in front of the camera and she cares about what happens behind the camera. And everybody feels like they are important. Special. Honored. Valued for their contributions. And I feel like this was a masterclass in how to be a very thoughtful filmmaker. And a real visionary. In so many ways. So it was a privilege and an honor, and I got to be this amazing celestial person, who hangs out with Oprah and Mindy all day.”
Among the celestial beings of A Wrinkle in Time is Zach Galifianakis as the Happy Medium, and the comedic actor has his own reservations about taking the part. “I think Josh Gad would’ve been better but,” Galifianakis deadpanned.
Zach Galifianakis was happy to drop the comedic façade and explain what he finds important about bringing A Wrinkle in Time to the screen. “It’s nice for young boys, young men even, to see that it is okay to have a sensitive side of you,” he said. “I think when young boys in this climate, they are seen as sensitive. And they’re made fun of, but that doesn’t mean they’re not, it means they’re stronger to me. And I wish we would just kind of change that. You know, I come from a very masculine upbringing and a lot of people do it. I love the way I was raised, but looking back, we need balance. It’s time for balance. I think that’s what the Happy Medium is.”
As Dr. Kate Murry, the mother to Storm Reid’s Meg and Deric McCabe’s Charles Wallace, is Gugu Mbatha-Raw, whose star continues to rise with each new film role. “It was really fascinating because I’d never played a mother before and I’d also never played a scientist before, and it was kind of great because we got to meet this wonderful astrophysicist who was kind of the consultant on the movie, Stephon Alexander, and he wrote this incredible book, The Jazz of Physics. And Ava introduced us to him, we got to talk to him a little bit about inside his mind and what it might mean and what it might take to sort of pursue those theories,” the actress said. “I was really drawn to the fact that even though Dr. Kate and Alex Murry are obviously a love match, they’re also intellectual equals and it’s like a meeting of minds and that’s sort of the spark and discovering tessering and that pioneering spirit that they have is really what sort of keeps her hope alive when he’s been gone for so long.”
Captain Kirk himself, Chris Pine, stars in the film as Dr. Alex Murry, the scientist father who goes missing after his experiments. He, too, was impressed by Alexander’s book The Jazz of Physics. “I love jazz and I love John Coltrane. He opens the book talking about the music of the universe and how music and John Coltrane and physics and stars are one of the same thing and I was just, I fell in love with this guy. I could talk to him for hours,” Pine said.
“So I think that’s what I really enjoyed about this character is that his brain is just, it’s hungry and searching and explorative. And obviously that ambition to do great things is propels him forward to do some wonderful things scientifically, but unfortunately that kind of shadow side of him, ambition, it disconnects from what is most important in his life and what requires his daughter to reintroduce him to, which is the spirit and the beauty and regenerative quality of being next to human beings, touching and feeling and holding and kissing. All those things that make us human,” he continued.
For Ava DuVernay, she’s not going to lose sight that A Wrinkle in Time is meant to be an optimistic and aspirational film for young people. “They’re living in a chaotic time. We’re living in a chaotic time as adults. But imagine if you’ve only been on the earth for 10 years, and 11 years, and 12 years, the tension that you feel and so to be able to just give a little breather and to say who you are is enough, and this is how you’re gonna make it through by finding something in yourself that guides you,” the director said.
“We all have that little voice inside of us, and a lot of times we don’t listen to it. A friend of mine had a tremendous, tremendous episode of peer pressure of gigantic proportions that I’d never experienced or seen just a couple of weeks ago when the whole country, well a lot of the country, was saying you should run for president,” DuVernay joked about the speculation surrounding Oprah and a possible run for the presidency. “She said, ‘Y’all, the voice inside of me says I am not your president. I can do good in the world in a different way. But a tremendous amount.’ Like, I probably would’ve even said, ‘If everybody thinks I should, I’m gonna give it a try.’ That’s what we need more to tap into, your own voice.
Ava DuVernay and the cast and crew of A Wrinkle in Time are hoping the film can help people tap into their own voice. As Oprah calmly implored the assembled press and those reading this later, “Take some kids.”