Quvenzhané Wallis talks The Beasts of The Southern Wild
Quvenzhané Wallis Plays With The Beasts of The Southern Wild
by Brad Balfour
June 27, 2012
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 circumstances for Quvenzhané Wallis — the young and amazing eight-year-old star of “Beasts of The Southern Wild,” the remarkable feature debut from director Benh Zeitlin. The film debuted at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival and won the Grand Jury Prize there and the the Caméra d’Or at Cannes Film Festival 2012.
In “Beasts…,” the then six-year-old Wallis 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 Manhattan.
Within their little hamlet, “the Bathtub,” also lives 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 conventions.
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 in the mind who threaten Hushpuppy and her friends.
As the film nears 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 discuss the film.
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?
Quvenzhané Wallis: 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 away.
What was your role like?
QW: She’s just a brave little girl trying to follow her father’s footsteps.
How did you and Dwight bond for the role? I hear you were tough and chose the person who played your dad?
QW: I make the decisions.
What did you like about him?
QW: The sweets. But he coulda brought me the toys.
And did you learn about cave paintings where the Aurochs come from?
QW: I didn’t even know what a cave painting was…
Do you know now?
Did you have any difficult scenes?
QW: 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 in the one scene?
QW: Yeah. We ate everything.
What did you think of having your hair that way?
QW: 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 about going to Hollywood? Will you do that?
QW: 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.
QW: I am doing one — it’s called “Fat Kids Don’t Get Gifts on Christmas.”
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?
QW: What do you mean — I was looking at the Aurochs!
QW: Okay, the first time they did the Aurochs they just used cardboard.
What was the most fun moment in making the whole thing?
QW: The crawfish. The crawfish was the most tastiest thing I ever ate.
How many did you have?
When you first went to the bayou, what did you do? Had you been there before?
QW: 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.
QW: 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?
QW: No, not yet.
How many siblings do you have?
QW: Two brothers and one sister and I hate my brothers. But I love them too
Are you excited to have a premiere in your hometown New Orleans?
QW: 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?
QW: We have it in our school library and the movie that I just saw was “Madagascar 3 in 3D.”
Did you like it?
QW: Yes. It’s funny because of the Zebra. And the Hippo, I know. I saw her on the red carpet.
Are you going to continue being an actor?
The kids you go to school with, what do they think?
QW: 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 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.”
So when you saw the movie at Sundance, were you surprised or did it make sense to you?
QW: 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.
QW: I talked to a few people, but my mom mostly talked.
What part of your character is like or unlike you?
QW: She doesn’t wear pants, not like me. But we both have wonderful fathers.
Did your dad get to meet your movie father?
QW: I think, but I dunno because that was like two years ago.
What is the next step for you when this is over?
QW: Doing another movie!
What grade are you in school now?
QW: I was in third grade, but now I’m in fourth.
The film opens on June 27th.