Sundance 2012: Meet the funny, fearsome cutie-pie from 'Beasts of the Southern Wild'

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“She’s an incredibly wise and strong human being,” Zeitlin said. “When we’re on set, I can talk to her like an adult and she’ll talk to me like an adult. It’s strange, she can sort of swap being a little kid and being the most sophisticated person you can imagine.

Wallis and Dwight Henry, who plays her father, Wink. (Photo by Christopher Beyer for EW)

“We looked at over 3,500 kids and when she came into callback, she did a scene I had seen a thousand times before – but there’s a moment in there I remember the most where she’s supposed to throw a water bottle at another actor. I wanted her to, because the scene was going so well. I kept going ‘Throw the water bottle at him.’”

He looked down at his little actress. “Remember this?

She shook her head, fingers still in her ears.

“You wouldn’t do it!” he said. “I couldn’t get her to do it. So I cut the scene and said, ‘Why won’t you just throw the water bottle? and she said: ‘That’s not right. It isn’t right…’

“The fact that she had this strong sense of morality, and the fierceness to defy some director she didn’t know … that was when the character sort of all came into place,” Zeitlin said. “I realized this is Hushpuppy, that’s what this whole movie is about: this moral girl who believes in right and wrong so strongly, and has this fierceness and sweetness that are sitting inside her at the same time. That very much comes from Quvenzhané. That’s who she is.”

As he finished the story, Wallis took her fingers out of her ears.

“I didn’t hear a thing!” she smiled.

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