"Beasts" star Quvenzhane Wallis: Fearless

It was then-five-year-old Quvenzhane Wallis' poise, and her fearlessness, that caused director Zeitlin to pick her out from among 4,000 girls who tried out. "She was always the most gigantic personality in the room," Zeitlin told CBS News.
Fox Searchlight

(CBS News) Michelle Miller talks to the very young star of a film with Oscar buzz . . .

It's called "Beasts of the Southern Wild," a small movie, about big things:

"The whole universe depends on everything fitting together just right. If one thing busts, even the smallest piece, the entire universe busts with it."

It is on many critics' short list for best movie of the year.

Its star is a small person with enormous talent: Six-year-old Quvenzhane Wallis, who plays Hushpuppy, a fiercely independent little girl who lives in the Louisiana bayou with her father, Wink.

Quvenzhane Wallis is nine now, making the rounds in Hollywood and New York with grown-up poise, and a child's delight.

"Tell me about Hushpuppy the character - do you know anybody like her?" asked Miller.

"No, ma'am. She's she doesn't wear any pants, her hair is puffy," said Wallis.

"I thought it was kind of cute - you don't like puffy hair?"

"Unh-uh. Not that much. I like my hair straight!"

Quvenzhane Wallis stars in "Beasts of the Southern Wild," a tale of magical realism about a young girl in the Louisiana bayou. Fox Searchlight

It was 5-year-old Quvenzhane's poise, and her fearlessness, that caused first-time director Benh Zeitlin to pick her out from among 4,000 girls who tried out. "She was always the most gigantic personality in the room," Zeitlin said.

During her audition in the public library in Quvenzhane's hometown of Houma, La., Zeitlin asked her to throw a stuffed animal at the producer she was running lines with. "And I told him that's not right," she recalled.

"It's not right to throw things at people you don't know - she was being defiant, but she was being defiant on the grounds of right and wrong," said Zeitlin. "And that's who Hushpuppy is. She's this incredibly defiant warrior girl. I don't think I could have articulated that about her character until that moment in the audition."

Dwight Henry plays Hushpuppy's father, Wink, who knows he is about to die, and is trying to teach his tiny daughter to survive on her own.

The Los Angeles Film Critics Association named him Best Supporting Actor of the year.

But his first love is his bakery in New Orleans. He said he never expected the movie business to walk in his door. "This was something that just happened," he told Miller. "They used to come over and get breakfast and things in the morning, put these flyers in the bakery, if anybody want to audition for this upcoming feature film, pull a number and give 'em a call."

He tried out, and they liked him - but he had to win Quvenzhane over first.

"I just thought back to some of the things that I do with my daughter," Henry said. "I packed up all type of pastry. I walked up to her, I had this big ol' smile on my face, I had these big boxes in my hand, and I handed them to her, and I told her who I was. She looked at the boxes, the big beautiful eyes opened up, and she smiled. And I knew I had the part. I knew I had it!"