Movie Interviews
4:46 pm
Mon February 18, 2013

Quvenzhane Wallis: 'If I Have To Be Fierce, I'll Be Fierce'

Originally published on Tue February 19, 2013 5:38 pm

Quvenzhane Wallis was just 5 years old when she auditioned for a role in the Oscar-nominated film Beasts of the Southern Wild, and 6 when she shot the movie. Now, at age 9, she is the youngest ever to receive a best actress Oscar nomination.

In the film, Quvenzhane plays a wild child named Hushpuppy, who lives with her sick father in a ramshackle, isolated community called the Bathtub, on the fringes of the Louisiana coast.

She speaks with All Things Considered host Melissa Block about finding time to be a fourth-grader, what was hard about filming in the Louisiana bayou, and which scene she won't re-enact for her friends.

Interview Highlights

On her audition with director Benh Zeitlin, who said he picked Quvenzhane for the role because she was "fierce" and had tenacity

"Yeah, I felt like I did good. ... [But] I'm not fierce as much anymore. If I have to be fierce, I'll be fierce."

On how she sees her character

"[Hushpuppy] was ... a little girl who wanted to just follow her father, because her mother wasn't there, and she just wanted to go, kinda just like went after everything that he has done."

On what Hushpuppy listens to when she picks up animals and holds them to her ear

"I'm listening to their heartbeat ... [Hushpuppy's] father kinda had like this fall down, and I guess she was trying to figure out how fast each heartbeats go, and trying to figure out what was going on and stuff like that."

On the hardest part of filming the movie

"Dealing with the mosquitoes and the mud. ... But I'm used to getting bit by mosquitoes, but the mud I'm not so used to. Because if I get in mud, I wash it off. But what they did, they got me in mud and never let me wash it off. But whenever I got home, I got to wash it off and go to bed."

On the movie's 'Who's the man?' scene

"That was like a fun scene. Whenever we started saying, like, 'I'm the man, I'm the man,' and just, we did that together ...

"Whenever I'm like at home and riding my scooter, [my friends] stop me and they're like, 'Who's the man?' I'm like, 'I'm not gonna tell you.' ...

On finding balance as an Oscar-nominated fourth-grader

"It's kinda hard, because like focusing on the role, I don't have time. But they're starting to add homework into the schedule. I don't have time enough to like, do a few things, so it's just kinda, like, hard focusing on school."

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Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block. We had a visit last week from an Oscar nominee. She stopped by NPR right after a visit to the White House, where she met the First Lady. It was the day after Mardi Gras and she was sporting some fabulous Mardi Gras beads strung with big plastic charms.

QUVENZHANE WALLIS: I have my shrimp boots.

BLOCK: Shrimp boots.

WALLIS: Lobster, shrimp, then it goes over here to crab. I think this is a oyster and that's my boot.

BLOCK: Nine-year-old Quvenzhane Wallis of Houma, Louisiana wears white shrimp boots in the movie "Beasts of the Southern Wild." She is the youngest best actress nominee ever. Quvenzhane was just 5 when she auditioned for the part, 6 when she shot the movie and she is the heart of the film. She plays a girl named Hushpuppy, a tiny wild-haired force of nature.

Hushpuppy lives with her sick father in a ramshackle, isolated community called the Bathtub, on the fringes of the Louisiana coast.

(SOUNDBITE FROM FILM "BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD")

WALLIS: (As Hushpuppy) One day, the storm's gonna blow, the ground's gonna sink and the water's gonna rise up so high there ain't gonna be no bathtub, just a old bunch of water.

BLOCK: The 6-year-old muddy wild child in the movie is, at age 9, a funny, confident scene-stealer in person. Quvenzhane came in wearing a pink silk flower tucked behind her ear, a pink sweater, pink sparkly shoes and she was carrying a furry purse. Tell me about your purse. You've brought in a - this is great. It's a dog purse. It's a purse in the shape of a dog.

WALLIS: Yes, and it has a zipper. Crazy.

BLOCK: And it has a zipper. It looks like it's a cocker spaniel and he's got some pink sequins, right?

WALLIS: Yes. It was from JC Penny's where I live and my mom's - well, I saw them and she buy it for me. I use my lipstick and stuff and tissue and just carry it around since Utah, since a year ago.

BLOCK: Utah, meaning the Sundance Film Festival, where "Beasts of the Southern Wild" took top honors. It's up for four Oscars this coming Sunday, including best picture and best director, along with Quvenzhane for best actress. You know, when I talked to the director of the movie, Benh Zeitlen, he'd said that they looked at all these kids who had come in to audition and he knew right away that you were Hushpuppy.

He said you were fierce and you had tenacity. Does that sound about right? Did you feel like you were fierce in that audition?

WALLIS: Yeah, I felt like I did good.

BLOCK: Yeah. Because you don't look fierce right now. You look great, but you don't look fierce.

WALLIS: Yeah, I'm not fierce as much anymore. If I have to be fierce, I'll be fierce, but...

BLOCK: When you started thinking about that character that you're playing, Hushpuppy, right, how do you understand her? What did you think she was all about?

WALLIS: She was about a little girl who wanted to just follow her father because her mother wasn't there, and she just wanted to go, kinda just like went after everything that he has done.

BLOCK: I think the first time we see you in the movie, you are holding a bird up to your ear, right? You're always holding animals up. What are you doing when you're listening to those animals?

WALLIS: I'm listening to their heartbeat.

BLOCK: Does that make sense to you?

WALLIS: Yes. Because, like, my father kinda had like this fall down, and I guess she was trying to figure out how fast each heartbeat goes, and trying to figure out what was going on and stuff like that.

(SOUNDBITE FROM FILM "BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD")

WALLIS: (As Hushpuppy) All the time, everywhere, everything cuts and beating and squirting and talking to each other in a way I can't understand. Most of the time, they probably be saying I'm hungry, I gotta poop. But sometimes they be talking in codes.

BLOCK: What do you think it takes, Quvenzhane, to be a great actor?

WALLIS: Concentrating, trying to be yourself and then going into another person.

BLOCK: Yeah? Not everybody can do that.

WALLIS: Not everybody.

BLOCK: What was the hardest thing about acting in "Beasts of the Southern Wild"?

WALLIS: Dealing with the mosquitoes and the mud and just - but I'm used to getting bit by mosquitoes, but the mud I'm not so used to. Because if I get in mud, I wash it off. But what they did, they got me in mud and never let me wash it off. But whenever I got home, I got to wash it off and go to bed.

BLOCK: But you had to live in it for a while.

WALLIS: Like, 8:00 in the morning till like 8:00 at night, so.

BLOCK: Yeah. I want to play a scene from the movie, Quvenzhane. This is you and your father, who's played by Dwight Henry.

(SOUNDBITE FROM FILM "BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD")

WALLIS: (As Hushpuppy) You want to be dead?

DWIGHT HENRY: (As Wink) No.

WALLIS: (As Hushpuppy) You gonna leave me alone?

HENRY: (As Wink) No. I ain't gonna leave you alone.

WALLIS: (As Hushpuppy) 'Cause if you be gone, I be gone, too.

HENRY: (As Wink) No, that's not how it work.

WALLIS: (As Hushpuppy) Sometimes in the bed, I start to shake and I can't stop. I got what you got.

HENRY: (As Wink) No, that's just a side effect of you being a stupid little girl.

WALLIS: (As Hushpuppy) Are you gonna be dead?

HENRY: (As Wink) No. You probably live 100 years more. Come on, let me see them guns. Come on. Show me them guns. Let me see 'em. Show 'em to me. Show me them guns. Show 'em to me. Guns, guns, guns, come on. Come on. Come on. Let me have it. You the man. Who the man?

WALLIS: (As Hushpuppy) I'm the man.

HENRY: (As Wink) Yeah, you the man. Who the man?

WALLIS: (As Hushpuppy) I'm the man.

HENRY: (As Wink) Yeah, you the man. Who the man?

WALLIS: (As Hushpuppy) I'm the man.

HENRY: (As Wink) Yeah, you the man.

BLOCK: (Unintelligible) I'm the man, Quvenzhane, with your dad 'cause he's sort of making you strong, right? He's getting ready - was that a hard scene to do?

WALLIS: No. That was like a fun scene. Whenever we started saying, I'm the man, I'm the man, and just, we did that together and that was one glump of scene.

BLOCK: Do you ever find yourself doing that at home, saying that line?

WALLIS: Whenever I'm at, like, at home and riding my scooter, they stop me and they're like, Who's the man? I'm like, I'm not gonna tell you.

BLOCK: You mean, people at home, in Houma, Louisiana?

WALLIS: Yes, my friends, they be like, Who's the man? I'm like, I don't know.

BLOCK: You're just playing with them. If you want to hear that line, they're going to have to go see the movie, right?

WALLIS: Yep.

BLOCK: Yeah. Is it hard at all to feel just like a regular fourth grader when you have so much other stuff going on, when you're acting in a movie?

WALLIS: Yeah, it's kinda hard, because like focusing on the role, I don't have time. But they're starting to add homework into the schedule. I don't have time enough to like, do a few things, so it's just kinda, like, hard focusing on school.

BLOCK: So you bring work with you, tutoring and stuff like that, yeah, yeah. Well, Quvenzhane Wallis, good luck at the Oscars. It's really great to have you come in. Thanks so much.

WALLIS: Thank you.

BLOCK: And thanks for bringing your dog purse.

WALLIS: Ruff, ruff.

(SOUNDBITE FROM FILM "BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD")

WALLIS: (As Hushpuppy) When I die, the scientists of the future, they're gonna find it all. They gonna know once there was a Hushpuppy and she live with her daddy in the Bathtub.

BLOCK: That's Quvenzhane Wallis in "Beasts of the Southern Wild." At age 9, she is the youngest best actress Oscar nominee ever. Her next movie is titled "Twelve Years A Slave" and it co-stars Brad Pitt. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.