Gugu Mbatha-Raw is a quiet force. This British actress has quiet the resume too! With roles in Belle, Beauty and the Beast, and The Cloverfield Paradox, she is living her best cinematic life right now. She plays Dr. Kate Murry in A Wrinkle In Time. She breezed into our interview room with a massive smile, and her head topped with her wonderful curls. A part of me feels like so much of the hair during interviews was a deliberate nod towards the movie and acceptance. I’m here for it.
What it’s like playing a mother, where do you draw your inspiration?
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 it was really not lost on me that growing up I loved The Neverending Story and The Wizard of Oz and all of those incredible, fantastical adventures, but I didn’t have anybody who looked like myself and Storm as the heroine in those kind of movies when I was young. So there was a special sort of 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 Deric get to go to in the story, so I really felt like my job was to ground their domestic reality and create that warm, solid family unit that everyone was so desperate to return to.
What little girls should take away from her role
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. You know those are definitely themes that were in Belle and in beyond the lights and in many stories that I’m attracted to. I think the idea of being authentic to who you are that you don’t have to find validation from your career or from 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.
On what attracted her to this role
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 day of filming to represent Hurricane Katrina in this series of different shorts. And I don’t know, I think maybe she was sussing me out that day because like literally a couple of weeks later I got the offer for A Wrinkle in Time. 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. You know I really wanted to be a part of this game changing moment really in the industry. I could feel that this, the way that she was going to cast this film, the fact that it’s historically significant that she’s even directing this film you know 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. So yeah, I wanted to be a part of the gang.
What would you tell your 8-12 year old self?
I don’t know. I guess just to keep being you. You know I was quite an exuberant 8 to 12. I’m trying to really picture myself at that age. That it’s okay to work hard. I think I was quite nerdy at school and you know 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 [seen as] cool. 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 you know nerds are the most interesting people outside high school. Just keep doing what you love.
What line was the most powerful to her?
Oprah has the line all you have to do is find the right frequency and be who you are. And I was like, that’s the key to life, isn’t it? Just find the right frequency. Find your tribe. Find your purpose. Find the thing that sets you alight and you know your frequency, your vibe and then just do that, do you, be authentic. And as I say, I just heard that again for the first time and I was like that’s genius. I’m just keeping that you know. So I mean there’s so many pearls of wisdom in this film from Ree Ree to Outkast you know but I kind of love that that there’s sort of pop culture references as well as these sort of historical sages.
How challenging was it learning all of the scientific lingo and not be a scientist?
I have to confess, it was a nightmare. The day that we were doing the sort of Ted 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 on set. 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. I mean, 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 to 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 got a trip to JPL in Pasadena to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, got to meet real astrophysicists and rocket scientists and people planning trips to Mars. So 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. 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. And it was really Ava that took the lead in that dynamic. 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 step into someone else’s shoes in a completely different world.
How she chooses her roles.
I like to be stretched. You know I like a challenge. I got used to being out of my comfort zone I think so I don’t like to repeat myself. I think naturally I have an affinity towards drama and intense sort of straight psychological deep drama but you know you can’t do that all the time. And I think sometimes you know it’s nice to switch up the genres. You know I’m very much drawn to what the message of the piece is.
A Wrinkle in Time tessers (I love saying that legitimately now) into theaters March 9 – and we’ll be sharing more interviews with the cast soon! Be sure to come back to check us out!