They’re getting younger and younger these days – precocious stars
who make their first movies before hitting puberty, garnering awards
and accolades they don’t even quite comprehend.
That’s certainly the case for nine-year-old Quvenzhané Wallis – the
young and amazing star of Beasts of The Southern Wild, the
remarkable feature debut from director Benh Zeitlin. The film
debuted at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, won awards there and at
Cannes Film Festival 2012 and is now nominated for various Oscars including a
Best Actress nom – the youngest ever and first for someone born in
the 21st century.
In Beasts…, the then six-year-old Wallis (she was five when
she auditioned) became Hushpuppy while her fellow non-actor Dwight
Henry plays her loving but alcoholic father, Wink, in a strange
surreal household set in an isolated Louisiana bayou. It’s a place
about as much like a New Orleans as that southern burg is like
Within their little hamlet, “the Bathtub,” also live a few others
who have chosen to remain apart from the big city – a choice they
made in order to share a freedom from restrictions and societal
Though this southern Delta community serves as inspiration, Zeitlin
ratchets up this little bayou village into a hallucinatory fantasy
world where little Hushpuppy recalls happier days before her mother
died and the storms didn’t threaten as much.
Taking place just as Katrina unleashed her hurricane rage on the
levees, the audience sees through her eyes and her narration
catastrophes occurring; her father develops heart disease, her house
burns down and the Aurochs – beasts of the mind who threaten
Hushpuppy and her friends.
As the film neared a theatrical release, Wallis, her fellow cast
member Henry (the 47-year-old proprietor of
The Buttermilk Drop Bakery and Café
in New Orleans’ Treme neighborhood) and its creators – Zeitlin and
co-writer Lucy Alibar – came to NYC to talk about it.
Sitting down with the playful “Nazy”
offered a challenge for journalists unlike most – keeping her
entertained while doing interviews. But talk she did and she shared
her perception of the experience.
What was the audition process like for you?
It was fun because it was just something I wanted to try. There was
a call from my mom’s friend and she said they were having auditions
for six to nine year olds, so I went to see if I could get the part,
but I was only five. So I went in and we actually put “six” on the paper and I acted like
I was six. During the audition they wanted me to act like one of the
producers, Michael Gottwald. They wanted me to act like he was my
son and it was his first day of school and I had to wake him up. He
asked me to fix his breakfast and said “no, get up on your own two
feet and fix your own breakfast.” And we just did the audition. I walked out, my father and two
brothers and sister were outside and it was just something I just
tried and something a kid wouldn’t normally have an opportunity to
try. They called two days later and said they were looking for “Nahzy”
and my mom said, “who’s that? You must be looking for ‘Nazy, but her
real name is Quvenzhané anyways.” And they said, “oh we must have got mixed up and called the wrong
number” and they almost hung up, but my mom caught them and told
them I call myself ‘Nazy. My mom was like “phew”. It almost got
What was your role like?
She’s just a brave little girl trying to follow her father’s
How did you and Dwight bond for the role? I hear you were tough
and chose the person who played your dad?
I make the decisions.
What did you like about him?
The sweets. But he coulda brought me the toys.
And did you learn about cave paintings where the Aurochs come
I didn’t even know what a cave painting was...
Do you know now?
Did you have any difficult scenes?
The difficult scenes were when I was in a cardboard box and whenever
I had to touch the pig. The fun scenes were whenever I got to
scream, and burp, and eat crawfish with all the other guys.
Did you like the crawfish that eat and eat in the one scene?
Yeah. We ate everything.
What did you think of having your hair that way?
It’s not that hard. You just gotta wash it, dry it, and you’re done.
Now that you’ve been in a movie what do you think about going to
Hollywood? Will you do that?
I ain’t going to Hollywood! I ain’t going to Hollywood even if they
tell me to go, I’m staying with my big daddy.
By the time you’re 12 you’ll be directing movies.
I am doing one – it’s called Fat Kids Don’t Get Gifts on
When you were looking at the Aurochs, what were you really
looking at to play the role? Did they have a little ball or
something to look at?
What do you mean – I was looking at the Aurochs!
Okay, the first time they did the Aurochs they just used cardboard.
What was the most fun moment in making the whole thing?
The crawfish. The crawfish was the most tastiest thing I ever ate.
How many did you have?
And you didn’t get fat.
Have you learned how to cook crawfish?
No. I don’t even know what the ingredients are.
When you first went to the bayou, what did you do? Had you been
I had, but it was just for fishing with my dad because he likes to
fish a lot.
How good are you at catching fish?
Not that good, but I know how to catch fish. When we went down to
the bayou I caught one this big.
Were you able to catch any with your hand?
No, not yet.
Did you know they were going to blow up the house? What did you
think of that?
It was a little scary, but it was something we had to do.
How many siblings do you have?
Two brothers and one sister and I hate my brothers.
Oh come on.
But I love them too.
Are they younger or older?
Older. That’s the reason.
You’ll value them when you were older. Did you see them while you
were on set?
The family went there two or three times, but it was mostly the
Did you play with or get to know the other kids?
Did you bond with them?
They are going to be at the New Orleans premiere and I am so
excited, but I saw one of them and they miss Amber [Henry, who
Which one is Amber?
The one with the shaggy shirt.
Are you excited to have a premiere in your hometown New Orleans?
Yes, because my family will be able to see it and everyone else.
What movies do you like in theaters? Did you see Where the
Wild Things Are? You talking to the Aurochs reminded me of that
movie. Or did you read the book?
We have it in our school library and the movie that I just saw was
Madagascar 3 in 3D.
Did you like it?
Yes. It’s funny because of the Zebra. And the Hippo, I know. I saw
her on the red carpet.
Did you meet anyone else?
I didn’t get to meet Jaden Smith because she was already inside.
Sounds like you’re getting to know a lot of people in the movie
I saw… Chris… I forget his name.
I think that’s him.
Would you like to do an animated movie like that?
Yeah, I’d like to meet the Madagascar people. I saw
Madagascar 2 and 3, but not one.
What kind of animal would you like to play?
The zebra. Or the hippo. Or the tiger in Madagascar 3. Or the
Are you going to continue being an actor?
Have you planned your whole future at the point?
A little, but not all the way.
The kids you go to school with, what do they think?
One day one of the kids from my school went to the set, and the next
day at school she was so excited and asking me when I’m gonna be on
the red carpet when are the Oscars are gonna come, when can I do
anything with you? I’m like, “come on, let me be like I was, like a
normal little girl.”
You went to the Sundance Film Festival, right? Was that exciting?
Yes, because I get to meet different people and different movies I
get to see.
Do you like all the journalists asking you or other people
It’s okay asking people questions and people asking me questions.
What did you ask Benh?
I’d ask him what that scene meant.
So he’d explain things to you?
Yeah, he explained every single set. And Chris [Carroll, a
co-producer] would help with the camera, the directing, and the
When you saw the movie, were you surprised or did it make sense
I was excited that it came together and that the people at Sundance
thought it was a good movie.
You represent the spirit and freedom of the bayou. Have you
talked to anyone from the bayou about it?
I talked to a few people, but my mom mostly talked.
Have people from the area seen it?
They haven’t seen it yet. We haven’t even tried to show it in
So this big premiere in New Orleans…
Yes, it’s gonna be the biggest one of them all. And I’m gonna be
wearing my beautiful new dress.
Tell me about the dress.
I can’t, it’s a secret. But if you go to New Orleans, you’ll see.
Was it fun being messy in the bathtubs and messing around all the
No, because I’m not a dirty person.
You like things nice and organized.
What do you like to collect? What’s your room like?
My room has like teddy bears on my bed, then I have some dolls at
the back door and under the bed is my dog with his little bed. The
TV has pencils, paper, notebooks, and binders at the top. My shoes
are under my bed.
What part of your character is like or unlike you?
She doesn’t wear pants, not like me. But we both have wonderful
Did your dad get to meet your movie father?
I think, but I dunno because that was like two years ago.
Is it strange doing all these things now and having to remember
stuff you did two years ago?
Yes. You’re like eight and you go back to an audition when you were
five. It’s like you’re at the beginning. And it makes me feel
Was it fun doing the narration and hearing your voice in the
Just kind of? What is the next step for you when this is over?
Doing another movie!
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