Exclusive: Ava DuVernay Talks ‘A Wrinkle In Time’


Exclusive: Ava DuVernay Talks ‘A Wrinkle In Time’
Posted by Wilson Morales

March 8, 2018

Hitting theaters this week is Ava DuVernay’s upcoming cinematic adaptation of Madeleine L’Engle‘s book A Wrinkle in Time.

The film stars Oprah Winfrey as Mrs. Which, Reese Witherspoon as Mrs. Whatsit, Mindy Kaling as Mrs. Who, Chris Pine as Mr. Murry, Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Mrs. Murry, Zach Galifianakis as The Happy Medium, André Holland as Principal Jenkins, Levi Miller as Calvin, Deric McCabe as Charles Wallace, and introducing Storm Reid as the iconic literary character Meg Murry.

Produced by Jim Whitaker and Catherine Hand from a script written by Jennifer Lee (“Frozen”), the film is a reimagining of Madeleine L’Engle’s classic novel that takes Meg Murray (Storm Reid), her brilliant brother Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe) and their friend Calvin (Levi Miller) on an unexpected journey into alternate dimensions on a mission to bring home their father (Chris Pine) and bring him home.

For DuVernay, this is her biggest film to date in terms of production. She’s the first black female director to helm a film with a $100m budget. After I Will Follow, Middle of Nowhere and Selma, DuVernay has set a new record yet again.

Blackfilm.com spoke with DuVernay regarding Wrinkle and her experience working with the cast.

I’ve known your work for a long time, so when you get a bigger project like this, what was more challenging? Taking on the book or the direction itself?

Ava DuVernay: Gosh, the direction wasn’t challenging because it was a lovely experience. I think taking on the book and trying to look at how to update a story that has a beautiful foundation, but was done so many decades ago, and so many other films have kind of ripped it off, to be honest, the book. So you have to kind of come up with new images that stay close to Madeleine L’Engle, the author’s, intentions. So it was a lot of innovating and iterating on new ideas to update her core story. That might’ve been the hardest part.

A Wrinkle in Time
Director Ava DuVernay and Storm Reid on set

Now take me back to, obviously after Selma, you know you’re in meetings, you’re talking to a lot of people as far what your next project was gonna be, what lead you to take on this movie? Or this book to be a movie?

Ava DuVernay: I wanted to see a little black girl fly through the universe, to be honest! I wanted to see, put images of girls of color on screen that I hadn’t seen before. I was passionate about that, I still am. We’ve never seen a hero like Storm Reid playing Meg Murry. Never seen a girl of color hopping planets and fighting the darkness and being the leader in saving the universe. She’s not a Jedi, she’s not a superhero, she’s just a girl with a plaid shirt and with glasses. I’m that too, you know what I mean? So I really had an emotional connection to the idea of creating a film where she was at the center, being incredible.

Can you talk about Storm and you know how you came to choose her as your lead?

Ava DuVernay: Well, she was hands down an exceptional actress. It was a standard audition process, when I saw her, I just locked into her and knew it was her. She’s a deeply rooted actor like I really compare her process to David Oyelowo from planning for Selma, and this girl is thirteen. And she goes very deep and she’s very focused and she’s very much exploring her character at every opportunity. The chance to work with a real rooted actor of that age is rare, I feel really lucky.

You’ve got the big three in terms of Oprah, Mindy, and Reese, and with Oprah you worked with her before, so was it a little easier going to her and saying, “I want you to act in my film again”?

Ava DuVernay: Yes, no, I shared the script with her, and she was excited about it. She hadn’t read the book as a child which was interesting ’cause she reads so many books. It’s kind of a full circle moment that she gets handed the book as an adult and she ends up playing this iconic character who will influence and inspire so many children.

So that’s beautiful and you know so much of what she says is in the movie. And what the character says in the book is really aligned with what she’s been talking about to her audience for so many years on her show. Just about finding the light within you even in dark circumstances. I mean these are really divisive, chaotic times that we live in. This film is just about tapping into the good. It’s for young people just to say let your light shine. It felt like a simple idea but for young people who are just crafting in their own minds who they want to be in the world, I think it’s an important one. Especially for kids of color

How’d you come to bring Reese and Mindy on board?

Ava DuVernay: I think they both picked their roles so well. You know, Mindy has a comedic background and so this character speaks in quotations, so, it doesn’t have a lot of dialogue, so it was important to have someone who had a great sense of timing there. She was actually the first misses that came to mind ’cause I wanted one misses to be African American, one misses to be Caucasian, and then I wanted a misses that was another cultural background/ethnicity. So, Mindy fit the bill in terms of representing a culture of South-East Asian people who rarely see themselves in this kind of role on film, American film anyway. And we have the sense of comedic timing.

And then Reese, I think she’s one of the few actresses of her generation that has an equal grasp on comedy and drama. You know she won the academy award for Walk The Line, and she has Big Little Lies, and swept everything with that. But then she also does Sweet Home Alabama and Legally Blonde. So she can really do both and this character needed to have an equal balance of the two.

Now there’s a lot of CGI in this movie. Was that more of a learning process for you at the same time?

Ava DuVernay: Well everything in life is a learning process. I’d done some CG and VFX on Selma. All the crowd replacement, all the violenced bodies. You can really hit and murder people on camera so, you know, blood and impacts and surfaces and copying, and crowd replacement, that’s all something that I’d done through that and through other work. With television shows, with the shorts I did, the one I did for Smithsonian, where we put Angela Bassett and Andre Holland on the National Museum of African-American History and Culture for the I Have a Dream speech. There’s somethings that I’d done before and I’ve always loved learning it.

I think the biggest part of the VFX experience for me on this film was the designing of creatures and of worlds and planets and environments. Which was completely fun and … You dream it and then really talented artists go and make it and you work with them frame by frame to make sure that it’s exactly what you have in mind. And so that was a real joy. A real privilege. Because I know so many black directors, and women directors certainly, and don’t talk about black women directors, really never get the opportunity to do that kind of creature design, world building. So I reveled in it, I really enjoyed it.

What’s the central theme that kids can take away from watching this movie?

Ava DuVernay: I hope they can take away that who you are is enough. You know? I think in this day and age we have leaders and the culture at large tells kids that they can criticize each other and get away with it and there’s no repercussions. You can be that crass and that’s okay. And it really is about, you know what, you can be even better than all that by being a light. And who you are and the light inside of you is enough to overcome darkness. And that’s what the goal of the story is. That’s what Madeleine L’Engle was trying to get across in her book in 1963. That’s what we’re trying to share now. Just a little bit of light in these challenging times.

What’s the advice you would give to female film makers who are looking to convince producers and studios as far as taking a chance on them as far as getting a bigger budget to film?

Ava DuVernay: We’ve known each other for a long time, and you know my past and I never did that. I never went in and said, “Give me a chance, take a chance on me, I deserve this”. I made films with what I had. And that’s my advice. Don’t go knocking on doors, don’t go begging people, don’t go trying to convince people of your worth. Make the thing that you can make right now that’s in front of you. And then make another thing, and make another thing. And if they see it, great. If they recognize it, great.

But we know that there’s been amazing black women directors Euzhan Palcy, Julie Dash, Kasi Lemmons, you know what I mean? Debbie Allen. They didn’t have the attention that the main stream is now putting on me, or Dee Rees, or Issa Rae or Lena Waithe or the current creators. Aisha. You know? And their work is still beautiful even though they didn’t get this kind of attention. So I just think it’s about focusing on your work. Like I always say, don’t go around knocking on other people’s doors, build your own house.

So many of the women I just named, did that. And I think that that’s the healthiest way to go so you can be nourished by your work and not stressed out by what other people may or may not see.

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