From visionary director Ava DuVernay and based on Madeleine L’Engle’s timeless classic, A Wrinkle in Time follows Meg Murry (Storm Reid), as she sets out on a transformative journey to discover that strength comes from embracing one’s flaws and that the light inside us can overcome the darkness around us. Meg is a typical teenager struggling with issues of self-worth, along with the mysterious disappearance of her father, four years ago. Upon learning that her father might still be alive but trapped on another planet, somewhere in the cosmos, Meg sets out on an adventure with her younger brother, Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe), and fellow classmate, Calvin (Levi Miller), to find out if she has the courage it will take to get him back.
At the film’s Los Angeles press junket, Collider got the opportunity to sit down with producer Jim Whitaker to talk about why he wanted to bring A Wrinkle in Time to the big screen, what he most appreciates with the themes in the book, how Ava DuVernay’s leadership was a guiding light throughout the production, the evolution of the adaptation, and why Storm Reid was the perfect actress to place at the film’s emotional center. He also talked about what he looks for in a project, where they’re at with the retelling of Peter Pan from David Lowery (Pete’s Dragon), and how John Waters sparked his desire to become a producer.
Collider: Why was now the right time to bring A Wrinkle in Time to the big screen?
JIM WHITAKER: For me, it was all about Meg and telling the story of this little girl who’s self-actualizing through this journey. It so happens that now might be the right time because it’s a darker time and a time when a movie that’s about lightness could be really great for the world. But it’s really about her and about this idea that we all have the ability to bring the best parts of ourselves to the world, no mater what’s going on. In a certain sense, there’s a timelessness to it, which is why the book has been so enduring. It represents what we all want to be, actually. That’s what really attracted me to it.
You must have read the book more than a few times now.
WHITAKER: I have. It sits right to the right of my computer and it’s just mangled. The pages are turned, and it’s got writing and highlighting all through it. When this is all over, in a couple of months, I’ll flip through it. I know it well.
Since you first read it as a child, are there things that you appreciate about the story now that you maybe didn’t even pick up on when you first read it?
WHITAKER: Yeah. The movie is a children’s movie, as it was a children’s book. The greatest thing will be for kids to go see it and to see it through their eyes. That’s how I read it and we hope that we’ve duplicated that. It’s a wild adventure that you go on, but on a very grounded level, you see this girl go on a journey and there’s also these larger concepts that, at the time I read it, were really powerful to me. When people see it, I think it will resonate with them on a higher level, too. That’s what makes the book so great, and what I think makes the movie great. I appreciate more about the book now because the story is like an onion that just keeps peeling away. I think Ava did a beautiful job, in bringing that to the screen in a cinematic way.
As a producer, getting any movie made seems daunting, but with a movie like this, what were you most nervous about being able to pull off and did anything feel insurmountable?
WHITAKER: Nothing felt insurmountable, in part because of Ava’s leadership. She’s a force of nature. I, and everybody, felt like we were in great hands, under her leadership. The thing I wanted to make sure that we did pull off, which I think we did, was that we never forget the fact that this is ultimately a simple story about a girl who feels different, feels somewhat unloved, and is looking for the best parts of herself, but can’t find them on Earth, and goes on this journey and finds all of that. The emotion of that is what I really cared about. The danger was that, as we went out into the universe and got away from Earth, the planets would take us away from that. I think Ava did a great job of keeping it grounded and keeping it emotional. That’s where the movie lives and that’s where the book live. That’s where it lives for kids, in their hearts. They want to go on this great journey, but they also want to know that, by the end of it, they’re back home on Earth and back with their family, they feel safe, and they feel different, but at the same time, they’ve come to an emotional place that feels good. That was the only thing I worried about, but I didn’t worry, once we started. Right from the very beginning, the first thing that Ava said to us was, “I’m interested in telling the story of a girl who feels different, who goes on a journey and realizes that she is a part of the universe and that the universe is within us.” That was practically the first sentence she said to us and when I heard that, I thought, “We’re gonna be fine,” ‘cause that’s what the movie is.
Ava DuVernay is the first female, as well as the first black female, filmmaker who’s take on a sci-fi/fantasy movie with more than a $100 million budget. What sort of atmosphere and vibe did she create on set? Did you ever feel some of that nervousness, that she had to have, in doing this?