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Young Actor has Survivor’s Spirit in ‘Beasts of the Southern Wild’

July 11, 2012

There are two forces of nature in “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” writer-director Benh Zeitlin’s debut feature. One is the fictionalized hurricane that swamps the phantasmagorical Louisiana bayou the movie calls “the Bathtub.” The other is Quvenzhane Wallis, the 6-year-old who plays the protagonist, a girl known as Hushpuppy.

“I didn’t know what that meant,” says Quvenzhane, giggling during a recent interview at a Washington hotel. “I was like, ‘A hushpuppy? What kind of name is that? Woof woof?’ ” She emits a high-pitched yip that’s both clearly a question and convincingly canine.

“I had to tell her it’s Cajun corn bread, a spicy dish they deep-fry,” interjects her mother, Qulyndreia Wallis.

“I was like, ‘Okay! I’m spicy!’ ” says the first-time actress, who is now 8 — and whose name is pronounced “kwah-VAHN-jah-nay.”

The spicy Hushpuppy is in virtually every scene of “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” which opens Friday. Also the narrator of the tale, the girl is an exuberant, self-reliant youngster whose mother vanished long ago, and whose father is frequently absent. Her companions include a cat, a pig and many dogs and chickens. Read More