A Wrinkle in Time, in theaters on March 9, has a lot going for it: an A-list cast, a talented director, and a Disney-size budget. But as it turns out, there was one other thing in particular that initially drew Gugu Mbatha-Raw to the project—or, rather, one person. We sat down with the UK native at the film's press junket in Los Angeles, where Mbatha-Raw explained how the film's 14-year-old star, Storm Reid, was particularly inspiring for her.
"When [director Ava DuVernay] first mentioned A Wrinkle in Time to me, I was intrigued," Mbatha-Raw told Who What Wear. "She said she had me in mind to play the mom, and I was kind of like, 'Really? I don't know. I've never played a mom before.' But as soon as I saw a picture of Storm, I was like, Oh my god, I totally see myself in her."
When we asked Mbatha-Raw what impressed her most about Reid, she explained how the relative newcomer's role is even more important than you might realize. "I think she gives such a beautiful, powerful, and vulnerable performance, and I think it's an exciting time," she told us. "When I grew up, there weren't big blockbuster Disney movies with little girls who looked like me and Storm as the heroine, the hero, the warrior of the whole story, so I think that's extremely culturally significant and meaningful for me to be part of her sentience."
Read on for our full chat with Mbatha-Raw, delving into the film's principal theme, director Ava DuVernay's strengths, and more.
You play 14-year-old Storm Reid's mom in the film. What would be your best advice to her about navigating Hollywood?
You know, I think she's very centered, she's got a great mom, and she's got great mentors with everyone in this cast, from Ava to Oprah to Reese to Mindy to myself. I think my big message—and it's also in the film—would be who you are is enough. You don't need to be cool, you don't need to seek validation from outside of yourself. I think Hollywood and the film industry are a tough place to hang on to your identity and authenticity, so I would just say that you've already got everything you need inside of you.
Speaking of the film's theme of being yourself, there was one scene where Storm's character was confronted with a supposedly "better" version of herself and asked if she wanted to be her instead—and she has straight hair compared to Storm's natural hair. What do you think was the message being conveyed with that scene?
This is a conversation I was having a couple of years ago with Beyond the Lights, the film I did with Gina Prince-Bythewood. It's about authenticity. For me, images are powerful. What we culturally decide is a standard of beauty is one thing, but everybody is different, and I think we should be encouraged to celebrate our natural selves. Of course, everybody wants to dress up and change up their looks. I do that myself. So I don't have any judgment for that, but I think the danger comes when your sense of self-worth comes from being something that you're not.
So I think Ava is very smart. She was putting a subliminal message there about what we choose to celebrate as beautiful, as heroic, and it's an interesting conversation. You know, hair on a certain level is a very superficial thing. It's just hair. But at the same time, when young girls look at people on red carpets or in movies, they see those images and they aspire to dress and look like that. So I think that, as I said, who you are is enough—you don't have to transform yourself into anything else to be loved.
Why is it significant for you to be part of movies with female directors?
I've worked with tons of female directors, so for me it's normal—it's my reality. I think it's about point of view. Quite often, I'm drawn to the point of view that some of the female directors I've worked with are illuminating, that puts women at the center of the story in a multifaceted way. I'm excited to get to the point where we can just talk about the director, Ava DuVernay, and we don't have to keep qualifying gender and ethnicity, but at the same time, I see why that's still a conversation. But I think it's becoming just part of our reality, so I'm glad about that.
What's something we wouldn't know about behind the scenes on A Wrinkle in Time?
Well, I'm so jealous I didn't get to go to New Zealand. Most of my scenes were in the house, [which were filmed] in the West Adams district—I hadn't known about this area in South L.A. The house that we shot in was built in 1910, which is so rad. Those beautiful old wooden houses in that district were a real revelation to me. Also, working with young actors like Storm, Deric [McCabe], and Levi [Miller] was just so much fun. It was just such a family entity on the set.
Disney's A Wrinkle in Time hits theaters on Friday, March 9.