Interviewing Ava Duvernay + Q & A with Oprah & Reese Witherspoon
A sci-fi fantasy family blockbuster targeted at tweens primarily, Disney’s A Wrinkle in Time takes you on a vivid technicolour journey as hero Meg Murry and her brother Charles Wallace, go in search of their missing father, groundbreaking scientist Mr. Murry, who having discovered a new planet must now be found, saved and brought back to earth.
Guided by three astral queens, Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who and Mrs. Which, Meg not only saves the day and her father, but she finds herself in the process. This film empowers children (and their parents) to fully embrace who are and love themselves unequivocally, safe in the knowledge that they have the power to make their mark on the world and create change.
I can’t think of another film which so directly and with such inspirational force to both young girls and boys, in the way that this does.
Directed by Oscar nominee Ava DuVernay and with an all-star cast featuring the one and only Oprah, as well as heavyweights Reese Witherspoon and Mindy Kaling, the screen adaptation of the 1962 novel of the same name by Madeleine L’Engle, does not disappoint.
The dynamic and diverse family on screen is one I wish I’d seen myself as a child, growing up as a British Greek Cypriot with mostly blonde and blue eyed children reflected back at me by the mass media. Where were the heroic girls in action narratives, the ones saving the world and reuniting family members to inspire me I too could do the same? This is a much-needed movie, and marks the start of hopefully many more like it to come.
As a former female filmmaker myself and one of then, just 7% and now only 4% of female directors, this movie provides me with encouragement that women’s voices are being heard and utilised to steer stories and future classics as Ava made history with her 100m plus budget here.
It was a great honour to watch the screening of the film and interview Ava and Storm before attending the dazzling movie premiere, in association with THE FEMALE LEAD and The Sunday Times STYLE magazine where Editor-in-Chief of the magazine, Lorraine Candy and Founder of THE FEMALE LEAD, Edwina Dunn, hosted a Q & A with the cast and Ava prior to the film.
Taking along some of my empowering, sisterly girl friends with me to enjoy the night at the BFI IMAX : Lucy Hird of Ms Motivator, Lauren Jobling of Lauren J Styling (my mate and stylist) and Alexandra Roumbas Goldstein of Mokuska, we laughed, cried and felt moved beyond words to be a) sat so close to Oprah and b) to be able to witness the wisdom of her, the panel and other distinguished members of the audience that night.
Oprah shared that she thrives on being underestimated and stated that it what that in fact is at had led to her wealth as she has originally asked for half the rights to her first show and the powers that be had only agreed because they believed it would fail. It of course, did not fail.
Oprah also advocated that when it came to trolls and fighting for what we believe in, we must work from the inside out, we must speak up and be heard.
Magical kernels from someone I’ve personally felt inspired by my entire life. It really was a dream come true for me to share the same space as this incredible force, this hero of mine.
In a moving turn, Ava asked all of the children present at the premiere between the ages of 6 and 14 to rise up, dedicating the film to them, emphasising that A Wrinkle In Time was made for them above all else.
We all left feeling uplifted and with bolstered armour in which to harness our own dreams and self-belief.
Below, I also share the roundatble interview I took part in with fellow creatives Jacinta Zechariah of Jacintaz3, producer, designer and strategist Rochelle Dancel (who stood in for Alexandra at Mokuska) and Monica Costa of London Mums which offered fascinating behind-the scenes insight into the making of the movie. Ava and Storm were both incredibly open, warm and generous with their time and energy. Ava even shed a tear at the end of the interview, stating it was her and Storm’s last one together in the UK, promoting the film. It was a tender moment I felt privileged to be privy of.
Monica: So I’ll ask a question for both of you, so you can answer together, each of you, you can answer this. What was your favourite moment behind the scenes? Any kind of anecdote with Reese. I’ve interviewed Reese recently, last year. And Oprah. So personalities that we know so well. Is there anything about working with them really quirky or something they said, or you worked together with them and how it was and-
Ava:You know the women had a great energy from the moment that they got out of their cars and went into the hair and make-up trailer. Imagine putting on all that hair and make-up, so they’d be in the hair and make-up trailer between two and three hours, and they had a great time in here. They had their own trailer. We were in different trailers, but you could hear their trailer from the outside, laughing, music. Sometimes we’d peek in, what are you guys doing in there?
Storm:Can I join the party?
Ava:Yeah, yeah, yeah. So they were really fun. They brought that energy onto the set every day.
Monica:It’s a normal like female cast almost.
Ava:I don’t know. I mean it was equal men and women. We’ve got Chris Pine, Zach Galifianakis, Michael Peña and the boys, Derick and Levi, but what we love about the cast is that there’s parody, there are equal numbers of women and men, and that’s something that was important.
Rochelle:So I work at YouTube with a lot of younger actors as well, and I was just wondering, I guess from kind of both sides, from your perspective, if there’s anything you’d change in terms of your directing process with working with a younger actor? And then it would also be great to get your opinion … Because I work with a lot of parents, which actually freaks me out more than working with child actors. What advice you might have for the parents of young people who might want to become actors?
Storm: Wow, that’s a good question. I’ve never been asked that before. I started when I was very young, and my mom, she let me do it, and she said, as long as I was having fun that I could continue to do it, and my grades are straight, so all the logistics of everything, but I think if I were to tell parents … I mean, you’re not really supposed to tell parents anything because you’re supposed to respect them. But I would just say if your kid wants to do it, let them do it, and as long as they are having fun and they are enjoying it, they should be doing it. And if they’re doing the right things at home and being good people, then you should let them do it. I don’t think it’s something … If your kid doesn’t have the same interest as you, I don’t feel like you should force your kid into something. Because that’s when they become resentful or that’s not when they want to put 150% into something, not only just acting.
So I would just say as long as they’re having fun and they’re good people, you should let them do it. That’s all I can really say.
Ava:In terms of directing young actors differently, very, very young actors, three, four, five, which I’ve directed in other films is a different thing, because they’re not able to really at that point maybe feel what’s happening. Because that’s the best acting. When you’re not just mimicking and doing lines, when you’re listening and when you’re feeling what’s supposed to be happening, then the casting process is a big part of it. You want to try to find kids who are feeling like they are that person in that moment. Not just mimicking lines.
And so Storm Reid is one of the most deeply feeling actors I’ve ever worked with of any age. I compared her with David Oyelowo who played Dr. King in Selma in terms of the depth of the way that she feels about her characters. And Levi Miller, extraordinary actor from Australia who played Calvin, the two of them together, along with Deric McCabe, who was a newer actor who used his exuberant energy. We had these kids who were extremely talented, and I really directed them very similarly to adults, just making sure they felt comfortable to address themselves, know that they could try anything, and I was there to catch them. And I think they gave beautiful performances.
Me:As an ensemble cast the chemistry was great.
Me:The children really … Did you do a lot of improvisation together? Did they hang out before the shoot?
Ava:They spent a lot of time together, but the script is based on a famous book. And the script was done in very minute detail to honour the book, so they didn’t do a lot of improv. We did improv one line that has become a big line in the book. It wasn’t in the script and it wasn’t in the book, but it’s become one of the taglines for the movie, be a warrior. So we did that on the spot that day. I saw Oprah and Storm there, and I said, tell her to be a warrior.
So that’s a big piece of improv that’s turned out to be something that’s really resonated with people.
Me:Yes, it’s going to empower a lot of tweens and teenage girls and boys, definitely. Before I became a blogger I was actually one of just 7% at the time of female directors directing TV and short films. And are we at a tipping point now where female directors are going to have more of a voice? Because you’ve obviously broken ground with this movie, and your massive success as an Oscar nominated female director, are things changing?
Ava:I think things are changing, but things have not changed, and there’s a difference. We are seeing some slight signs of progress, but not enough to make real systemic change. One movie, two movies, ten movies, it’s not gonna change 100 years of an absence of women filmmakers, of filmmakers of colour of all kinds. So it really is gonna take a diligence, a consistency, and I think the culture likes to, say, celebrate one thing and check off a box. That’s not the way that the real world works. And so we hope that audiences realise that they really have the power. They really have the power through their dollars, through their love of films, through their passion for films, to tell the people who are green lighting films, we want different kinds of stories by different kinds of storytellers. We wanna see all kinds of people in front of the camera and behind the camera, and when that happens, I think we’ll start to see change. But in the meantime we keep working, moving forward.
Me:Because it is an inflexible industry. Because I left because I had a baby, and I didn’t want to be on set for 15-hour days. I couldn’t. And I think that we need that flexibility and policy to change as much as we need the industry to change. But obviously it’s wonderful that women like you are helping with that shift, so thank you.
Jacinta:I’m sure you’ve been asked this before, but what was the most challenging part of making the film? You as an actor and as a director?
Storm:There was challenges, but there was good challenges. I have a challenge within myself, in doubting myself when I first got the role and not thinking that I was going to be able to portray Meg and be a lead in the film, especially with big people. I just didn’t really think I could do it. But I got over that fear really early. But it was really hard to … It was a challenge to embody Meg and become Meg, and of course I was adding the essence of an African-American girl to Meg, but I didn’t want to alter her story in any way, or her journey. Because she is a loved character from a book from over 50 years ago. So I didn’t want to alter her in any way, so it really took some time sitting down and kind of stepping into her shoes and becoming her without changing her. So it was a challenge, but I had a good time.
Jacinta:Yeah, and you did well.
Ava:She does well at everything.
Me:Were there any challenges with the CGI and the merging of-
Ava:No, that was no problem. I think the challenge is that the book is a very dense book with a lot of complicated themes that Madeleine L’Engle did a beautiful job of explaining. And she had many pages to do it, and you don’t have as many minutes in a movie. And so people said the book was un-adaptable, that it was un-filmable, but I love the challenge. And I took the challenge because, even though I knew it would be difficult to make the adaptation and there would be people who would get it or would not get it, I felt like it was worth doing for there to a be girl of colour at the centre of a movie like this.
And I was willing to take the risk and to step into any uncertainty, so that I could create a character that I know will endure. I know that the movie is affecting people in positive ways. I know that the movie will grow in love and popularity over the years as all the classics have done. And I think that it was important to be courageous and to say, this book is tough, some people are gonna get it, some people are not gonna get it. But to see a girl of colour fly, fight the darkness, save herself, save her family, save the universe. These are images we’ve not seen, and they need to exist. And so the universe brought me the perfect leading lady and I’m emotional because this is my last interview with her.
Me:I’m very privileged to be here to … What an amazing … Yeah, well done, guys. Thank you so much.
….Wow, what a memorable day and experience. Something I shall never forget that’s for sure, and an experience which has reignited my to one day direct a feature film of my own. It was my initial ambition when I embarked on filmmaking many years ago, and one that has dimmed over the years but is firmly back in the 5 year plan!