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As a five-year-old school girl in Houma, Louisiana, Quvenzhané Wallis probably didn’t expect she’d be acting in a critically-acclaimed film at age six. But when a family friend saw an audition poster for “Beasts of The Southern Wild” in the library, Wallis threw her hat in the ring.
Her co-star Dwight Henry is also a newcomer to acting. He runs a bakery in New Orleans that happened to be across the street from where auditions for the film were being held.
The two are now getting critical acclaim for their roles in the independent Louisiana film, which has picked up major awards at both Sundance and the Cannes Film Festival.
“It has a fresh energy, a fresh way of looking at how to tell a story on film,” said Ty Burr, film critic of the Boston Globe. He says it may be the best film he has ever seen at Sundance.
Wallis plays a 6-year-old named Hushpuppy, who lives with her father, played by Henry, in “the Bathtub,” a rag-tag community of trailers and shacks in the Louisiana Bayou.
Wallis told Here & Now‘s Emiko Tamagawa that the character’s relationship with her father is a driving force in her life.
“She lives with her father, follows her father’s footsteps and does anything she can to do whatever she gots to do for her father,” she said.
The strength of the on-screen relationship came naturally to the two, who almost instantly had an easy rapport.
“I have a daughter her age, and I know how to interact with a child, I know when my daughter [is] angry at me for whatever reason, I know what to do to make her happy,” Henry said.
When Henry auditioned for the part, he knew exactly how to get on her good side.
“I packed up four boxes of pastries — cookies, buttermilk drops, donuts… and when I walked in that door, I put a big ole smile on my face and I handed them four boxes. She peeped in them boxes, she put that big ole smile on her face and I knew I had the part,” he said.
Since he has taken the part, people have been coming to his bakery asking for autographs. Henry says that he hopes to continue acting, but he knows he will continue running his bakery.
“I’m going back to the bakery because that’s something I’ve been building for the past 13 years to pass onto my kids. I can pass that on, I can’t pass an acting career onto my kids,” he said.