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Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling and Oprah Winfrey in “A Wrinkle in Time.” [Walt Disney Pictures]

Oprah, Reese, Mindy, and Zach tell why they wanted to be in ‘A Wrinkle in Time’

The new film “A Wrinkle in Time,” just like the 1962 Newbery Award-winning fantasy book by Madeleine L’Engle that it was based on, focuses on a group of young protagonists who make their way from the world they know out into the universe to fight forces of evil and save the day. But both film and book also feature some mysterious, fairly oddball adult characters, each of whom adds a little something to the direction of the story. There’s the overly chatty, kind of ditsy Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon), the quotation-borrowing Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling), the all-knowing — and 30-foot-tall — Mrs. Which (Oprah Winfrey), and a smart-alecky fellow known only as The Happy Medium (Zach Galifianakis).

The quartet of actors were drawn to the film by the fact that it was being directed by Ava DuVernay (“Selma,” “13th”). Some knew the book well, some hadn’t read it. But at a get-together last week in Hollywood, all of them shared some version of revealing that if she was at the helm, they were in. The question put to each of them was “How did you become involved with the project?”

Oprah Winfrey: “I had been in New Zealand, but I did not get to the South Island, and I had wanted to. When I heard (my long-time friend) Ava was going to be filming in New Zealand, I said to her, ‘I’m goin. I’m gonna hang out with you for however long it takes. I’m gonna watch you shoot.’ She said, ‘If you’re really serious about that, would you take a look at this script? I’ve been wanting to ask you to do this.’ I said ‘OK, I’ll do whatever it is.’ Then I read the book, because I didn’t even know what it was. I had never read ‘A Wrinkle in Time.’ It wasn’t until the first day, when I was called for the costume fittings, that I realized, ‘Whoa! This is some kinda movie!’ And it had been a delight being in this film. The whole process has just been one big delight.”

Reese Witherspoon: “My agent called me and said, ‘Ava DuVernay wants you to be in a movie,’ and I said, ‘Yes! When do I show up?’ It’s very flattering to be chosen to be part of Ava’s movies because she doesn’t just make a movie, she makes an experience for everyone. She cares about what happens in front of the camera and behind the camera. Everybody feels like they’re important, special, valued for their contribution. So, it was a privilege and an honor, and I got to be this amazing celestial person!”

Mindy Kaling: “I can’t believe that I was selected to do this. It’s such an honor, and to be acting with all these incredible actors! I mean, I’m a sitcom actress, and Ava saw something in me. Then this film happened and I feel so blessed to be part of it. To wake up every morning and spend four hours in the makeup chair with these two (points to Winfrey and Witherspoon) was great. I knew Zach because I took his online acting course.”

Zach Galifianakis: “Ava wanted to have a dinner meeting, and I said, ‘Who’s paying?’ She paid. I don’t remember what I had, but I only eat healthy in front of people. After I left the meeting I probably went to a drive-through and got a deep-fried pizza or something. I had seen her documentary ‘13th,’ and that alone was enough. You can kind of see people in their work, and Ava and all the people here were very gracious. I think when you’re a standup comic you sometimes have ... not exactly a chip on your shoulder, but ...” — Galifianakis stopped talking for a moment, collected his thoughts, and became very serious. “You know, standup is where I come from, and to be involved in such a big movie like this, it really makes me ...” — his eyes got a little teary. “I feel real proud.” Another pause, then he snapped back into character, and added, with a flourish, “But I’m done with Hollywood. This is my swansong.”

“A Wrinkle in Time” opens on March 9.

— Ed Symkus writes about movies for More Content Now. He can be reached at esymkus@rcn.com.

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