Meet the New Princess of Independent Film
On Sunday night the young star Quvenzhané Wallis will walk down the red carpet on her way to the 85th Academy Awards ceremony as the youngest person to ever be nominated for an Academy Award. She may or may not walk home wearing the crowning title of Best Actress for her role in Beasts of the Southern Wild, but for anyone that has seen her outstanding debut performance in the film, we can all agree that independent film has found it’s new golden child.
All hail the new princess of the silver screen!
Watching Quvenzhané’s portray Hushpuppy, a strong-willed young girl growing up in an area of the bayou referred to as The Bathtub, you would think that the bite-sized actress had been working the whole of her short life to become prepared for this role. The truth of how Quvenzhané smiled her way into an audition she wasn’t qualified for and used her electrifying personality to win herself the leading in role is much more interesting.
When casting began for the role of Hushpuppy, the casting called for girls between the ages of six and nine. After the casting director had finished seeing hundreds of girls, Quvenzhané walked into the studio for an audition ready to pretend to be someone she was not - a six year old. At the time Quvenzhané was only five years old, but after a few white lies and a one of a kind audition tape, director Benh Zeitlin knew he had found a diamond in the rough.
Quvenzhané’s young age doesn’t seem to bother her much either. When I saw the premiere of Beasts of the Southern Wild the young actress, now the ripe old age of eight, stood by the entrance of the theater waiting for the film to end as she and Zeitlin played some violent form of patty cake. After the credits had rolled Quvenzhané was sat in front of a captive audience to discuss playing the role of Hushpuppy.
That night I watched as Quvenzhané took an entire room and placed them directly in her pocket.
Quvenzhané’s poise, her intellect and most of all her sense of humor had grown well beyond her years. Her relationship with the cast and crew seemed more like that of a family than any we have ever seen before. It was clear that Quvenzhané was meant for the stage. When the spotlight fell on her, she was ready to take over the show. Which is exactly why I wanted to meet her outside of the spotlight.
Meeting Quvenzhané in LA
I am terrible at giving directions in Los Angeles. So when Quvenzhané arrived to Milk Studios Los Angeles for her photo shoot for Milk Made, of course it was impossible for her driver to decipher my insane instructions. I ran outside and found the black suburban with the black tinted windows parked far down the street from Milk. The driver rolled down the passengers side window and immediately the smell of McDonalds chicken nuggets invaded my nostrils as Justin Bieber blasted his way into my ear. I showed the driver where I had originally meant to have him park and went inside while the young starlet finished her quick meal in between shoots.
The night before I had spent the entire evening creating an enormous fort made from blankets and bed sheets and pillows. With lights behind the blankets the fort glowed like some mystical gypsy tent. I wanted to see what Quvenzhané would do when she saw my massive construction. Quvenzhané was now being interviewed by top magazines and television programs about starring in an award winning film that had made it’s way out of the Sundance Film Festival to be well received by the box office after being picked up by Fox Searchlight. To top it off Quvenzhané had so much Oscar buzz flying around her it was no wonder she had Bieber’s music blasting so loud in the car. With all of these distractions, I wanted to see if there was still a little kid inside of her, or if had all been sucked away by the lens.
Quvenzhané stayed close to her mother and publicist as she walked through the giant metal doors of our dimly lit studio. I walked up and introduce myself to everyone, saving Quvenzhané for last. She quietly said hello and introduced herself as she shook my hand. The same girl who commanded the attention of a hundred strangers in a theater now reminded me of my little sister, quiet and reserved in the presence of strangers. It wasn’t until I moved myself out of the way and revealed the blanket fort that I saw where the Quvenzhané I had seen before had gone. Immediately a gigantic smile stretch it’s away around her face and her natural self came pouring out.
The rest of the day was spent watching a lovely young girl play dress up. As the camera’s flashed in front of her, Quvenzhané danced around the room turning everyone in the room into frogs with the wave of a shower curtain she used as a scepter/magic wand. She taught the photographers assistants how to dance and drew me pictures as she laid inside the blanket fort in pajamas with cookie crumbs covering the ground where she lay.
As the day wore on it was clear that Quvenzhané, as always, had complete control of everyone in the room. When Quvenzhané was up and moving, the whole room was on it’s feet ready to dance. When Quvenzhané was telling jokes, everyone in the room seemed to be trying to remember their favorite “knock knock” jokes. When Quvenzhané began to get tired and started to rub her eyes the way you imagine all children do, we all felt like the day was done.
There was something magical about Quvenzhané Wallis that draws people to her and will continue to draw audiences to her for a long time to come. The prestige of being nominated for an Academy Award is a well deserved honor for cinemas new princess. Although she may be taking everything in stride, as children often do, as I watched her dance around our studio that day with a paper crown falling off her head, I could almost see her growing right in front of my eyes into the woman that will one day take her place on the thrown as the queen of the silver screen.
Photos By: Koury Angelo Styling By: Laura Mazza Art Direction By: Kalvin Lazarte Retouching By: Velem *Special Thanks To: Reggie Fisher
- Beasts of the Southern Wild
- Over the Rainbow with Eva Allan
- Welcome to Sundance: Whiplash
- The Brain Behind The Beast: Benh Zeitlin
- Shay Mitchell by Derek Kettela