Quvenzhané Wallis, the 11-year-old actress who received an Oscar nomination for her performance in the Louisiana-set fable “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” wants to make acting a career. An animal lover who travels with her tiny Yorkie poodle, Sammie, she wants to be a veterinarian, too.
In Wallis’ latest movie, a new film adaptation of the Broadway musical “Annie” that opens Friday, she acts, sings and dances in the title role. Her co-stars include Jamie Foxx, Cameron Diaz and Rose Byrne. Will and Jada Pinkett Smith and Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter are among the movie’s producers.
In late 2012 and early 2013, Wallis was the 9-year-old belle of the movie awards season’s ball. Photos showed her on red carpets and stages holding her trademark puppy dog purse. But nowadays she travels with Sammie instead, who’s even more portable than a puppy purse.
“I traveled with that purse all the way through to Utah,” Wallis said last month in a mostly empty upstairs classroom at the ReNEW Cultural Arts Academy in New Orleans. “And then the sparkles and stuff started to fall off. But they saw that I was carrying it everywhere, so they sent me some more.”
When Wallis got permission to travel with Sammie, she left the purse at home. “I just brought Sammie,” she explained.
Wallis attended a student assembly at the Academy, a pre-kindergarten through 8th grade school on Constance Street. Some students performed two signature songs from “Annie,” “It’s a Hard Knock Life” and “Tomorrow,” as the famous actress sat in the front row on the school’s gym floor with pre-K students.
“I was with the little ones,” said Wallis, a 6th grader. “I loved all of the performances today.”
An “Annie” preview and a clip of the movie’s “It’s a Hard Knock Life” scene were on the assembly program, too.
“It’s really awesome to see their faces,” Wallis said of the students’ reaction to the footage. “And they ask questions! ‘Is that you really singing? Is that you?’ So it’s really funny.”
During her visit, Wallis also worked with students who were preparing to audition for the school’s production of “Annie.” Following her own, very early success in acting, Wallis has decided she wants to make it a career.
“It’s gonna be hard to try to do acting, veterinarian-ing, singing, dancing, all that good stuff,” she said.
To prepare for “Annie” and its musical numbers, Wallis took about three months of acting, dancing and singing classes. But singing and dancing is nothing new to her.
“I was always singing, basically, in my head or at home in my room,” she said.
“Annie” filming took place in New York City for about three months in the fall of 2013.
“I was in school, but not physically,” the actress said. “I did the work that they sent me. I still do that now, when I’m away. I have a lot of work with me now.”
Wallis, who’s too young to see many of the movies that her co-star Foxx appears in, was more familiar with his recordings than his films.
“Yes, I’ve listened to his music,” she said “And I’ve seen some of his films. He was really nice and really funny.”
And she loved working with her canine co-star Marti, who plays Sandy, the stray dog adopted by Annie.
“She’s so cute and I love her so, so much,” Wallis said.
She likes the fact that “Annie,” unlike “Beasts of the Southern Wild” and “12 Years a Slave,” two heavy dramas she previously appeared in, is a movie kids can watch.
“I like family friendly movies because that means I can watch them, even when I’m not in that movie.”
A show business veteran at 11, making and promoting movies is now part of the young actress’ normal routine.
“Once it gets to, like, doing movies, that’s not normal, because I do different characters,” she said. “But I know what’s going on, so it’s not like something that’s really surprising to me. I know how pictures go. I know how interviews go. I know how movies go.”