| Quvenzhané Wallis (L) plays Hushpuppy and Dwight Henry stars as Wink in the film “Beasts of the Southern Wild.” (Colette Greenstein Photo)
The film “Beasts of the Southern Wild”— winner of the Camera D’Or for Best First Film at the Cannes Film Festival and Grand Jury Prize Winner at this year’s Sundance Film Festival — is about a 6-year-old girl name Hushpuppy who lives with her father, Wink, in the “Bathtub,” a southern Delta community at the edge of the world in Louisiana. When Wink contracts a mysterious illness, nature flies out of whack: Temperatures rise and the ice caps melt, unleashing an army of prehistoric creatures called aurochs. With the waters rising, the aurochs coming and Wink’s health fading, Hushpuppy goes in search of her lost mother.
Stars Quvenzhané Wallis (Hushpuppy) and Dwight Henry (Wink) had no previous acting experience before auditioning for the film. Henry owned the bakery across the street from where the film was being cast and Wallis — who attended the Honduras Elementary School — lied about her age to read for the film.
Recently, both actors were in town for a screening. I had the chance to speak with Henry at the Liberty Hotel about this powerful film, what it means to him, and the opportunities it has created for him and his family.
How has your life changed since the movie?
People are asking me for autographs now and wanting to take pictures with me. We see this on TV all the time: Celebrities, interviews and paparazzi. I never in a million years thought that I would be one of those people. [Wallis and I are] both going through life changes. I never thought I’d be traveling as much as I’m traveling all over the country and living in the best hotels. You have millions of people that are trying to get where we’re at. It’s like we hit the lottery. It’s amazing.
Before making the movie, had you ever traveled out of New Orleans?
Yes, but not to this extent. A lot of things in my life have changed. I’m ready to make some donuts and get back to the bakery. I’m flattered about everything, but I still have my feet grounded with my beliefs. I’m not ready to pack all my bags and say, ‘come on y’all, let’s go to Hollywood.’
At the screening you mentioned how important family is to you and how you wanted to pass on your business to them. If you have the opportunity to continue to do movies, would you consider moving?
It depends if the part in the movie and the script are right. I’m not going to do something just because it’s on the table. The film has to mean something. It has to have depth to it. I’m going to be real careful about the movies I pick. I have some people guiding me. I do have something that I’m going to be doing in the next couple of weeks that I have to be hush-hush about. They don’t want me to let the cat out the bag, but I do have an opportunity that’s knocking at the door, and it’s in Louisiana. It won’t even be necessary for me to pack up and move somewhere.
Was it difficult to strike Hushpuppy in the movie as a dad?
It was challenging, but I want you to understand that I’m dying in the movie. My health is deteriorating throughout the course of the movie. [Director Benh Zeitlin] wanted me to be passionate with a sense of urgency throughout the film. Even when I struck her at that moment, I struck her in a moment of anger. I had just gotten out of the hospital, broke out of the hospital from being sick to get to her. I knew she was by herself. When I came back, the house was on fire. I did it in a moment of anger, love and passion.
How did you prepare for this role?
That was easy. I’m from New Orleans. I was 2 years old when my mom had to put me on the roof of the house when Hurricane Betsy flooded the whole lower ninth ward. Our house was under water. Camille came. We had to leave our home. Throughout the course of my life I’ve faced these same things. When Hurricane Katrina hit, I was neck high in water. I refused to leave my business and the home I loved more than anything. It would have taken the whole military – the Army, the National Guard and the Air Force – to pull me away from the business I’m trying to pass on to my children.
Were you excited about the movie screening last month in New Orleans?
The people who helped us do the movie – where we shot at in Terrebonne Parish – they opened their houses and their arms to us. They showed us so much love. Out of all the screenings we’ve done in Los Angeles and here, [Terrebonne Parish] will be the most meaningful and the one that will feel the best. It’s not a myth that the people down south have Southern hospitality. We open our doors to strangers and say “come on in” and get something to eat. One thing I do have to mention is that in all the travels that we’ve been doing, nobody got food like we got.
“Beasts Of The Southern Wild” opened July 6 at the Kendall Square Cinema in Cambridge.
The Boston Children’s Museum kicked off its first annual Fort Point Music Series July 11 with contemporary jazz saxophonist Elan Trotman, 5:30pm-8pm. The free music series features emerging hip hop, jazz and pop artists running and continues for three consecutive Wednesdays.
Scullers Jazz Club presents Grammy Award winner Regina Belle on Friday, July 20, for two shows at 8pm and 10pm.
Enrique Iglesias with Jennifer Lopez headline at the TD Garden on Wednesday, July 25, at 7:30pm.
One of the hottest concerts of the summer is “The Liberation Tour” with Mary J. Blige and D’Angelo, along with Melanie Fiona at the Bank of America Pavilion on Tuesday, August 21, 7pm. The show is sure to sell out, so buy your tickets at www.livenation.com.
Another hot show coming to town is Robin Thicke at the House of Blues on Monday, August 27, 7pm.
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