When Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Black Mirror, The Cloverfield Paradox) first spoke to director Ava DuVernay about joining Disney's A Wrinkle in Time, she was hesitant.
"[Ava] said, 'It's to play the mum' and I was like, 'Oh my God, I've never played a mum before. I don't have kids. I don't know if I'm ready for this.' You know? Then I saw a picture of Storm [Reid, who plays her daughter Meg] and I just melted because I totally saw myself in her."
After that, it was kinda a no-brainer for Mbatha-Raw.
"I read the script by Jennifer Lee and then went back to the book and just the message behind the story has so much heart and it's so empowering for young women."
Mbatha-Raw and DuVernay had previously worked together on a micro-budget short film for the opening of the African American Museum of History and Culture at the Smithsonian, and working with the director again was part of what ultimately sold her on the project.
"Obviously I really wanted to work with Ava and then I found out that Oprah was in it and this incredible girl gang. I was like, I just have to be a part of this. I really want to sort of contribute to this story."
In A Wrinkle in Time, Mbatha-Raw plays Dr. Murry, the mother of Meg and Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe), and one half of a scientific "power couple" — her missing other half is the catalyst for the events of the film. Meg is desperate to find her father, the other Dr. Murry (played by Chris Pine), leading to an adventure across universes to bring him home.
SYFY Fangrrls sat down with Mbatha-Raw to discuss reuniting with DuVernay, visiting NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab, and the role Dr. Murry played as a grounding force in a fantasy film.
So how was it working with Ava on this project? You worked with her before, but only for a short period. How was this process?
It's been fascinating. I mean, she's so dynamic and smart and has a real vision for this story. This, you know, diverse cast that she's assembled. I mean, she really sort of walks the talk in terms of putting her messages and her DNA into the story. I think you look at this movie: where she set it, the context of this movie, having Storm at the center. It's very inspiring to be around her. She's a wonderful, warm energy. This big laugh, you know, but she's also very focused and she knows what she wants. She's just a great, great person to be around.
There was a lot of science and technology happening in this film. And your character especially is very smart and knowledgeable. You mentioned going to visit JPL as part of preparing. How was that visit and what else did you do to get into character?
Oh, it was fascinating. You know, driving out there to Pasadena and meeting people who actually are planning missions to Mars and just talking to them about their trajectory and their passion. And we were also introduced to Stephon Alexander, this doctor who is an astrophysicist and he's written this book, The Jazz of Physics. He's a consultant on the movie and, you know, it was lovely to be able to talk to him and get his perspective. I mean, obviously we're actors, we're never going to completely understand or immerse ourselves in the depth — you know, people study for years these kinds of theories. But it was fascinating just to kind of get a taste of that world.
And then, Ava was very keen that we establish Mrs. Murry as Doctor Kate. So she's not just defined by her marriage, but she's a doctor in her own right. That Mr. and Mrs. Murry are intellectual equals and it's a meeting of minds as well as a meeting of hearts. And I sort of really responded to that idea that they were sort of this power couple (laughs). This pioneering power couple in the science world, you know, and that that connection was what really, sort of kept her hope alive over these four years of his absence.
I definitely saw that in the film, how equal they were which was really cool. What resonates with you the most with your character specifically? What about her kind of connects you to her the most, would you say?
You know, I think it's her hope actually, I think that's a deep thread that runs through. Even though we don't have much time to spend with the family before it sort of becomes fractured. The fact that she's grounded. She's in this world. She's in this realm. I think my job was to sort of create that sanctuary, that grounded world so that Meg and Charles Wallace can go off on this adventure, but know that they are coming back to a solid, grounded home. So yeah, I sort of really saw myself as the grounding, stable influence of our world.
Like home base.
This is a story for everyone, but it is especially for children. From that aspect, what do you hope that children specifically get out of the story when they see the movie?
I really get from it, and I hope young people will too, the idea that who you are is enough. I think Storm's character is going through bullying at school, not fitting in, not feeling comfortable in her own skin or knowing her place. And I think she has to get to a place of learning to love who she is before she can really access her power. And I think that that's huge.
You know, there's a line that Oprah says in the movie early on in the first tesser experience where she says, "All you have to do is find the right frequency and be who you are." And I just like..ahh...that's the key to life. That's everything. Find the right frequency. Find your purpose. Find your tribe. Find why you're here. Find what you love to do and then be authentic. Be you. You know? And be a warrior. I think that we all have so much potential inside of us and young people have a powerful voice as we're seeing in the media right now. Young people often have more wisdom and truth and purity and tenacity even than their parents' generation. So yeah, I hope people will be inspired by that.
And overcoming obstacles.
You just mentioned that there's a lot of things happening in the world right now. What do you think the place for this movie is kind of in the landscape of what's happening?
Well, it's a light. I hope it's a light in the darkness of this world. I think, you know, the movie is visually sumptuous and it's sincere and it's not trying to be edgy. It's not trying to be "wink, wink, nudge, nudge," you know. This has a lot of heart, this film. And vulnerability and the spiritual center. And I think we all need to sort of ground ourselves in a spiritual center to know that we're all connected and we're all doing the same thing basically. I hope this movie provides a bright colorful bite to uplift people.
Yeah, it's interesting that the movie with so many ethereal beings can be something that's grounding people, that people can relate to. I think in general, fantasy and science fiction can often tell those lessons in different ways than a different kind of movie.
Yeah, exactly. I mean it's like, I think Martin Scorsese says, "Sometimes you have to smuggle your messages." And I think here we have such a beautiful sparkling package, but actually, this center underneath it all is love conquers all. And light has the power over darkness and really, really nutritious values at the core of this film.
So, I have kind of a fun question. If you could be one of the "Mrs." in the film, who would you be?
Okay. Oh my God, they're all so fabulous. It's really hard to choose. I think I'd probably want to be Oprah because then I would get to have that really resonant voice and the blonde afro. I mean, who doesn't want to kinda give that a try? So, yeah. I think I'd have to be Oprah.
I'll have to agree with Gugu. I'd like to be Oprah too.
A Wrinkle in Time hits theaters March 9.