Screen Rant sat down with Jennifer Lee who wrote the screenplay for Disney’s A Wrinkle In Time and discusses how she updated the book for a modern audience, how she approached the characters and gender-bending Happy Medium, and focusing on Meg’s Journey. She also talks about what the book meant to her personally and how everyone can find something to relate to in the film.
Screen Rant: First of all, I gotta say, I gotta thank you guys, you, Ava, all you guys, because I’m a bi-racial child myself and it was kinda cool seeing that represented, how cool is that? To me it was like man, I’ve never really seen this in a big budget film, it was so cool.
Jennifer Lee: You just gave me chills.
Screen Rant: Yeah, well that’s . . .
Jennifer Lee: I know it’s not the room because the heat’s on . . .
Screen Rant: That’s the first time I’ve really ever seen it and I don’t think there’s been a movie I’ve seen in recent times where I’ve had a smile ear to ear from beginning to end.
Jennifer Lee: Oh, that’s amazing.
Screen Rant: It’s so good. Like I loved this film, but I have to ask, obviously, you’re the screenwriter, I’ve got some questions. A Wrinkle in Time has been extremely popular since the 1960’s, it’s had a lot of it’s elements adapted in other works, I’m sure you know.
Jennifer Lee: Yes.
Screen Rant: How did you go about making it fresh and original, which it was.
Jennifer Lee: Well thank you, I mean, the biggest things for me I think, I’ve loved this book since I was ten years old, that was in the early 80’s, so I’ve been with it for a long time and I think about the things in it that are timeless, the things that we all feel, the things in the world that keep coming up again and I think those are there. But I looked at it and go ‘we’ve got, this has gotta be Meg’s journey.’ And we can do that now, we don’t put you know, the Missuses are these wonderful supports or antagonists but, the fact that we could take a 14 year old girl, flaws and all, and she can drive this whole movie, it had to have that, and everyone supported that.
And then for me, I love Science Fiction, I love Quantum Physics, I love Cosmology, and I listen to Astronomycast every night and to be able to say all those beautiful ideas that Madeline L’Engle had in the 60s, we have the science now that can actually speak to them as possibilities. . .
Screen Rant: Absolutely.
Jennifer Lee: And get to put that in there and inspire kids and it’s real science, it’s real stuff and then, frankly, what is our world today? And how do the things that were written through one lens in the book, how can you look at them a different way today and see the truth in both.
And so, what I’m saying to you is actually when I came in and spoke to Disney about . . I asked to come in and they were looking for a writer and I asked to be the writer because I love the book, but I didn’t pitch them then and then I pitched them this, this is why today, this is what we do to speak to today, and then you know, Ava coming on as well, you know, two women working on this film together and then Ava, really pushing for diversity and inclusivity, saying we want Meg as everyone and this film is all of us.
Screen Rant: Well, that’s a great point because you’re speaking about today and I feel like, being a bi-racial child myself, everyone always asks me ‘What’s your ethnicity, what’s your ethnicity??’ and I’m like ‘you know what? I’m what the future’s gonna look like.’ And I feel like this is exactly Meg’s journey right, so . . . and I think that with that, it’s about the now. And I love the fact that there is such diversity in this, but it’s one of those things where it’s not written that way, it’s just a movie with people in it, you know what I mean? I love that.
Jennifer Lee: It’s a family.
Screen Rant: Right, it’s a family. So, there’s also some heavy themes of religion in the book, there’s some reference to guardian angels, Jesus, Buddha, how did you approach the spiritual themes and adapting it to the film?
Jennifer Lee: Well it’s interesting, people talk about as if it was removed, and I love what you said, it wasn’t removed, it was just opened up in language that wasn’t exclusive, guardian angels versus stars, are they the same thing? Maybe.
To me, Madeline L’Engel was very Christian and had a lot to say about that and there were things she was longing for and so she used that lens, and that was the way she could get herself in there, but she also had a beautiful love of science as well, so for me and for Ava it was about inclusivity in that sense as well. Since we’re not limiting, we’re not picking some religion, but we’re saying we all feel, we can feel that you’re a part of something extraordinary and the messages are the same. Which is about, ‘are you gonna be the light or are you going to be the darkness? Are you going to fight against your own inner pain despite all of that and do something good?’ And that’s still there and so I think it was much, it’s funny, I never felt like I was going away from something as opposed to just opening it to a place where it was for everybody.
Screen Rant: Absolutely.
Jennifer Lee: Yeah, so, but that’s it, so I love the way you said that cause I, most people said ‘you didn’t do that’ and I was like ‘but it felt so. . . ‘ it had such a spiritual lift for me.
Screen Rant: Absolutely, I mean this is the great thing about this film is that depending on who you are and where you are in your life, you can take almost anything, and I love. . . Charles Wallace to me, he’s . . first of all, Deric is brilliant.
Jennifer Lee: He’s absolutely incredible.
Screen Rant: He blew me away
Jennifer Lee: Yep.
Screen Rant: And having that young man, that kid, pretty much balance being this joy and the heart of the film and the playing this dark role, it’s like . . . he completely pulled it off!
Jennifer Lee: When I first saw him, in the takes of him when he was taking over The It, I was like ‘Oohh my’ and it’s so funny people ask me if it’s scary, and the scariest thing is that cause he’s so convincing, so amazing.
Screen Rant: He’s an amazing young actor and this whole cast is amazing and I’m sure you’ve gotten to work with them pretty closely, doing A Wrinkle In Time, and it seems like you’re very passionate about this obviously, and throughout this journey what is something you took away from this?
Jennifer Lee: Well, you know, I think the biggest thing about A Wrinkle In Time is that everyone who has read that book has a relationship with that book and they bring something to it and it changes as you age, it changes as you grow, and this film, from the moment I started, when for six months I sat alone messing with this, to what it has become and how each one of the people who have joined have made a change and made it become better and bigger, more than I ever could have imagined. That’s the thing of saying ‘Gosh, look what we do when we reach out to each other and work together where we’re open and willing to change when you’re inspired by somebody. Willing to have really intense conversations to get to a place of discovering something you never thought you could discover. That’s what this was for me, it was so little of it being about, this film has to must . . .it was none of that, it was all conversations of how we feel and what inspired us and all the actors brought that too, and all of the scenes evolved with them, it was just extraordinary.
Screen Rant: One change is the gender swapping of Happy Medium, I talked to Zach and he said it best, his father was very masculine, but it’s cool to be a sensitive male and I think that’s the perfect balance. Now with Happy Medium, did you have a male in mind for that?
Jennifer Lee: Yeah, that was actually one of the first changes I made and . . . but what Zach brought to it was this whole layer that was even greater, like I was saying, I knew I wanted it to be a man from the start, in the script it was because I felt like where Meg was in her journey, we were really trying to treat the . . cause the relationship in the book with her dad was really like a McGuffin, it’s like the thing you have to find and then it’s not about that. But we wanted to go deep, we wanted it to really be about that relationship and know why she wants to find him, know what she’s afraid of, and for me that was the critical moment in the film, she needed to face her greatest fear was that her father abandoned her, that he didn’t want to be found, and I wanted her to have that experience with a man. I didn’t want to have it be a woman tell her, I wanted to have it where there was a man who resisted her when she came in, who didn’t see quite the power she had and then helped her bring it out of herself and in so doing say ‘even though you’re afraid that your father doesn’t want you, I can tell you there’s know way that’s true and you have to take that courage and be willing to face that fear and so when Zach came on, he brought to it the vulnerability, the willingness to almost to . . for his emotion to come out to start so stoic and suspicious and end with such warmth, it’s one of my favorite scenes and I’m in tears every time. He brought all that, he brought all that warmth.
Screen Rant: Yeah, he jumps off, like off the screen, it’s crazy, because you don’t think of Zach Galifinakis doing something like this, but when you see it, it’s like, ‘Oh yeah!’ He’s perfect.
Jennifer Lee: And it just gets you, in some ways, it’s because he’s a guy you think you know, like you’re saying, but when he opens up in such a vulnerable way and he’s so tender and gentle, it just, it’s like a thing you go ‘Ohh, he has that in him too. . . ‘ It’s beautiful.
Screen Rant: So, switching gears for a second, talking about your amazing cast, you have three beautiful, strong, powerful, dominating presences that play the Missuses, Mindy, Oprah, and Reese. With them playing such an important and pivotal role, did you write their characters with them in mind or let the characters, kinda be the characters, and then they just happened to join on the project?
Jennifer Lee: No, I think it’s a little mix of both as you get inspired and the funny way, I mean Missus Which, I mean, you can’t imagine anyone other than Oprah.
Screen Rant: Yeah.
Jennifer Lee: But really, at the same time you have to be careful because you wanna create a character where you make sure you’re building it for the right reasons, like, you know, Mrs. Whatsit was going to be the one who was all about love, so she was going to be very nurturing.
Screen Rant: Sure.
Jennifer Lee: Mrs. Whatsit is the newest one and she’s eager and hungry but she messes up because she’s not quite used to humans and then you have Mrs. Which who has been here the longest and I would say has met whoever created the universe and just, you have to stay true. . . that makes her someone who doesn’t even know how to be the right size and those things had to be there and then when they came on, it was like you could just push things. And what I loved was Mindy embraced the role where she’s not cracking the jokes and she’s having to use other people’s words and she’s being the nurturer and she brought all that out and it’s similar to Zach where we know him them for comedy but the humanity that comes from the way they did these roles, it just hits you even harder, so they brought just as much to it, but I will say, if you don’t give them a character to grab onto, you fail them, so that’s all I could try to do.
Screen Rant: Now with the book, was there anything that was in there that you really, really loved, but just didn’t make it to the screen because it didn’t quite work and was just kind of left there?
Jennifer Lee: Well, the thing for all of us, it was Aunt Beast, so she’s a character they get to go to the planet Ixchel, we all fought for it, we all tried so hard to make it work, but the truth was what the journey that Meg needed, if we gave her the help that Aunt Beast gave, then it diminished what she had to accomplish.
Screen Rant: Sure.
Jennifer Lee: And so there was a thing where you make a choice for the film, but you acknowledge the fact again, we’ve made enough of the leaps away from the books, knowing that we’re not trying to be the book. It was just the one where we wished we could have saved that, but no matter how we worked it, it took away from Meg’s journey and what she had to face and having to face it with no help is something we all go through in life.
Screen Rant: Sure
Jennifer Lee: The moment where you’re facing the ultimate darkness and there’s no one to help you and you have to help yourself and so we had to do that. But, that’s the one, I keep joking, maybe it’ll be on the DVD or at least in a cut you’ll get to see her, she’s extraordinary.
Screen Rant: Now, I mean, there’s more of this movie that I definitely wanted to see, but I know this is one book, but that it’s a series of books, do you think you laid the groundwork to follow it up with . . . maybe?
Jennifer Lee: I don’t, here’s what I’ll say, I don’t know, I read all the books when I first was gonna do this, just to reacquaint myself, Wrinkle In Time I knew very very well, but I read the rest and then I put them away because I said, ‘I don’t think this is the right thing because I can’t make choices knowing where Meg’s going because she doesn’t know where she’s going, I have to make these choices with her and I need to do this journey for what needs to happen now and knowing if anyone liked this enough to do other, we’ll find a way to solve those problems then, but I put them away and so in some ways, I don’t know what I’ve made difficult and what I haven’t because I can’t, I know them vaguely, but I literally can’t remember some of the things I know I probably broke.
Screen Rant: So, talking to ten year old you who was a huge fan of Wrinkle In Time and seeing what you pulled out of that, what does that feel like to you, because this is almost like a dream come true in a sense to you.
Jennifer Lee: Well, in so many ways, I was Meg in that I was the kid that never did anything right, I was the problem kid in school for, in like I didn’t sit still or pay attention, I was always in my head, I was disheveled, I was bullied severely, the stack was against me in many ways and I didn’t believe in myself and I took a really long time to fight my way out of that, so, I imagine sitting here to be able, with the character of Meg on screen for any kids out there, people out there, who feel this lack of worth, and see this girl who feels this lack of worth, but she doesn’t turn into this perfect person, she says ‘forget the perfect person, I’ll embrace who I am, I’m know that I’m good enough and have a lot to give this world’ I joke, well, if that was me at ten, maybe I would have found my career ten years earlier.
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