The ability to burp at will may seem a rather unlikely party trick to impress a Hollywood director choosing his leading lady, but it was this dubious talent that clinched the deal for actress Quvenzhane Wallis. No matter that, at the tender age of five, she was younger than the specified age range for the part (six to ten years): Wallis’s strong personality, reading ability, loud scream and, yes, those belches, all convinced director Benh Zeitlin she would be perfect to star in his powerful fantasy drama Beasts Of The Southern Wild. The role was that of Hushpuppy, the indomitable child prodigy and survivalist who lives with her sick and mostly inebriated father in the backwoods squalor of Louisiana (on the fictional land known as Bathtub because it is always on the brink of flooding).
Quvenzhane (pronounced kwuh-VEHN-juh-nay) was just six when filming began. The movie was released to critical acclaim, with her gutsy performance deemed nothing short of astonishing, described as “a miniature tour de force”. Fêted at the prestigious Sundance Film Festival and again at glamorous Cannes, Quvenzhane’s biggest moment of recognition in her career to date came when, at just nine years of age, she made cinematic history as the youngest-ever nominee in the Best Actress category at the 85th Academy Awards. The burning question, then – as for any actress in anticipation of her big red carpet moment – was: what to wear?
It seemed fitting that Quvenzhane should choose Armani Junior, giving the Armani children’s collection its first Oscars appearance. “Quvenzhane’s milestone performance in Beasts Of The Southern Wild was so enthralling, I knew I was watching the debut of an American cinematic original,” says Giorgio Armani, whose long association with cinema has seen him design costumes for over 100 films, including American Gigolo and The Untouchables.
Of course, Armani’s couture gowns often grace the red carpet, with both Jessica Chastain and Naomi Watts wearing stunning outfits for the 2013 ceremony. “Quvenzhane’s innate passion and charisma, and her ability to hold the camera’s attention with such poise and ferocity, was indeed Oscar-worthy,” adds Armani. “She is utterly infectious and rambunctious. To me, if any child ever embodied the ideal and individualism of Armani Junior, it is Quvenzhane Wallis.”
On the red carpet, Quvenzhane dazzled in her best Armani Junior gown: a navy blue dress with black, navy and silver jewels scattered across the skirt, and a big bow at the back. She also wore a pretty silver headband and – perhaps as a nod to her on-screen character Hushpuppy – carried a bedazzled puppy purse as a playful touch and a reminder of her youthful energy. And her reaction to her outfit? “I liked it because it was sparkly and puffy,” she said. “I’ve never seen a prettier dress in my whole life! Thank you Mr Armani for making me feel like a very special princess for the Oscars,” before adding with a cheeky smile: “Or maybe I should say grazie mille instead!”
On this occasion, Quvenzhane didn’t get to pick up the famous golden statuette, pipped at the post by Jennifer Lawrence. But, as she is already lined up to play Annie in a remake of the classic musical, this little leading lady looks set for a starry future that will no doubt include many more red carpet moments.
This interview originally featured in the June issue of Junior magazine.
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