There was at least one Best Actress nominee that made most Oscar viewers sit up and say, “Wait, who?” That actress was Quvenzhané Wallis. If you have no idea who she is or what she was doing at Sunday night’s Academy Awards, then we’re here to shed some light on the night’s littlest Oscar nominee.
At 9 years old, Wallis is the youngest Best Actress Oscar nominee ever, and she secured the nomination for her very first feature film role, in Behn Zeitlin’s “Beasts of the Southern Wild.” When she auditioned for her role in “Beasts,” she was only 5, and had to lie her way into the process because the minimum age was supposed to be 6 — something she (adorably) confirmed to MTV News’ Josh Horowitz on the red carpet. After Wallis’ audition, Zeitlin refashioned the lead role of Hushpuppy to exploit Wallis’ strengths as an actress — not too shabby, considering her age and inexperience.
She faced a murderer’s row of talented actresses Sunday night, though, up against Jessica Chastain in “Zero Dark Thirty,” Jennifer Lawrence in “Silver Linings Playbook” and Naomi Watts in “The Impossible.” In one of those deliciously odd twists of fate that make Oscar prognosticators turn into spinning caps, Wallis was also up against Emmanuelle Riva, the oldest actress ever nominated for Best Actress (she turned 86 on Oscar night), for her gut-wrenching turn in “Amour.”
“Beasts of the Southern Wild” was one of last year’s most original, delightful and captivating indie-movie creations, a kind of Southern gothic fairytale that mixes gritty, poverty-stricken realism with wild flights of fancy. It’s set in an imagined patch of post-Katrina Louisiana called the Bathtub.
Wallis’ Hushpuppy has a strained, occasionally tortured relationship with her mentally ill father, played by Dwight Henry (a first-time actor discovered by the film’s crew when he helped cater the production). While this sounds incredibly grim, the film has a zingy zest to it and is embroidered by fantastical elements, including the titular beasts — giant, prehistoric boars that Hushpuppy imagines rampaging towards the Bathtub.
And while she didn’t take home the gold, if there was any doubt that Quvenzhané Wallis is a star in the making, Sunday’s casting announcement should be reassuring, with official word coming down that she will play the title role in a remake of “Annie.” The remake will be directed by “Easy A” helmer Will Gluck and produced by Jay-Z and Will Smith. Early casting speculation had the role being taken over by Smith’s daughter, Willow, who reportedly was more interested in being a hyper-stylish 12-year-old girl.
After she was congratulated by Chris Tucker and Oscar-winner Jennifer Hudson, MTV News asked Wallis if she was excited about the new gig. In a peppery Hushpuppy way, she responded, “Yes, I am very excited.” We are, too.