Most actresses fib about their ages, but few add years. Louisiana native Quvenzhané Wallis was only 5 when she auditioned for her first major film role, bucking the requirement that children should be 6 or older. But the confident kid was sure she could handle the job—and she wowed producers, critics and audiences.
Quvenzhané became the youngest person to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress in the 2012 film Beasts of the Southern Wild. Then, as befitting the stature of an Oscar-nominated actor, she followed up with the acclaimed 12 Years a Slave, starring Lupita Nyong’o, Benedict Cumberbatch and Brad Pitt.
Now a Hollywood veteran at the age of 11, she appears in the title role of the remake of the popular musical Annie, going tap-to-tap with co-star Jamie Foxx as Daddy Warbucks.
For Quvenzhané, her most grueling work comes from being a sixth-grader. “You have to make sure you have all the homework in and all the tests right and keep up your grades,” she says after a rough day, perking up as she adds, “There’s nothing I dislike about working in movies.”
She takes to heart the advice her co-stars, directors and mentors have given her: “Be yourself, be grounded, and have fun.”
As for those big chunks of dialogue she has to remember, Quvenzhané has some tips for anyone who has to learn a speech. “I treat it like a little story and put hints in that help me remember,” she says. “If it’s really long, I cut it up into little sentences and read it. Then I put it all together.”
If she had the opportunity to give advice to her 5-year-old self, Quvenzhané knows exactly what she’d say: “Stay confident, work hard and always believe in yourself no matter what people say about you.”
That positive attitude shines in the recently released Annie. And what does she think when she sees herself on that big screen?
“I like me!” she exclaims.
Now that’s an attitude everyone should embrace.