Ever since “Beasts of the Southern Wild” debuted to raves and a grand jury prize at January’s Sundance Film Festival, the stage has been set for one of this year’s most unlikely awards contenders: An 8-year-old making her acting debut in a small, borderline-experimental indie from a first-time director.
Quvenzhane Wallis beat roughly 4,000 girls to take on the part of Hushpuppy, an imaginative young girl who overcomes remarkable obstacles when her southern bayou community is hit by a massive storm.
“Quvenzhane walked into the audition room with this indomitable spirit and fierce, sweet morality that I’d never seen before, not in people 10 times her age,” remembers “Beasts” director Benh Zeitlin.
Present in nearly every scene of the film, Wallis helped carry “Beasts” from Sundance sensation to unexpected summer box-office breakout, grossing more than five times its $1.8 million budget.
“Even long after shooting the film, when I’m about to make a choice, I think, ‘What would Quvenzhane do,’ ‘What would Hushpuppy do,’ and that usually points me the right way,” Zeitlin says.
As for Wallis herself, she’s been enjoying the ride that’s come with the film’s success, which included a seat on the couch of “The Tonight Show” and an appearance on “Oprah.”
“I’ve loved everything,” she gushes. “I couldn’t choose a favorite part. It’s all been great.”
And the attention is still building. Distributor Fox Searchlight will be pushing Wallis for best actress, where she could become the youngest nominee ever in that category.
Impact: The 8-year-old thesp carries the show in the Sundance-winning “Beasts of the Southern Wild.”
Next: Wallis would like to continue acting, but is focusing on school first.