Why Oprah Winfrey, Mindy Kaling and Reese Witherspoon Were Right for 'A Wrinkle in Time' (Exclusive)

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A Wrinkle in Time, Mindy Kaling, Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon
Walt Disney Studios

There are a lot of out-there ideas in A Wrinkle in Time: Astrophysics and alternate universes, evil mind-controlling planets and, at the center of it all, three celestial beings known as the Mrs.: Mrs. Who, Mrs. Which and Mrs. Whatsit, the latter of whom is described in Madeleine L'Engle's classic 1962 children's book as being 2,379,152,497 years, 8 months, and 3 days old.

To fill the roles of the astral trio, director Ava DuVernay didn't skimp on the star power, recruiting none other than Mindy Kaling, Oprah Winfrey and Reese Witherspoon, respectively. (She doesn't look bad for a billion year old, does she?) As for what made each the women right for her particular part, we turned to the maestro herself, DuVernay, and discovered how Barbies, Beyoncé and a vacation to New Zealand factored into assembling this all-star cast.

Mindy Kaling as Mrs. Who

Mindy Kaling, A Wrinkle in Time
Walt Disney Studios

Kaling is in good with the Mouse House -- she's Disgust in Inside Out, after all, and before that, lent her voice to Wreck-It Ralph -- and as it happens, her expressive voice work was one of the first things that drew DuVernay to her for the role of the erudite Mrs. Who.

"Mindy was really the first person that I thought of when I was reading the script," DuVernay explained to ET. "This character only speaks in quotations, so you needed someone who had good comedic timing, who was expressive, who can be kind of Chaplin-esque, like do a lot with a little words. And Mindy came to mind because she's so, so good."

Aside from being able to espouse everyone from Shakespeare to OutKast, Kaling expanded even further the all-around diverse cast. "I really wanted diverse representations, inclusive representations, all kinds of women to be in it," DuVernay said. "As a Southeast Asian woman, now she's got Barbies and posters and she's all over Times Square, and I know what that means to little brown girls."

Oprah Winfrey as Mrs. Which

Oprah Winfrey, A Wrinkle in Time
Walt Disney Studios

On the page, the wise Mrs. Which often appears not in human form, but as a shimmering light. Which just meant that Winfrey needed to be blinged out a bit. "She's blonde, she's bedazzled and she is bold," DuVernay said. "It's like a heightened version of herself." Winfrey put it another way: "I'm Beyoncé's aunt!"

As for how Winfrey ended up donning Mrs. Which's rhinestone eyebrows, she initially only intended to visit the set to see her friend work. ("I just wanted to watch Ava do her thing and yell, Action!, and watch those dreads flow.") DuVernay had more in mind, though, revealing, "I had wanted her to be Mrs. Which, but I hadn't gotten up the guts to ask her yet!"

"I was kind of softening the ground, [saying] Hey, you know, I'm going to New Zealand to shoot the new movie, such and such," DuVernay recalled. "As I'm trying to get there, she says, 'Oh! I've always wanted to go to New Zealand. I'll come! Can I come and hang out and watch?' I'm like, Yes. Yes, you can come and hang out and watch, and you can work also. Would you like to be Mrs. Which? So, it was all in that conversation and what a lucky, beautiful, gorgeous thing for her to bring herself to the film as she did."

Reese Witherspoon as Mrs. Whatsit

Reese Witherspoon, A Wrinkle in Time
Walt Disney Studios

In A Wrinkle in Time canon, Mrs. Whatsit was once a literal star, before becoming...well, something else altogether magical. In a way, perhaps, just like Witherspoon? "Reese is a powerful, powerful lady," her director said. "She could've been content to be a beautiful actress, but she has pushed down walls and barriers and she is building an empire."

"She really is! Book clubs and clothing lines and producing," DuVernay listed off. "She's a formidable producer. I look at her proud. Someone who could've stopped in one place and been satisfied with a certain success, but she reached higher. And she's quite a phenom."

That last bit, it must be noted, could be DuVernay talking about herself, proving the A-list talent runs deep on this project. Which is one of the reasons Witherspoon signed on in the first place. "I love the idea of female leadership and female guidance and wisdom. I believe in that," she told ET. "I work really well with other women, including these incredible women, and I think it comes through in the film that we're better together."

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