Gugu Mbatha-Raw Talks About Her Role In Wrinkle In Time
This is my second time sitting and talking with Gugu about a Disney film. Last year I had the opportunity to interview her about her role in Beauty and the Beast. She plays Dr. Kate Murry in A Wrinkle In Time, and while the movie doesn’t heavily focus on her role in the film it’s very important because of how the story ends and her job in this film.
As Dr. Kate Murry, her character is tasked with going from working on groundbreaking scientific research with her husband, to a working single mother when he goes missing. We see her early in the film balancing all the roles in her life when Meg ends up in trouble at school. This character is very brilliant and her work is so specific in the books that Gugu needed to study with Mathematicians when researching for the role.
I have to confess it was a nightmare. The day that we were doing the Ted Talk and there was a flashback of the talk. And we were talking about Quantum Entanglement and all this astrophysics which I have a very, very light grasp of. And it was our first day onset. And I’m like, oh my God, there’s Chris Pine and there’s Ava and there’s four cameras and we’re on stage with a real audience. It was a lot getting to grips with all of that scientific language. I’m not going to say it was easy. But we did have this wonderful consultant on the movie called Stephon Alexander who wrote the book, the Jazz of Physics.
And he was there talk us through in layperson’s terms what we were talking about. We had dinner with him and could ask him lots of questions. We also took a trip to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and we got to meet real astrophysicists and rocket scientists and people planning trips to Mars. That was really fascinating. And then it was just really grounding it in the relationship and talking with Ava.
I think she was very keen that even though it’s Mrs. Murry in the book that we have Dr. Kate Murry. She’s not just defined by her marriage to her husband, she’s a doctor in her own right as well as a mother, as well as a wife. And so emphasizing that the dynamic between them was very much a meeting of minds as well as hearts. They’re intellectual equals. It’s an academic household where learning is encouraged and celebrated.
It’s funny you learn these things for a role and then it evaporates out of your brain afterwards. But it’s great to have the chance to sort of step into someone else’s shoes in a completely different world.
Gugu’s role as a mom in this film was done so gracefully. Ava did an amazing job of capturing the life of a parent on so many levels. We asked what was her process for preparing to play this role.
I’ve never played a mom before. I don’t have kids. When Ava first approached me to play the mom in this I was kind of like, oh are you sure? I don’t know if I can pull this off. And then I saw a picture of Storm and I was like, oh my gosh, look at that, look at her. I saw myself in her. And I think it was really not lost on me that growing up I loved the never ending story and the Wizard of Oz and all of those incredible fantastical adventures.
But you know I didn’t have anybody who looked like myself and Storm as the heroine in those kind of movies when I was young. There was a special cultural significance for me to be ushering in the next generation in that way. I don’t get to go to all the fantastical lands that Storm and Derek get to go to in the story. So I really felt like my job was to ground their domestic reality, create that warm solid family unit that everyone was so desperate to return to.
We asked what Gugu was hoping little girls would take away from her character or the movie once they saw A Wrinkle In Time or what she hoped they would take away.
I think some of the themes are actually very similar for me and what I’m drawn to the idea of finding your voice. I think the idea that who you are is enough is something that I really respond to in this story especially Storm’s character growing up being bullied at school, being uncomfortable in her own skin, not sure where she fits. Those are definitely themes that were in Belle and in Beyond the Lights and in many stories that I’m attracted to.
And I think the idea of being authentic to who you are that you don’t have to find validation from your career or from the music industry, from any external forces. I think that you have all the potential inside of you. And that’s something I think I would love young people to feel and learn and understand.
Who wouldn’t want to work with Ava DuVernay? When we asked Gugu about what drew her to the role, she quickly credited her urge to work with Ava.
I mean ultimately it was really the opportunity to work with Ava DuVernay. I think that not having a relationship with the book and I had met Ava when, Selma was coming out the same time as Belle. There were a few press things. We’d always met each other at sparkly industry events but we’d never had a real conversation.
And she invited me to be a part of this short film, a series of shorts that she made for the opening of the African-American Museum of History and Culture at the Smithsonian. And we did one short, one day of filming to represent Hurricane Katrina in this series of different shorts. And I think maybe she was sussing me out that day because like literally a couple of weeks later I got the offer for Wrinkle.
Just talking to her about it and her passion and her vision and knowing that she’d cast Storm and how she wanted to tell this story it was a no-brainer to me. I really wanted to be a part of this game changing moment really in the industry. I could feel that the way that she was going to cast this film, the fact that it’s historically significant that she’s even directing this film as a woman of color. And for me I wanted to be a part of that girl gang. I wanted to be celebrating what this means culturally.
We talked to Storm about where she would go if she could tesser anywhere in the world. And she gave us such an amazing answer we wanted to know what Gugu would tell her 8-14 year old self, based on what she knows now.
I guess just to keep being you. I was quite an exuberant 8 to 12. I’m trying to really picture myself at that age. But yeah, that’s okay to work hard. I think I was quite nerdy at school and I used to get teased for constantly putting my hand up and being like a teacher’s pet or a nerd or a geek or all of those things that are not cool.
And I mean it didn’t stop me. But I think maybe I would like some reassurance that like being a nerd is cool and actually nerds are the most interesting people outside of high school.
Someone mentioned that they read Gugu uses fragrance to get into the head of her characters. It’s a form of sensory recall for her. We asked her if she also used it on this film.
Yeah, I’m wearing it today actually. It’s a personal thing. It’s like a sense memory. You might do a couple of days on one movie. I think when I was doing Wrinkle I was it spread over Christmas. And there’s some time off and I might do another project or something. And for me it’s a sense memory of getting back into that character, in that place. Even coming in knowing I was talking about the film today I was like oh yeah, there’s that Jasmine scent that I had for Mrs. Murry. Like I’m going to put that on because that’s going to get me in the right headspace.
And I think it takes your center away from yourself for a second but again it’s deeply personal. I don’t want to like completely bombard people with a fragrance or something. Everybody’s got to do their job. Aromatherapy is interesting to me. I think it affects your mood and your mind.
We talked to Gugu about how she stayed motivated working towards her goal when she didn’t have role models to look up to on television when she was going up.
I think I credit my mom with encouraging me and instilling confidence in me and she always supported me. From going to ballet at age 4. I was an only child so I didn’t have anybody to play with. That was how I found my playmates and my siblings in a sense was in my dance class, in my drama group and the school choir. My mom was a nurse.
She was a single parent. She worked full-time. She didn’t enjoy her job. I would see her come home from work really tired. I remember thinking quite clearly when I was about 11, I was like okay, I’m going to do a job that I love because I can see that this is wearing on my mom. I know that she’s doing that as a sacrifice for me but if I get the chance I’m going to do what I love. So I made my hobby my job basically.
Since Gugu’s hobby is not her job we wanted to know what kinds of things she does for her hobbies now since she’s can’t say acting is a hobby for her.
I know, it’s tricky then because then you’re like, you make your hobby your job so then what’s your hobby? I love yoga. That’s something I find really just centers me with all this traveling and always inhabiting different people. It’s something that really centers me, gets me back to neutral in myself. I love art. I love painting and drawing. That’s something I loved as a kid and something I love when I have the time. It sort of gets me into that flow state where I lose track of time when I’m drawing.
I love being out in nature and hiking and traveling going to different cultures. I always feel like you learn so much about yourself as well when you put yourself in a completely new context and have to have an adventure and explore. There’s so much stuff I enjoy doing. Each job sort of feels like it provides a whole new set of extracurricular research opportunities. So I’m a bit of a nerd so I love reading around a job and meeting people that do my job or do the job that my character does, so it’s constantly interesting.
ABOUT A WRINKLE IN TIME
From visionary director Ava DuVernay comes Disney’s “A Wrinkle in Time,” an epic adventure based on Madeleine L’Engle’s timeless classic which takes audiences across dimensions of time and space, examining the nature of darkness versus light and, ultimately, the triumph of love. Through one girl’s transformative journey led by three celestial guides, we discover that strength comes from embracing one’s individuality and that the best way to triumph over fear is to travel by one’s own light.
Meg Murry is a typical middle school student struggling with issues of self-worth who just wants to fit in. The daughter of two world-renowned physicists, she is intelligent and uniquely gifted, as is Meg’s younger brother, Charles Wallace, but she has yet to realize it for herself. Complicating matters is the mysterious disappearance of Mr. Murry, which has left Meg devastated and her mother broken-hearted. Charles Wallace introduces Meg and her fellow classmate Calvin to three celestial beings (Mrs. Which, Mrs. Whatsit and Mrs. Who) who have journeyed to Earth to help search for their father, and together they embark on their formidable quest. Traveling via a wrinkling of time and space known as tessering, they are transported to worlds beyond their imagination where they must confront a powerful evil force. To make it back home to Earth, Meg must face the darkness within herself in order to harness the strength necessary to defeat the darkness rapidly enveloping the Universe.
A Wrinkle In Time Opens in Theaters on March 9th, 2018.