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Casting The Iconic Characters
With immensely-talented women like director Ava DuVernay, screenwriter Jennifer Lee and producer Catherine Hand involved, "A Wrinkle in Time" already had a strong female voice, but DuVernay has always been an advocate for projects that promote inclusion, and was committed to making a film that would resonate with everyone. As a result, gender and ethnicity were of no concern during casting, resulting in a range of ages, sexes and cultural backgrounds represented on screen.

"This is a story about belonging," says DuVernay. "It's about a girl who just doesn't feel strong in her mind, body and spirit. But through this epic journey, she finds her strength and learns that the center of the universe starts inside her. It's about Meg feeling like she belongs in the universe and has a mighty part to do we all."

Mrs. Which, Mrs. Whatsit and Mrs. Who are the three visitors born of stardust who are now pure light and have come to Earth in human form to shower Meg with wisdom and love as she searches for her father. Each is of significant importance in L'Engle's original narrative, and as brilliantly fleshed out in the screenplay brings even more to the story. Says DuVernay, "We all have Mrs.'s in our lives. The Mrs.'s represent our instincts, our imagination, our education and our experience, all of these intangibles, and if you hone in on the best of yourself and listen to that, then you give yourself permission to be on the journey you should be on."

"Meg has been fighting a large fight against her own demons when hope arrives in the form of these three Mrs.'s," says producer Jim Whitaker, "which serves as the catalyst for Meg coming to realize that she herself possesses all the tools needed to overcome her own darkness."

In keeping with her primary objective to create a more diverse representation on screen, DuVernay chose to stray from L'Engle's description of these three characters when casting the roles, and went with Southeast Asian, Caucasian and African-American actresses. The choice, while wholly original and somewhat unexpected, further substantiated the fresh new experience the filmmaker was looking to provide audiences.

DuVernay always envisioned Oprah Winfrey as Mrs. Which, the oldest and most knowledgeable of the three Mrs.'s. Along with Mrs. Whatsit and Mrs. Who, they are self-proclaimed warriors who strive to protect all that is good and bright in the universe and have dedicated themselves to helping Meg, Charles Wallace and Calvin in their search for Mr. Murry.

Actor, producer and philanthropist Winfrey is chairman and CEO of the cable TV network OWN, but is probably best known for hosting the long-running, award-winning "The Oprah Winfrey Show." She also has acting and producer credits on numerous film and television titles, including: "The Color Purple," "Selma" and "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks," among others. Winfrey and DuVernay first worked together on "Selma," and the TV series they co-created, "Queen Sugar," currently airs on Winfrey's network. The director also has a production deal with Winfrey's Harpo Films.

"I'll never forget the day we got a phone call from Ava asking us, 'What do you think about Oprah as Mrs. Which? What do you think about one of the wisest people in the world playing one of the wisest people in the universe?'" producer Catherine Hand says. "And there wasn't a moment's hesitation. We asked Ava if it was something Oprah would even consider and she said 'yes,' which was really exciting for all of us because Oprah is the perfect Mrs. Which."

"There's nobody greater in the world than Oprah Winfrey in terms of her personality, her lightness and her emotional resonance in the world," adds Whitaker. "And Mrs. Which is a similar character. Formerly a star, she has lived in the universe for eons and eons and has the warmth and the wisdom and the judgment that the other two Mrs.'s are lacking."

Says Winfrey, "Mrs. Which has been around for millennia. She is an angelic cosmic being who has complete empathy and connection to all humans and is one with the universe. She understands that love and light is all that matters and journeys throughout the universe to spread that message."

She continues, "For me she was a cross between the wisest woman I know, Maya Angelou, and my all-time favorite magical character Glinda, the good witch from 'The Wizard of Oz.' But she had to be grounded in something, so I grounded her in Maya Angelou, who is a personal friend, mother figure, sister figure, teacher and mentor for me. There is a certainty, an assurance of purpose and wisdom that would come from Maya in such a way that sort of filled her presence."

Winfrey was impressed when observing DuVernay on set, and found it undeniably clear that the director was truly at home in this environment. "One of the things that I so appreciate about Ava is that she understands not just the value of the story, but of all the people who help to make the story as well," Winfrey says. "She surrounds herself with the best crews, with people who are good and kind and who share the same vision and are willing to do whatever is necessary to see it executed."

For the role of Mrs. Whatsit, the second ethereal guide who has journeyed to Earth, the filmmakers were looking to cast someone charming, delightful and funny-all words that describe Reese Witherspoon. The actor and producer, whose credits range from "Legally Blonde" and "Walk the Line" to "Big Little Lies" and "Wild," was a huge fan of the book as a child and was thrilled when offered the role of the youthful and free-spirited Mrs. Whatsit.

She was also excited to work with DuVernay. "I was so impressed with what Ava did on 'Selma,' creating this beautifully written, beautifully directed, beautifully cast film," says Witherspoon. "And to have this incredible, strong, female filmmaker at the center of the story was just really appealing to me."

In describing her character, a star who gave up her existence in order to fight the darkness, Witherspoon says, "Mrs. Whatsit is the youngest of the three Mrs.'s...she's only 2 billion years old. This is her first mission as a guide traveling the universe fighting for light and goodness in people and humanity, but she is new to Earth and not used to being in a human form and is very curious."

"She is innocent, almost childlike, and desperately wants to impress Mrs. Who and Mrs. Which, but she doesn't understand how things work, so she is always playing with things," Witherspoon continues. "And sometimes she says things out loud, not realizing people can hear her, and sometimes they are inappropriate."

Comedienne-actor-writer Mindy Kaling ("The Office," "The Mindy Project," "Inside Out") plays the third astral guide, Mrs. Who, a character who represents a melting pot of the world we live in, both historically and in today's modern times. The quietest of the group, Mrs. Who has adopted the language of some of the greatest spiritual warriors as a means of communication, speaking in proverbs and quotes from the likes of Shakespeare, Churchill and Buddha.

"Mrs. Who has evolved so much that she doesn't quite understand why we need language," explains screenwriter Lee, "so in order to communicate she doesn't bother to think up things herself, she just steals words from everyone else."

Says Kaling, "Mrs. Who is a very mysterious character because she speaks through other people's words and sentiments, and for someone like me who is very expressive and always has a lot to say and a lot of opinions, it was a really challenging role to play. It also meant I wasn't able to improvise on set, which is one of the first times that has ever happened."

Mrs. Who personifies unconditional love and serves as a surrogate mother when the children are away from home. And it is her unusual spectacles, a gift she gives to Meg, that prove to be of crucial assistance when rescuing Mr. Murry.

Twelve-year-old Storm Reid was the first actress DuVernay saw for the role of Meg Murry, the story's protagonist and heroine. Reid was raised in Atlanta and only had a handful of credits under her belt at the time ("12 Years a Slave," "NCIS: Los Angeles," "Chicago P.D."), but she nailed her first audition, effortlessly conveying the right mix of caution, curiosity, charisma and vulnerability the role demanded.

DuVernay was impressed from Reid's very first reading, as were the rest of the filmmakers. "She is exceptional in the movie," says Whitaker. "She's just extremely gifted, and you can feel what she's feeling when you watch her."

For Reid, being chosen to embody the iconic literary character was equal parts thrilling and terrifying. "There's a lot of pressure being one of the first African-American girls to be the lead in a sci-fi film," she explains. "But when the announcement came out I received so much positive feedback, with little girls saying, 'Oh my God, there's Meg and she looks just like me.' That really inspired me, so I feel blessed to be given the opportunity to be a part of something so special."

"Meg is a really wonderful role model for girls because she's not perfect," says Charlotte Jones Voiklis. "She is awkward, she feels out of place, she loses her temper, she gets into fights and she feels alone and misunderstood. Reading a story about a young person dealing with these things who is able to grow and realize that her anger and stubbornness, things she believed were her faults, are actually the things that are going to help save the universe, can be very powerful."

"Storm Reid as Meg is a departure from the description of the girl in the book," says DuVernay. "She's a biracial child, so this is a girl who is inclusive of different kinds of people in her very being. The hope is that you see this film, no matter who you are, and you see yourself in it. The real world is made up of all kinds of folks. It's a quilt, you know, it's a tapestry, and we all have a thread within it."

"Storm truly is a singular talent," DuVernay continues. "During filming, she made my jaw drop on a daily basis because of what she is able to do as an actor. She's a romantic lead, she's a heroine, she does action sequences, she gets to save the day, cry, laugh, be impatient, be forgiving, be loving, be spiteful...she can do it all. She's in every frame of the film, and she holds it like a freaking rock. She is a force of nature, and aptly named."

Warriors can come from the most unexpected places, and Meg Murry has no idea that she is, in fact, part of something much bigger. Her father's disappearance-and her belief that he is still alive- prevents her from seeing herself completely. She is unsure of herself and begins to shut out the world, convincing herself that when her father returns things will go back to the way they used to be.

"One of the things I love most about Meg is that she doesn't care what other people think of her," says Reid. "She gets bullied at school and there are all these rumors going around that her dad is missing, but she goes on this beautiful journey where she learns to love herself and to stand up and fight for her family."

During filming, Reid immersed herself in the character and reveled in the thrill and excitement of stunt work, completing many of the stunts herself. "One time we were running through the redwood forests with special effects that made it look like trees were falling behind us and I slipped," she laughs. "I kept on going because it made it look more real, but it was a little nerve-racking. Another time I was high up in the air and basically was thrown off a cliff, but I really had so much fun."

To Hand, Reid is more than just a talented actress. "She's a very kind, loving and gracious human being who is incredibly grateful for getting the role. I don't think there was a single day that she didn't give me a hug when she arrived on set."

According to Winfrey, "I've been around a lot of children in my day and I've never seen a girl like Storm Reid. She is talented, giving, kind, gracious and generous with her time and with her heart."

"Storm has this strength of character and she's a phenomenal performer," adds Witherspoon. "I've never seen a young person explore such deep scenes with such incredible empathy."

It was near the end of a six-month worldwide casting search - and three weeks away from the start of principal photography - when the filmmakers found their Charles Wallace, casting 10-year-old newcomer Deric McCabe as Meg's younger brother. Precocious and wise beyond his years, Charles Wallace adores his older sister but doesn't have many friends his own age. While searching for his father, he falls prey to the same evil energy that is holding Mr. Murry prisoner.

"Charles Wallace is brilliant, but he is brilliant in a very 5-year-old way," says screenwriter Lee. "He sees the world and all the magic that's in it and all the potential it holds, but he's also a kid who isn't afraid to speak his mind and who can sound a little arrogant for his age, which occasionally gets him into trouble. Still, there's something special about him, and what makes him special also makes him vulnerable, like a lot of people in life."

Completing the trio of intrepid young travelers is Australian actor Levi Miller ("Pan," "Better Watch Out"), who portrays Calvin, a student at Meg's school. Calvin is a star athlete and quite popular with the girls, and while he comes from a dysfunctional family, he turns out to be a kind and understanding friend to Meg when she needs it the most.

"Meg has a crush on Calvin but doesn't want him to know," says Reid. "Unfortunately that makes her appear standoffish and not interested in him, but on the journey she learns about Calvin's relationship with his father, which causes them to bond and begin to trust one another."

Chris Pine, the star of numerous box-office hits and acclaimed independent films, including the "Star Trek" franchise reboot, "Wonder Woman" and "Hell or High Water," was cast as Mr. Alex Murry, father to Meg and Charles Wallace. A theoretical physicist employed by NASA who, along with the help of his wife, discovered tessering, he mysteriously disappeared four years ago and is being held prisoner on the planet Camazotz.

Whitaker worked with Pine on the nautical thriller "The Finest Hours" and had a feeling the role would appeal to the actor, and Pine was interested, as he felt the story was so relevant to today's political climate.

"Ava and I met for coffee and had this really great conversation about life," Pine recalls. "I really dug Ava and dug her worldview and what she was striving to achieve with this project, and in the first 10 minutes I was like, 'I'm in!'"

He continues, "My impression of Mr. Murry began to take shape in that very first conversation with Ava. We talked a lot about ego versus soul. The ego is very invested in being validated, but what does the soul need? As we were talking, I was like, 'My God, this is exactly what this film is about.' We're talking about precisely who Mr. Murry is: He is defined by this great struggle between wanting to achieve great things and wanting to be grounded, being pulled between the two forces of the family and the self."

"Mr. Murry is a kind of frenetic, obsessed, ambitious doctor who really wants to do the right thing for his family-and for mankind-which he believes is going out into the universe to find something that has never been found before," says Whitaker. "He's striving to find something that is bigger than himself, which becomes a complex dilemma for him because he doesn't want to sacrifice his family in the process."

"Chris has a wonderful ability to not be Chris Pine and just be the person he needs to be in the moment, and in this case it's Meg's father," continues Whitaker. "It's not a huge part, but it's an important part because the audience has to have an emotional connection to the character and believe in the relationship he has with Meg, which drives the film emotionally."

Reid elaborates, saying, "Meg and her dad have an amazing relationship. They are very close and used to do everything together, but once he is gone Meg doesn't have the strength to go on or know how to navigate her life anymore."

Gugu Mbatha-Raw ("Beauty and the Beast," "Miss Sloane") plays Pine's on-screen wife, Kate Murry, an award-winning biophysicist and the epitome of a modern woman. Working from a science lab in her home so she can maintain a loving and warm environment in which to raise her children, she is devastated by her husband's disappearance and baffled as to why he left. As brought to life by Mbatha-Raw, the character is at once heartbreakingly believable and incredibly empathetic.

Red, a character known in L'Engle's book as the Man with the Red Eyes, is played by Michael Peña ("Ant-Man," "American Hustle"). Red joyfully approaches the children on a beach on the planet of Camazotz in outlandish attire, but he is really a pawn controlled by the IT that seduces Charles Wallace. In fact, at one point, the audience can see that Red actually has strings on his back, like a puppet.

Comedic powerhouse Zach Galifianakis ("The Hangover," "Baskets") is the Happy Medium, a seer whom Meg, Charles Wallace and Calvin visit, hoping to gain insight as to Mr. Murry's location. In L'Engle's book the Happy Medium is a woman, but the filmmakers chose to cast a man since the cast was already so female-centric. "Zach is hilarious every time he opens his mouth but he's also very emotional, too," says Whitaker. "His character lives in a cave wanting to avoid the darkness altogether and it's an existence that he's created for himself in order to not interact with anyone."

Kaling is vociferous in her praise of the actor, saying, "Zach never does the same thing twice in a scene because he likes to keep things fresh, which is something that comes from comedy training, and which helped me so much as an actor. He really changed the dynamic on set because he is really that funny."

Additional cast includes: Andre Holland ("Moonlight," "Selma") as Mr. Jenkins, the principal at James Baldwin Middle School who is frustrated with Meg's poor attitude and disruptive behavior; Rowan Blanchard ("Girl Meets World," "Spy Kids 4: All the Time in the World") as Veronica Kiley, a classmate who relentlessly taunts and belittles Meg but is really just insecure and unhappy herself; and Bellamy Young ("Scandal") as a woman on the planet Camazotz under control of the IT.

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