Mrs. Who [Mindy Kaling], a stardust being billions of years old, tells Meg [Storm Reid] that it’s a dangerous, time-bending journey which she must take to rescue her father, a famous astrophysicist who suddenly disappeared four years before...
Mrs. Who’s haunted house… Set Decorator Elizabeth Keenan SDSA gives us behind-the-scene insights about some of the deliciously detailed sets...
“Mrs. Who's Towers of books were created with 400 ft of antique books as old as the 16th century. We cringed as holes were drilled through the tomes to allow for armatures, but it was the only way to create the imbalanced shapes.”
Murry house, home office… Let’s step into the Murry house and the origin of the story... Since the disappearance of her husband, Mrs. Murry has been working from the home office they shared in order to be there for the children...
Keenan describes, “The two physicists’ home office is piled with research, published papers, correspondence, and ideas mid-fruition... Albert Einstein’s and CERN theorist John Ellis's offices were our inspiration.”
“In one of Madeleine L'Engle's later books, Mrs. Murry wins a Nobel Prize in Bacteriology. She needed to have an equal amount of attention to her world as was paid to her husband's. Based on research I made these pressed bits, notes, and diagrams a few days before shooting.”
Keenan explains “This is Mrs. Murry's side of the home lab... Note, the photograph of Thelonious Monk tacked up behind the plants. The jazz idea was in direct reference to Monk's and John Coltrane's ‘Mathematics of Music’ and the Coltrane ‘Circle of Fifths’.”
“The Murry home lab setting was originally an old garage off the main house at the location where we shot. Loaded to the rafters with junk, it was an enormous transformation.
We did extensive research at JPL, CalTech, and the private labs of scientists and astrophysicists who taught us what this specific arena was all about. It was definitely a learning curve for all of us involved.”
“This is right before Dr. Murry accidentally tessers from the home lab. Note the gas tubing on the wall, one of many details inspired by Dr. Rohit Bhartia's lab at JPL. He was instrumental in our accuracy of the home lab.”
“The upstairs hallway contains a Japanese tansu chest, a collection of family photographs, an antique molecular structure, and various astral-inspired artworks given to the parents by artist friends...”
“The attic was transformed into Meg's bedroom, with many pieces of furniture repurposed to suit her needs instead of buying new things. Her nightstand is an old NASA mission crate, a sentimental reminder of Father. Her dresser had been a hardware storage bin from her grandfather's workshop, her desk his workbench. She's a true tomboy. Meg's interests in space and mathematics are depicted by school projects and posters pinned to the walls. ...The rattan sleigh bed was custom made.”
“Meg's attic bedroom is a place where she and Charles Wallace hang out and play. It also holds a bit of family storage and LOTS of books. In deference to Madeleine L'Engle's book, we found a great old Ping-Pong table and a smaller rocking horse, and added some of our own ideas...”
“Charles Wallace likes to read in this homemade geodesic dome made from rolled newspapers. A Neil deGrasse Tyson doll lives in the tool carrier. CW keeps a little counter next to his bed for every day his father is gone. He's downloaded many Hubble images and taped them to his wall. The bedside lamp/night light is custom made from airplane salvage.”
“The Murry Dining Room mid-meal...antique Mexican dishes, Heath bowls, vintage Japanese flatware with orb handle detail. The fat logbook in the background belonged to Mrs. Murry's scientist father. The big dictionary is used for after-dinner word games...”
“The Murry House has been in the family for generations and a dense layering attempts to depict this. This room has seen many dinner parties and hosted numerous visiting professors and scientists. It holds collections from many trips abroad, 3-D puzzles of the Sydney Opera House and Taj Mahal that Father and Meg built together. The center light fixture is a collection of folded paper orbs hinting at the soon-to-be-visited planets.”
The Murry living room is full of positive energy and is a visually vivacious place to convene. Charles Wallace makes cardboard box ''Museums' from oddball things he collects and places them throughout the house.
The tramp art table with marquetry top holds a Mexican vase loaded with paper marigolds. In the original book, the story takes place around Halloween. This is my subtle homage to that time as marigolds are widely used in Dios de los Muertos celebrations.
On a dark and stormy night, Mrs. Whatsit [Reese Witherspoon] appears at their door and invites herself in, chattering away. In her prattling, she mentions tessearacts – the very thing Mr. Murry was researching when he disappeared...
Keenan points out, “The living room was dressed with many interesting small items scattered around the tables and bookshelves. This allows the actors 'opportunities' if they so desire, as when Mrs. Whatsit tells the children of the danger their father is in and of the darkness encroaching...”
Mr. Murry [Chris Pine] is held prisoner by a dark force in this epic adventure that traverses dimensions of time and space examining the nature of darkness versus light and, ultimately, the triumph of love.
Cave of The Happy Medium… On another planet, the celestial beings bring the children to The Happy Medium seeking knowledge of their father’s whereabouts...
Keenan recalls, “Early on I brought a big chunk of selenite into the office as an example of what The Happy Medium's cave could be constructed of. We researched the caves of Naica, Chihuahua, Mexico and the inspiration was cemented. The concept was pushed even further into an amazing built set that was just grand to witness being constructed. The cave's illuminated amber chunks were filled with dried insects and otherworldly organic matter including tentacled, invasive root knots I dug up in my back yard while gardening!”
Director Ava DuVernay says, “We all have Mrs.’s in our lives. The Mrs.’s represent our instincts, our imagination, our education and our experience...all of these intangibles...and if you hone in on the best of yourself and listen to that, then you give yourself permission to be on the journey you should be on.”
In many ways, Meg Murry [Storm Reid] is a typical middle school student struggling with issues of self-worth who just wants to fit in. The daughter of two world-renowned scientists, physicist Alexander Murry [Chris Pine] and biophysicist Kate Murry [Gugu-Mbatha-Raw], Meg is intelligent and uniquely gifted, as is her younger brother Charles Wallace [Deric McCabe], but Meg has yet to realize it for herself. Complicating matters is the mysterious disappearance of her father four years ago, which has left Meg devastated and her mother heartbroken...
Before he vanished, Mr. Murry was tracking events in the cosmos when he discovered tessering, a wrinkling of time and space through which intergalactic travel is possible, but it is still an unproven theory, and one the scientific community regards with much skepticism.
One night, Charles Wallace, Meg and a classmate, Calvin O’Keefe [Levi Miller], meet three otherworldly visitors who have traveled to Earth with an important message for Meg: Her father’s discovery is, in fact, an extraordinary accomplishment, but a darkness has infiltrated the universe and he is now in grave danger. Mrs. Which [Oprah Winfrey], Mrs. Whatsit [Reese Witherspoon] and Mrs. Who [Mindy Kaling] are the three visitors born of stardust who are now pure light and have come to Earth in human form to shower Meg with wisdom and love as she searches for her father. Together they set off in search of Mr. Murry, tessering to worlds beyond their imagination and confronting the powerful, evil energy face-to-face. But in order to save her father, Meg must first overcome her own flaws and insecurities, and harness the strength necessary to defeat the darkness.
--Walt Disney Studios
“This is a story about belonging,” says Director Ava DuVernay. “It’s about a girl who just doesn’t feel strong in her mind, body and spirit. But through this epic journey, she finds her strength and learns that the center of the universe starts inside her. It’s about Meg feeling like she belongs in the universe and has a mighty part to play…as do we all.”
Grounding that for both Meg and the audience are the deliciously detailed practical sets the actors and director worked within, established by Set Decorator Elizabeth Keenan SDSA and her team—deeply layered from personal minutiae to scientifically correct elements to realistic touchpoints for the fantastical—working with the overall design by PD Naomi Shohan.
Keenan takes us on a photo tour of sets that give great visual insights into key characters, enriching the story without giving it away...