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LOS ANGELES - To remark that Quvenzhané Wallis is not your everyday 8-year-old is something of an understatement. In a relatively short amount of time she's been cast as the lead in an unconventional independent film, traveled to Park City, Utah where such film dominated Sundance's jury awards and then crossed the Atlantic where the same film became an international favorite at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. These are the magical and joyous days of the cast and filmmakers behind "Beasts of the Southern Wild" and as another newcomer and Wallis' onscreen father noted in an interview last week, "We're riding a wave."
Boy are they.
"Beasts" opens in limited release Wednesday and could easily duplicate the art house success another Fox Searchlight artistic endeavor, "The Tree of Live," cultivated last summer. Walls, who plays the adventurous and brave Hushpuppy in the film, is however, still 8-years-old. And, entertainingly, her patience with participating in a long press day is not up tothe "you'll never see it again" gold standard of Dakota Fanning at the same age. Off camera, Wallis was sassy and funny. Once the interview started, her answers became a little one note, but bluntly honest. There was no filter here.
Was the experience harder or easier than you thought it would be?
"Easy," Wallis quickly replies.
Do you want to act again?
"Most definitely," Wallis answers.
What was the most fun thing you did while shooting the movie?
"The fun part was when I had other girls I could play with," Wallis says. "They were little as me. I would just go along with them and we would play along with the tutor I had."
Obviously, this writer has a way to go with pulling good quotes out of kids, but for director Benh Zeitlin the importance of Wallis to his production was immeasurable.
The still fresh-faced 29-year-old filmmaker works in a very unconventional style. He prefers many of his crew learn their roles during the production and has a naturalistic and seemingly zen (for lack of a better word) way of shooting. So much so, that he revealed he never looked at dailies until after the shoot was finished. That's a strategy almost unheard of for a feature length film. When I asked him what stood out the most when he finally hit the editing room, it was Wallis.
"As magnetic as she is in person, some people, the camera and them, have a synergy that was just meant to be," Zehn says. "How compelling every moment of her footage was through all the dailies was miraculous. We felt like, 'We're gonna be O.K. She's going to put this film on her back.'"
Zehn is being humble. He deserves a tremendous amount of credit for "Beasts," but he's right about Wallis carrying the picture and that's one reason the picture and Wallis' performance are getting a tremendous amount of love from cinephiles. Somewhat surprisingly, she's even getting early Oscar buzz. And considering the Academy's history of nominations for young ladies such as Abigail Breslin ("Little Miss Sunshine"), Keisha Castle-Hughes ("Whale Rider") and wins for Tatum O'Neal ("Paper Moon") and Anna Paquin ("The Piano"), it's not an entirely appropriate consideration, even at the end of June. Yes, awards season has hardly begun, but don't no one should dismiss Miss Wallis. She's constantly surprising.
Even if she really isn't aware of the "Beasts" wave she's riding.
For more from Walls, Henry and Zehn, watch the fantastic video interview embedded at the top of this post.
"Beasts of the Southern Wild" opens in New York and Los Angeles on July 27.