“Beasts of the Southern Wild” star Quvenzhane Wallis is an actress of talent, poise and maturity well beyond her years.
She was only 5 years old when she auditioned and 6 when she played the part of Hushpuppy, a little girl of fierce strength and resourcefulness living with her daddy in a squalid slab of Louisiana swampland known as The Bathtub.
At the time, she was just a regular kid from nearby Houma, La. She had never even acted before, and actually pretended to be a year older than she was to be considered.
Now, at age 9, Quvenzhane (Kuh-VAHN-zuh-nay) is the youngest-ever best actress nominee for the Academy Awards. Altogether, “Beasts” has four nominations at the Feb. 24 ceremony, including best picture.
While her presence is undeniable, Quvenzhane’s nomination raises the question: How young is too young to compete for an Oscar, the film industry’s highest honor, which has eluded performers with decades more experience and acclaim? Is a child really capable of acting, with craft, or do these performances reflect uncanny instinct?
Director Benh Zeitlin doesn’t think 9 is too young for such an honor. Zeitlin, who is up for a best-director Oscar himself with just his first feature, praised Quvenzhane for the incredible sense of self she displayed from the beginning. He also recalled one day when she seemed to be struggling on set, and he took her aside to ask what was wrong.
“‘I know. I can’t snap it today. Normally I can snap it,’” he remembered her saying. “The fact that she had an internal sense of when she’s in character, when she’s getting the emotions right and feeling it, is really special even in experienced actors, but especially someone of her age to have that sort of self-awareness.”