Quvenzhané Wallis is having a really good time. And it’s not hard to see why. She’s appeared in some of the most critically acclaimed movies of the last two years, and is set to become one of America’s most high-profile child actresses. Today, on a brisk autumn afternoon, the 11-year-old Oscar-nominated actress is looking at the artwork at the Children’s Museum in Manhattan, chatting with her mother, Qulyndreia, and playing with her four-legged co-star from the upcoming movie remake Annie. The film is expected do big numbers this holiday season, with Wallis as the titular character, the beloved orphan that won America’s heart, first on the Broadway stage and then the silver screen, in 1982’s popular classic. Wallis has the curiosity of any kid her age, but also possesses a mature perceptiveness that has helped her balance life as a little girl and as a young movie star poised to become the Dakota Fanning of a new generation. But for “Que,” she’s just enjoying the ride — and doesn’t find it difficult at all to live in those two worlds.
“It’s not really hard because I’m always me, unless I’m acting!” she says with a smile. “It’s kind of hard … because I have to get all the [schoolwork] and make sure I do all of the work. But the good thing is I don’t do any tests, I just have to turn in work. So it can be hard, but you find a balance.”
Her family is obviously a big part of the youngster maintaining that balance. Her mom and dad, Qulyndreia and Venjie, are like many everyday people from Houma, Louisiana — she’s a schoolteacher, he’s a truck driver — who instilled a sense of pride into their four children early in life. Along with her siblings, sister, Qunyquekya; and two brothers, Vejon and Venjie Jr., her parents gave Quvenzhané a unique name; they selected zhané — Swahili for “fairy” — as an homage to her African ancestry, and amended it to a portmanteau of the first syllables of their names: “Qu” and “Ven.”