How A Wrinkle in Time Transformed Oprah, Reese, and Mindy into Otherworldly Beings
After boarding Ava DuVernay’s adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time, makeup and hair masterminds LaLette Littlejohn and Kim Kimble had to figure out how to transform Oprah Winfrey,Reese Witherspoon, and Mindy Kaling, already earthly stars, into intergalactic celestial goddesses.
Director DuVernay “wanted something avant-garde, interesting, and creative, since these women are from other planets—so something out of the ordinary, yet beautiful,” explained Kimble, who said that the scale of this project made it worlds more challenging even than styling Beyoncé’s hair for Lemonade.
“I wanted the women to look good for children,” said Littlejohn, who said that she gleaned inspiration from studying the color palettes and Paco Delgado’s costume designs for each planet. “I think that all children love color, and my favorite tones are jewel tones, so I chose the purples and greens and oranges and rusts. I tried to get a little bit crazy with that.”
Getting so whimsical, however, was occasionally a challenge for Littlejohn.
“Most actresses are not used to [out-of-the-box] makeup. It seems a little clownish to them,” said Littlejohn. For a sequence set on a lushly verdant planet, for example, Littlejohn envisioned that Witherspoon’s Mrs. Whatsit would wear a vibrant kelly-green lipstick so that when her character suddenly shape-shifted into a flying green stingray, the transformation would not seem so abrupt.
“She gave me hell with that [green lipstick],” Littlejohn sighed in a conversation with Vanity Fair. “All of the women had a private makeup artist, so I presented the look to each of them and explained what I wanted to do. Reese said, ‘I don’t know if I can pull off this green.’ I said, ‘You turn into this green creature that will be so vibrant and beautiful, and the kids watching this movie can’t be afraid of it.” Littlejohn said that she had to keep coaxing Witherspoon’s artist to amp up the green until it was the bold shade she envisioned, explaining, “We had to mix things up.”
Kimble completed Witherspoon’s Mrs. Whatsit look with long, flowing red hair, which DuVernay had pushed for. “She is a fairy godmother who is party fiery and part kind of bohemian, hence the fishtail braids,” said Kimble.
Oprah, who plays Mrs. Which, wanted to double down on a whimsical makeover.
“She told me, ‘Don’t just give me an ordinary hair color. I don’t want that,’” recalled Kimble, who designed a handful of bleach-blonde wigs for Oprah—one long and curly, one sculpted into a five-point star. “These women were beings from outside the universe . . . so we had to really create something outside the box and visualize what that might be.”
Winfrey was similarly game when it came to her makeup.
“I thought Oprah was going to have a problem with [my vision], but she was like, ‘Let’s do this! Let’s try that!’ I created the look of the rhinestone eyebrows and then Derrick Rutledge, Oprah’s personal makeup artist, executed it. Because regular rhinestones would pop off too easily from the oils from your skin, Derrick came up with the idea to put them on lace and they stayed. Then we put on black eyeshadow and glitter on top of that.”
Since Oprah’s Mrs. Which is the most powerful of the celestial beings, Littlejohn knew that Oprah’s makeup had to be the most amped up.
“I thought that, if a star burst, it would be all glitter, so I just put glitter all over her. I wanted all three of them to glisten like stars, so I put some drops to add luminous highlights into their foundation so their skin would look radiant, young, and fun—not dry. Stars are beautiful, and I wanted all three of them to glisten. But with Oprah, we gave her glitter over her eye makeup and those glitter lips as well. When we were first in the makeup trailer, Reese would say, ‘Well why can’t I have glitter lips too?’”
“I had to explain, ‘You’re just a baby star. You’re being groomed to be a big star. No one’s ever going to be as old and wise as Oprah. She will always have glitter on her face and her voice is so powerful, she needed those glitter lips. I wanted her to be the matriarch—the queen.”
Meanwhile, Littlejohn envisioned that Kaling’s Mrs. Who would look like a doll—and gave the actress exaggerated lashes and a whimsical big-eye effect. “I fantasized about her wearing a purple lip and wasn’t sure she would be into it, but she was,” said LittleJohn. Kimble styled a kaleidoscope of wigs for Kaling based on the many different cultures she references via her quotes.
Even though Littlejohn and Kimble were tasked with transforming A Wrinkle in Time’s stars, both women said that the experience of working on a set filled with such strong, successful females actually left them a little bit changed.
“Every day that I went to work with these women, I left thinking I could do anything,” said Littlejohn. “To be surrounded by such powerful women, especially Ava, you can only walk away feeling as though some of that power rubbed off on you.”
Get Vanity Fair’s HWD NewsletterSign up for essential industry and award news from Hollywood.Julie MillerJulie Miller is a Senior Hollywood writer for Vanity Fair’s website.