OSCAR NOMINEE–Quvenzhane Wallis at the National Board of Review Awards gala in New York. Wallis was nominated for an Academy Award for best actress on Jan. 10, for her role in the film “Beasts of the Southern Wild.” The 85th Academy Awards will air live on Sunday, Feb. 24, 2013 on ABC. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP, file
(CNN) — At age 9, “Beasts of the Southern Wild” star Quvenzhané Wallis has a self-possessed quality that any adult would envy.
The fourth-grade newcomer tells CNN that her Academy Award nomination for best actress didn’t catch her off guard this week, but she does recognize the honor of not only nabbing the recognition but also being the youngest lead actress ever to do so.
Below is an edited transcript of an interview that CNN’s KJ Matthews had with Wallis and “Beasts” director Benh Zeitlin, who also earned a nod in the best director category.
CNN: Where were you when you heard the news?
Quvenzhané Wallis: In the hotel room, half asleep. Saw my name just rolling down like this, but on the inside I was excited. And just sitting there, and then boom! All you hear is stuff just speaking about the film, you, me, stuff like that.
CNN: Were you expecting it at all?
Wallis: Yeah, pretty much! Yeah. Everybody said they were going to vote, so …
Benh Zeitlin: I was nervous.
CNN: How do you keep all this from going to your head?
Wallis: Just (don’t) let it — like, I don’t let it surprise me that much.
Zeitlin: I’ve never seen anyone take things in stride like her. She just keeps her cool no matter what. I don’t know how she does it.
CNN: Did you ever expect this kind of success for the film?
Zeitlin: This is my first film; this is her first film. We didn’t have any celebrities — there were no famous people involved in it in any way. And you just assume no one’s ever going to see it. And that’s what usually happens to films that don’t have something like that with them, but so many people championed it and have been moved by (Wallis’ character) Hushpuppy, and told people about it, and it’s traveled all over the world. It’s been the most moving and shocking experience I could imagine.
CNN: (Quvenzhané), what made you decide to audition for this?
Wallis: It was just something I wanted to try.
Zeitlin: She was 5 at the time.
Wallis: Yeah, so I just wanted to try something.
CNN: I heard you lied about your age to audition?
Wallis: I lied on the sheet, but when I went in, I told them that I was 5.
Zeitlin: She ‘fessed up.
Wallis: Yeah, I couldn’t handle lying. I was like, “Mom, you sure, you sure?” And then I went in and was like, “I’m 5,” and told the truth.
Zeitlin: We decided to give her a chance anyway.
CNN: Is it true you improvised some of your lines?
Wallis: Like after (we) finished with the shooting, everybody would leave, but I had to stay. We would go to (the director’s) laptop and he would have some things on the laptop Zeitlin: The script?
Wallis: Yeah, the script. Sometimes I forget the name. And we would just look through it, page by page, and he’d put, “Seeeeeeeee.” And I had to delete the “e’s.”
Zeitlin: My typos, delete my typos.
Wallis: Yeah, he would put, “cain’t,” and I was like, “I can’t say that.”
Zeitlin: You’d be like, “I don’t like that word, I need to change that word.” And then she’d delete that, and then I’d let her type in a new one —
Zeitlin: Right. Grammar had to be improved, things like that.
CNN: Any idea of what you’d like to wear (to the Oscar ceremony)? A favorite color?
Wallis: My favorite color is — I don’t like black by itself, so every single color but just not black by itself. … It has to have white or something, like a zebra.
CNN: Who are you taking?
CNN: Are you going with your mom?
Wallis: Yeah, normal. I can’t come here by myself!
CNN: Do you want to keep acting? I know you have another film coming out later this year.
Wallis: I want to be an actress, but I want to be a dentist, so I’m going to do both.
CNN: Why a dentist? What interests you about that?
Wallis: The smiles.
CNN: How are you going to celebrate?
Wallis: Chicken and waffles!