OPRAH’S SHIN­ING STAR POWER

As one of the world’s most ad­mired celebri­ties, Oprah Win­frey seems a nat­u­ral fit to play an all-know­ing ce­les­tial be­ing in A Win­kle in Time

The Gold Coast Bulletin - Play Magazine - - NEWS - NEALA JOHN­SON

That speech Oprah made at the Golden Globes, the one where she as­sured young girls ev­ery­where that “a new day is on the hori­zon” and sparked the Oprah For Pres­i­dent move­ment? That’s ev­ery­day Oprah. That’s Oprah in her ugg boots kick­ing back for a chat when she’s got a break on the set of A Wrin­kle In Time.

That’s Oprah rhap­so­dis­ing about New Zealand land­scapes, the prospect of be­com­ing a Bar­bie doll and … sheep.

That’s why, when Ava DuVer­nay’s Dis­ney adap­ta­tion of Madeleine L’En­gle’s ground­break­ing sci-fi novel needed a glow­ing, all-know­ing ce­les­tial be­ing, Oprah Win­frey was the only choice.

“Oh, you mean like the wis­est woman in the world to play the wis­est woman in the uni­verse?” says A Wrin­kle In Time pro­ducer Cather­ine Hand, re­call­ing the mo­ment Win­frey’s name was put for­ward. “I think that works.”

Win­frey, 64, isn’t about to ar­gue that there wasn’t some kind of kismet to her end­ing up in this movie – even though, ini­tially, she was only try­ing to tag along on her friend DuVer­nay’s voy­age to New Zealand be­cause she’d missed see­ing the South Is­land when her speak­ing tour vis­ited Auck­land in 2015.

“Then,” Win­frey says, “it turns out to be the most per­fect role I’ve ever done. Who doesn’t want to play a su­per­nova born of the stars? Who is wise and has been here for sev­eral mil­len­nia? Who doesn’t want to do that? And you get to wear the most fan­tas­ti­cal, out­ra­geous, gor­geous cos­tumes – they’re just out of this world.”

In the words of di­rec­tor DuVer­nay, A Wrin­kle In Time is “a ral­ly­ing call for young peo­ple to step up and be the light in dark times”.

The story fo­cuses on 13year-old Meg Murry (played by Storm Reid), a smart girl who has been hav­ing a tough time at school ever since her fa­ther, a bril­liant sci­en­tist (Chris Pine), went miss­ing four years prior.

When her brainiac lit­tle brother Charles Wal­lace (Deric McCabe) in­vites a strange woman into the house one night, Meg learns that the prob­lem her dad was work­ing on – how to “tesser­act”, or travel light years in an in­stant – is real.

With the help of three ce­les­tial be­ings – Win­frey’s Mrs Which, Mindy Kal­ing’s Mrs Who and Reese Wither­spoon’s Mrs What­sit — who in­spire Meg to be a war­rior, she’ll travel through the uni­verse on a per­ilous jour­ney to bring her fa­ther home.

To Win­frey, the movie is an ex­ten­sion of the mes­sage she’s been try­ing to im­part at ev­ery turn in her ca­reer.

“It’s about a young girl dis­cov­er­ing her­self and be­ing em­pow­ered to know the best of her­self by hav­ing faith and be­liev­ing in some­thing greater than her­self. That’s a story for all times,” she says.

“On the page, it ap­pears to be about look­ing for your fa­ther, but it’s re­ally about find­ing con­fi­dence in your­self so that you have strength to stand on your own. That’s ev­ery hero’s jour­ney, ac­tu­ally – to dis­cover that you’re strong enough and, once you be­lieve that, you can do any­thing.

“Ob­vi­ously that is a mes­sage I’ve tried to con­vey through all of my work, all those years on the Oprah show, now with my net­work and my mag­a­zine. I talk about it – I had such a won­der­ful time in Oz (in 2015), I did five cities in Aus­tralia, there were thou­sands of peo­ple com­ing out ev­ery night and it was the same mes­sage: ‘Be­lieve, be­lieve, be­lieve’; ‘You can do it’; ‘There’s a power within you’. It’s the same thing the Good Witch said to Dorothy years ago … and now I’m do­ing a movie about it!”

The A Wrin­kle In Time pro­duc­tion spent two weeks in New Zealand in Fe­bru­ary 2017, our neigh­bours’ oth­er­worldly land­scapes lit­er­ally stand­ing in for other worlds. It was there that Win­frey, Wither­spoon and Kal­ing ce­mented their bond, post­ing plen­ti­ful happy snaps to In­sta­gram.

Reid, 13 at the time of film­ing, de­scribed the trio as “just so sweet and friendly”. Of Win­frey, she added: “Even though Miss Oprah is one of the most pow­er­ful women, she doesn’t act that way. She’s just a nor­mal lady that loves to act. And who is pow­er­ful!”

Each of the Mrs is quirky. Mrs Who speaks only in fa­mous quo­ta­tions. Mrs What­sit is mys­ti­fied by hu­mankind. How does Win­frey de­scribe her char­ac­ter?

“Mrs Which is a cross be­tween Glinda the Good Witch, Maya An­gelou (Amer­i­can poet and civil rights ac­tivist) and my­self,” she says, with ab­so­lutely no trace of hubris at putting her­self in such com­pany. And rightly so, prob­a­bly.

Win­frey pre­vi­ously pro­duced DuVer­nay’s Martin Luther King drama Selma; she also played An­nie Lee Cooper, a South­ern black woman who be­came a prom­i­nent fig­ure in the Civil Rights move­ment. And DuVer­nay cre­ated the drama Queen Sugar for Win­frey’s TV net­work.

These two don’t do empty en­ter­tain­ment. And their hope for A Wrin­kle In Time is clear: “One night,” says Win­frey, “we were talk­ing about how evil is spread­ing out over the world and how we need to bring hope back.”

Thus the ideals in L’En­gle’s story are as sorely needed now as they ever were.

“I feel like if we’d done this story when she wrote it, back in the ’50s, it was rel­e­vant then,” says Win­frey. “When it pre­mieres, peo­ple will say, ‘How rel­e­vant’. When the next gen­er­a­tion of kids sees it in 2028, they’ll say, ‘How rel­e­vant’. In 2058, they’ll say, ‘This is a movie for our times!’

“It feels like be­ing a part of the next Wiz­ard Of Oz.”

Win­frey be­lieves Mrs Which will turn out to be as iconic in her ca­reer as Dorothy was for Judy Gar­land.

“I’m ex­cited about it in a way that I’ve never been ex­cited about any other film,” she says. “I know that kids will come up to me and they will say, ‘Oh there’s Mrs Which!’ and I’ll say, ‘I also had a TV show, you know!’ ” A Wrin­kle in Time opens today

Oprah Win­frey as the pow­er­ful Mrs Which in a scene from A Wrin­kle In Time.

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