Child star of ‘Beasts’ taking Oscar nod in stride

Quvenzhane Wallis is pictured portraying Hushpuppy in a scene from, “Beasts of the Southern Wild.” Wallis is making history as the youngest girl to be nominated for best actress.

Quvenzhane Wallis is pictured portraying Hushpuppy in a scene from, “Beasts of the Southern Wild.” Wallis is making history as the youngest girl to be nominated for best actress. Photo by The Associated Press.

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Quvenzhane Wallis was experiencing something of an internal struggle when she found out she’d been nominated for an Academy Award early Thursday morning.

“I woke up, and (my mother) said, ‘You’ve been nominated! You’re nominated!”’ recalls Quvenzhane of learning she’s up for the best actress prize at the 85th annual Oscars. “I was like, ‘Oh my God!’ But it was on the inside. It wasn’t on the outside.”

At 9 years old, the “Beasts of the Southern Wild” star is the youngest woman — ahem — girl to ever be nominated in the category.

“We were all literally losing our minds this morning, and she’s totally taking it in stride,” says “Beasts” writer-director Benh Zeitlin, who is himself nominated in the directing and adapted screenplay categories. “It’s magical. She’s just poised and fearless. I saw that the first day I ever met her when she was five. To this day, she just knows who she is, and she’s confident.”

Quvenzhane, who hails from Houma, La., about 60 miles southeast of New Orleans, was in Los Angeles on Thursday to promote “Beasts” with Zeitlin, who lives in New Orleans. She was just 5 years old when she first auditioned for the film’s lead role of Hushpuppy, a little girl struggling to survive with her ailing father in the southern Delta as a storm approaches.

Admittedly, Quvenzhane has never watched an Oscar telecast. (“Whenever they said ‘You might make it to the Oscars,’ I was like, ‘Who’s Oscar? I don’t know Oscar,”’ she says.) When asked who she wants to meet at the star-studded ceremony, her answer is “everyone from the Disney Channel and Nickelodeon — but not Nick at Nite.”

When it comes to fashion, Quvenzhane is open to wearing “all colors except for black by itself” on the big day, and she’s not interested in wearing a really long gown.

“I might step on it,” she explains, matter-of-factly.

Despite her young age, with a Spirit Award nomination and a few other awards now under her belt, Quvenzhane is already adapting to Hollywood’s awards season madness. That doesn’t mean she’s prepared to just stick to acting though. What’s her ultimate goal?

“Actress-dentist,” she says with a toothy grin.

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