A Wrinkle in Time is one of those stories that can mean different things to you, if you read it at different times in your life. There is something in it for everyone, at every age. If you read it as a young person, it’s very cool to see a young hero in 13-year-old Meg Murry, who learns that she is capable of doing great things. If you’re a sci-fi/fantasy fan, there are the big themes of good vs. evil in the battle between light and dark, in addition to celestial beings and of course travel through time and space and to different planets. It is also a family story that focuses on the deep and delicate issues that young people must face, such as death, social conformity, and truth, but in a way that is uplifting and hopeful.
On February 2, 2017, Collider (along with a handful of other online outlets) was invited to the Santa Clarita, Calif. set to watch director Ava DuVernay and the cast work, and to learn about what goes into a production of this size. We arrived at the studio on what was day 56 of 77 days of shooting, and were shuttled to an empty lot where they had rebuilt the Murry backyard, surrounded by blue screen and huge lighting rigs. It was most definitely a big-budget movie with many moving pieces, but it was also clearly focused on the human moments among the epicness.
During our time on set, we did interviews with some of the cast and creative team, who all talked about what being a part of this production means to them, and the experience even included a New York style pizza food truck, courtesy of Oprah Winfrey (“Mrs. Which”) and Reese Witherspoon (“Mrs. Whatsit”). Here is a collection of everything we learned about the production during our visit to the set of A Wrinkle in Time, out in theaters on March 9th.
Producer Catherine Hand, who has been on a 30-year journey to finally get this film in theaters, was crushed that Walt Disney had not gotten the chance to make an A Wrinkle in Time movie before he died, and she made a promise to herself that she would be the one to make that happen, through Disney Studios. After many years, many different drafts, and working with so many different people, she met the team at Disney, which eventually led to making that dream come true.
- Even though author Madeleine L’Engle died in 2007, at the age of 88, Hand had worked very closely and become friends with her, over the years. Hand said that the synchronicity that L’Engle felt when they met was similar to what she felt when the book was first published, and was similar to what Hand felt when she met with screenwriter Jennifer Lee (Frozen) and also director Ava DuVernay.
- According to Hand, DuVernay revealed, in their first meeting, that she had not previously read the book, but had fallen in love with the script, written by Lee.
- DuVernay didn’t specifically seek out something of this scope and scale, as that’s not how she approaches filmmaking. Said DuVernay, “As a woman filmmaker, as a black filmmaker, and as a black woman filmmaker, which is very rare, I always just concentrated on working. It was just about getting another film, setting up another film, and raising money for another film. It was never about needing it a certain size. I just needed another one, and this is another one.”
A Wrinkle in Time has so many elements to its story that there’s something for everyone and everyone can get something different from it. Said Hand, “If you have a scientific lens, you love it for the science. If you have a religious lens, you love it for the spirituality. If you have a coming of age lens, that’s how you see it. If your whole way of looking at life is through politics, that’s how you see it. The challenge was how to take all those things and, at the same time, have an emotional thread that you follow.” The end result is an epic adventure.
- One of the most important parts of DuVernay’s vision for the film was to have a diverse cast that reflects the real world. “We’re not doing anything that shouldn’t have already been done,” said DuVernay. “The question is, why hasn’t this been done before? There’s nothing outstanding and outlandish about this cast. It’s outstanding and outlandish that there’s been casts without true reflections and inclusiveness of our daily lives. It’s about the way that you see it. So, I get that question a lot and my question back is, why haven’t we been asking that question for the last 75 years or so? That’s my answer to that.”
- Hand said that L’Engle had shared with her that her favorite line in the book is, “Like and equal are not the same thing, at all,” meaning that making everybody alike and thinking that that’s what equal means is totally not what equality is. Madeline was someone who was always about tolerance of differences and raising them up to be equal, and they’re happy to have such a diverse cast that’s reflective of that sentiment.
Storm Reid was the first cast member to sign on, as the iconic literary character Meg Murry, but when she went to her first audition, she was sure that she wasn’t going to get the role. Said Reid, “I had it set in my mind already that I wasn’t gonna get it. And then, when I got called for a callback, I was like, ‘Oh, wow, okay!’ I was so nervous, being in front of Ava. Of course, I wanted it. In the beginning, I wanted it. Just knowing that they potentially liked me was nerve-wracking. All of my auditions, from my first one to my last one, were nerve-wracking.”
- Reid first read the book in 6th grade, when she had to do a book report and a test on it, so she was really excited to get the audition because she’d already read the book. She didn’t want to read ahead and read the other books in the series because she wanted to just think about Meg in this book.
- The journey of the story kicks off when Meg, her brother Charles Wallace and their friend Calvin travel to alternate dimensions on a mission to bring home their father. They’ve extended the length of time that Meg and Charles Wallace’s father has been gone, from two years in the book to four years in the film, to add to the despair of the situation.
- Chris Pine, who plays the patriarch of the Murry family, hadn’t read the book and didn’t think that he was going to do the film. Even though it was a really sweet, positive story, he just didn’t think it would be his next project. And then, he met with DuVernay and, within about 15 minutes, he knew he was going to do it and is ultimately really happy that he did.
- For the Murry house, they chose a Craftsman house because it has a very generous architecture and it’s very Los Angeles. Adding to that, they wanted it to be warm, creative, full of life, and reflecting people who have many interests and who are curious about so many things. They do it themselves and don’t buy off the shelf.
When it came time to cast the role of Calvin, Hand did a Google search for a 13-year-old red-headed actor, and came across Levi Miller. When she saw his picture, she just knew that he should be Calvin, and then found out that the casting director was already set to see him.
- Throughout her journey, Meg has the guidance of the three Mrs. – Mrs. Which (Oprah Winfrey), Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling) and Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon). According to Winfrey, Mrs. Which is a supernova/angel woman/wisdom teacher, who has come to help Meg and her brother find their father, but in finding their father, it’s about developing your own sense of belief, confidence and empowerment for yourself. While Witherspoon sees her character as part Cheshire Cat and part the mermaid in Splash. She’s the youngest of the three Mrs., is new to the mission of finding warriors in the world and delivering them to different universes, and is very curious and playful.
- Winfrey sees this story as The Wizard of Oz for a new generation. She said, “It’s a spaced-out Oz, with Meg as the new Dorothy, and I am Glinda! Mrs. Which is a combination, for me, of Glinda the Good Witch and Maya Angelou. I hear both of them in my head, as I’m speaking. And I cannot tell you how aligned I think this film is. I do not think of it as a kid’s film. I think of it as a film for generations to come, and it will live on in the wisdom empowerment energy field for people, in the same way that Oz”
- In order to go on their journey, Meg, Charles Wallace and Calvin must travel through a tesseract, which is a way to bend time and space, allowing you to travel to different dimensions. In order to “tesser,” you have to know the right frequency and be yourself, and since being herself and feeling comfortable with herself is something that’s very difficult for Meg, she’s not very good at tessering.
While traveling dimensions, Meg will visit Uriel, a planet full of light, Camazotz, an evil planet that is the home of the dark energy in the universe, Ixchel, and Orion, where the Happy Medium (Zach Galifianakis) lives.
- Camazotz is controlled by a bodiless telepathic brain, known as IT. To create IT, they look at all different kids of surfaces and thought about a space where you might not be able to discern where it begins and ends. They looked at the vascular system, bones, and what people think dark matter looks, and pieced that together, building the parts that they were able to build while enhancing it with CG.
- The Man with Red Eyes from the book has been re-imagined as Red for the film, with Michael Pe a in the role. The character will still have red eyes.
- One thing from the book that’s missing from the film are the Murry twins, Sandy and Dennis, who are 10 years old. It was something there was much discussion about, but they ultimately couldn’t make it work. Meg and Charles Wallace have a very special relationship, so to spend the kind of time they needed to, exploring that bond, they decided that it was best just to make reference to them, so that they do exist in this world, but not include them in this story.
- Because this is a sci-fi/fantasy film that is an epic adventure, there is CGI involved, but producer Jim Whitaker said it was very important to everyone to ground the movie in an earthbound way. Said Whitaker, “When we needed to go on stages, rather than create the context of a blue screen environment, we built incredible sets that we could put the actors in. The emotionality is so important. The way to capture that, from the very beginning, for Ava, was to ground the movie as much as possible and to ground the actors on those sets, in those environments. And then, because it is fantastical, we take you to other worlds, but we want the audience to feel grounded by the feeling of that earthly quality to hold the emotionality . . . The design process was built out of a character-based epic adventure. We had to make it epic and make it an adventure, but make sure that people are locked and loaded into Meg’s journey . . . It’s the small and the big. We have to start with the small and how we’re all this tiny spec in the universe, and then take the audience on an epic adventure. We really feel this movie is about everybody, since we all have a part to play in life and in this universe.”
Production designer Naomi Shohan worked alongside visual effects supervisor Rich McBride (who was responsible for creating the bear in The Revenant with Leonardo DiCaprio) to only use CG when they absolutely had to. Said Shohan, “I’m not a fan of movies that just rely on CG and make the world CG. It has its place and sometimes it’s really entertaining, but my personal preference is that things be grounded and a little more painterly than CG. What you can do with CG sometimes gets so out of bounds. You can do anything, but why are you doing that anything? What is it grounded in? We just wanted it to be really grounded.”
- When it came to the costumes, costume designer Paco Delgado said that he started with the script, as is usually the case for the projects he works on, and developed the looks from there. Said Delgado, “I believe that the script has most of the information that I need. It’s like, if you read the Bible, you have an interpretation of the Bible. I read the script and I interpret the script in a way where I can connect with it. And also, it’s about the director’s idea of the script. Those are the most important sources that I use. Then, normally what I do is try to think in wide concepts.”
- In total, Delgado estimates that he designed 15 or 16 costumes for the film. There were four costumes for each of the Mrs., which is a total of 12 costumes, plus Red and the Happy Medium. When it comes to the contemporary characters, he doesn’t design the clothes for them. He buys them and puts them together, just to create a character look.
In designing the Mrs., Delgado thought about who they are and the worlds that they represent. Mrs. Who is the most motherly figure, with a really wide knowledge of our culture on planet Earth, so she’s a compilation of all of the cultures in the world. Her costumes have ethnic elements from Asia, Africa, America and Europe, and are made with a lot of layers. Everything that had to do with communication is Mrs. Who, so there is even and graffiti in some of her costumes. For Mrs. Whatsit, since she is the most childish, and she’s the youngest and most playful one, her costumes are more playful and involve a lot of movement. And Mrs. Which is energy and light, so her costumes are inspired by elements of light, energy and volcanoes. She’s energy in a pure state, and she’s the most warrior-like one, so her material reflects light, almost like an armor.
- Where a normal set has two or three hair stylists, this film had a team of four to seven, depending on the day. Prior to shooting, they did a lot of tests and spent two and a half months constructing and reconstructing the wigs. The wigs took five to seven days to style, and pieces were built onto the wigs.
- In total, Kimble estimates that there were 20 to 25 wigs total, with the main cast, the doubles and the stunt doubles. Each Mrs. has five looks, but four wigs apiece that they work with to restyle.
- When it came to the hair designs for the Mrs., Kimble was inspired by the costumes. Mrs. Who’s hair was culturally inspired, with a little bit of Africa, a little bit of Asia, a little bit of India, and a little bit of Colombia. Because Mrs. Whatsit is the spiritual flower child, she’s got very vibrant hair that’s very natural, touchable, soft and moveable. And Mrs. Which is the galactic diva, with a bold mixture of metallics – blondes, golds, platinum and silver – in her hair. Each hair style fits the character and who they are, and every time they go to another planet, they have new hair and new clothes.
For Red’s costume, Delgado thought about Pee-wee Herman, Pinocchio, and a singer from the ‘80s, called Klaus Nomi. Red is a guy who’s overly friendly, to the point of being creepy, which made him think about a happy tourist on a beach.
- The film shot primarily in California, with two weeks of production in New Zealand.
- According to DuVernay, A Wrinkle in Time “is not a shiny, bright Disney movie. I love shiny, bright Disney movies, but this is a movie that embraces a bit of a quirkier, darker edge, like the book . . . They’ve been really great in allowing me aesthetic latitude to really bring my filmmaking style into it, which is awesome, and they never said no to anything.” It is one of the most banned books in American literature.
- The biggest lesson that Reid learned from playing Meg is to always love yourself and to always embrace the faults that you have because those faults can help you in life. Said Reid, “Meg showed me that you can do anything and you’re not gonna be perfect. If somebody likes you, they like you, and if they don’t, they don’t.”
- Reid hopes that message of the film inspires girls her age, along with people of all races and genders. She added, “I just want people to believe in themselves and know that they can do anything and that nobody can tell you that you can’t do something. Nothing is impossible. In the word impossible, it says I’m possible. Just always know that. No matter what gender or race you are, or whoever you love, you can always do it. Don’t let anybody tell you differently.”
- Both Hand and L’Engle made cameos in the film, in the form of well-placed photographs. Fingers crossed that they make it into the finished product.
- While there are more books in this series, there has been no discussion yet about continuing this story with future films. Said Hand, “I would just say that sequels happen because the first [film] is successful, so buy tickets. I hope so. They’re wonderful [stories]. It’s a whole series to explore and develop, but we shall see.”