Wallis a beast of an actress, but is 9 too young?

FL

Beasts of the Southern Wild star Quvenzhane Wallis is an actress of talent, poise and maturity well beyond her years.

She was only 5 years old when she auditioned and 6 when she played the part of Hushpuppy, a little girl of fierce strength and resourcefulness living with her daddy in a squalid slab of Louisiana swampland. She was just a regular kid from nearby Houma—she'd never even acted before, and actually pretended to be a year older than she was to be considered.

Now, at only 9, Quvenzhane (Kuh-VAHN-zuh-nay) is the youngest-ever actress nominee at the Academy Awards. Altogether, Beasts has four nominations at the February 24 ceremony, including best picture.

While her presence is undeniable, Quvenzhane's nomination raises the question: How young is too young to compete for an Oscar, which has eluded performers with decades more experience and acclaim? Is a child really capable of acting, with craft, or is it just uncanny instinct?

Director Benh Zeitlin doesn't think 9 is too young for such an honour. Zeitlin, who is up for a best-director Oscar himself with just his first feature, praised Quvenzhane for the incredible sense of self. But he also recalled one day when she seemed to be struggling on set, and he took her aside to ask what was wrong.

'I can't snap it today. Normally I can snap it', he remembered her saying. "The fact that she had an internal sense of when she's in character, when she's getting the emotions right and feeling it, is really special even in experienced actors, but especially someone of her age to have that sort of self-awareness."

Justin Henry, who remains the youngest-ever Oscar nominee in any category for 1979's Kramer vs Kramer, said that in some ways it's a purer form of acting at this age.

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