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
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.