Ava DuVernay, Jennifer Lee, and Cast on ‘A Wrinkle in Time’ & Finding Hope in Dark Times
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. 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 takes to get him back.
During a conference at the film’s Los Angeles press junket, co-stars Reese Witherspoon (“Mrs. Whatsit”), Oprah Winfrey (“Mrs. Which”) and Mindy Kaling (“Mrs. Who”) were joined by director Ava DuVernay (Selma) and screenwriter Jennifer Lee (Frozen) to talk about the collaboration between writer and director, that this is a film for young people and people who are young at heart, changes made from book to screen, playing the Mrs., working on an epic adventure for a company like Disney, and why it’s still possible to be hopeful, even in the trying times that we’re currently living in.
Question: Jennifer, what was your first meeting with Ava DuVernay like?
JENNIFER LEE: It was fantastic, actually. I had daydreamed of Ava directing this and never imagined [that it would actually happen]. She walked in and I said, “Really?!,” because her incredible, evocative, emotional storytelling is what this film needed. This is a journey across the universe, but at the heart of it is a family story that empowers young girls. So, Ava walked in, and she was so gracious and kind to me. She embraced me in the process with her, and I’m very grateful. Right away, I was smitten. I would follow her anywhere.
AVA DuVERNAY: Jennifer Lee made Frozen. Just in case anyone isn’t clear, she’s a legend in our midst.
Ava, what was it like to get in touch with your inner child for this?
DuVERNAY: This is a film for young people and people who are young at heart. I had to ask myself, do I still have a heart? Is there still an inner child in me? Can I tap into the 11-year-old, 12-year-old and 13-year-old in me, and find that light that I used to have, that dreamer? 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.
Jennifer, for those who are A Wrinkle in Time loyalists, what is the greatest shift that you made to adapt the book for 2018?
LEE: We talked a lot about what makes Wrinkle so amazing. It has resonated for decades and decades because there is a timeless quality to the themes that she was dealing with. We did look a lot at, what do those themes mean today, and how do you stay true to that, but re-interpret them in a way that we see our world? 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 and the world now.
Ava, why was it so important to you to give this experience to young people?
DuVERNAY: 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, 11 or 12 years. So, I wanted to be able to just give a little breather and to say, “Who you are is enough. You’re gonna make it through, by finding something in yourself that guides you.” We all have that little voice inside of us, and a lot of times we don’t listen to it. A friend of mine (Oprah Winfrey) had a tremendous episode of peer pressure, of gigantic proportions, that I’d never experienced or seen, just a couple of weeks ago, when a lot of the country was saying, “You should run for President.” She said, “The voice inside of me says that I am not your President. I can do good in the world, in different way.” I probably would’ve even said, “If everybody thinks I should, I’m gonna give it a try.”
How do you feel about the final result, at the end of this journey?
DuVERNAY: I feel like I tried and gave everything I had to a film again. There’s love in every frame of this movie, and there’s love in every frame of everything that I do. I don’t have children. I won’t have children, by choice. These films are my children. They’re what I leave behind. They have my name on them and my blood in them. From there, you offer it up to the world and you hope that they can see our intention. This was an extraordinary experience for me. We really held hands on this and became a family, trying to just give a little bit of sweetness to the world, in these dark times. It’s a tough time right now. This film really saved me, in a lot of ways, from going down dark holes. It kept me in a really light-filled place, so I’m grateful for the past few years of working on A Wrinkle in Time.
Oprah, the role of Mrs. Which seemed perfectly tailored to you. Did you feel that way when you were playing the character?
OPRAH WINFREY: Yes, I did. As a matter of fact, I actually did. When Ava went to New Zealand and posted pictures from scouting there, I had been in New Zealand the year before, in Auckland, and did not get to the South Island, and I had wanted to do that. Everybody says, “You didn’t get to the South Island? You haven’t really seen New Zealand.” So, when I heard that she was going to be filming in New Zealand, I said to her, “I’m going. I’m just gonna go.” And she said, “What do you mean, go?” I said, “I’m just gonna go hang out with you for however long it takes. I’m gonna block it on my schedule. I’m gonna be there. I’m gonna watch you shoot, you know, because I can.” She said, “Well, if you’re really serious about that and you’d actually come to New Zealand, why not take a look at the script? I’ve been wanting to ask you to do this, but I didn’t want to pressure you because of our friendship.” I said, “Okay, I’ll do it!” I didn’t even know what it was. Ava’s got it like that. And then, I thought, “Okay, let me read the book and see what this is.” I’d never read the book, even though I’m a reader. It just never got to my neighborhood. It wasn’t until I was called for the fitting for the costumes, with (costume designer) Paco Delgado, that I realized, “Whoa, this is some kind of movie!” And then, the first day on the wires, I went, “This is really some kind of movie! What kind of movie is this?!” It’s all just been delightful. When you look up the word “delight,” there’s my picture, for being in this film. The whole process has just been one big delight.
Reese, how did you enjoy playing the sassy Mrs. Whatsit?
REESE WITHERSPOON: My agent called me and said, “Ava Duvernay wants you to be in a movie,” and I said, “Yes! Great! When do I show up?!” They were like, “Oh, no, she has to take a meeting with you.” So, I sat across from her like, “Really, you want me?!” It was very flattering to be chosen to be part of Ava’s movie 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. Everybody feels like they are important, special, honored, and valued for their contributions. I feel like this was a master class in how to be a very thoughtful filmmaker and a real visionary, in so many ways. 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. It really was truly a delight. The fact that I got to stand next to these extraordinary women, who I’ve admired for so long, was extraordinary. It was really a beautiful experience.
Mindy, how did you feel about playing Mrs. Who?
MINDY KALING: It’s absolutely incredible. I can’t believe that I was selected to do this. It’s such an honor to act with all these incredible actors. I’m a sitcom actress, and Ava saw something in me. We actually met at a party for Malala. Ava, Malala and I were the only three women of color at this big party. Malala was seated to my left, and once I finished talking to Malala, I really wanted to talk to Ava. We had a great conversation and I thought, “Our genres are so different, we’ll never cross paths,” but then this happened. I feel so blessed to be a part of it. To wake up, every morning, and spend four hours in the make-up trailer with [Reese and Oprah] was great.
Oprah, how did this project compare to the ones you’ve done previously with Ava DuVernay?
WINFREY: First of all, you have Disney money. With Selma, we were like, “Are we gonna have enough money? How much do I have? Let me try to help you out here.” With this, we had the Disney machine. That’s one of the reasons why this was so exciting. Ava was at the helm of that. That makes me well inside. It fills my heart, every time I think about Ava and her dreads and sneakers, these big cranes, and all of these men, running around and taking direction from her. To see her be the master of that and orchestrating all of that was powerful and inspiring. I was just so proud to be associated with her and see her ability to make this film possible. That’s what was different. I was with her on a film where we literally had one day to shoot everybody coming across the bridge in Selma, and we had to get it before it rained because if it rained, we were not gonna get it, and there wasn’t enough money to try it again. That was a big difference.
Mindy, as someone who’s a fan of science fiction and fantasy, was being a part of this something of a dream come true?
KALING: I loved science fiction and fantasy, growing up, but it was a genre that largely did not love me back. I never saw any representation of a dark-skinned Indian woman or an Indian girl, in anything that I saw. It’s a really peculiar thing, when you grow up loving something that shows you no love back. It’s such a pure love because you’re not getting anything from it. I broke out in TV, which was so welcoming to me, and comedy, which was also so welcoming to me, but to be a part of this, and to be on a green screen stage in a harnesses because I was doing a science fiction/fantasy movie, it was so fun. I finally feel welcomed, with open arms, to something that has ignored me completely. That is so profound. If that can be something that the miniature version of me could watch and be excited by, that’s such a huge thing. That was exciting.
Oprah, in the movie, you talk about the need to restore hope. Do you think it’s possible to be hopeful, in times like the ones that we’re in?
WINFREY: Oh, yeah, for sure! I think the darkness is there to help bring out the light in all of us. If you think about it, if we turned all the lights off in this room and just one person held a candle, you would start to dissipate the darkness. You would banish the darkness. Look at how much darkness it would take to actually engulf all of the light that every candle would hold in this room. It just takes a little bit of light. That’s what we’re hoping for. If everybody can get that message, that’s how we have hope in the world. We’re looking for warriors who can bring hope back.
A Wrinkle in Time opens in theaters on March 9th.