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A Wrinkle in Time: Writer Jennifer Lee On Adapting The Beloved Book For the Screen (Exclusive Interview)

Madaleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time was considered as an impossible book to adapt for the silver screen.

Frozen’s director and writer Jennifer Lee decided no challenge was impossible.

Disney’s A Wrinkle in Time is directed by Ava DuVernay. The film stars Storm Reid, Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling, Levi Miller, Deric McCabe, Chris Pine, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Zach Galifianakis and Michael Pena.

The plot is about a girl, along with her brother and friend, will travel through space and time to find her missing scientists father with the help of three peculiar beings.

LRM sat down with Jennifer Lee about her creative process of adapting A Wrinkle in Time.

A Wrinkle in Time is currently playing in theaters nationwide today.

Read our interview transcript below.

LRM: Congratulations. Is there anything that you don’t touch that turns to gold?

Jennifer Lee: [Laughs] Can you tell my daughter that? Right now she doesn’t think I could dress myself for the whole day. [Laughs] I have a teenager in the house. That was nice to hear.

LRM: How did you got approached to do a movie like A Wrinkle in Time?

Jennifer Lee: I went after this myself.

LRM: Oh, really?

Jennifer Lee: I did. As a writer and director, I knew as a writer that I needed to be writing the whole time. After Frozen was finished, I had to figure out on what I’ll be next and I had to keep writing. I found out they were looking for a writer for A Wrinkle in Time. I was there the next day to meet with Jim Whitaker and Catherine Hand. I said on why it was hard to make, on what I would do with it, and can’t wait to do. They said, “Let’s give it a try.”

I think I wasn’t going to leave their office until they said ‘yes’ anyways. [Laughs]

LRM: That essentially should’ve been your pitch, “I’m not going to leave.”

Jennifer Lee: I should’ve said that and we would’ve gotten started sooner. [Laughs]

LRM: When was the first time you picked up the book yourself? You sound like you were already a fan of A Wrinkle in Time.

Jennifer Lee: I was ten. It was fifth grade. It was part of our assignment reading. I was shocked. It was my first science fiction. I fell madly in love with it. Mostly, it was with Meg. I’ve never read a character that was so honest, real and true. Yet, she had flaws and didn’t do everything perfectly. She was made to be that. She didn’t get prettier at the end or be more refined in the end. She was wholly raw and real. And yet, she still had the power to fight evil in the universe.

That was what I completely embraced. It was a book that I kept with me. I had the same copy I had since fifth grade. I always had it and go back to it. I was reading it for school when I found they were looking for a writer. Okay, it was a sign.

LRM: How difficult was it to make certain changes from the book to the screen? I know you have to take liberties to dramatize for a film to make it more exciting. What do you want to say to a true fan of the book?

Jennifer Lee: Well, I would say that we knew we weren’t making the book or doing the book on film. That’s why it took thirty years to get this on screen, because the relationship you have with the book is so one-on-one. It is such an evocative book and an ethereal book that you can project whatever you want on to it. It’s also in the way it drifts in and out of character too. It’s not the same way a cinematic journey is usually told.

When we choose on what the creature WhatsIt looks like—that’s one. When you read the book, you’ll see on what you want to see. We acknowledged that. For us, we had to approach it on what do we feel at this point. How do we do it such a way that it’s true to the book without taking anything away from the book? It’s freeing ourselves from the literal visualizations and literal structures.

It allows us to tell a truer version than if we stayed literal to it. Every you ask about that book, they will go to Meg. Meg, if you read the book, doesn’t drive all the action. She is guided a lot. She may be all over the place. In the film, she drives the action. It gives the audience they want.

It’s that book about Meg. Here’s Meg. It’s about Meg. Those types of things with our love for the book is there. The need to evoke the same feelings with the book—we had to do it in a different way.

We were supported in that. It’s the realization on how many times people tried to make this. People couldn’t crack the code with that. Well, we can’t be afraid to break that.

LRM: That’s interesting. There are major changes. The Twins were left out of the film.

Jennifer Lee: [Laughs] I’ve never felt shamed all day today. Why not the Twins?

LRM: Yeah. Why not the Twins? [Laughs]

Jennifer Lee: I can say about the Twins though—it’s important. We have ninety minutes to an hour and forty-five minutes [to tell a story]. The important relationship to me that I wanted to go deeper on was with the father. That’s the thing that matters most to her. There are all these vulnerabilities that came with that.

There are scenes added with the dad and there are comparisons with the brothers in many ways to against on what she was feeling. We had Veronica Kiley to do that. We Calvin to do that. In a sad way, the [Twins] didn’t need to be there. It’s not just doing it for the fans. We had to use other ways to speak that part of the journey. It would’ve taken time away. It would’ve take away from something that every second was previous.

LRM: I was looking at old pictures of the book cover and the description of a centaur with wings. In the film, it was like a flying green dragon. Was that on what you imagined?

Jennifer Lee: When I first wrote it, it was still kind of centaur-like with the wings invisible until she flew. They would be caught in the prism of the world and you’ll start to see them. It wasn’t getting away from it. That’s the version that I saw. What I loved about what Ava did, we talked about this world. I’ve done this thing about the flowers and they communicated. I tried to evoke a new feeling in Uriel. The book has the flowers that sniff.

LRM: Yeah. When go into the sky.

Jennifer Lee: She developed a whole world where the plant life is the sentiant being. These creatures can float through in a much more fluid way rather than a humanimal.

I thought it was quite extraordinary. It’s the choice to say that we’re not taking the creature Whatsit away from you. Like I said, mine had rainbow wings and someone else had a different version. They can create something else you’ll go, “Oh. That’s for that world.”

That’s the stuff I felt like we were walking the line on it. We went—why not? We’re not trying to say, “That’s the centaur. That’s what it looks like.”

LRM: Was there a lot of things kind of left out? Obviously, there was a time crunch. Maybe there was something you felt that it was purposely left out that you might have wished it was back in the film.

Jennifer Lee: None of the things I think would belong back in there. There are things that are hard to cut. I always bring up Aunt Beast. She was there until one of the later cuts. We were walking on egg shells. I love her. She is one of my favorite characters. But, does it belong back into the film. No, it’s about the journey telling for Meg.

In life, when you’re up against things—the bigger journey is when you don’t have support. You have to rise above it anyways. She was thrown into the It’s lair without any emotional support. She still managed to triumph. That was the journey that was more true to moments in life. It was the hardest one to say goodbye to. We all, at great lengths, tried to find ways to save it. We all loved it.

I joked it’ll be in the DVD. I don’t necessarily think it’s the right thing for the journey itself.

LRM: Now for writing this script, this is a live-action movie. How did you switch yourself from writing an animation script to a live-action script? This is totally…..a different beast.

Jennifer Lee: This is a different beast. [Laughs] In writing, I didn’t. When I’m writing, even in animation, the characters are characters and the worlds are worlds. Even with Olaf, yes, he’s a talking snowman—in my head—he is the innocent love between the girls. That’s the character I’m writing. I did approach it completely the same way.

Once the actors joined and bring in their interpretations to it—it’s re-inspiring. Something you have in animation, but still a few different degrees away from recordings and animations. They bring it to life. It exists.

I watched the dailies every night. It involves in things to come. That is the best and most fun part of it. It’s having them to become the part. They take it over from you, which is really cool.

LRM: Since you’ve brought it up, I’m not going to ask spoilers about it. Frozen 2, you’re going back to animation. Trust me. I had the urge to resist singing “Let It Go,” because I’ve heard hundreds of kids singing it for the past few years. Tell us on how exciting to revisit that universe.

Jennifer Lee: I loved that world. I loved those characters. I fall for all of them. I fall for these guys too [pointing to the A Wrinkle in Time poster]. On what triggered me, I saw them for a little short we did. Now it’s about being with them again. And I’m also working with them on Broadway too! [Laughs]

I feel like Elsa and Anna are daughters to me or sisters to me. I feel like I know them and they’re a part of my family now.

LRM: One last question.

Jennifer Lee: Sure.

LRM: Can you tell me in your own words—what is Disney magic?

Jennifer Lee: [Laughs] Disney magic to me is…..[Laughs] It’s about hope. It’s about seeing yourself in ways you could not see yourself as before. It’s about having a relationship with the world and everything is possible.

LRM: Thank you very much. That’s a great answer.

Jennifer Lee: Thank you.

A Wrinkle in Time is currently playing in theaters nationwide today.

Source: Exclusive to LRM

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