Ava DuVernay's A Wrinkle in Time hits theaters soon and while it's all glamour and glitz these days, it's been a long road to bring the beloved 1962 children's science-fiction fantasy novel to the big screen. And perhaps no one knows that better than producer Catherine Hand, who says from day one, the book had trouble finding a publisher.
"That book was rejected 26 times because adult publishers in the publishing world, they didn't get it. They were shocked when one guy—John Farrar—finally said, 'Okay, I love this. I'll publish it.' And it's the children that loved it."
And it's after reading the book first as a child Hand knew she needed to share it with the world. Thus began her decades-long work to bring this adaptation to screen—a true story of perseverance and love, much like the story of A Wrinkle in Time itself. SYFY Fangrrls spoke to Hand at the press junket for the film in Los Angeles about the film which has been so personal to her for decades.
I know you have a special relationship with A Wrinkle in Time. Can you tell me about it?
Well it all started when I was about 10 years old. I got in trouble for talking in class and was sent to the library. The librarian said, "What books do you like to read?" And I said, "I don't like to read." And she said, "Well, you might like this book called A Wrinkle in Time. It won the Newbery Award and I think it's about a girl just like you." So I opened it up and said, "Well, give it a try." That night I read it and I fell in love and I fell in love with reading. I just loved this story so much. I finished it and I immediately started a letter to Walt Disney to tell him to make this book into a movie. And then I was too shy. I didn't send the letter. Then a couple years later when he died, I was so sad and felt so guilty that I hadn't told him about A Wrinkle in Time. So I made a promise to myself that I would grow up and make it. That was 50 years ago.
What is it about the book that stayed with you all of those years?
I think that there are many things. It's not just one thing. You know, as a person, as I evolved. My understanding of the book evolved. That was one thing that was a thread. The other is, I had a wonderful relationship with [A Wrinkle in Time author] Madeleine L'Engle. I loved her and I really felt her love for me and I really felt that she had confidence that I would make this movie. And I didn't have the heart to disappoint her. I wanted to live up to her hopes that I would make this movie and make it right.
And then I think the other thing is that for me as a child and as an adult, one of the biggest themes, you know, people will talk about lots of different things, but for me, it's, that darkness exists and then it can be overcome. And in my life, I have had many versions of darkness and I've had to learn how to overcome it. I think that that is such an important thing to know how to do because sometimes you know, no matter what the darkness is: you lose a job, you lose a husband, a mean girl won't sit next to you in lunch. It depends on what age you are and where you are in life but we have lots of disappointments, people can be really unkind and a lot of bad things can happen and you can overcome it. You have within you to overcome it. And I was really determined to bring that story to the screen.
So how did you finally get it to the screen? What was that process?
Well, I'll tell you, really my job was getting it to the right people. That was my job. And I really believe when Tendo Nagenda, the executive on this film, when I was talking with him and he said, "You know what? We're gonna try it. We're going to try it again." Then I was paired up with this great producer, Jim Whittaker, who had a lot of experience in movie making and he too loved A Wrinkle in Time. Then I think the first real turning point was [screenwriter] Jennifer Lee. I'll never forget the very first conversation that Jennifer, Jim, and I had when we read the first draft that Jennifer did. Jim knew it was a movie. I knew it was very close to A Wrinkle in Time and Jennifer was so collaborative. There was just this energy in that phone call. And in that moment, I knew it was going to happen.
Then what really elevated it was Ava [DuVernay]. I mean, the movie wouldn't get made without Ava, you have to have a director. So that was the second huge bump and then I think once Ava got into it and started reimagining the worlds and started asking questions about taking a deeper dive into the script and bringing this incredible energy force to the project. Then when she made her presentation to the powers that be at the studio and they were in love with it, it was just like, "Oh my God, this is going to happen."
It's such a unique story. How do you even start to translate a story that unique to film?
I know, right? And particularly because "it means different things to different people at different times in their life" to quote Madeline L'Engle, so you're adapting a story that may mean one thing to a 10-year-old but means something very different to a 27-year-old and how do you stay true to the story so that we can capture the same audience that Madeline did?
Part of the difficulty over the years was that different people would adapt it, but they would adapt it through their lens and they didn't have the kind of blend that was necessary of Madeline's vision. And I really felt, I do feel, that the Disney creative team in Ava and Jennifer and Jim—all the people that we're working on this, we were working very hard to find that blend of something old (the book) and something new (Ava's vision). And I hope you feel when you see it that we have achieved that balance.
What has been the most exciting part of the process for you?
Right here! This day. Are you kidding me? I'm so excited. You know, people ask me that and you just have to understand where I come from. Where I come from is that I had a lot of rejection and disappointment for three decades and then we made a movie. And every moment, from pre-production, post-production, meeting all the people that were involved in this, they were all my favorite days because it was finally getting made. So I just come from a deep well of gratitude. I don't mean to sound Pollyannaish, but it's been a long haul. And so I'm incredibly grateful that we're here.
In the film, they quite literally fight the darkness and we're living in a dark time right now, which can be especially scary for children. So when people leave the film, what kind of feeling do you want them to have?
Well, I think the same thing that I felt when I was a 10-year-old. You know, I read it during the Kennedy assassination. I was really sad about life and I read that book and it gave me so much hope and courage. That yes, darkness exists but it can be overcome. And I think that in the world we live in right now, on multiple levels, you could see a lot of darkness; from the polarization to the nasty things that are said on the web to the environment, everything. It seems very dark. But at the same time, hopefully, you see this movie and you realize it starts with me. You know, I can be that light and I can find others like me. And really importantly, you can be that light and you can fight an injustice or speak up for someone you love.
Because Meg becomes the warrior, but not in isolation. She becomes the warrior because she fights because she loves her brother. And it's out of love that we can find that light. So I hope that when people leave the theater, they're feeling hopeful, they have more faith in themselves (or are at least willing to look for it), appreciate the love around them (because Meg never really appreciated the love of her family), and have faith in an awesome universe that we have yet to understand. And we have to continue to ask the questions, "What's out there?" And, if those things can happen, I'm happy.
A Wrinkle in Time is in theaters now.