Beasts of the Southern Wild writer/director Benh Zeitlin visited South Louisiana six years ago, and has been there ever since. Being fascinated by the tenacity of the residents, who refuse to leave their homes in hurricanes and oil spills, when all seems lost, his new movie Beasts of the Southern Wild reflects his feelings of these brave individuals.
In this apocalyptic fantasy, a bayou community known as the Bathtub is threatened by a fierce storm, and six-year-old Hushpuppy (Quvenzhane Wallis) and her ailing father Wink (Dwight Henry) must survive the unstoppable catastrophe.
I spoke with Quvenzhane and Dwight, neither of whom had ever acted before, about the movie which is receiving rave reviews and Oscar buzz.
Can you talk about what the experience was acting on a feature film for the first time?
Dwight: I had professional acting coaches from New York to work with me in the bakery in the middle of the night.
We went over every scene and Benh would ask me how I would say this in my own words, versus doing it in his words, so that made it seem more natural and real for me.
It was a tremendous experience and the best thing that came from it was everybody saw the film at Sundance, and 1500 people enjoyed it and stood up and applauded. That was the best feeling in the world.
Quvenzhane: It was fun because I really wasn’t expecting all this commotion. I wasn’t expecting the dirtiness [of my character in the film] because I’m not that kind of person, I’m just relaxed and clean.
They actually had me jumping in mud.
How are you different from Hushpuppy?
Quvenzhane: Well, Hushpuppy doesn’t wear pants and I love to wear pants in public. I have a great father, but her father is dying. She has more pets than me, I only have one.
She has more outside [places] that she can go to, and I have less things that I can go to. She gets to complete anything she wants to complete, I have to have permission to complete stuff.
Wink’s relationship with Hushpuppy is tough in some of the scenes, what was the atmosphere like when the cameras stopped rolling?
Dwight: We explained to Quvenzhane that a lot of times when it seemed like I was being tough on her, and yelling at her, I was actually trying to emphasis the importance for her to know how to do these things, because Wink is dying in the movie, and she didn’t have her mother.
You’ve got to understand, the Gulf Coast is a dangerous region, and there is always the possibility of losing your family, your home or being displaced.
What was it like working with Mr Henry?
Quvenzhane: Working with Mr Henry was fun because he knows how to bake (Dwight owns a bakery in New Orleans) and he knows how to make me happy.
Quvenzhane was asked what her favorite scene in Beasts of the Southern Wild was to shoot, and this is her reply. (click below)
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