A Wrinkle in Time’s Zach Galifianakis on why boys need to see the film, working with Ava DuVernay, and Bakelite

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Mar 7, 2018

The first thing Zach Galifianakis did when I met him was offer me a snack, so I knew immediately we would get along. Disarming, personable, and of course hilarious, Galifianakis plays the Happy Medium in A Wrinkle in Time — a fitting role, because balance is the perfect word to describe him.

Leading up to the release of A Wrinkle in Time, there have (rightfully) been discussions on how the representation of Meg (Storm Reid) will impact young girls, especially those interested in science. But at the press conference in Los Angeles ahead of the film, Galifianakis noted how A Wrinkle in Time could also impact young men and boys as well.

"I think it’s good because it’s nice for young boys, young men even, to see that it is okay to have a sensitive side of you. I think when young boys in this climate are seen as sensitive ... they’re made fun of, but that doesn’t mean they’re not - it means they’re stronger to me. And I wish we would just kind of change that. You know, I come from a very masculine upbringing and a lot of people do it. I love the way I was raised, but looking back, we need balance. It’s time for balance. I think that’s what the happy medium is."

When SYFY Fangrrls sat down to chat with the Happy Medium himself later that day, that idea of balance kept popping up — this time, between silly tangents and thoughtful observations as the conversation bounced from Galifianakis' fear of physically being suspended up in the air to wondering how lovers of the book would receive the film.

"I didn't know about the height part. If I had known I would be up to 70 feet in the air, I would've still taken the job, but I'm glad I didn't know about it because I have a terrible fear of heights," said Galifianakis, when asked if he knew what he was getting into when he signed onto the film. "After I read it, I thought, this is a challenge to turn a book with so much love to it into a movie. These are two different things, and book readers get really offended at movies."

Ultimately, he settled on an acceptance of the two works as intertwined but separate—a balance, if you will.

"I think the movie is a beautiful interpretation of the book. The book is, it's one thing, but this movie is its own thing too."

Image courtesy of Disney

In A Wrinkle in Time, Galifianakis' character lives in a stunning cave home where stones precariously perch throughout—another nod to our watch-word: balance. And despite the unbelievable setting, it turns out it wasn't just movie magic. The stones were real. Well, real-ish.

"The green screen part of it must have been in the back, but it wasn't heavily green screened. There were proper tangible things we're standing on. Those are real. They're made out of these stalactite type things, were made out of Bakelite or something. Do you know what Bakelite is? Because if you know what Bakelite is, you're a lot older than I thought."

"I've heard that word."

"You've heard of Bakelite?"

"Yeah, but I don't know what it is."

"I don't want to get off track here."

"This sounds important though."

"It's important. I can tell that you might like this. Bakelite was a substance that they used to make knives and forks out of. It's really strong and for some reason, it came out of fashion, but if you're ever around..."

"Ohhhh. Like the knives that aren't metal."

"Yes! That's Bakelite and they're great. They came out of fashion. But if you're ever in a vintage place and you see a Bakelite set, buy it."

"It's worth it?"

"Yes. Yes."

"So everything was made out of that?"

This is the point in the conversation where I believe he realized how many times we had said the word "Bakelite" in the past 30 seconds, because he burst into laughter.

"So everything was made out of Bakelite. I have no idea what your question was before that. (pause) What was your question, Heather? How did we get to the Bakelite?"

And for the rest of my life, I'll probably be asking myself the same question when I think back on Zach Galifianakis giving me thrift store knife shopping advice. But alas, we made it out of the Bakelite cave and back to our balance... errrr, well, back to the wires, because he was really not into the wires.

"When [director Ava DuVernay] said to me, 'You're going to be up there,' I don't know if I said anything to her at all. No, I'm not. I'm not going to get there, but sure enough, I was up there. But it was, it was fine. The hardest acting to do is to act like you're not afraid." 

"You're afraid of heights."

"I'm afraid of heights. I'm afraid of acting. I'm afraid of Hollywood."

"So you make great choices." 

"Really smart choices. I can't read. I can't speak. I really cannot speak. This movie I wasn't too bad on but I get so tongue-tied, I don't know how I get hired." 

But after spending only a few minutes talking to Galifianakis, I know exactly how he gets hired. A Wrinkle in Time itself precariously balances on the line of fantastical and deeply real. The fear we all have of stepping out of our comfort zone soothed by unearthly beings spouting Outkast quotes. Galifianakis, who is best known for his comedy, portrays a character who must find a balance between the absurd and heartfelt — something he does naturally.

"Well, I think you can be both in life. I think you don't have to be one or the other," he said. "I think humor or silliness is the greatest underused weapon. When we're talking about hard subjects, I wish humor was used more. We have a humorless President right now and you see where we are. So I think that is a balance. The editor also has to find that balance because I may have been too goofy in a couple of things, whereas we know that's not gonna work. So it's a lot of people making these decisions. It's Ava, it's the editor, it's a performer. But you know, you feel like you're in good hands with somebody like Ava."

The importance of Ava DuVernay's influence on A Wrinkle in Time was brought up frequently in talking to the people involved with the film. As the director, she obviously has a huge role to play in the guidance of the film itself, but her influence in culture as a whole can't be overlooked either. She is one of the most in-demand directors currently — and she also happens to be a woman of color. Galifianakis understands the benefits of having a director like DuVernay.

"I keep saying it's always better when you feel like you're working for somebody that knows what they want and that word 'vision' keeps coming up," Galifianakis said, about working with DuVernay. "I wish there was a better word for what she does. She knows what she wants. To be honest with you, the fact that she was a woman — and I don't mean this in the PC way. I've worked for women, I get along with them better. They're more collaborative. They don't have that ego thing as much. And that's noticeable. The fact that she, it's sad to say, she stands out like a sore thumb because you don't see a lot of female directors. You don't see a lot of people of color — period — directing. Combine those two, for her to navigate this business... it's tough enough for a white guy that doesn't know what he's doing to make it in this little business, but for that woman who actually knows what she's doing, unfortunately, that sticks out. But hopefully, she's changing that."

As I left the room, he offered me a tiny jar of honey from the food spread on the table (which I accepted, because who turns down free food?). It felt like a fitting end to the conversation — a gesture both silly and sincere. Balance.

A Wrinkle in Time is in theaters March 9.