When Opal, the young hero of the new film, “Because of Winn-Dixie,” asks God to give her some friends, He answers by giving her the gift of a dog. Together, the little girl and her companion, Winn-Dixie, serve the people they meet by loving them unconditionally, becoming loving friends to the small town of Naomi’s people, who have tasted the bitterness of sin and rejection.
By looking at people the way Winn-Dixie sees them—with innocent love—Opal strives to bridge the generational and spiritual gap that separates people in Naomi. In our interview, two of the actresses from “Because of Winn-Dixie” expressed a similar desire—to use their lives serving others wherever they are.
Actress Cicely Tyson, 71 years old and beautiful, arrived exhausted for her interview. She had just returned from Southeast Asia, where she’s working with her foundation to rebuild a school on behalf of tsunami victims. Ms. Tyson was also mourning the recent death of her friend, actor Ossie Davis.
Ms. Tyson’s character, Gloria Dump (a lonely former alcoholic), also seems to be grieving, using whiskey bottles hung from a tree to remind herself of past sins. Dump tells Opal that, before giving up alcohol, she had to learn “the most important thing.” When Ms. Tyson was asked what the most important thing is for her to know personally, she quoted Christ’s command: “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you,” adding her belief, “You get only what you give in life.”
Later in the interview, Ms. Tyson was asked to describe what she witnessed in Southeast Asia. Hesitating, as memories of pain seemed to overwhelm her, she said slowly, “I don’t know if I can do that.” Then, Ms. Tyson told the story of a miracle she had heard about, in which a young man had survived for fifteen days in the ocean after finding a floating cubicle full of food. Ms. Tyson said of him, “To me, it was not his time.he really has a mission to fulfill, and, to me, that’s one of the reasons why he was saved.” She added, “There is less obvious sadness in the people [there] as they recognize that they have been “chosen” to remain and have a lot to do.”
Referring to her own mission, Ms. Tyson said, “I’ve always maintained that any kind of celebrity that I’ve acquired through my career was just to prepare me for something else—to serve others.”
AnnaSophia Robb, an eleven-year-old professed Christian (whom co-star Eva Marie Saint describes as “going on 35”) plays the film’s hero, Opal. Born in Denver, Colorado, she began her career on a church stage. Miss Robb says she likes to think she and Opal are similar, as the character constantly seeks ways to help others. Throughout the film, Opal gives away a “Littmus Lozenge” candy, which contains both a sweet and sad taste that opens people’s hearts to face their painful pasts. When Miss Robb was asked what kind of candy she would like to create, she said, “I would want it to taste like helping people, because there’s so many people in the world who don’t have anything, and I feel like America’s sort of protected from all that.”
AnnaSophia was asked what advice she would give to kids who, like her character, have to move to new places often and need friends. The young actress answered, “Don’t be afraid of other kids because some of them are kinda mean. If you really try to love them and be kind to them, they’ll be nice to you… it’s okay if you’re shy, but you have to make some fun, and I think having a dog is a good way to start, unless you’re allergic, because lots of kids like to pet dogs.”