Many of the most impressive big screen performances of the past year have come from seasoned actors, long established as the industry’s favorite thespians — among the lot are Daniel Day-Lewis (Lincoln), Joaquin Phoenix (The Master), and Helen Hunt (The Sessions). But one of the year’s most awe-inspiring cinematic achievements came from a newcomer to the movie game: Quevenzhane Wallis, the young star of Behn Zeitlin’s emotional masterpiece Beasts of the Southern Wild, and one of our favorite Breakout Stars of 2012.
Nine-year-old Wallis (who was just six-years-old during Beasts' filming) plays Hushpuppy, a tiny resident of the New Orleans-inspired “Bathtub” who inadvertently onsets the destruction of the universe, and is shockingly powerful in the role. And as an actor on the rise, Wallis is pleased to have had such a momentous effect on audiences. “Seeing that people [get] into the movie, that’s something that makes me feel good,” Wallis tells Hollywood.com. “It makes me feel like I did a great job putting them into the movie, and putting them into the emotions.” She feels she can separate Beasts from some other dramas that might depict hardships onscreen, but never truly connect with audiences: “Sometimes, it’s just like, ‘Oh, he’s crying.’ It’s nice to see that, but we actually made [people] cry.”
And it’s not only fans who have expressed their love for Beasts, but Wallis’ Hollywood peers. “At the Gotham Awards, people were saying — mostly everyone was saying — I shouldn’t be up here. But if I [am], Beasts of the Southern Wild should be up here with me.”
Wallis had a particularly pleasant experience working on the movie, saying of her collaboration with director Zeitlin, "It was kind of like a playdate." Wallis was encouraged to dream up her own lines, in order to develop a more genuine identity for her character Hushpuppy. She recalls one such machination of hers that fans of the film are likely to remember fondly: “When I tell the beasts, ‘You’re my friend, kind of,’ I made that one up. It was both of us. Because he asked me, ‘What do you think you should say in that moment?’ I said, ‘I don’t know.’ And he was like, ‘Hmmm.’ We’re standing there, in place, and I said, ‘You’re my friend, kind of?’ And we did it that way.”
From the looks of things, Beasts will be only the first in a long string of films we see Wallis take on. Her next project is Twelve Years a Slave, which will team her with majestic auteur Steven McQueen and his (and everyone's) muse, Michael Fassbender, as well as star Chiwetel Ejiofor. Beyond that, Wallis mentions an interest in contributing to animated movies, saying, "I like how they’re fake, but sometimes can detail things that can really happen.” Wallis names The Lorax and Happy Feet Two as some of her favorite recent additions to the medium.
A lover of song and dance, Wallis hopes to collaborate with her fellow young multiple threats: “Debbie Ryan, Selena Gomez, Demi Lovato. Most people that are on Disney Channel.”
But performing isn't the long-term goal for Wallis. In fact, she has quite a unique dream for her adulthood: “I want to be a dentist," she says. This is apparently a passion that has been with her for some time: "I have games all over my phone and iPod, like dentist games.”
And when asked why exactly Wallis' dreams involve the cleaning and fixing of teeth, the answer given is as sweet and charming as everything she brought to the table in Beasts: “To see people smile.” Wallis is a firm believer in the importance smiling. “Some people are like, ‘I don’t want to show my teeth.’ It’s something that you [shouldn’t] worry about. It’s just your looks. Just smile.” Wise words to live by, straight from the mouth of one of Hollywood.com's favorite Breakout Stars of 2012.
[Photo Credit: Fox Searchlight]