Faith, hope, and love are not only core aspects of Christian belief but also central themes in Disney’s long-anticipated motion picture adaptation of Madeline L’Engle’s classic novel A Wrinkle In Time. The film, starring Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling and Gugu Mbatha-Raw and directed by Ava DuVernay, centers on the journey of young girl (Storm Reid) determined to rescue her father (Chris Pine) from the deepest corner of the universe.
While the film showcases dynamic visuals and dazzling special effects, the heart of the film is more grounded in reality, according to producer Jim Whitaker. In this exclusive interview, he reveals to Reel Faith’s DeWayne Hamby the soul behind the modern fantasy epic.
When did you get involved with A Wrinkle In Time?
It was about four years ago that I brought the idea to (Disney) and they said, ‘Actually, we’re buying the rights to it. Come in and tell us how you would do it.’ I met with the co-producer, Catherine Hand, who had been working on it for decades. She and I jumped in together and off we went. It was a couple of years in development and then a couple of years in the making.
What interested you about it?
The emotional journey. I was really interested in this young girl who felt different and very other and very other and very separated. Having her go on this journey across the universe, really discovering the power she had within herself and discovering that, although she felt different in the beginning, she was very much a part of not only the world but the universe. She had a life that could have impact. That sense of that journey and discovery and emotionality of it was really what drew me to it. I loved all the other parts of it but that’s the core of it.
It’s interesting the angle about purpose. I think we see a crisis of purpose of young people in the world right now.
I hope that young and old alike but particularly young people can see that their life is really special and divine in its own way and that they are here for a reason to have a purpose in this world. That’s the core of what this movie is about, while celebrating those that have come before us that have had a purpose in the world. I know that’s what gets me out of bed in the morning. To put that kind of story on screen was really important to me.
All of the films you have been involved with (Friday Night Lights, The Finest Hours, The Odd Life of Timothy Green, Pete’s Dragon) could be categorized as inspirational. Is that intentional? Is that your leaning?
Well, you got me. When I was invited to come over to Disney, I had to actually look back on the things that I had made and ask myself the question, ‘What is it that I do?’ It was really only in that period of reflection that I realized that my thematic is one of hope. I like to tell stories about characters and real people who are in desperate, difficult situations that need to climb their way out of it to a more hopeful place. I haven’t quite figured out why that is the thing that matters to me most, but it is certainly my thematic and the thing that drives me in most projects. I feel like life can be challenging and I think to be able to tell stories that show that there’s a way to overcome challenges in life and come out better for it on the other end is a great thing to be able to do and I feel lucky to be able to do it. This film is a great example of that.
I would guess in your own life you’re an optimist, someone who sees a solution when others see the problems.
Yeah. I am pretty good with bad news. I’ve been very lucky to have that temperament. I don’t really see bad things as bad things. I see them as good things that haven’t arrived as being good. Anything that approached me that is negative and bad is just not meant to be at this moment in time. But it may and is quite possibly meant to be for another moment in time. Yes, I’m fundamentality at my core an optimist. My kids think I’m too optimistic sometimes (laughs).
The good and the bad, both of them shape you. It’s how you respond to both is what builds character.
I totally agree that every experience is meant to be in service of building your own character and guide you in the life that you’re meant to have. Again, that is what the movie demonstrates, actually. When Meg goes to her journey, overcomes her problems, she overcomes and finds way to get around them and then the galvanization of her purpose in life drives her to the realization of who she really is, which is really powerful.
You have an incredible cast for this. There’s not a lot that entices Oprah to get in front of the camera these days but obviously this was important to her.
The two keys to all of it was Jennifer Lee wrote a beautiful script. She’d written Frozen and wrote a beautiful draft. But secondly most important was Ava. When Ava came on board, that really catalyzed everybody’s focus on the movie and her ability to reach out to Oprah, who’s a friend of hers, and Oprah was kind enough to join us and then we began to explore who might be rising next. Ava was able to go to those folks and get them. She and Aisha Coley, casting director, assembled an incredible cast. We were very fortunate. And great people. They are all really great human beings.
How did you work through the intimidation of doing such a massive project?
The first thing for me is to look at the film and say ‘Do I really believe in it and do I secondarily believe that in believing in it I can accomplish the vision of what I see the movie to be?’ The believing is pretty immediate. You just think, ‘I want to do this.’ The second part is a daily act of putting one foot in front of the other and simply breaking it down and moving through the process with a great amount of faith that it’s going to come to the end. You believe in certainly applying all the craft and knowledge that I’ve applied over the years that I’ve been fortunate to be in the business. It’s really just a day-by-day thing. You take one step at a time every day and be open the challenges that face you and be optimistic you can overcome them. We were able to do that. The spirit of the cast and the crew was terrific and made it all the more easier. And I shouldn’t go without saying the studio, incredible partners at the studio.
Is there anything about the film that you’d like to point out to readers of faith? What will they glean from it?
I think it’s an incredible film about hope but I also think it’s an incredible film about faith at its core, because it’s about a girl who, without having the evidence, has the faith to know that she should go on this journey to find her father and the belief that she can do it, no matter what happens. To me, that’s very powerful.